A Country in Crisis—How Pop Culture is Devaluing Men AND Women

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Age and Invisibility

Back when I was in sales, we had a saying, “Say it once. Say it twice. Say it three times. Say it four times. Say it five times and they will believe.” Traditional marketing has hinged on this tenet for generations. The more people see product, an idea, etc. the better chance it will become “sticky” and meld into the collective consciousness.

This is also the foundation of any dictatorship, a concept those of us in political science called a “Cult of personality.” Propaganda is powerful.

Last post, I blogged about how seemingly innocent ads and blogs are anything but. Yes, I agree, some 20-something telling women over thirty they shouldn’t wear sparkles or eyeshadow shouldn’t affect how I feel about myself and frankly? It doesn’t.

She can go pound sand.

The problem is when an idea or attitude becomes SO pervasive that it translates into a socioeconomic or cultural reality. These snipes, jabs, “jokes” and stereotypes seep in and eventually forge the norm. Let’s explore a couple modern examples.

Blondes are Stupid/Slutty

He's a FRENCH MODEL...

He’s a FRENCH MODEL…

When I bought a red Honda Civic years ago, I never noticed how many there were until I drove one. Thus, being a blonde, I tend to notice how we are portrayed in the media probably more than others. I will NEVER do business with State Farm because of some of their commercials.

In one commercial, there is an African American male documenting a fender-bender on his smart phone while the blonde waits for her date she found on the Internet (because everything you read on the Internet is true). She found a “French model”, who turns out to be a giant doofy phony she saucers off with extra proud of her “find.”

Try reversing this and making a person of color look that stupid and we’d have march on D.C.

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It’s the blonde mother who can’t figure out that Benadryl has single serving portable doses for when Junior is sneezing at the park. The brunette mom rolls her eyes at the blonde mother struggling with a spoon and a bottle.

Or the blonde who can’t figure out teeth-whitening strips. The brunette obviously knows there is the Aquafresh whitening tray (because apparently whitening strips are super advanced technology beyond a blonde woman’s mental capabilities.)

It’s the birth control pills the blonde is too dumb to figure out and on and on. Now that I’ve pointed this out, I’m fairly sure you will see it, too.

In film we’re often portrayed as sluts, morons, home wreckers and villains. I had one author I really enjoyed, but by the third book I read where the blonde was the evil tramp? I was done. Stereotypes= Lazy Writing.

And one might say, “Oh, Kristen, just brush it off. It shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself.” Here is the thing. It doesn’t. I love being blonde. I’m Norwegian and embrace how I look and am secure in who I am. BUT, it impacts how others view ME.

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Case in point, years ago I had a chemist approach me to ghost write a HIGHLY technical book. Why? I have a very strong science background and at the time was a technical writer for firearms, defense, and computer companies.

Anyway, we are in the middle of a critique session when his wife barges in and calls me everything under the sun, certain I was having an affair with her husband even though EVERY interaction I’d had with this person was via copied e-mails and in a large group (um, because I’m a professional and no, not THAT kind of “professional”).

She was certain because of my appearance I couldn’t be a “real” writer, especially NOT a high-tech writer.

Really. I wish I was making this up.

When I was in the business world, I’d come up with a new idea or strategy and no one would make a sound. Then the man sitting next to me would repeat what I’d just said and suddenly it was GENIUS!

One of my cousins, also a natural blonde, and as gorgeous as any supermodel, eventually dyed her hair brown because she found people listened to her ideas and took her more seriously as a brunette. Her career had slammed to a halt as a blonde, then suddenly took off when she changed hair color.

Thus, tell me again how pop culture has no impact on perception. What are we telling blonde little girls about who they will grow to be? Don’t get me wrong, the jokes make me laugh, but when it’s ALL jokes? Eventually, I’m not laughing.

One of the main reasons I LOVED “Frozen”? It was the first time in generations Disney had a blonde that wasn’t asleep waiting for a kiss or for a man to figure out her shoe size so she could get on with her life.

Media and Men

If I had a dollar for every commercial that implies grown men are idiots, I’d be writing this blog on a beach somewhere. Apparently, according to television, men are incapable of feeding themselves, watching kids, grocery shopping, and they need help from mommy when calling in a car accident. Mom, wife, girlfriend, kids and even the dog has a higher IQ than a grown man.

Here’s an infuriating enlightening compilation of what I’m talking about…

I feel the past 25 years has Homer-Simpsonized men. If a man is over thirty, he’s incompetent and needs mom or wife-as-mom. He’s not even smart enough to order a pizza on his own (another commercial that sent me fuming).

Show me a strong, assured handsome older man? I’ll show you an E.D. commercial…with a man sailing off in a boat alone. WTH?

Huh? Wow, apparently older men can’t even think to pack a WOMAN on the trip. Should have called mom first.

As the mother of a boy, I think these media/cultural images are dangerous. I’ve had my own dealings with schools punishing Spawn for what 25 years ago was simply, “being a little boy.” Boys are loud, rambunctious, have a lot of energy and many times, aren’t going to behave like girls unless medicated. As in sit still and be quiet for hours at a time.

I was once called up to school because Spawn was playing Zombie on the playground (age 4).

Me: Was he biting anyone?

Administrator: No.

Me: Was he touching or grabbing anyone or hurting them?

Administrator: No.

Me: Well, then what was he doing?

Administrator: Moaning and wandering around with a blank stare.

Me: Well, sounds like every DMV employee I’ve ever met, so what is the problem?

Administrator: He just…likes zombies. We also think he lacks imagination and he refuses to answer to his name. He will only answer to Zombie-Robot.

Me: I think I need some air.

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And NOW we unschool.

Culture Crisis

Even though society (in REALITY) has changed, why aren’t commercials reflecting this? We now live in a world where both parents work more often than not, and yet the majority of commercials still portray Mom as the one in charge, cooking, cleaning, etc.

Why are dads absentee in reality? I ask why are they absentee in advertising? I was SO thrilled that Cheerios took this on with their new campaign #HowToDad, which portrays a WONDERFUL example of a husband AND father. It made me want to stand and cheer! Why can’t we have more of these kinds of commercials?

Writers Create the Future

Writing forges culture and attitudes, meaning words and images are POWERFUL. If our pop culture keeps implying anyone over 30 is irrelevant (stupid, incompetent, lazy, invisible), guess what happens?

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We are facing a CRISIS in this country. Age discrimination is RAMPANT.

If we can’t see it, we can’t BE it. What does the strong, confident sexy over-30, 40, 50 + person (male or female) LOOK like? What does a great husband, confident and capable father look like? There are a lot of single fathers. Who is speaking for THEM?

We “older folks” are the group with the most spending power, yet how much marketing is directed to those groups who need our credit card to make a purchase? And this affects products created and offered. I would LOVE to dress chic, but when Target offers 15 versions of skinny jeans and super-short shorts in the Misses section? I’m limited what I can buy.

I’m a professional. I can’t wear micro-minis and short shorts and be taken seriously (or be comfortable for that matter).

This means I live in t-shirts and yoga pants, reinforcing the stereotype that women over 30 just don’t care what we look like. It’s a double-bind for ALL of us.

Men AND women.

I can’t say much about this, but right now there is a LARGE group of people suing a BIG company because this company essentially wholesale got rid of anyone over 40 (mostly men) and replaced them with 20-somethings out of college.

There was NO concern for the years of experience these older workers had, the relationships with customers they’d spent years cultivating. They were old, ergo irrelevant and replaceable…which turned out to be a bad move because the newbies required so much training and had no industry experience. This meant they made a LOT of COSTLY mistakes.

