Author Kristen Lamb

Kristen Lamb is the #1best selling author of "Rise of the Machines--Human Authors in a Digital World", "We Are Not Alone--The Writer's Guide to Social Media" & "Are You There, Blog? It's Me, Writer." She's the founder of W.A.N.A. International, a company dedicated to training authors of the Digital Age. She's a contributing blogger for Huffington Post and was named among Writer's Digest's Top 100 Best Websites for Writers.


Being the Best—What it Takes to Be a Rainmaker

Image via Pamela Poole W.A.N.A. Creative Commons

Image via Pamela Poole W.A.N.A. Creative Commons

We are headed into the holiday season and it is time for friends and fun and food and revelry. But, it’s also a time for reflection. Maybe to think about what went right, what went wrong, what could go better. What do we want to accomplish in 2016? I’m a serious go-getter. I think I have three settings.




I like to believe I am the person who gets things done, but I wasn’t always this person. When I started out writing, I think I was more in love with the “idea” of being a successful author than the actual work involved. I wrote when I felt like it. I needed outside approval and validation. I wasted all kinds of brain power wondering if I was a “real writer.”

Yeah *hides head in shame*.

Anyway, I hit a major turning point years later and that is a story for another time. Truth was? The answers had been there all along. I’d just forgotten the truth or didn’t really want to hear it. The answer was actually from my sales days.

I needed to return to being a rainmaker.

Rainmaker? Yes, rainmaker.

Rainmaker is a term that we used when I was in sales.

WHAT is a Rainmaker?

The rainmaker is the person who gets $#!@ done no matter what. Call him a 1%er, call her a cleaner a cooler a closer. Call this person whatever you will, but I dig rainmaker.

This is the person many of us want to be because the rainmaker is the stuff of legends.

Rainmakers come in all forms. It is the teacher who refuses to believe that a kid cannot learn, who adjusts her teaching style relentlessly until she can break through. It is the waiter who remembers all his customers names and what they order. It’s the athlete, the C.E.O., the small business owner, the S.E.A.L. , the entrepreneur, parent, the author, the artist.

But regardless of profession, all rainmakers share some common traits.

Those of you who read this blog regularly will probably see yourself in the following list because this blog attracts a certain type of reader. Rainmakers and Those Who Are Unusually Attractive. So, if you are NOT a rainmaker, then you will have to coast on your looks.


Today I am going to list some of the character traits of the rainmaker. Some you may possess naturally. Others you might have to work on. I do. We are always a work in progress.

The holidays are coming…but so is 2016. Rainmakers make it rain and we need to make some preparations for 2016. Winter is coming.

Sorry. Been watching Game of Thrones. Couldn’t resist :D .

Anyway, what makes a rainmaker? What are some areas we have to watch? Work on? How can we improve?

Rainmakers Have a Dark Side

My opinion? To be a good writer, we must have a dark side. For fiction, we need this dark side to be able to see into the blacker natures of humanity and make them real. If we don’t possess our own dark side to peer into and reference, we’re left with a cheap imitation. All characters are, in essence, a slice of who we are…which is probably why it freaks normal people out to be around us.

Normal people (I am told) do not sit at a Thanksgiving dinner with family and wonder how many ways one could hide a body.

Even those authors who don’t deal in body counts, one must be able to draw from the corrupted aspects of the soul—avarice, jealousy, hate, lust, pride—or?


The blacker our black, the brighter our white.

The dark side is not inherently “bad” and it doesn’t have to be “immoral.” We are not going to become the best at what we do by waiting for permission and playing by the rules. Think about it. We are taught from the time we are small to stand in line and be polite and wait our turn and ask for permission and sit down and accept when the answer is no.

But let’s explore that…

J.K. Rowling became a billionaire and revolutionized YA after being told that young boys wouldn’t read. Anne Rice almost single-handedly invented the vampire genre after being repeatedly told no one cared about stories from a monster’s POV. The Martian just opened at $50.1 MILLION in China and crossed $500 MILLION globally . That movie was based off Andy Wier’s self-published book The Martian.

Thing is, our dark side understands there is no “right” path so it doesn’t bother taking a survey and could care less about approval or consensus.

Rainmakers understand they have a dark side and listen to its council. They do not, however, let it in the driver’s seat.


If you are a rainmaker others probably refer to you as being “obsessed” as if that is a bad thing. Likely that is a character trait you possess all the time. Rainmakers have a hard time resting. In fact, give us a spa day to relax and it better come with a Xanax or five. We have no OFF button. And before you argue, tell me you go to that beach vacation…with NO book. No pen for jotting ideas.

No *GASP* laptop.

Rainmakers of the writing world are always on. Literally. I wake up at 4:15. I check social media while I get caffeine (for my writing platform). I then put in an audio book on the way to the gym. While I work out I listen to music while I think of all things writing. If I am watching T.V. I am busting apart the dialogue, the plot, the setting. If I am listening to music, I am conjuring a scene. I cannot go stand in line at a freaking STARBUCKS without eavesdropping and hoping to mine some killer dialogue and don’t you judge me because you do it too.

I guarantee most of you reading this need a 12 Step Program for your book habit. Creatives often go from writing to drawing to painting to sewing to knitting to playing an instrument. We can only relax from ONE obsession by switching to a different obsession.

Uh huh. You…are…busted.

Obsession is what makes us the best at what we do. In 2016 make plans to channel this obsession productively.

Rainmakers are sled dogs. And I know I am mixing metaphors but y’all are smart and can roll with it. If you have ever owned a working dog like a sled dog, what happens if you do not let that dog pull a sled? It will dig a hole to CHINA in your back yard.

Rainmakers are working dogs of the human world. Our sled is the writing. This is why I encourage creative hobbies that all serve the writing. Audiobooks, reading, watching series and busting them apart feeds the obsession…but it also serves the goal. This allows us to be rainmakers because we are not diffusing this superhuman energy.


Rainmakers do not give up. We get up and we go again and again and again. This one is hard, and if we are going to fail this is the one where we can be weakest.

But, true rainmakers appreciate that life can be a beating and that fair is a weather condition (and we get up eventually). When everyone else is whining we are working. We have pit bull tenacity to figure things out. To be a rainmaker at anything, we must be relentless. Being relentless is awesome. But also remember to be wise. If my goal is to drive from Texas to California and I get on I-20 East? GOOD FREAKING LUCK. Turn AROUND, dumb@$$.

As I like to say, persistence is noble, but persistence looks a lot like stupid. Don’t be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. Saves time.

What are some ways we can develop those raw killer instincts that make us good at what we do?

Become Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Years ago I was on the swim team and when we trained for speed, the coach made us swim laps wearing a full set of sweats. It felt like I weighed a thousand pounds trying to slog lap after lap in that freezing pool in waterlogged sweats. But when those sweats came off? I was like greased lightning.

One of the reasons I recommend blogging and teach authors how to do it in my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, is blogging trains us to get out of our comfort zone. Not only are we pushing ourselves mentally, psychically, and professionally, but the sheer word count is grueling.

It is incredible training, especially for the new author.

If we look at some of the most awarded and prolific writers of the last two centuries, many of them were journalists (and blogging is actually a modern form of journalism). A journalist can’t wait until the kids are in bed to write about the four-alarm fire. A journalist can’t wait for a visit from the muse to detail the bombing in the train station. A journalist can’t wait until her family offers emotional validation to take time to write the article due on the editor’s desk.

