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  • How to Make it Happen: How to Expand Your Reach

    Posted on November 8th, 2012 jean 8 comments

    I’ve discovered a secret.

    The secret to success.

    It’s so simple. So straight forward.

    Why don’t more people do it?

    Because it is this… With all the research I’ve been doing about the business side of writing and business in the past eight months is this (are you ready? Better sit down): Those who succeed, do so because they work really, really hard to make it happen. They take action. Every day.

    Damn. You were hoping for an easy answer, weren’t you?

    Okay, I’ll admit that can be a bit overwhelming. However… it doesn’t have to be crazy scary.

    How to Expand Your Reach and Succeed

    The thing about expanding your reach–whether you are a writer, a blogger, a business person, or even an Avon lady–is that the magic doesn’t happen overnight. One ‘thing’ is not going to suddenly make you famous. Think about how many songs Parry Grip put out before he suddenly became ‘that guy on YouTube.’ (Heard of the Duck Song? Baby Monkey Riding Backwards on a Pig? That’s him.) It is a slow, methodical build. One brick on top of the other. Chris Brogan is another amazing example of this.

    These tips may help:

    1. Don’t freak out at the idea of all you have to accomplish. Do one small thing a month. Don’t try and rock Twitter, Facebook, and guest posting all in one month. One at a time. Once one feels ‘old hat,’ move on to the next one.

    2. Be focused. What is your goal? What steps do you think you HAVE to take to get there? Not the ones you want to take because they are fun time-wasters.

    3. Make a plan. Evil dictators have five-year-plans. Do you?

    4. Don’t go whole hog on an idea and burn yourself out. Pace yourself. Make a realistic timeline.

    5. Research. Educate yourself. Don’t expect to know everything at once. And don’t let yourself off the hook. This is a slow, methodical, and INFORMED growth we’re doing to expand our reach. You can write the greatest blog post ever, but if you don’t know how to get it to an audience or write a compelling headline, you aren’t going to expand your reach.

    6. What motivates you to take action? Figure it out and use it to your advantage.

    7. Be patient. It takes time and experimentation.

    Want some proof that the slow, methodical planned approach works? Check out author Ruth Cardello who made it happen for herself last fall. She hit the New York Times Bestseller list for three weeks with her self-published romance.

    How? How? How?

    By trying something new every day when it came to publicity and marketing herself, her brand, and her books. Day after day. (Not sure if she includes weekends, but even if she doesn’t she’s doing at least 20 things a month to get her books out there.) She was patient and experimented. And it paid off.

    She’s now a full-time author.

    Small Steps to Success

    Yup. We all want it now. That’s natural. Completely natural. And so is the–everyone else is rocking this, why can’t I?

    You want to know ANOTHER SECRET?

    Those who want it, find a way to go get it. They make it happen.

    Okay, that wasn’t really a big secret after showing what Ruth did!

    And while you may only see all their successes, there are failures too. There are always guaranteed failures. The thing of it is, people who succeed take flub-ups and leverage them. They add them as part of their growing expertise.

    Let me share a small, personal example. (So you don’t think I’m yakking out of turn.)

    I read about this thing about ‘drafting.’ Basically, the idea is that you use some popular blog/post/news topic and draft off it. You find a way to slide yourself in there and get a slice of the publicity. But in a non-slimy way.

    About a month ago, I thought I would try it out. I spent an hour sending out emails to about 5-7 blogs/news sites, contacting the writer/reporter. I *tried* to create intrigue around this other angle I had on the news story they had reported on. Whether my emails were read, whether I was too late to ride the wave, whether I was too ambiguous, whether I was wasting their time and didn’t hook it right… I don’t know. But I didn’t hear back. An hour of my life I will never get back. (Maybe that’s the problem there–maybe it was too much of a slap-dab-and-slash appreoch.)

    BUT… last week the publication of The Fall: Tales From the Apocalypse was delayed due to Hurricane Sandy. Aha! I thought. This is an opportunity. I might be able to make something happen.

    Because I had been researching (see #5 above) how to write press releases (don’t ask me why, it just seemed like something I should know) I decided to write one using the Hurricane Sandy angle to ‘draft’ off a news topic.

    Did it work? Well, I think so. As ‘big’ as I had hoped… well, maybe not quite. However, of the six newspapers I contacted with my press release (with minor tweaks to provide a local connection for each paper) I was (so far) granted one interview which has appeared online and will come out in today’s physical paper. So, not bad. Better than my first attempt at drafting and always better than a kick in the pants with a pair of cowboy boots.

    Lesson: I didn’t wait for them to come and find me. I went to the papers and shared the news. And I was prepared. I had taken headshots a few weeks ago and I had a press page on my site with more information which I linked to. I had cover art ready as well. All my gathering of resources and knowledge came together for me, expanding my reach and making it happen. I’m in the paper! And it’s not for starting kindergarten! (I really was in the paper when I started kindergarten. Yeah, slow news day or else I am actually a princess in hiding. Or, you know, from a really small town. Your pick.)

    The indie Chicks Contributor

    Another quick example of behind the scenes work coming to fruition? Today I am on The Indie Chicks.com. Get Ahead Girl is a new series I pitched a few weeks back, but had been thinking about and honing in my mind for months. I had previously answered their call for submissions when they first started in May. While I didn’t have anything for them after my first post, I continued my connections with them and waited until I had something well-suited to their brand and could help mine as well. Today, “Who to Follow on Twitter” is out building their brand as Chicks Who Make it Happen as well as mine which is The Helpful Writer. (Okay, still working on that brand!)