Work had to be redone and redone…and redone when the older workers had ten times the output and projects/orders done correctly the FIRST time. So did the company really save money?

Thus, when people say, “Brush it off.” “Move on.” “It shouldn’t affect how you feel about yourself.”

This is true.

The problem is that we’ve been “nice” so long that now we’re seeing these stereotypes become cultural and economic realities. Yeah, sure, I can feel great about how I look and I like a good self-deprecating joke or three. But I kinda like being EMPLOYED, too.

A Country Without a Heart has No Brain

My degree was in Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. Often when you study third and fourth world countries, what you find is that women aren’t valued. This means a country only has access to less than half of their workforce and intellectual/creative reservoirs (since women typically outnumber men).

The Western World likes to believe it’s “evolved” but we’re seeing major shrinkage in population sizes with each generation while simultaneously mothballing the more mature workers/contributors. If the population over 30 or 40+ vastly outnumbers the young? And we fail to value the more mature generations?

You see where the logic is headed.

Youth is beautiful and wonderful and I LOVE young people. Work with them all the time. They are our future. But I think this is why it is incumbent on those of us in the older generations to speak up. Sure, we can take a joke. But it seems that we are BECOMING the joke, and that’s uncool.

Many of you reading this are writers. Embrace the power you have. Writers are responsible for more social change than any legislation ever passed.

We have the power to change hearts and minds, but we have to confront. We have to write companies and tell them we won’t buy from them because they don’t represent us, or they are demeaning us. We should support companies who value us. Money has a LOT of power as well.

Support companies who empower you. I refuse to purchase anything from a company that can’t respect me as a person. We can be funny without being demeaning and cruel. And if their ad people can’t? Hire better writers. Advertise to make us laugh, but not at our expense (Hello, CHEERIOS ad? Funny and awesome).

This one made me get tears! What a PRO-BOY commercial!

So I am going to go buy some Cheerios :D  and support the great, wonderful fathers, friends, dads and MEN out there along with the gals.

But first, I have to go do a 3-D rendering of this tooth-whitening strip. I’ve already gotten three stuck in my hair :P . I’m all for gal-power, but we are in this together. We are not alone ;).

What are your thoughts? Do you get tired of being the butt of the joke? Have you seen pop culture impact how you are treated as a person? What are some positive ads, commercials, images that you think we need to see more of? How could Madison Avenue do a better job of speaking to us? And MEN, speak up! We love hearing from you, too!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***January’s Winner is Nolan White. Please send your 5,000 word Word document to kristen at wana intl dot com and CONGRATULATIONS!

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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95 Comments

Taking on the Blogging Bullies—Ageism, Fear & Misbehaving “Old” Women

Fashion for the Over 30 Woman

Fashion for the Over 30 Woman

Writers have a LOT of power. A LOT. Art often not only defines and reflects a society as it currently exists, but it can be a compass for the direction that culture is heading. This said, there was a blogger who sent me into the STRATOSPHERE on Saturday and had me sharpening kitchen knives. As a writer, I strongly believe in giving credit for the writing, but this is a sticky situation.

I won’t mention her name or her blog for a number of reasons.

First, she doesn’t deserve the traffic I might send her. Being a jerk shouldn’t be rewarded and bad attention is still attention. Secondly, I couldn’t trust myself not to be a troll, so I won’t subject her to comments she deserves because, since I’m older?

I’m classier than that :)

Since she’s simple enough to locate on Twitter, FB and the blogosphere, I’m not going to set her up as the easy target she’s already made herself.

Women—REAL women—watch out for one another (even the twerps).

Yet, the overall tone of the blog bothered me DEEPLY and though this “writing” was meant to simply be a fashion blog, it said way more about our culture than simply what not to wear.

How It Happened

Can get you in trouble...

Can get you in trouble…

In between writing or cooking or cleaning I click on posts. It’s part of my job as an author. I’m a woman and admit to my own level of vanity, so when I saw a post about X number of things NO WOMAN over 30 should EVER wear, I was curious (being almost 41).

I thought my head would EXPLODE, not because of the list, which I can always disagree with. Rather, it was the shi#!$ commentary, the ageism and the immeasurable level of disrespect that followed the “tips.” Here are a few of my “favorites.”

Graphic Tees—You are what we call a “grown-up.” Now, dress like it, please.

Reply: You are what we call a snot. Stop speaking before you get hurt.

Non-Matching Socks—By Age 30, you should be able to keep better track of your socks.

Reply: Talk to me after you’ve had some kids.

Hoop Earrings—Only girls in high school can pull off hoop earrings.

Reply: Did you ask the Latinas about this? You might have a bounty on your head. Might watch your six.

Old Sneakers—Grown women should not be seen in rundown tennis shoes. If you can’t afford a new pair, then it’s time to reevaluate life as a 30 year old.

Reply: Old sneakers are great for throwing.

Glittery Eyeshadow—Save the glitter for things that should actually sparkle.

Reply: We are NEVER too old to sparkle :P . Try a good attitude, a smile and being positive. Glitter simply enhances these attributes you clearly do not yet possess.

Abercrombie & Fitch—Do thirty-year-olds even FIT in A&F clothes?

Reply: I will CUT you O_o

Let's talk some more about how I am old and ugly….

Age and treachery….

Anyway, as y’all can imagine, this generated QUITE the heated discussion on my Facebook page. This blogger should have titled the post “How to Piss Off Women Globally 24 Ways.” Yet, among the comments a few of my friends were well-meaning.

They’d say, “Pthththt, ignore it.” “A blogger shouldn’t dictate how you feel about yourself.” “Just move on. She’s a b%$#@.”

And there are plenty of times I ignore asshattery and DO move on. If I ranted against everything that rubbed me the wrong way, I’d be in a coma by lunch. Yet, this blog DID land in my crosshairs because it is the definition of evil. It’s misogyny, ageism, narcissism, and BULLYING wrapped in one ad-crammed package.

By the time I finished reading the tips, I was curious if the blogger would find THIS as an acceptable gift for female 30th birthdays….

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

Image courtesy of TrueFashionMirror

A Little Respect, Please?

When one looks deeper into this “innocent” blog, it becomes clear it is FAR from innocent. Here is a girl not just giving tips to her elders, but also passing judgement in a highly disrespectful manner.

I am about to be 41, a mother and wife, a C.E.O., have a degree and was living in a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria when she was fighting acne in high school. I’ve been a writer longer than she has had a driver’s license. I feel I’ve earned a measure of respect.

She obviously mistook me for her peer. This is the narcissism I’m referring to.

And we are seeing A LOT of this these days. Well-meaning parents wanting their kids to be their “friends” forgot to add that yes, we are friends, but we are NOT equals.

Unfortunately, this causes a lot of problems. First, those younger than us can endure needless suffering because they refuse to believe older people might actually have some sound advice.

In the workplace, many younger people are doing poorly because they simply won’t follow simple instructions without a detailed explanation of WHY from a highly vexed superior.

Because I am the boss. Just DO it.

This can actually be very dangerous. I’m part of the military, medical, and law enforcement culture. There are far too many young nurses, recruits and cadets who are simply not teachable.

They ask WHY, WHY, WHY with no thought of who is standing there. This insubordinate attitude undermines the authority of the person in charge and, frankly, in these jobs? Failure to listen and take instructions is a good way to die (or have someone else die).

In Corporate America? They just fire said snit and said snit ends up working as a barista clueless why he/she can’t get ahead despite that expensive degree.