A journalist is there. Present and in the ZONE when sirens are wailing and bombs are dropping. A journalist learns to drown out the world and ramp up instantly.

A journalist eats deadlines for breakfast.

By blogging, we are training those writing muscles. We are learning to ship. We are learning to meet self-imposed deadlines. We are learning how to cultivate an audience and how to handle public criticism. Trust me. Trolls are great training for bad reviews. I once got a bad review because someone bought my book by mistake.

I wish I were kidding.

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Again, embrace pain. Push yourself.

If you are comfortable writing 500 words a day. Double it. 1000? Double it again. Never be comfortable.


If social media freaks you out? Good. We can only be as strong as our greatest weakness. Own it. Face it. Look to your team to help you. Yes we have to build a brand and a platform but only foolish people do it alone. Tempus fugit. Social media is social. If we are going it alone we completely missed the point.

Get training. Get a copy of my book and make a plan to rock and roll for 2016.

Do what scares you. Rainmakers know nothing great happens in the comfort zone.


The key to being successful is reframing how we see our world. Some see failure? Rainmakers see lessons.

Pressure bursts pipes, but it also makes diamonds.

The heat can burn us away, but it can also fire out all the impurities, leaving only what it purest and fine.

I challenge all of you as you enjoy the last of your year to reflect and think over this. If you are reading this blog, you are likely of rainmaker stock since slackers gravitate to blogs with titles like How to Be a Millionaire Blogging Once a Year or Who Needs a Finished Novel to be RICH? 

Enjoy the holiday season and use it to refuel. I am always honored to serve you and looking forward to 2016 because baby, we are gonna make it RAIN! ;)

What are your thoughts? Are you obsessive? Do you have to be careful about your dark side? Do you see that the very darkness that trips you up is also what makes you really good at what you do? Do you freak out friends and family with the way your mind works? Are you obsessive? Do you find that if you are not focused on your writing that you can get depressed, angry or self-destructive? Are you shy about being a rainmaker? In a world where everyone gets awards for trying or “showing up”, maybe you feel guilty for wanting to be the best at what you do? You are relentlessly competing against yourself?

What are your thoughts? I LOVE hearing from you!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

I will announce NOVEMBER’S WINNER NEXT TIME since I took a holiday and need time to tally.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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3 Simple Tricks to Create a Character OH SO Different From YOU


As some of you know I am still recovering from the flu. Also, the holiday season gets more than a little insane so it is always a joy to run across fresh talent to share with all of you. The bad news is that Alex Limberg lives in Vienna so taking him as a hostage? Can you tweet #logisticalnightmare? Good news is, apparently Austrians work for compliments and candy cigarettes #littleknownfact.

So, with my Amazon Prime Account, I was able to secure SWEET blog content and all of us could avoid any sticky international incidents with the Austrians.

Which is best for all because, well who doesn’t dig their pastries?

This is another guest post by copywriter Alex Limberg. To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season until he makes his New Year’s resolution to kick his candy cigarette habit *rolls eyes*.

…and then we’ll just have to catch him when he relapses.

His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. Have you ever written a character you thought you couldn’t portray well because he was too different from you? In this post, Alex lays out three secrets on how to make a character like that come to life. Please give him a hand once again!


The situation feels so awkward for you: This guy, you just can’t understand what he is all about.

You have really given your best to make it work.

You wanted to discreetly overlook his annoying sense of entitlement (from his perspective, you won’t ever get anywhere, because you are way too modest).

You tried not to judge his ridiculous uptight correctness (he thinks you have no manners).

And you really made an effort to explain that you don’t enjoy small talk and you feel happiest when you are alone with a book (to him, you are too withdrawn; he seems to even get a kick out of chatting with the sales assistant).

But you absolutely don’t understand him. It’s just that the two of you are so different.

The worst part is, you have an important project together and you will have to work with him for months and see him almost on a daily basis.

You have no idea how you will be able to work with somebody like this. Seriously, this will be bad.

But there is also good news: The guy just exists in your head.

He is one of the main characters in your newest novel. If you want to make that novel work though, you better get to understand him on a level as intimate as your very best friend.

Here are three highly practical tips on how to connect with a character who is very different from you:

1. Find the Perfect Template Person in the Real World

You would never step on anybody’s toes, but in your novel you have to deal with a very bold character?

For sure you know somebody who doesn’t shy away from collecting ten free samples at once or “accidentally” taking the hotel towel with him when he checks out (my brother even tried to take the sheets with him once, true story). How would that real life person feel in your scene, how would she act, react and express herself?

Some writers have used their husbands, siblings or parents in a dozen different books, in a dozen different ways.

It’s a lot easier to imagine how a person you know very well would act. All the experiences you have had with that person will tell you. Your intuition will speak to you. Just transfer that gut feeling onto your character.

Most of your characters will not be exactly as their real life prototypes, because after all you are writing fiction and not a biography. Instead, your figures will rather be hybrids of people you know; for example, as brilliant as your sister and as restless as your best friend.

Take from everybody just what you need. The more life experience you have, the more characters you have met over the course of your life– great! Society around you is just a big, yummy, neverending buffet of character traits. Feel free to feast at your convenience.

Funny Tree

2. Don’t Act, Be!

In some way, writing is like acting– the difference is that you have to be all of the characters at once. Being able to switch between so many different shoes from one moment to the next is a major point that distinguishes great writers from not-so-great ones. Fiction writing is a bit like puppet theater.

Have you ever heard of “method acting”?

In method acting, you don’t try to pretend you are a different character. Instead, you just ask yourself: “If I was that cheerful/vain/sneaky/dumb, how would I act?”

The moment you are answering that question, you are already in a different headspace. You are doing what the best actors in the world have a gift for: They don’t act, they are for a brief moment. They are just for an instant as the character does his thing, but they are with all of their being.

It’s a step in between pretending and naturally being.

“Method acting” is actually an excellent way of auto-suggestion. Imagine you had a hypnotist make you believe that you are your protagonist. And that you are the antagonist. Plus that other really cool main character. And his wife. And a couple of supporting characters… you would be in the lunatic asylum for schizophrenics in no time, but you would write excellent prose.

That “self-hypnosis” is basically what you are doing when you suggest to your subconscious you are that character.

Ask yourself: “How would I act, if…?”

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3. Remember a Situation That Brought Out the Opposite in You

We all have multiple sides to our personalities. The sad ones are sometimes joyful, the mature ones can be childish, and yes, even the dumb ones are smart sometimes, because there are very different types of intelligence.

So that trait your character embodies but you think you don’t, is hidden somewhere deep inside of you.

Here is how to bring it out: Think back to a situation in which you really, really felt that way. Maybe you usually don’t feel so confident, but that one time after you got your promotion or passed that exam in university, you felt on fire and were just invincible for the next couple of days.

Close your eyes, go back to that situation: What did the scenery feel like? What did you see, hear, smell? And how did you feel?

Try to tap into the feeling you had back then with your entire body. Yes, this might sound overly esoteric, but give it a try and see if it helps you. Breathe confidence when your character is very confident on paper– and take it from your emotional memory!

Adorn Yourself with the Most Beautiful Borrowed Plumes

So there you have basic advice on how to be somebody else. Don’t become schizophrenic, but keep on practicing your talent for wearing unfamiliar skin.

If you do this well, you have taken a huge step towards becoming a great writer. People love stories because they are fascinated by their characters. And if you can create intriguing characters, you readers will desperately have to know what happens to them next and will devour your stories.

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

Now it’s your turn: How do you handle a character whose nature seems very alien to yours? Did you ever run out of patience with one of your figures? Are all your characters like you and you can hardly distinguish them, so there is never any trouble? Do you sometimes have long discussions with yourself in front of the bathroom mirror? Who wins?

Roses are red, violets are blue. I’m schizophrenic and so am I….and THAT NEVER GETS OLD!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

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What Are the REAL Odds of Success? Extreme Ownership & the Best-Selling Author

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Original image via Lucy Downey from Flickr Creative Commons

Many of us are doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). If you’ve been following this blog the last two weeks, then you probably know I’ve had a horrific case of the flu. While this does mean I’ve sidelined editing (have to have higher thinking skills) and teaching (kind of need a voice) this has not excused me from writing.

In fact, it’s been pretty good for my writing since Robotussin apparently chloroforms the internal editor and is like Skittles to the Lizard Brain who is now running around in my head with scissors.

Oh God! It has the glitter! Hold on! Back in a minute….

Where was I? Yes, Lizard Brain is great for creating, and if I keep my pace, I should finish my 50,000 words tomorrow. Right now I am at almost 41,000 words and have been averaging about 5K a day. I never could have done this alone. I have my teammates on W.A.N.A.Tribe. We have been doing word sprints every morning and every afternoon for the past week.

Like clockwork, no matter what is happening or how we feel, we meet. We sprint for 30 minutes at a time. We write as much as we can. No looking back. No word smithing. No editing. Just writing. These folks have been a huge blessing because if they didn’t take the time to be disciplined and show up? I doubt I would be so far along.

I kept referring to them as my 5%ers and they didn’t know what I was talking about. So today we are going to talk about…the 5%er.

W.A.N.A. Sprinters, this is for you ;) .


Success is a really weird thing. I used to think people just needed to be given opportunities. What I have found is that this is not actually as critical as I once believed. There are actually opportunities everywhere. Seriously…everywhere. The problem is that internal inertia.

We must overcome our natures. Will we take advantage of those opportunities? Will we make our own opportunities where none exist? Or, will we sink to average because it’s easy?

Beware the lollipop of mediocrity; lick it once and you’ll suck forever. 

Anyone who’s ever been successful will tell you that a big part of overcoming adversity is mental. I know it’s a grossly inaccurate movie, but I still love G.I. Jane. I recall a scene during Hell Week (the first evolution of SEAL training) where Master Chief has everyone doing butterfly kicks in the rain. He yells at the recruits to look to their left and look to their right, that statistically, those people will quit.

Who will be the first to ring that bell? Who will be the first to quit?

Years ago, one of my mentors mentioned The 5% Rule. What’s The 5% Rule? So happy you asked. Statistically, only 5% of the population is capable of sustained change. This means of ALL the people who want to run marathons, 5% will. Of ALL the people who join a martial arts class, only 5% will ever reach black belt. Of ALL the people who have a dream of being a career author, only about 5% will ever reach that goal and maintain it.

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At first, I was horrified when I heard this statistic. I want everyone to be successful! Surely if they had more tools, more chances, more affordable classes…

Human nature is a weird thing and, had I not seen this 5% rule play out countless times, I’d still be an unbeliever. Yet, like everyone is not meant to be a Navy SEAL, not everyone is meant to be a career author. This is good news and bad news. Bad news is odds are against us. Good news is multi-fold. First, we control a lot of the factors that lead to success. Secondly, this job is NOT for everyone.

Believe it or not, what we writers do is excruciatingly HARD. Just like it is NOT normal for a human body to run long miles in freezing surf carrying a Zodiac filled with water, it is NOT normal to sit and write 100,000+ words. Most people—literate or not—cannot do what we do.

They like to believe they can…but they can’t.

One of the reasons regular people are so shocked to meet a “real” writer is that so few writers ever really reach the professional level. But, why? Why do so many give up the dream? What does the 5% writer do differently than hoi polloi 95%?

I’m an optimist. I believe all of us possess what it takes to be in that coveted 5%. Question is, can we overcome our natures? What is the difference between the amateur and the pro?

Pros Like Validation But Don’t Require It 

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

Validation is different from feedback. We ALL love validation. We crave it. We adore it. But pros don’t require it.

When I first brought my glorious prose to a critique group, I said I wanted feedback. What I really wanted was for the group to tell me that my words were written in angel tears and that all the agents who rejected me must have been brain damaged.

I did not want to hear that I might not have a clue what I was doing. I did not want my pages handed back dripping in red ink. In fact, that hurt. A LOT. I had to learn to suck it up and press on. If one person had an opinion? Well, might just be a personal preference. When ten people gave the same opinion?

Houston, I had a problem.

Writers can work years without any hint of outside approval. Most people can’t sustain this and they give up. One glance in my sidebar and you’ll see this blog was named Writer’s Digest‘s Top 101 Websites for Writers for 2015.

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But some of you might not know that I blogged for almost two years and no one cared. My biggest fans were the male-enhancement bots.

I so licked your blog. You make many grate poinsettias. Is it just me or are all your commenters brain dead?

Hmm, maybe he’s foreign? Or not *head desk*

How much do you LOVE the dream? Because I will tell you that if I went by outside approval, I would have quit YEARS ago. If I judged my future success by my beginning blog stats or early book sales?


I was starting to wonder if I’d made a serious error by leaving sales. Sales had a paycheck, a fancy title and a company car. No stranger ever asked me if I was a “real” salesperson.

I went a LONG, LONG, LOOOONG time when no one cared and worse, they thought I was a joke/lunatic/poseur/hack. We need rhino skin in this business.

When I started this blog almost eight years ago, there were all kinds of other bloggers who were bigger than me. Sadly, many of them are gone. Never underestimate the power of simply showing up.

Below is an image of my blog stats.

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By the way, I can’t show you my beginning stats because they were so small, they didn’t register on a bar chart. Can you tell when I made it past “The Dip”? What if I’d quit? In 2009, I had a little over 6,000 views for the year (and I’d been blogging about 18 months by this point). In 2013, I had almost 450,000 views. But how many people would have given up when staring at those 2009 numbers (which works out to about 15 views a day and I bet half were from my mother)?

Pros Don’t Find Time, They MAKE Time

Time isn’t hiding down in the couch cushions camouflaged in Cheerios. We don’t find time, we make time. Often new writers will bemoan how they wish they could find time. 

Yet, I will posit this.

If today, I could guarantee you hundreds of millions of dollars in sales and all you had to do was finish the novel, how many would stay up late or get up early? How many would decide the family can go to the movies alone? Or that the floors are clean enough?

Often we procrastinate because there is no guarantee of success. Procrastination and perfectionism are frequently driven by fear of failure. If we never finish, we can never really fail. Our work is never out there to be judged.

As I like to say, “If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting.” So what if you write a blog and no one cares? Join the club. My first blogs were dreadful. So the crickets and spam bots can boo you :P ? Write a crappy first novel. Then move on. Learn. Keep writing!