This failure to respectfully communicate also harms us older folks. Instead of being able to harness what youth DOES bring to the table—boundless energy, creativity, a fresh perspective—we are too busy thinking if their lifeless body will fit in the office’s recycle bin.

She asked WHY one too many times and I SNAPPED!

Ageism 

Yes, something as small as a “fashion blog” can perpetuate eventual ruination. How? Because posts like these are “small” people say. “Oh just ignore it.” But these images are everywhere, like army ants. Small destructive buggers. Alone? No big deal. But millions of them left ignored?

Even the LIONS run...

Even the LIONS run…

Our society is in a crisis. We don’t value older people and older workers the way we should. I once worked for a company who had never once had a person make it to retirement. Employees hit a certain age and were badgered, bullied and written up until they quit or could be “legally” fired—then replaced with two college graduates who ask WHY all the time.

*head desk*

There was so little appreciation for the wealth of knowledge, instinct, and maturity that older worker brought to the table. Yet, how much of our entertainment culture is fueling this attitude?

If I don’t want to buy Cosmo, and maybe read a magazine with women my age in it? The pictures are all of food and housecleaning devices.

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The Double-Bind Age & Invisibility

Women over a certain age seem to vanish off the screen, or are recast as a mom or grandmother. Sean Connery can be a love interest in his late 60s, but a woman? EW!

41, with my EYESHADOW and Call of Duty Shirt :P

41, with my EYESHADOW and Call of Duty Shirt :P

There are 20 year-olds advertising wrinkle creams and teenagers modeling underwear for women. The fashion industry has been far too silent for the largest consumer demographic with the most disposable income.

This particular “fashion blog” did a great job of pissing me off  but what are the affordable alternatives? She took great pains to knife me over and over, but where is something helpful I can use?

Okay, no eyeshadow or glitter. Why? And, HELLOO? What’s better than eyeshadow and glitter?

NOTHING. The answer is NOTHING. Unless Predator Drones and trebuchets are options and then I will have to think on that.

Kristen at almost 35...

Kristen at almost 35…

Sure, if I could afford Chanel, Gucci or even Ann Taylor, I might be able to “age gracefully” (so let’s add in classism to our list). But in a regular store? Women over 30 have four choices—Tragic Pole Dancer, Government Employee, People of Walmart, Church Choir Director.

Thus, many women find we can’t win for losing. If we are over 30, 40, 50 or older and wear glitter and sparkles and makeup, we are being gross and acting like a tween. Yet, if we bow to the “be plain and blend into the wall” then we get, “Well, older women just aren’t considered attractive because they are lazy and don’t try.”

This blogger’s comment about worn out sneakers?

Grown women should not be seen in rundown tennis shoes. If you can’t afford a new pair, then it’s time to reevaluate life as a 30 year old.

When I was 30 all my clothes came from Goodwill and my sneakers were DEFINITELY rundown. Why? First, I decided to chuck the well-paying sales job I loathed to become a writer. Secondly, I was taking care of an ill mother, and watching my nephews (Age 5 and 1) so my brother and sister-in-law could finish college.

I sacrificed something as superficial as “fashion” and now mom is healthy and both brother and SIL have degrees and own their own companies.

And frankly, if a person is going to judge me and not be my friend because of my shoes? Probably not a person I would want to hang out with anyway. If a woman is going to ignore helping others because then she can’t wear the latest trends? DEFINITELY a person I don’t want to hang out with.

Oh, and this adorable commentary….

NO Abercrombie & Fitch

“Do thirty-year-olds even FIT in A&F clothes?”

Me at 34.

Me at 34. Size 2.

So Over 30=OBESE. Really? I refuse to wear A&F because I am old/mature enough to recognize an assclown company and refuse to wear overpriced crappy clothes to advertise for a company I loathe with the power of a thousand suns.

And yes, I have been plus-size, too.  So PTHTHTHTHTHTH.

Me in NYC @ Size 16 and only 5' 3"

Me in NYC @ Size 16 and only 5′ 3″

Call Bullying What It IS

I think the largest reason this fashion post lit my fire is that I’ve been a target of bullies my entire life. When I was a kid, it was because my clothes came from Kmart or I had the wrong shoes or my thighs were big (was in karate and ballet). I didn’t have the right hair, car, backpack or whatever and we think we will reach an age where this petty crap is behind us.

NOPE.

Women? We have to stick together. We live longer, are now in positions of power and we are an economic force. We have the ability to make fashion and society to hear our voice. WE ARE NOT ALONE and WE ARE NOT DEAD.

Call me old again. I need time to reload….

Call me old again. I need time to reload….

This blog was sheer meanness and bullying wrapped in a title of “Fashion Advice.” We shouldn’t “ignore” it or move on. We confront.

We cannot change what we will not challenge.

We need the guys to help out, too. We are all facing this nonsense. Men, I know you guys have your own challenges and I could write a WHOLE other blog about that. Apparently, men over 50 only want to go sailing alone or ride a motorcycle with other dudes after taking Viagra?

*HUH?*

Since I believe that darkness can only be countered with light, I started a Pinterest board “Old” Women Dressing and Behaving “Badly” and invited some of my FB gals to join, follow, and IDEALLY, add your pics.

Though you can see most of them (I pilfered a few from friends for this post) and add more of your own images to the board, I figured I’d showcase some of our “older” beauties here breaking and reinventing ALL the rules….

Lanette Kauten, Age 42

Author Lanette Kauten, Age 42

Christina Mitchell, Age 35

Author Christina Mitchell, Age 35

Christina Anne Hawthorne, Age 55

Author Christina Anne Hawthorne, Age 55

Author Monica-Marie Vincent…and NOW I want purple bangs.

Author Monica-Marie Vincent…and NOW I want purple bangs.

Chloe Jeffreys Age 50

Author and Blogger Chloe Jeffreys Age 50

Rachel Heller 53

Author Rachel Heller 53

Elaine Rogoza, Age 59

C.E.O. and Author Elaine Rogoza, Age 59

My mother Candice Lamb, Age 63

My mother Candice Lamb, Age 60. Registered Nurse

Ingrid Schaffenburg, Age 37

Journalist Ingrid Schaffenburg, Age 37

Author Mercedes Murdock Yardley, Age 347 (she is a vampire)

Author Mercedes Murdock Yardley, Age 347 (she is a vampire). Definitely over 30…. :D

My DEAR friend for 8 years, Kitty Corvette. Over 30 and a TALENTED bass guitarist and model.

My DEAR friend for 8 years, Kitty Corvette. Over 30 and a TALENTED bass guitarist, model, and BUSINESS OWNER.

My stunning, classy, talented and "mature" stylist Lan Nguyen.

My stunning, classy, talented and “mature” stylist Lan Nguyen.

We DEFINE Beauty

Never let anyone tell you not to sparkle. All of you are precious, beautiful and fabulous in your way. There has been and only EVER WILL be ONE of you in all of human history. Claim your page. And I think there are countless men on our side who are just as ticked as we are, who enjoy a more mature woman or a lady with some sass, curves and wit (and they are wondering who keeps HIDING us).

As writers and artists we hold the power to change the world and life is a LOT more fun if we are there to love and encourage and fill the world with smart@SS t-shirts.

My FAVORITE t-shirt… SHARKS with LAZER EYES!

My FAVORITE t-shirt… SHARKS with LAZER EYES!

What are your thoughts? I hope this is leaving you feeling a bit more inspired. Okay, a LOT more inspired. We are living much longer lives, so are you ready to claim the rest of it? Seems sad that some think we only have a good 15 years out of 80 that we are worthwhile :P . Do you refuse to give up your sparkles, Converse tennis shoes and graphic tees?