No unpublished blog ever went viral. No unfinished novel ever became a runaway success.

I read all the time. I inhale all kinds of books and my personal favorite are leadership and business books. I just finished Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and WinI love, love love this book. I opened a sticky note app on my phone just to take notes. One of my favorite lines was, “Discipline is freedom.” So remember this. Tape it somewhere.

Discipline is freedom.

This is something pros understand. It’s one of the reasons I am so hard on all of you to stop calling yourselves “aspiring writers.” Aspiring is for wimps. Writers write.

Pros understand that getting up early or staying up late and putting the words on the page every day, day after day after day no matter what is liberating. You get to eventually do what you love for a living. Discipline to write means more books get written.

Yes, building a platform can be the less fun part of the job (can be). But pros know it is necessary. Discipline is freedom. Do it and you sell more books. Sell more books eventually you have to do less of what you dislike and more of what you enjoy.

Excuses are free but they cost us everything.

Pros Focus on What They Can Control

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Show me a struggling author and I will show you someone spending too much time shopping the same book. Instead of writing more books and better books, these writers are worried about querying the same book over and over, or (if published) they fret over sales, marketing, blog tours, or algorithms.

We cannot control what will be the next hottest thing. We can’t control the marketplace or the tastes of readers or whether matte bookmarks sell more books than pink beer koozies. This means we shouldn’t waste precious time on things we cannot control at the expense of things we can.

I think this is one of the reasons I really loved the book Extreme Ownership, because if we take EXTREME OWNERSHIP, then THIS is what our careers CAN look like…

When I gave the 5% statistic earlier, many of you were probably discouraged. But let’s take a closer look at that number.

It’s been said that as much as 75% of the literate population would love to one day write a book. Out of hundreds of millions of possible authors, how many do you think actually take the idea seriously?


And of the tens of millions left over, how many sit down and write and finish a first draft?


Of the millions remaining, how many actually read craft books, get critique and keep revising that first draft until they have a polished draft?


Of those who finish that first novel then realize they have a train wreck and not a novel, how many suck it up and start over to write a better book that’s more likely to engage with readers?


Of those who finally write a decent book, how many take time to also build a brand and platform? How many learn to blog effectively in ways that reach and cultivate readers?


How many get in the regular habit of writing, researching and revising? They don’t just stop with the one book and keep on writing more books?


Of those who publish the first book and don’t instantly become zillionaires, how many keep writing and improving?


This profession is really hard. Toss a few hundred million people with a dream into one large funnel and most will not shake out at the end. Yet, if we look at the individual pieces of becoming “successful” it is astonishing how much we control. We can take ownership of much more than we might realize.

Others whine, we work.

What are your thoughts? Does this 5% example make you feel a little better about your chances? Can you look at your own life and routine and maybe see some areas that you can come up higher? I am ALWAYS reevaluating how and where I am spending my time. Have you been allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by things beyond your control? Do you find that fear keeps you from finishing? Hey, I have been guilty of ALL of this, so we are friends here ;) .

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Writing About LOVE—Ditch the Cliches & Turn Up the Heat in Your Romance

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Today, we have Alex Limberg guest posting with us once again. I’d already recruited Alex to do some guest posts for me because I just love his wit and style and he’s being a huge help because yes, I am seriously sick. I’m pretty sure Hubby tried to assassinate me with Ebola and make it look like “the flu”. I think I have Swine flu…NO! LAMB FLU!

I see a rainbow bridge and a light! No! I can’t go to the light! Not yet, Grandma! I am doing NaNoWriMo and I and on par for word count!

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Actually, I don’t know if my husband is really trying to kill me, I think the Mucinex is making me paranoid. I called the White House though and told them that Lincoln totally shot first and that if the Secret Service would just return my probiotic gummy bears I will stop ordering pizza delivery.

Anyway…of course what else would you think about when you are dying from the flu? Duh. Love scenes! Hellooo?

I totally just lied about that.

But Alex wrote this really freaking amazing post and I’m glad about that because I was born and raised in the bible belt, which means I can only write love scenes in my books when all of my family is dead. That and in Texas, romance involves a gun show or ammo sale.

To mix things up a bit, Alex is assisting me through the holiday season. His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you with creating intriguing novels and shorts. And this time, he is here to melt your hearts and minds with a fresh outlook at romance in fiction. Please cheer for him once again!

Yay, Alex!


Texans *rolls eyes*. If you are a gal, let me ask you one question about romance.

Imagine a guy is courting you. Which one of the following two scenarios do you find more romantic?

  1. He composes a minnesong for you and plays it on his mandolin under your window
  1. He invites you to the movies and to dinner

Take a moment to post your answer in the comments below. I’m not going to pompously prescribe you a “correct” answer, but instead have a second question for you (this post is getting worse than “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” right?).

Tell me, what do you think about the following love scene:

Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.

“Wait, wait,” he suddenly shouted from behind, running after her. “You forgot something…”

Under her umbrella, she turned around surprised, with an expectant look on her face: “What is it?”

Panting he stood before her: “You forgot to give me a chance to tell you that I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone!”

“Oh, Mike!” She fell round his neck. Suddenly teardrops were mixing with the pouring rain: “I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity.” She sighed. “Being with you is… like magic.”

They kissed passionately under the open sky, lost in a bubble of time and space, not even noticing the heavy waterfalls pouring down on them and getting them soaking wet.

Did this scene touch you deeply? Did it really get to you?

To me, it did nothing.

What you just read is a pile of cliches we have seen a thousand times before, all pressed into one single scene. I just fed you a learned code instead of serving you fresh fiction; yes, I force-fed you a learned code like traffic signals or like the bell that trained Pavlov’s dogs. The signals above are intended to get you salivating romantically… ring, ring!

Cliched setting? Check (“Heavy rain was pattering down on the streets.”)

Cliched expressions? Check (“I promise to love you forever, every single day of eternity”)

Cliched feelings? Check (“…I love you. More than I have ever imagined that I could love someone”)

Cliched comparisons and similes? Check (“Being with you is… like magic.”)

In short, the snippet above contains too many cliches and relies way too much on what the author thinks romance should be.

Fiction needs to speak truth, it needs to be raw and bold and unconditional, it has to touch our inner beings– like love. It should’t be a preformed template.

Here is the problem though: No feeling in fiction is harder to convey than love. That’s because being in love is a feeling that escapes any description– it’s too exciting; too strange; too magnetic; too rare. Pain, joy, disappointment, anxiousness are all easier to describe than love. They are more one-dimensional, more common and most of the time not as overwhelming as love.

Because love is so difficult to describe, many writers circle around it. Instead of taking a shot at painting the feeling itself for you, they give you placeholders you recognize from movies: “Ah, they are saying they will love each other forever! That’s how it works in romance novels, so that must mean it’s real love.”

So how can you do it better?

This post aims to show you a couple of ways to craft more authentic love scenes, drawing from deep inside. Also, because I know stereotypes can be hard to detect, you can find a free, downloadable goodie here to help you check your story for cliches and any other imaginable problem (it uses test questions).

Let’s take a look at refreshing ways to craft love scenes.

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1. Use Commonalities

There is one thing all romances share in real life, and that’s definitely not a cliche: It’s the lovers’ commonalities.

The type of these commonalities might be completely different from romance to romance: One couple could be very similar in character, but very different in lifestyle; another one could have the same hobbies, but sport very divergent world views.