Do you think we ignore too much? We pass over these “small” things and they just grow BIGGER? Do you think a lot of this fashion or health/fitness advice is borderline (or even outright) bullying? What is your favorite feature? Your favorite “verboten” fashion? I collect insane t-shirts :D .

And MEN! We love you and need you on our team! What are some of the BS things you deal with as you age? What commercials make you want to buy a reloading machine? Are you tired of all the weird E.D. ads, too?

****Let me know if you want to join our board in the comments. It helps if you have a Pinterest account.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***Will announce January’s winners next post.

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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217 Comments

Creating Dimensional Characters—The Blind Spot

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Last time, we talked about how to deepen characters and how EVERYBODY LIES (thank you Dr. House). Lies are critical for great fiction. To become excellent writers, we need to become great secret-keepers. Denial is more than a river in Africa ;) .

I’d started a series on this a few months ago and Shingles got in the way of the next posts I had planned. But, the first of the intended series was about THE WOUND.  Check it out if you have a bit of time.

Most of us don’t go around lying because we are pathological liars. We lie because of our wounds. And, if you read the post, wounds don’t have to be big to be BIG.

Newer writers sometimes think we have to have a rape or death for it to be “enough” but never underestimate “smaller” wounds. They are far more common, very damaging, and readers have a lot likelier time empathizing and thus connecting.

Though I had my fair share of big wounds in life, strangely enough, the small ones did just as much damage and maybe even more. It was the jokes about me being ugly or fat from family members or schoolmates. It was being teased that my clothes were from Kmart (had a single mom).

It was playing sports, competing in martial arts, or being first chair in clarinet and playing a key solo…yet every kid had a parent/family member in the audience but me.

These wounds drove me to being more of a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, and insecure about my body and looks. One can only be called “Thunder Thighs” so many times. To this day, I refuse to wear shorts even though, when people made these comments, I was 11% body fat. I just happen to be built for strength and “willowy” is an adjective that will never describe me.

Me at 5'3", 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Me at 5’3″, 165 pounds and a Size 10.

Yet, though the wounds did their fair share of damage, they also created a person who learned to be self-sufficient VERY early….which is a mixed bag. Also, I learned to ignore other people’s opinions. This helped A LOT when I was blogging about how social media would change the world and had others calling me a lunatic.

But, I can also say there are times I maybe should have been better at listening to counsel and opinions. Learning to discern when to listen and when to ignore is still a struggle for me…because of the WOUNDS.

Beyond “The Wound”

Today, we’re going to explore an extension of the WOUND. The BLIND SPOT. There are no perfect personalities. All great character traits possess a blind spot. The loyal person is a wonderful friend, but can be naive and taken advantage of.

The take-charge Alpha leader can make a team successful, but also inadvertently tromp over feelings or even fail to realize that others have great ideas, too. Maybe even BETTER ideas.

Often the antagonist (Big Boss Troublemaker) is a mirror of the protagonist, especially in the beginning of the story. In the first book of the series I am currently writing, Romi (my protagonist) is LOYAL. She believes everyone has some good and the world will reward you if you simply are good and work hard.

How she ends up in trouble and the number one suspect in an Enron-like scam is that she trusted the wrong people and they let her take the fall for the scheme.

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde."

Romi is VERY Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde.”

To arc and be able to beat the antagonist and solve the core story problem—Find money and clear her name—she’s going to have to grow up. Her bright-eyed naiveté is an asset. Others (ALLIES) gravitate to her because she is such a Pollyanna. They are there to buttress her weaknesses and even mentor her growth.

Yet, by story’s end, she cannot be the same. She’s going to have to be more realistic and see truth about people in order to come out alive.

Conversely, the antagonist is betting that the original blind spot used to make Romi the sucker will remain. The antagonist is banking that she will refuse the call and thus not grow. The antagonist’s blind spot is pride and opportunism. Being able to manipulate.

Yet as Romi grows, she learns to see who people truly ARE, not what she simply wants to see and that is a large reason the antagonist fails.

Application

To use an example from a movie we have likely all seen. In Top Gun, what makes Maverick the best pilot is his complete lack of fear. He has the cajones to do what other pilots wouldn’t ever consider.

He’s driven by his wound, the lie about his father. This has made him one of the best pilots (trying to overcome his tainted history and impress a ghost) but he’s missed the lesson on how to be part of a team.

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Yes, maybe breaking all the rules makes you “the best”, but it can get others killed. It isn’t all about HIM.

This is why when I refer to “the antagonist” I prefer my made-up term Big Boss Troublemaker. The antagonist isn’t always “bad.” The antagonist is simply the person responsible for creating the core story problem.

Iceman isn’t a bad guy. He isn’t evil with a plan to take over the world or infiltrate the Top Gun school as a sleeper terrorist.

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He’s simply a by-the-book fighter pilot who believes Maverick shouldn’t be there. He loathes Maverick because he thinks he’s a danger to himself and others (and, frankly, he has a very valid point).

The plot provides the crucible. Maverick butts heads with Iceman over and over in a um, man-part-measuring contest. But what happens when Maverick loses Goose? Crisis.

A hard event (PLOT) has now forced Maverick to face the truth about himself. For the first time, he SEES the blind spot Iceman and others have been pointing out (which has been the core source of conflict). This loss forces him to go searching for answers deeper than buzzing the tower.

He finally recognizes others might actually have a point.

The beauty of this movie and why it’s remained so timeless (aside from hot guys in Navy dress) is it’s a movie exploring people. Real, broken, hurting people blind to who they really are. By story’s end? Everybody arcs.

Maverick learns there are other people in the sky besides HIM and that he is part of a TEAM. Iceman lightens up and recognizes that Maverick, too, has a point. Sometimes one just has to toss out the rulebook.

Thus, when creating characters in any story, to deepen them, we need to KNOW them. What DRIVES THEM? How would they react according to their past, their wounds and their blind spot?

As a writing exercise, take a scenario. Maybe an attempted mugging. How would different characters react?

For instance, when I was in college, I taught Jui-Jitsu during the day and sold papers in the evening. One dark winter night a drunk tried to mug me in a dark apartment complex and take my hard case briefcase.

Because of MY background, growing up powerless and determined to be in CONTROL, I’d taken years of martial arts. Also, when I was eight, I witnessed my 6’8″ male family member raise his hand to hit my mom while she was cooking….and she beat his ass out the front door wielding a mad hot cast iron skillet.

This left a mark (though likely more on said family member).

Thus, 12 years later when a MUCH larger drunk came up behind and tried to mug ME, he got beaten heartily with a briefcase and then chased until I lost him.

But why did I fight, not just hand over the briefcase?

I’d always been POOR. I was very poor in college and had worked long hours to buy a really nice briefcase in hopes of landing a better job than selling and delivering papers. There was no money in the case. I could have handed it over but because of MY wounds, the briefcase was more than a briefcase.

Clearly my BLIND SPOT is I have an alligator mouth and a pekinese @$$. I could have lost and ended up hurt or dead.

But what about a person with a different background? A different wound? A different blind spot?

What if the person mugged was a trust fund baby who could easily buy another briefcase? Or a person who’d been beaten badly in formative years and would do anything to avoid experiencing that pain? What if the person was elderly? There are a lot of variables that make a VERY rich palette to create characters with LIFE.

Think of your own life and personality? What is your greatest strength? How does it create your greatest weakness? What is YOUR blind spot. Play a little armchair psychiatrist and what you find might be really interesting ;) . Feel free to share about you or even your favorite characters you’ve read or even written.