Common features and differences are what makes romance exciting; use the tension between the opposites and the attraction of the same to craft an emotional rhythm in your scene– or maybe it’s the tension between the same and the attraction of the opposites…?

One great ingredient of a love scene is two people “discovering” each other. Discovering commonalities is an exciting process and often lets love grow, so play with it. Let them be like magnets: Repelling when approaching each other from the wrong side, but attracting each other strongly when approaching from the right side.

2. Less Is Often More

The finest notes in good love scenes are often spoken without words, or they are articulated in a delayed or shortened way. It’s because we are operating on emotionally delicate ground: A lot of desires, reservations, suspicions and fears play into our notion of romance.

Don’t just let your characters plainly say what they are about! This rule holds true for all dialogues, but the difference in a love scene is that you have very believable reasons to not let your figures talk, be it awkwardness or reservation. Operate with unspoken words, silence, a sentence much too short at the right time.

You can let body language speak for itself.

This technique should force your reader to read between the lines; to turn on her own imagination, which is the most amazing thing you can do for her: Let your reader watch her very own movie.

Here is a quick example:

“Sometimes I feel like there is nobody to turn to,” Joe said. “Like… like the world is an empty place. Do you know what I mean?”

Scarlet just stared at her shoes.

“Nobody,” he said.

3. Draw from Your Very Private Experiences

Draw from your private treasure trove of experience instead of from experiences movies and TV shows have pre-canned for you.

Don’t commit the error we were just talking about and sidestep the challenge. Don’t fall back on cliches because you feel like you don’t have the ability to describe something on your own terms, following your own laws.

In other words: Risk something!

Anger, hurt, attraction, admiration, enthusiasm, guilt: Let your characters experience, express and withhold a broad range of emotions, a variety of complex feelings– love is complicated.

Think of all the emotions you could send your characters through. Try to express things the way they felt to you personally when you were there, not in the way you have seen others describe them.

The word “love” is so overused it has become one giant cliche in itself. You can find it everywhere, be it in movies, novels or song lyrics, not to speak of oversized ads or everyday language. So try not to use it. Instead, it makes much more impact to just describe what love does to your characters.

Using your private experiences also means that you will have to get naked and expose bits and pieces of your private feelings for everybody to see.

Luckily, nobody knows which parts stem from you personally and which parts are just made up. And contrary to an actor, you don’t have to pour out your soul directly in front of an audience, but have the laptop screen between you and your readers to protect you.


4. Let Men and Women Talk Differently

There is a big misconception about men and women.

Maybe it’s just a misconception of language, because when somebody says, “Men and women are equal,” this person is only half right: We are equal in value, but not equal in nature.

We don’t feel alike. We don’t act alike. We don’t talk alike.

For example, can you quickly tell if the following phrase likely comes from a man or from a woman?

“Do you think he/she looks better than me?”

How about the following one, man or woman?

“If he does this again, I will teach him some manners!”

You might call this a cliche, but I can’t remember ever overhearing a woman saying the second sentence. I have heard men uttering similar statements though– we just have big egos…

So keep in mind to lend different voices to your guy and your gal. In other words, let the differences between men and women get into your scene and make sure the romance in your story becomes as complicated and as awesome as romance is in real life…

Use the Power of Authenticity

When you write your next love scene, keep these four signposts in mind, and your scene will make a powerful impact and touch your readers deeply; for sure more deeply than a cliched movie and dinner date.

You can see so much phony fiction around, a fresh approach will make you stand out like Johnny Depp amongst a stage full of cheap Elvis impersonators.

Take a risk and indulge in the power of truth– your readers will feel so strongly for your story, they will be ready to dive deeply into it and to love and suffer with you.

Alex Limberg is blogging on Ride the Pen to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing prompts. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Hey, it’s Kristen again and now it’s your turn: What are your own secrets for love scenes? Have you found a trick that works really well? Did you ever use a very personal experience in a romantic scene and did it feel awkward to “expose” yourself? Do you love love scenes? Hate them? Are you like me and can’t write love scenes until every living member of your family dies? Gotta love goring up in the bible belt.

Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.


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The Secret Ingredient for POV Magic—Capture Your Reader & Never Let Go

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Kristen has foolishly graciously handed her blog over to me today while she is recovering from the flu and is locked up in her NaNoWriMo cave.

But Marcy! I don’t want to go on the cart! 

*swats Kristen*

If she hits her word count, we can slide a gluten-free brownie to her through the bars later to get rid of the taste of that horrible Mucinex.

But I feel HAPPY! I think I can go for a walk!

Um, one minute. *hushed voice* Fine, you don’t have to go on the cart but get off Facebook and back to writing and let me do the blog for you so you can rest and write. Okay?

But I just—

Cart? *stern face*

Yes ma’am. But could you please get Jami Gold to stop tweeting BRING OUT YOUR DEAD! It’s freaking me out. I think she has it automated with my name in it.

If you would get off Twitter and write, Jami wouldn’t be bothering you, would she?

*sticks out tongue and slinks off with blankie* I WANT BROWNIES! *slams door*

Oh, sorry about that. She’ll be fine. Where were we?

Since Kristen is in captivity, that means no one is around to stop us, so I think it’s time to pull back the wizard’s curtain and reveal a secret to POV. For those who may not know, POV stands for point of view and almost always should be limited to one character at a time or things get very confusing.

Why POV is vital for your story is this is how you are going to slip your reader ever so subtly into the skin of your characters. Get your readers so comfortable they never want to leave. When we make POV errors? It shatters the fictive dream. That is why getting really good at POV is vital. We must maintain the magic.

Here’s the secret that a lot of writers don’t realize about POV.

Many point-of-view errors are simply the flip side of telling rather than showing.

What is telling when we’re writing about our viewpoint character becomes a POV error when we’re writing about a non-viewpoint character. So if we understand the difference between telling and showing, we’ll be better prepared to also spot point-of-view errors.

It’s almost as cool as being able to juggle plates while circling a hula hoop. (Actually, I’d settle for being able to do either of those alone. Tips anyone?)

Let me give you a little refresher on showing and telling first before I explain how telling and POV errors are dopplegangers.

Showing vs. Telling

Showing happens when we let the reader experience things for themselves, through the perspective of the characters. It presents evidence to the reader and allows them to draw their own conclusions, while telling dictates a conclusion to the reader, telling them what to believe. Telling states a fact.

Bob was angry dictates a conclusion. It’s telling.

But what was the evidence?

Bob punched his fist into the wall. (This is showing.)

The Black Plague ravaged the country dictates a conclusion. It’s telling.

But what was the evidence?

We could describe men loading dead bodies covered in oozing sores onto a wagon. Our protagonist could press a handkerchief filled with posies to her nose and mouth as she passes someone who’s drawing in ragged, labored breaths. Either of those details, or many others, would show the Black Death ravaging the country.

(If you want to learn more about showing and telling, you might want to take a look at another post I wrote for Kristen about How Star Trek Helps Us with Showing Rather than Telling.)

So How Does This Help Us Catch POV Errors Again?

POV errors happen any time we’re in a limited point of view where we’re supposed to stay inside one viewpoint character at a time and we write something that our viewpoint character couldn’t know, wouldn’t have experienced, or wouldn’t be thinking about.

At first this doesn’t sound like it has much of anything to do with showing vs. telling. Which means it’s time for some examples so we can see it in action. I’ll put the POV error/telling parts of our examples in bold.

Eric was too angry to listen to any more.

When Eric is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’ve told the reader that he’s angry. We haven’t shown his anger.

When Eric isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. Our viewpoint character can’t know that Eric is too angry to continue to listen.

Let’s look at another one.

Kate realized she’d locked her keys in the car.

When Kate is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’re dictating a conclusion to the reader. What do you experience? We can’t see “realized.” We don’t know how she knows her keys are locked in the car. There’s no picture here.

If Kate isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. How does our viewpoint character know what Kate is realizing?

A version of this that I see all the time in my editing work is something like:

He thought about that for a minute.

If he’s our viewpoint character, we’ve told the reader he’s thinking, but we’re not showing them the content of his thoughts.

If he’s not our viewpoint character, there’s no way the viewpoint character can know what he’s thinking about or even that he’s thinking at all.

Final one.

Elizabeth went to the woodshed to get the axe.

When Elizabeth is our viewpoint character, this is telling. We’re told why she planned to go to the woodshed, but we don’t see her actually get the axe.

When Elizabeth isn’t our viewpoint character, this is a point-of-view error. Our viewpoint character can’t know for sure why Elizabeth went to the woodshed. Maybe she was going in there to cry. Or maybe she planned to crawl out the back window and run away.

One of the things I love most about writing is how everything we learn works together. When we get better at one part of writing, other parts start to slide into place as well.


Yes, it’s Kristen. Just give me a sec before Marcy boots me out. As an editor POV is a HUGE deal. So many new writers screw this up and if you mess up POV your reader will be left feeling like she’s been strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl. What is REALLY insidious about POV is, unless you get some training? You won’t see it because you are the creator.

So what often happens is we end up with a bunch of bored or ticked off readers who couldn’t keep in the story but even they can’t articulate WHY. Guarantee you very often the problem was POV. It one of THE most COMMON blunders even I see when I edit.

So please check out Marcy’s book and class because she is a ROCKSTAR at teaching this stuff. And now I am going back in my hole.

I WANT BROWNIES! *slams door*

Need More Help With Point of View?

Check out my book Point of View in Fiction. Point of view isn’t merely another writing craft technique. Point of view is the foundation upon which all other elements of the writing craft stand or fall.

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In Point of View in Fiction, you’ll learn how to choose the right POV for your story, how to avoid POV errors, how to choose the right viewpoint character for each scene, how to know how many viewpoint characters to use, and much more.

Itís available in print and ebook format and most places (so you can grab it from Amazon, Kobo, Apple iBooks, or Barnes & Noble).

Add some LIVE teaching to go WITH that book. I’m running a W.A.N.A. International Webinar How to Master Point of View on Friday, November 20 so sign up and learn how to make story MAGIC!

The webinar will be recorded and made available to registrants, so even if you can’t make it at the scheduled time, you can sign up and listen later at your convenience.

Click here to sign up for How to Master Point of View.

Thank you Marcy!

I LOVE hearing from you, especially when I have guests which is why all comments on guest posts get double-suck-up points. Hey, Marcy is doing me a solid because yes, I am on the mend from the flu, but I still had/have the flu and Hubby is lucky he is cute for getting me sick.

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

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3 Myths Writers Need to Ditch Like a Bad Ex

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In the spirit of the upcoming holidays, today we are going to talk about something touchy and complicated. No, I am not going to tell you where babies come from.

Okay, fine.

Amazon. With Prime, you get free shipping.

Moving on…

The whole publishing paradigm makes me kinda twitch and we writers are often at the center of a lot of silly complaining. So I’d like to debunk some pretty myths we writers love to perpetuate.

It’s like that ex who we run into on Facebook and we get all nostalgic and remember all the loooove. But, if we took more than 30 seconds to think. Really THINK? We’d remember why we were combing Craig’s List for a hit man willing to be paid in unredeemed Starbucks gift cards to take that person OUT…O_o

Same situation. Let’s unpack this, shall we?

Fallacy #1—Old Books Are Awesome & We Should GO BACK

I just love the smell of old books. The feel of old paper. The nostalgia. I just miss browsing dusty shelves looking for a hidden treasure…

I can completely 1000% get on board with this. Books are foundational for any thriving society and the bedrock of any enduring culture. But this commentary does not belong in a business discussion about the publishing industry.


Because we (writers) are not being PAID off old dusty copies of our manuscripts unless we happen to be traveling the country selling them out of steamer trunks.

It’s a non sequitur.

In fact, and this is just ME. I will not buy books at secondhand stores or garage sales. And, if I do happen to buy a book this way and I like the title and I find out the book is still in print and the author who worked really, really hard to write that book can still be paid?

I buy a copy.

Often a digital copy to make sure that the writer got PAID for doing her job. It’s a professional courtesy.

Thing is, we have to be really, really careful that as artists we are not perpetuating the very behavior that pisses us off.

We like getting paid for our work. We work really really hard and expect (rightfully) that we should be rewarded for doing so.

Doctors work hard and they expect to get paid. No one gripes when the doctor gets paid. Heck, no one gripes when the UPS driver gets paid or the barista who makes the triple-shot espresso pumpkin soy cappuccino with half foam and vanilla sprinkles and does not commit MURDER gets paid.

Oh, but it is artsy and bohemian to rip writers off because old books are cool?

No. And again, let’s keep the debate clear here because I can already hear the blogs now, “Kristen Lamb hates old books!” No. Pay attention.

I love old books. Have stacks of them. Want to buy old copies of Moby Dick? Be my guest. I doubt Melville is counting on that Amazon royalty check to pay to upgrade his Scrivner or, I dunno, eat.

Want to support civilization? Buy old books. Want to support a writer and his/her family? Buy new ones or e-books.

I also get that paper is not going away, but what makes me a little cray-cray is why authors seem so resistant to e-books at all. I love e-books. First of all because I seriously DIG that giant old lady font.

How Kristen reads ALL her books…

Also, because that is another way readers can buy and consume my work. Want it on paper? Here. Audio? HERE. E-book? Here!

Heck, as writers, I think we should stand behind any kind of R&D that gets more stories into the hands of readers. I am 1000% behind Carrier Pigeon Technology, Smoke Signal Fiction, Books by Morse Code.

Granted, morally, I am on the fence about downloading my book directly into my readers’ brains, but hell the sci-fi folks can just run with that! If the royalties are fat enough? I’m game.

Heck, if there was good money behind me acting out my stories in interpretive dance?

I would so be there.


Who cares how readers get our books so long as we are being paid?

In case anyone was unclear? WE are the oldest profession ;) .

And this “How Readers Get Our Books” dovetails into my next point…

Fallacy #2 Barnes & Noble Supports All Authors

The whole B&N drama? I am verklempt. Calm down and hear me out. I don’t think Barnes & Noble is as good or even as bad as we believe.

Do I believe B& N is the devil? Of course not. I love B&N. In fact, there was a time I had a loan shark who met me in the hardbacks to front me some Benjamins to keep pace with my habit.

I think competition is GOOD. It is necessary and vital and it keeps everyone playing nice-nice. I even wrote a long piece about the dangers of Amazon becoming a monopoly in case you are worried I am being too biased.