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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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41 Comments

How to Create Multi-Dimensional Characters—Everybody Lies

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Image via the award-winning show “House.”

Back in the Spring we started talking about ways to create multi-dimensional characters. Then I probably saw something shiny and, in case you are wondering? NO, I can’t catch the red dot. But I don’t give up easily :D .

It’s tempting for us to create “perfect” protagonists and “pure evil” antagonists, but that’s the stuff of cartoons, not great fiction. Every strength has an array of corresponding weaknesses, and when we understand these soft spots, generating conflict becomes easier. Understanding character arc becomes simpler. Plotting will fall into place with far less effort.

All stories are character-driven. Plot merely serves to change characters from a lowly protagonist into a hero….kicking and screaming along the way. Plot provides the crucible. 

One element that is critical to understand is this:

Everyone has Secrets

To quote Dr. Gregory House, Everybody lies.

All good stories hinge on secrets.

I have bodies under my porch.

Okay, not all secrets in our fiction need to be THIS huge.

Secret #1—“Real” Self Versus “Authentic” Self

We all have a face we show to the world, what we want others to see. If this weren’t true then my author picture would have me wearing a Gears of War T-shirt, yoga pants and a scrunchee, not a beautifully lighted photograph taken by a pro.

We all have faces we show to certain people, roles we play. We are one person in the workplace, another with family, another with friends and another with strangers. This isn’t us being deceptive in a bad way, it’s self-protection and it’s us upholding societal norms. This is why when Grandma starts discussing her bathroom routine, we cringe and yell, “Grandma! TMI! STOP!”

No one wants to be trapped in a long line at a grocery store with the total stranger telling us about her nasty divorce. Yet, if we had a sibling who was suffering, we’d be wounded if she didn’t tell us her marriage was falling apart.

Yet, people keep secrets. Some more than others.

In fact, if we look at The Joy Luck Club the entire book hinges on the fact that the mothers are trying to break the curses of the past by merely changing geography. Yet, as their daughters grow into women, they see the faces of the same demons wreaking havoc in their daughters’ lives…even though they are thousands of miles away from the past (China).

How could she just LEAVE those babies?

How could she just LEAVE those babies?
Image via IMDB “The Joy Luck Club”

The mothers have to reveal their sins, but this will cost them the “perfect version of themselves” they’ve sold the world and their daughters (and frankly, themselves).

The daughters look at their mothers as being different from them. Their mothers are perfect, put-together, and guiltless. It’s this misperception that keeps a wall between them. This wall can only come down if the external facades (the secrets) are exposed.

Secret #2—False Face

Characters who seem strong, can, in fact, be scared half to death. Characters who seem to be so caring, can in fact be acting out of guilt, not genuine concern for others. We all have those fatal weaknesses, and most of us don’t volunteer these blemishes to the world.

In fact, we might not even be aware of them. It’s why shrinks are plentiful and paid well.

The woman whose house looks perfect can be hiding a month’s worth of laundry behind the Martha Stewart shower curtains. Go to her house and watch her squirm if you want to hang your coat in her front closet. She wants others to think she has her act together, but if anyone opens that coat closet door, the pile of junk will fall out…and her skeletons will be on public display.

Anyone walking toward her closets or asking to take a shower makes her uncomfortable because this threatens her false face.

Watch any episode of House and most of the team’s investigations are hindered because patients don’t want to reveal they are not ill and really want attention, or use drugs, are bulimic, had an affair, are growing marijuana in their attics, etc.

Secret #3—False Guilt

Characters can be driven to right a wrong they aren’t even responsible for. In Winter’s Bone Ree Dolly is driven to find her father before the bail bondsman takes the family land and renders all of them homeless.

Ree is old enough to join the Army and walk away from the nightmare, but she doesn’t. She feels a need to take care of the family and right a wrong she didn’t commit. She has to dig in and dismantle the family secrets (the crime ring entrenched in her bloodline) to uncover the real secret—What happened to her father?

She has to keep the family secret (otherwise she could just go to the cops) to uncover the greater, and more important secret. She keeps the secret partly out of self-preservation, but also out of guilt and shame.

Seeking the truth is painful...

Seeking the truth is painful…
Image via “Winter’s Bone”

I’m working on a fiction series and nearly finished with Book Two of three. But in Book One, my protagonist takes the fall for a massive Enron-like scam. She had nothing to do with the theft of a half a billion dollars and the countless people defrauded into destitution. Yet, she feels false guilt. She feels responsible even though she isn’t.

This directs her actions. It makes her fail to trust who she should because she’s been had before. When she uncovers a horrific and embarrassing truth about someone she trusts and loves, she withholds the information (out of shame for the other person) and it nearly gets her killed.

This embarrassing secret is the key to unlocking the truth, yet she hides it because of shame. Shame for the other person and shame that this information reveals her deepest weakness…she is naive and has been (yet again) fooled.

Be a GOOD Secret-Keeper

This is one of the reasons I HATE superfluous flashbacks. Yes, we can use flashbacks. They are a literary device, but like the prologue, they get botched more often than not.

Oh, but people want to know WHY my character is this way or does thus-and-such. 

Here’s the thing, The Spawn wants cookie sprinkles for breakfast. Just because he WANTS something, doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for him. Don’t tell us WHY. Reveal pieces slowly, but once secrets are out? Tension dissipates. Tension is key to maintaining story momentum. We WANT to know WHY, but it might not be good for us.

The Force was more interesting before it was EXPLAINED.

Everybody LIES

They can be small lies, “No, I wasn’t crying. Allergies.” They can be BIG lies, “I have no idea what happened to your father. I was playing poker with Jeb.” Fiction is one of the few places that LIES ARE GOOD. LIES ARE GOLD.

Fiction is like dating. If we tell our date our entire life story on Date #1? Mystery lost and good luck with Date #2.

When it comes to your characters, make them lie. Make them hide who they are. They need to slowly reveal the true self, and they will do everything to defend who they believe they are. Remember the inciting incident creates a personal extinction. The protagonist will want to return to the old way, even though it isn’t good for them.

Resist the urge to explain. 

Feel free to write it out for you…but then HIDE that baby from the reader. BE A SECRET-KEEPER. Secrets rock. Secrets make FABULOUS fiction.

What are your thoughts? Questions? What are some great works of fiction that show a myriad of lies from small to catastrophic? Could you possibly be ruining your story tension by explaining too much?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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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58 Comments

Writing, The Glamorous Life & Finding Balance in the Madness of Branding

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

This GORGEOUS image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Aimannesse Photography

I will confess, being a writer is THE best job in the world. But, I’d be lying if I didn’t ALSO admit it can feel like we’ve been strapped to Hell’s Tilt-A-Whirl.  As writers of the Digital Age we have a much higher chance at success than any writer in history, but we also have more work than any writer in history.

And, to make matters worse, spouses, bills, kiddos with snotty noses, dust bunnies and car troubles don’t go away the day we decide to become professional writers.

In fact, Spawn used more toilet paper than a crew of high school football players rolling the house of a rival team’s quarterback. And he flooded the bathroom. And I still have to clean the mess, but the liquor stores aren’t open yet.

So yeah, that is the glamourous job of an author.

ANYWAY….

RDD Can Make Us Nuts

RDD is what I like to call Reality Deficit Disorder. Like the flu, this disease seems to explode January of every year, normally brought on by New Year’s Resolutions.

We vow to be 18% body fat, debt-free, have an immaculate house, build a perfect social platform with a bazillion fans, and win the Pulitzer…all by March. We seem to collectively go crazy and forget that we can only do so much.

Many writers experience RDD when it comes to social media. We sign up for Facebook, and build an author page, and link to LinkedIn, and pin on Pinterest until our pinners are dull from wear. We weep over Instagram and mortify our teenagers by trying to tackle Tumblr.

Vowing to do everything, eventually we do nothing. We become paralyzed in the face of all we’ve committed to do.

Time to Get Real

Thus, the first step to preventing being overwhelmed is to be realistic in our goals and expectations. If we’ve already blown that, the trick to pulling ourselves out of the tail-spin is to sit down, rework our priorities, and commit to being more realistic.

Goals are written on paper not stone.

Successful people don’t just make a list of goals ONCE. The list of goals is always a living document in need of modification, reordering, or even being scrapped altogether.

Persistence is a wonderful trait. Persistence is noble. But persistence can look a lot like stupid.

If our GOAL is to summit Mt. Everest and we are trudging up Mt. Shasta? Helloooo? Helps to be on the correct MOUNTAIN.

For instance, my life DRASTICALLY changed when I decided to unschool Spawn. Instead of having six hours a day, five days a week where it was QUIET because he was in preschool? I have him here ALL DAY, EVERY DAY.

Thus, I’ve had to rework my routine and sharpen my focus. In between lessons, I let him play X-Box. BUT, it is not uncommon for me to be writing and have to stop and yell:

“Conserve your ammo! Single-fire or burst fire! Those aren’t Hollywood guns! They actually run out of ammo and spraying like a ganbanger creates too much muzzle-walk….”

Okay, where was I? *stares at computer”

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Time to Face the Music

I tend to be a person of my word…to a fault. If I promise to do something I will half-kill myself to get it done if need be. But sometimes this is just plain DUMB. I’ve learned that most people will understand if we have to back out of something we’ve promised to do, but we MUST be honest with them and vow to make it right.

Look, Sally. I know I promised to blog every day for a year to raise money for all the starving children in Africa, but I am out of my depth. I overestimated what I can do given the demands of my schedule. I apologize. I was so caught up in wanting to help you, I didn’t think. Please forgive me. Is there anything I can do that might be a smaller job? Can I help you find other bloggers to fill my spot who do have time to blog every day for all the starving children in Africa?

Many times people will be forgiving (probably because they’ve oopsed a time or two themselves). If we just face the problem and offer to be a solution, more often than not, other people will be reasonable.

Whey they aren’t reasonable is when we just don’t show up, disappear or dump a mess in their laps without any offer of help to remedy the problem.

And, as a warning. Don’t do this stuff too often. Professionals always need to take time to think before they agree to doing things. I still struggle with this and I REALLY goofed a few times during those months with Shingles, so as I have one finger pointed at you guys, I have three pointing back at me.

Likely, this will be a lesson we continually learn and relearn throughout all our lives (especially Helpful Hannah personalities like mine :D). But we DO have to be careful or others won’t want to work with us because we are, essentially, flakes.

No one expects us to be perfect, but they do expect us to be honest and kind. We can do that. Yes, it is scary. It’s tough facing when we’ve erred, but making mistakes is just part of the game and how we learn.

We will learn more from our mistakes/failures than we ever will our successes.

Time to Face the True Causes of Our Angst

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Making too many commitments and then (mistakenly) believing we can’t change is one of the major causes of feeling overwhelmed. It’s okay to be flexible.

Fortune Cookie Moment: The stiff oak breaks in the strong wind, but the reed that bends endures.

Remember, the commitment you made to yourself, that list of goals? It can be redone. The commitments to others? Those can be changed too, IF we are brave enough to admit we goofed, or maybe life just CHANGED (Hey, I didn’t PLAN on being in an ER three times from Shingles) and then we must be courageous enough to make things right.

Go around the leaf.

~Pixar’s “A Bug’s Life”

Have you made a list of goals that is nothing short of ridiculous? How did you come to your senses? Did you feel guilty having to rework your list? Do you struggle with being over committed? Do you struggle telling people “no”?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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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54 Comments

Social Media is a Waste of Time for Writers—Hmmm, Think Again

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We’ve been talking a lot about social media lately and I am always grateful for your comments and thoughts. This kind of feedback not only helps me improve my blog, but my also books, because I get a glimpse of your worries, weaknesses, fears, loves, and strengths.

As a teacher/mentor/expert, it’s my job to address those fears and put you at ease or reinforce when you’re headed the right direction and give you tools and tips to take what you’re doing to another level.

There’ve been some comments that have piqued my attention lately. Namely this notion to give up on social media completely to write more books (out of vexation for the medium and the task).

Oh-kay….

Social Media is a TOTAL Waste of Time

Write more books instead of tweeting or blogging. Social media is a giant time-suck better spent writing great books.

I don’t know how to answer this besides, Er? *screeching breaks* Personally, I can think of no larger waste of time than researching and reading and spending countless hours crafting a wonderful book of 60,000-110,000 words and then?

No one knows the book exists so few people ever read it, enjoy it or are changed by the author’s story.

It’s like spending six months to a year on an oil painting to hang it in an attic.

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These days, any agent worth their salt will not sign an author who doesn’t have a social media brand and presence. Rarely, they will take a book from an author who doesn’t…but usually it will come with the requirement the author get on-line and get to work.

I ADORE Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary and once shared a panel with her. She told the story of a book she LOVED and took even though the author wasn’t on social media. She was so impressed with the book she signed the author but told her she needed to get on social media and start building a platform.

After six months, the author refused. Dawn gave an ultimatum. Get your tail on social media or we drop the book and cancel the contract.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Myth-Busting

It used to be that an author who wanted to completely avoid social media went traditional. Well, traditional publishing has now seen the value of social media and almost all of them require it. They require it even if they allot budgeting for marketing. Why? Because social media helps them gain a FAR greater ROI on the marketing dollars spent.

How?

I’ll give an example. I once read a traditionally published craft book that changed my life. At the time, my platform had grown fairly large and I’ve worked very hard to create a solid reputation for recommending only the best resources. I tried to contact the author not only to promote the book, but to get this author to present our conference (which sells A LOT of books).

The web site was an outdated clumsy mess and the contact e-mail at the bottom was no longer any good. The author wasn’t on FB or Twitter and I think I finally located this writer—of all places—on LinkedIn. Four months later the author replied, but by then the window of opportunity had closed.

I was…vexed.

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Additionally, since I’d had such a bear of a time connecting to the author, I wasn’t going to recommend this tedious experience to others.

Publishers have since recognized this problem and they want to remove as much friction from a potential sale as possible. Their goal is not only to sell a book but to captivate and cultivate a FAN who will buy that book, the next and the next. This is simply smart business.

Though I’m not a huge fan of ads, it makes sense that if a publisher (traditional or indie) is going to pay good money to create and launch one, that anyone interested should be able to easily connect with the author. Same with coveted AP reviews, interviews, or events. Even if we self-publish and pay for promotion, an existing platform will make the most of that investment.

A LOT of any sales is the follow up then the follow-through.

If social media is new, scary, overwhelming? Welcome to being NEW. Most of us start like this…

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Social Media is for the CONSUMER

I come from a background in sales. Cardboard. Not glamourous but everyone uses it. Being the cheapest or mailing out flyers or calling non-stop was not what sold my product over other choices.

And trust me, we had BEAUTIFUL ads. I also had competition offering a far cheaper product. They also had products virtually IDENTICAL to ours. But ads and price and even selection weren’t the major driving factor in sales.