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But, here is the deal. The second I write anything about how Amazon is doing something really brilliant, people love to jump all over Bezos for being predatory and helllooo?

Can we just go back about 15-20 years?

Barnes and Noble (and Borders) are almost singlehandedly responsible for wiping out the indie bookstore ecosystem. They deliberately placed megastores on every corner and willfully drove small bookstores out of business so I guess I am the only one who finds Borders extinction karmic and B&Ns current plight ironic.

Thing is, B&N reinvented the book industry and were rewarded for doing so. They got people really excited about bookstores again and it was bloody and brutal for the indies.

But now that another business has come along that is finally mean and lean enough to hit back comes along? I am not all, “Poor B&N.”

I have popcorn and Red Vines.

Genuine competition is good for them. They can either lay there and take it or they can use the pushback to reinvent the bookstore again. Markets aren’t supposed to remain static. And last I checked, their top officers get paid pretty well to figure this stuff out ;) .

Barnes & Noble is not good for most authors, lest we forget how they were able to get those rock-bottom prices that drove most of the indies out of business. They thrive off selling in volume and the only authors who are fairly guaranteed to sell in volume are already household names.

Nothing personal. It’s business.

So when Amazon comes along and its business is not driven by a scattergun approach and instead is driven off authentic interest as reflected in genuine buying habits?

We writers might want to take notice.

Yes, as I predicted, Amazon would need a brick-and-mortar store to sell its own imprints, but this is also good news for traditionally published authors who are new with lower print runs or whose last name doesn’t rhyme with Patterson.

Fallacy #3 Social Media is a Dismal Failure

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I’ve had a few comments regarding how so many authors ran to social media and they simply aren’t seeing any of that social media activity translate into sales. Thing is? Yep. Social media is not direct marketing, though the two are often confused.

See, in direct marketing, we can measure. We can put out an ad, measure click rates and see how many clicks led to a purchase. We can send out so many fliers and then measure quantitatively how many of those later translated into sales.

We can measure how many morons individuals were sent an e-mail telling them they had inherited $100,000,000 from some relative they never knew they had in Guana against how many deposits we get of $5000 to spring that “inheritance” from customs.

This gives us our ROI (return on investment). How many e-mails sent in comparison to how much cash is sent via Western Union.

Why it has been so vexing for marketers is they try to treat social media the same way as mass marketing…and they can’t. Because if we do social media correctly (keeping it social) there is no way to quantify it.

It becomes too obvious we are mixing social and market norms and that creeps people the hell out.


Market Norms are when a prostitute expects money in return for *wink wink nod nod* “favors.”

Social Norms are when a wife does those same “favors” for her beloved husband out of love because getting paid for it would be seriously strange.

That seems obvious, right?

But what if wife has a wonderful and romantic evening with her husband, but then before he leaves for work, asks him to fill out an on-line survey rating how he enjoyed his night and tells him that when he completes his survey, he will be texted a code that he can then redeem for free pancakes?

Yes, I just took that to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL of weird.

But y’all see what I mean when I say that you just can’t sneak that stuff in there! We SEE it. We can tell when we are being manipulated on social media and that is why this stuff cannot be directly measured and quantified.

Word of Mouth is Vital…But Can’t Be Measured

Zuckerberg didn’t invent social media. Social media has always been around. It was just called “word of mouth.” It was also the only thing next to a good book that ever sold books.

The only difference, was that until Web 2.0, it was almost impossible to ignite word of mouth on any level of magnitude. But to think we can measure and control it? Not happening.

As far as authors not seeing any “direct translation into sales”? I can tell you why. They are the same people we likely had to run off #MyWANA with digital pitchforks for book spam.

There are no shortcuts. Period.

Write good books. Work really hard. Make friends and enjoy yourself and hopefully it will pay off. It may not, but think of it this way?

Twenty years ago we could have all gone to our graves without ever getting to hold a copy of our own work in our hands. At least today we get a shot, and that is a heck of a lot more than countless writers in the past ever got.

E-books might take away from that nice quaint little shop on the corner (the ones not razed by B&N), but that little shop on the corner only had room for a handful of authors.

And, Amazon IS looking to reinvent that little shop on the corner. Algorithms, love them or hate them, will make it possible for independent bookstores to thrive since they can stock smartly, and less waste means more profit.

E-books have made it possible for countless writers to finally be paid to do what they love. My opinion? Every digital copy downloaded, should come with the sound of a link of iron breaking…one more link from the day job. You are setting a WRITER FREE!

B&N is great, but again, only helping so many of our brothers and sisters in the inky trenches. I want to help MORE!

Social media. Do it. Don’t do it. If you do it, please at least do it well. Don’t feed us spam and then b$#@ when we don’t want to consume it & reward laziness.

We are NOT stupid. It is STILL SPAM!

We are NOT stupid. It is STILL SPAM!

I hope you all will embrace that we live in a great time and we get to make the future better for ourselves and writers to come. Ditch the old and embrace the new.

Do you love that you at least get to HOLD your book? Would you be willing to act out your novel in interpretive dance if the pay was right? Are you for more ways to get stories into hands of readers? Carrier hamsters? Nah, plague always a concern. Hmmm. I’ll give the ideas over to you guys.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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The Truly Dramatic Plot—Shakespeare, Instagram, & Why Macbeth is STILL Awesome

Shakespeare Twitter

I love to think of myself as an author, blogger, warrior princess in my own mind and? TALENT SCOUT! I also love collecting talented people, which recently my attorneys informed me this is technically called “kidnapping” and is a “felony.” Oh well. Anyway, when I ran across Alex, I couldn’t wait to share his talent and voice with you guys. He is smart, funny, brilliant, and, since he is a W.A.N.A. he is also unusually good-looking.

It is a curse we all bear….

*heavy sigh*

So to mix things up a bit, Alex is going to be helping me through the holiday season. This is a guest post by Alex Limberg from ‘Ride the Pen.’ Please welcome him with thunderous applause! His free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story helps you create intriguing novels and shorts. And today, he is here to inspire us to look at plot in a new way. Take it away, Alex!

*insert thunderous applause here*


You might think social media is a pretty new thing; and there is no denying it:

Edgar Allen Poe didn’t tweet his anxieties, Jane Austen didn’t present herself seductively on Instagram, and William Shakespeare never even wrote a single Facebook entry!

Or did he?

Let’s put it this way: While social media didn’t exist centuries ago, its underlying psychological principle is as old as mankind. And that principle is: The audience loves drama.

The tickle people nowadays find on Facebook and Pinterest, they could 400 years ago find in Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, in Shakespeare’s times, dock workers were watching his comedies laughing and slapping their thighs.

So what better to study for drama than Facebook and Shakespeare?

And as Kristen’s blog is about creative writing, out of the two we should pick Shakespeare. Let’s take one of the most famous plays ever written and see how a masterful dramatic plot comes about: Let’s take a look at Macbeth!

Plot? What’s Plot?

Macbeth tells the story of a nobleman (Macbeth), who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become King of Scotland one day. This might have sparked his appetite for power, for he subsequently murders the king and rules the kingdom with malice. In the end his tyranny becomes so bad an alliance of nobles has to get together to defeat him and behead him at his castle.



Now let’s start out by explaining why an apple is an apple, i.e. answering the question: What is plot?