Rather, it was the customer’s ability to quickly and easily connect with ME.

Maybe the company didn’t need corner board the day they met me. But then, that purchaser I’d spoken to in the spring signed a contract with a client in the autumn who wanted to ship truckloads of water heaters STAT. Water heaters that needed protection during shipping.

Because that purchaser had my personal cell number (back in the days when most salespeople didn’t have one and I paid for my OWN), guess who closed the sale?

Most salespeople didn’t want to pay out of pocket for a cell phone. They liked the old ways, the way business had always been done. Call the office. Leave a message with the receptionist, and then they’d return the call when they got back in off the road (which could be DAYS).

Even if the salesperson got the message once they checked into their hotels, it would be late in the evening. The earliest a customer could get an answer would be the next day.

Me? They talked to the minute the idea flitted across their brains (or within the hour if I was in a meeting).

It cost me $400 a month of my own money to have a cell phone with enough minutes. Back then, 2000 minutes a month was the max one could buy in a package, but I had a nine-state territory and also all of northern Mexico and believed it was a wise investment.

Work smarter, not harder….

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I put out my own effort and money to make it easier for a customer to find and connect with me instantly. I didn’t have to. But it sure made that $2.5 million a year quota a lot easier to meet. Of ALL the cardboard reps vying for the SAME SALE, I was the one who was Johnny on the Spot to solve a problem. I was the one they could dial and get an almost-instant response and solution.

Though cardboard and novels are different products, that tether of personal connection is powerful.

A large number of agents, especially those at the prestigious agencies, will not even consider a query if they can’t google our name and see we’ve been working to at least connect and begin cultivating a community that can become readers.

But now many authors are going indie or self-publishing. Indie houses I can guarantee will likely ignore anyone who doesn’t want to be on social media. Those who self-publish? WE ARE THE PUBLISHER. What responsible publisher with a hint of business acumen ignores any kind of interaction and follow-up with potential customers (readers)?

It reminds me of the cardboard salesmen who didn’t want a cell phone. They’d missed the point that their job was to serve the customer’s schedule and needs, not the other way around.

Golf is NOT Golf and Dinner is NOT Dinner

Hubby and I had an interesting debate a few days ago. He kinda turned his nose up about wining and dining and entertaining clients (we have two small businesses). But Hubby has spent most of his professional life as a procurement person and is a long-lost cousin of Mr. Spock.

Hubby. Sigh.

Hubby. Sigh.

But then I explained that those off-site relaxed endeavors were actually investments in relationships and even friendships. When I took customers to lunch, I never talked business. I wanted to know (genuinely) about their wives, kids, or hobbies and let them have some fun talking about the things they enjoyed. It was personal.

It’s far more important to be interested than interesting.

When I would call to follow up, I asked about how their son’s Little League game went or how the wife was and simply told them I’d be in the area during a certain time. Never asked for money or talked about cardboard.

I also never chastised them or was hurt if they bought from another source. I’d say, “Well, that was a smart business decision. Can’t blame you for being prudent. Just hope I am there to help you next time. You know how to reach me.”

Over time, because of the relaxed atmosphere, I found that customers gravitated to calling me because they knew me, could reach me, and rather enjoyed not being pitched to non-stop. They’d even pay more.

This movie still gives me nightmares...

This movie still gives me nightmares…

What was really cool was that certain customers eventually refused to deal with any other company but ours, no matter how cheap the competitor’s price. They would even recommend me (and my product) to other companies, because I ignored the ABCs (Always BE Closing) and trusted the power of relationships and consistency.

The same can be said for social media. Blasting spam and bargains and free stuff might work for a while and on a few people, but it doesn’t generate the long-term loyalty money can’t buy.

Sure, back in my cardboard days, it cost me time and money and effort. My hard work rarely paid off immediately and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harshly criticized.

But, eventually, when customers had to choose between going to lunch with someone who jammed flyers and price lists in their faces, who never shut up talking about themselves and who insisted on a signature on the dotted line by the time the check came?

Versus me?

I was far less exhausting and annoying to deal with.

Social Media is NOT a Sales Pitch

The new way to TWEET MORE!

The new way to TWEET MORE!

Social media is like all those lunches or quick, relaxing trips to a driving range to just unwind and chat and become friends. People should know we have a book, just like all my cardboard customers had a fancy folder filled with all our products and a sample box.

But the product wasn’t my focus, people were.

To refuse to do social media would have been akin to me never traveling and sitting by the phone in my office hoping it would ring. That our cardboard would sell itself. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long.

To misuse social media is a formula for a customer (reader) to gravitate some place they don’t feel like prey. Social media used properly doesn’t take much time to do, but it will take time to grow roots.

Just like it only took five minutes for me to call a buyer, ask how his kids were and let him know I’d be in the area and ask if he and his receptionist would care to join me for a bite to eat. But, though it took minutes to make the invitation, it took months of care and authentic follow-up to build a foundation of trust that created a loyal customer.

Direct Sales is Almost Universally ANNOYING

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How many of you have gone to having a cell phone because the only people who called the landline were selling something? How many times have any of you said, “Sure, I’ll pay for that cruise right now” after getting a random phone call. Or, “Yes, sign my up for that credit protection plan. TAKE MY MONEY!”

How many times have you found a flyer on your windshield or front door and immediately called for that product or service? Or answered the spam in your e-mail with credit card in hand?

Think of this when using social media ;) . Relax, have fun and trust this is a process and a really fun one with the right attitude.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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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134 Comments

Marketing, Social Media & Book Signings—Why NONE of These Directly Impact Book Sales

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 10.57.14 AM

In The Digital Age, we seem to find a lot of extremes. Either articles or blogs ranting how social media doesn’t sell books, it’s too hard, there are too many rules, whiiiiiiinnnnne. These folks might write books, maybe even great books, but I suppose they think readers will find them using telepathy. 

Or, there are those who worship the Oracle of Automation and the Lord of Algorithms. Instead of writing MORE BOOKS, they tweet, FB, Instagram, buy flare, do blog tours, futz with the website, the cover, the algorithms…and then can later be witnessed crying in a corner with a pan of brownies and a half-finished bottle of rum.

Thus, I am here to bring some balance to The Force.

Social Media Was NEVER About Selling Books Directly—Who KNEW?

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons courtesy of Zoetnet.

I’ve been saying this for about ten years, because the idea of using social circles for sales is NOT new. About ten years ago, I recognized that social media would soon be a vital tool for writers to be able to create a brand and a platform before the book was even finished. This would shift the power away from sole control of Big Publishing and give writers more freedom. But, I knew social media could not be used for direct sales successfully.

How?

When I was in college, every multi-level-marketing company in the known world tried to recruit me. I delivered papers and worked nights most of my college career. Needless to say, I was always on the lookout for a more flexible job that didn’t require lugging fifty pounds of paper up and down three flights of apartment stairs at four in the morning.

I’d answer Want Ads in the paper thinking I was being interviewed for a good-paying job where I could make my own hours. Inevitably it would be some MLM company selling water filters, diet pills, vitamins, prepaid legal services, or soap.

And if I sat through the presentation, they fed me. This meant I sat through most of them.

What always creeped me out was how these types of companies did business. First, “target” family and friends to buy said product (and hopefully either sign them up to sell with you or at least “spread the word” and give business referrals). Hmmmm. Sound familiar?

The business model wasn’t really about meeting people, connecting and actually liking them just because they were good people. There was an endgame…SELL STUFF (or manipulate others into helping you sell stuff).

Ick.

Hey, you go to the gym anyway. Strike up a conversation. Say nice things, then give the sucker friend target a FREE SAMPLE. People who work out need vitamins. That isn’t ookey AT ALL!

Hmmm, looks legit.

Hmmm, looks legit.

The Battle of the Experts

I recall being part of a panel in NYC at Thrillerfest and the other experts were all excited about applications that could tweet for authors “saving time” or even certain tools that could measure what days and times Twitter was most active and when people would be most likely to see our tweets. All I could think was:

1) Are these people tweeting or ovulating?

2) If everyone uses this same tool, then all they will do is crowd the feed and no one will see anything. Left long enough, these “Golden Hours” will shift so people can avoid the barrage of ME, ME, ME! MY BOOK!

The panel’s moderator (ironically) worked for the CIA and was tickled silly that there were all kinds of algorithms that could “predict human behaviors.” Of course, I made myself WAY popular when I said, “The only way to accurately predict human behavior is if we all have a chip in our heads and someone else has a joystick.”

Yes, I can be blunt. My mom is from New York. I blame it on her.

My assertion was that, if this was true, and we could accurately predict human behavior, then we wouldn’t be worrying about crime, war or terrorism and that these algorithms were a mirage that gave a false sense of us “being in control” of the uncontrollable.

Also, how would she still have a job at the CIA?

Oooh, But We Can MEASURE…um, NO

In the 90s and early 21st century most people weren’t on-line. Computers were still cost-prohibitive and Internet service was mind-bendingly slow (dial-up?) and expensive. Social media was in its infancy and only early adopters trusted buying on-line.

Companies could launch ads and measure click-throughs. How long did a visitor stay on a web site’s page? Did the visitor click the ad on the page? Did that ad then translate into a sale? Companies still do this. I’m pretty sure authors can do this, but why would we want to?

Could feel like THIS? Original image via Dan Derritt Flikr Creative Commons

Meet Spiffy the Algorithm Hamster. He is DEAD.

Unlike Sephora, Gap or Walmart, most of us are a one-person operation. We don’t have a team of interns to do this stuff. We also don’t have a multi-million dollar corporate budget.

What IF an ad doesn’t work? How many of us have time and extra money to launch a new ad?

Also, there are SO many variables beyond our control. I’ve seen this with blogging. A holiday, time of year (kids getting out of school), a major world news event (like Paris being attacked by terrorist cells) can all affect traffic and click-throughs. To try and study our stats and juke them for advantage is a lot of time better used elsewhere (like writing more books).

Might I suggest one of these...

Might I suggest one of these…

Relationships are Key

Social media is social, meaning it’s about relationships. This means, 1) it will take time to build and 2) it cannot be outsourced 3) it cannot be automated.

Can you imagine trying to maintain relationships this way in the real world? Give your husband a call-in number:

For the location of clean socks, press 1. For a word of encouragement, press 2. For the item I need you to pick up from the store, press 3. For the real reason I haven’t talked to you since yesterday, please stay on the line and an operator will be with you shortly.

Your estimated call wait time is three days.

HINT: Anniversary.

Social media and author brands will sell books, just not directly and not in ways that can be measured looking at clicks and stats. Social media is essentially word-of-mouth which has been selling stuff books for centuries and no one can measure it. 

The Bottom Line

Since I don’t have all the articles and blogs griping about social media, I am limited here. But I imagine that, aside from telling writers social media was a waste of time that doesn’t sell books, I assume not one of these complainers offered up some panacea replace social media.

See, it is a hell of a lot easier to complain than to offer a solution. Griping takes ZERO brainpower.

So, if social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions (without an extant and vested platform) are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on Investment).

Also, if social media is so grossly ineffective, what explanation do we have for the MASSIVE power shift from BIG NYC publishing to indie and self-published authors now 1) making a reasonable second income 2) making a decent enough living to finally write full-time 3) nontraditional authors taking up an increasing portion of major bestseller lists like the New York Times and USA Today and 4) the major inflation of fiction writers now making six and seven figures?

All the ones I know of (and there are MANY) use social media to some extent. All of these authors would never have gained visibility, traction or sales without social media.How can we explain these trends without including social media as a variable?

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 1.17.53 PM

Notice I said social media as a variable. There is NO magic formula. Hard work, more books, good books and generating word of mouth (in part with a brand and on-line platform) is fundamental. Social media has been mistakenly touted as a formula to wealth and riches, but it isn’t. Neither is buying real estate using a proven program from an infomercial.

The Future

Bookstores are closing. Barnes & Noble is evaporating. Indie stores are making a comeback, but they have limited space (and need to unless they want to go bankrupt like the megastores that tried to KILL them). THIS is the future of book sales. THIS is in the cosmetics section of my grocery store. Insert a debit card and get a sample before you buy…

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. LOSS prevention?

Why buy a WHOLE tube of lipstick when you can get a sample. Also, um LOSS prevention?

Oh, and these are popping up…

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Check your bank balance then BUY A BOOK!

For those who want a paper copy to hold...

For those who want a paper copy to hold…and get NACHOS!

These kiosks sound familiar. Reminds me of one of my posts from over three years ago. I wrote a lot of other blogs that said basically the same stuff, posts that are even older. But I’ve written over 800 blogs and I’m lazy and have to get back to writing books. And I am not alone in seeing this trend. I’m no great genius. Other people saw this coming.

Um, clearly since I can’t claim I invented any of these machines. Ok, I could, but I try to restrict lying to my fiction.

But, if THESE kiosks are down the pipeline, how can we reasonably come to the conclusion that social media is a total waste of time?

Relying totally on social media is a waste of time, but I’ve been saying that for years. As authors, we are wise to think in terms of our careers. Think like a business, as in short-term and long-term. Platforms and careers need a wide base, deep roots, a community of support, time and a heck of a lot of sweat equity.

Also, there are effective ways to do social media and ways that make others want to stab us in the face (which was why I wrote Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World).W.A.N.A. ways WORK. They’re responsible for selling millions of books. But they take time.

ROM has a simple step-by-step plan. Heck, don’t buy my book. Browse my blogs for free. I only care about your success.

The Future IS Bright for Writers

The future for authors is wonderful, but there is no Social Media Shake Weight. Sorry. I was bummed, too. But here’s the thing. The same articles/blogs that will discourage writers from social media because it doesn’t sell books aren’t also demanding we halt all book signings.

Book signings are fun, they are social, and they’ve historically been a way to connect authors to an audience in a personal way.

Until social media they were the only way. 

But book signings were NEVER meant as a sole means to sell books. In fact, it was really never even the purpose of a signing. Rather it was connection with the author as a person.

Craftfest

Even if a writer has a line out the door, the most even a mega-author might sell is a thousand books. Let’s be generous. FIVE thousand books. A drop in the bucket if you’re Dan Brown. Is selling 5,000 books relevant when an author sells millions? When an author has to board a plane, stay in a hotel, sit in one spot signing for hours or even come up with a speech? And travel city to city to city for a month or more instead of writing?

Food for thought ;) .

We live in a wonderful time to be a writer. Yes, it’s work, but there are a lot of reasons why this job isn’t for everyone. Success in anything is about staying power, passion, and effective action (solid social media, building relationships, and writing MORE books and GOOD books).

What are your thoughts? Are too many authors banking too much on social media? Do you feel social media has been sold to writers as a get-rich-quick-scheme? Do you see other authors approaching social media in a way you know is going to burn them out? Do you know of any nontraditional authors who sold zillions of books yet didn’t use social media at all? What did they do?

…ALIENS.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, 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, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

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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83 Comments

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