Plot is the movement of characters over the chess board of the story; it shows us what the figures do and what happens to them.

Good plot is plot that is moving the audience: It makes them feel suspense, laughter, anxiety or whatever else (Side note: If it’s a comedy and they only feel anxiety, you have it the wrong way). Plot is everything that happens, on a broader scale.

Additionally, plot will lead to POSSIBILITIES not acted out, which are very important as well, because they make the audience ask themselves QUESTIONS, e.g. the extraordinarily important question: What will happen next?

What MIGHT happen is often more thrilling than what actually DOES happen– you are aware of this if, for example, you have ever been out doing your thing while wondering whether you turned off the stove before leaving the house.

Excitement comes from what IS and from what COULD BE. What actually is reality, is a little less exciting, because, well, it is already. It’s the unknown that excites us the most, it’s the possibilities: How will your cat and your new pet canary get along? What will Grandmother say when she finds out your new boyfriend works for Burger King? Will drinking horse urine really improve your health?

Questions upon questions.

Once you get the answer, things might become very exciting for a short time, but the joy or desperation will wear off quickly. A question left hovering, however, could tickle you forever…

What REALLY excites your audience is not the answer to the following question, but the question itself: “WHAT THE $&*% IS GONNA HAPPEN NEXT!?“

So how do you make a plot really fascinating for the audience?

You do it by letting them wonder about as many QUESTIONS as possible. You see, this is the trick about creating a thrilling piece of plot: The game is about QUESTIONS! The more QUESTIONS the audience are asking themselves and the more urgently they are asking them, the more they will love your story.

Suspense is created by QUESTIONS the audience directs towards themselves (because, well, there is absolutely nobody better around to direct them at…).

Solving these questions, in turn, leads to new questions, and it is also essential to ask those new questions BEFORE the old ones are resolved! This way you are making sure you have your audience hooked constantly and without any gaps in between, which would mean a lagging plot, or, in the common man’s words, a really boring story.

While the plot constantly develops in a dynamic way, new burning questions will arise.

Your questions should also come up in your story NATURALLY. They should never feel as if they are just there because of the godlike will of the author. If a prisoner suddenly finds a file on the ground, and there is no cake around it, your audience might feel manipulated and won’t buy into the illusion of your story anymore.

You say so far this all sounds very theoretical? Now let’s take a look at how Master Shakespeare did it!

McDonald's Meme

Shakespeare didn’t have to post his dinner on FB– Look how he hooked the reader instead…

First act, first scene: Enter witches. First immediate QUESTIONS: Are those bitches crazy?

Speaking weird sh!% in rhymes, running around under thunder and lightning in wide open space, probably with hunches, crooked fingers and dressed in rags. QUESTION: What the *&%$ is this?

Well, it’s an unusual and very powerful way to start a play: Notice how an original setting immediately raises a LOT of questions, before even a single word is spoken (Who are they? What are they doing out there? What’s gonna happen next?), while also providing visually exciting elements on stage for entertainment-hungry 17th century, Twitter-less eyeballs (storm, lightning, open space, eerie women). Good sh!%!

Cut to second scene. We hear war cries and see a king and a bloody warrior laying out a recap of the battle– it’s all very dynamic, but you don’t see the actual fight. So the play even spares the director the hassle of having to stage the battle, which in turn saves him a couple of stuntmen.

Immediately, questions arise: Who is fighting against whom? Who is winning? What do they want? Who was killed? What happened? What’s the king’s mission?

See how the plot starts to unfold almost unobtrusively, while questions, atmosphere and characters engage the audience’s interest and spark their excitement?

We hear about Macbeth before we even see him for the first time– this is, combined with the play’s title, a very effective way to spike curiosity! Question: Who will he be?

We can’t go through every single scene here, or else you will have to witness me chew and digest my copy of Macbeth out of sheer madness, but you get the picture:

On a micro-level, asking questions works to engage the audience in a single scene, or maybe in an act.

On a macro-level, asking questions works to engage the audience in the whole drama and to overall wow them.

In the third scene of the first act the bitches witches, predict Macbeth will become king. With their prediction perhaps the two most intriguing QUESTIONS of the whole drama come to mind:

  1. Are those crooked women indeed capable of predicting the future (read as: Does fate exist)?
  1. Will Macbeth indeed become king eventually?

Those two questions essentially amount to the same single one. They will be resolved in the beginning of the third act, when we see Macbeth appearing as king for the first time.

Notice how by then, there will have been some urgent NEW QUESTIONS established, to never let the audience off the hook for even one second (Will the nobles ever discover that Macbeth has murdered the king? How will Macbeth cope with his own guilt? Etc…).


Please don’t do it this way…

They say you only really value something once it’s gone. So I want to make you value Shakespeare’s plot by cold-heartedly taking it away from you. This is how Shakespeare should never, ever have done it, no way.

Had he done it like this, they would have booed him off the stage, which would have made him so depressed he would have spent the rest of his lifetime on useless crap like twittering about his digestion all day long (Btw, twittering back then probably worked with REAL birds, as in messenger pigeons).

Macbeth Done All Wrong

1st Act

The king, Duncan, in his castle, doing his thing (Instagram or whatever). We see him interacting with his sons and with nobility. He is friendly with them. No problems given, no questions asked, no solutions needed. He has a nice convo with Macbeth about the weather. He has supper with the nobles. He farts and goes to sleep.

2nd Act

In a short, easy-going monologue, Macbeth tells the audience he has killed the king. He is wearing the crown and is now the new king. Lady Macbeth is happy.

3rd Act

We see Macduff coming towards Macbeth’s castle, some soldiers behind him. Suddenly a soldier appears on stage and announces he has killed Macbeth.



Granted, Shakespeare’s play has much more content, but nevertheless the main point presents itself here in all its glory.

Notice all of the interesting questions missing: Will Macbeth murder the king? Will his guilt kill him? Will the predictions come true? How will Macduff react?

Much of the basic plot still happens: The king is murdered, Macbeth bullies the country, Macbeth gets killed. But there is no alluding to future events, no uncertainty around the acts or characters, no hovering possibility of doom.

No witches. No questions. No fun.

The Good-Bye Part (Summary)

I hope that from now on you will think of great plot in terms of QUESTIONS rather than in terms of events.

Create an outstanding plotline by raising intriguing QUESTIONS. Raise new QUESTIONS before you answer the old ones– this way your audience won’t ever be let off the hook!

With this new way of thinking, your readers will just have to know what happens next. You will get them eagerly turning the pages, completely addicted to your story. And you might, yes you just might…become even more important than Facebook to them.


Photo, Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Create intriguing stories with his free ebook “44 Key Questions” to test your story or check out his creative writing exercises. Shakespeare is jealous. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

Thanks, Alex!

What are your thoughts? Do you go too easy on your characters thereby tanking your plot? Do you kind of wish they had Instagram back then? How cool would it have been to see an Attila the Hun Selfie? What historical figure would you have loved to follow on social media? Do you find that unanswered questions are actually WAY more interesting? Do you know the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Alex is going to be guest posting a few more times, so if there are any other topics you’d like HIM to explore, put them in the comments!

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.

OCTOBER’S WINNER is M DELLERT Please e-mail your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document. One-inch margins, double-spaced, Times Roman font to kristen@ wana intl dot com and congratulations!

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