    The overall lesson here:

    Sometimes things come to you, sometimes you have to make it happen. <– Tweet this.

    You can do it! Get Ahead! Expand Your Reach! Make It Happen! You can do it! I’m cheering for you! <rah, rah, rah!>

    What have you always wanted? Can you use the tips above to create a plan that will take you there? Do you have tips to share as well? Share ’em in the comment section!

     

  • How the Right Writing Tools Make the Writer

    Posted on October 28th, 2012 jean No comments

    Lately I’ve been getting serious about my writing and taking it up a notch from simply working on it to make it better to also treating it like a business. (Hopefully a money-earning one!)

    Why like a business? Because these days writing isn’t simply a creative process. As soon as we move from writing as a hobby to making money from this venture it becomes an entrepreneurial adventure fraught with risk and potholes–even if you go the traditional publishing route. We have to learn to market ourselves, our books, our brand. We need to learn what makes a good website, how to create email lists, how to write good copy, how to approach reviewers, how to interpret royalty statements, how to figure out business taxes and more. There’s so much to learn!

    Because time is a limited commodity and I know you really want to spend your time writing, there are a few things that have helped me squeeze business knowledge into my day while still protecting enough time to write.

    Writing Tools that are Secretly Business Tools

    Mac Laptop

    I like to use a Mac laptop because it simply works.

    Yes, it cost me more than the equivalent PC laptop, however, so far, it has also outlasted a PC. So, instead of dealing with spending my time waiting for numerous Microsoft updates while I am trying to work or going computer shopping every two years (which is how long a PC laptop typically lasts me) I get longer computer service (which saves time) and have increments of increased writing time (fewer updates).

    End result: The money I’ve spent isn’t more in the long run and I get more writing time. I’m spending my computer time doing things that don’t drive me crazy.

    Smart Phone

    Recently, I upgraded my old android smart phone (which was close to bricked) to an iPhone. Yes, this upgrade cost me $180.00. However, three weeks in I can see a marked difference in the amount of time I have at my computer to apply fingers to the keyboard. (For one, it syncs automatically with my laptop–no need to remember or attach cords!)

    You cannot undervalue the importance of being able to attend to your business easily and efficiently while on the go.

    For example, since I now have a powerful phone at my disposal, I was able to dictate this blog post into my phone while driving (by using a hands-free device which came with the phone–make sure you pay attention to the road!!). The best part? The phone automatically emailed a copy of the notes to my computer.

    As well, while on the go I can set reminders, tweet, blog, Facebook, read and comment on blogs, subscribe and read newsletters, reply to emails, watch videos, and more.

    End result: Taking these tasks off my plate before I sit down at my computer means more writing time. It’s all about efficiency.

    Podcasts

    I’ve also begun listening to podcasts using my smart phone. (You’ll see me blogging about that over on From the Write Angle in a few months.) While driving, cooking, or even watching my kids in the park I can listen and learn. The other day I learned about making my books (er, should I have any) accessible to the visually impaired. Last night I learned about middle sags in novels. The night before? The 7-structure plot outline. Just before dictating this post while driving across the prairie I listened to one on marketing. There are tons of free podcasts that deal with smart business marketing ideas as well as writing. It’s a goldmine I previously missed due to having a crappy phone. (A word on phones–the ones that are free with contract may time out in their capabilities before your contract is up–they are often old almost obsolete models. That’s what happened to me. This time I paid more in hopes of having a faster, more capable phone for the full length of my cell phone contract.)

    End result: Great, free information on the go that I previously could not access.

    Videos

    The other day while waiting to pick up my daughter after her music club I was able to watch a video of a smart marketer sharing ideas on how to be successful. There are some amazing YouTube channels such as Marie Forleo’s and Social Triggers. Great, entertaining, and knowledgeable business videos are a great place to start your world conquest.

    End result: An entertaining break during my day–but also taught me valuable business advice I can apply to my blog, websites, and newsletter.

    Marketing Books, Free Ebooks, and Newsletters

    There is a pile of good information out there in marketing books. Don’t want to buy them? Try your local library. I’ve read about eight business and social media and marketing books in the equivalent number of months. I’ve gone from a total noob to kind of getting this whole marketing, social media thing. Well, in theory anyway. We’ll see what I can do when the chips are down.

    You would be amazed at the free ebooks some sites give away. Some are pure gold. Others, not so much. Same with newsletters. I subscribe and download ruthlessly. (And yeah, I even read some of them on my phone now!) Subscribe. You can always unsubscribe if you find it isn’t delivering value. It’s an easy way to learn in small chunks.

    End result: Increase in knowledge in small chunks of time. Plus, I don’t have to go looking for it–a lot of it comes right to me (in my inbox).

    Ereader or Tablet

    Yup, more technology. I originally got an ereader so I could beta read for my critique partners. It was a good excuse. Now it is almost a necessity due to the number of ebooks out there. (I hate reading books on my computer and long ones on my phone tend to make me skim instead of read for knowledge.)

    The problem with my ereader is that is almost a first-generation which means I can’t leave comments when I beta read. Writing down notes on paper as I read and then typing them up to send to the writer… not so efficient. So, I sneak off with my husband’s tablet (he doesn’t mind, I promise) and use an app to leave comments right in the document. Then I email it back to the writer. Voila! Time saved. (You can use your ereaders and tablets for other stuff too, of course.)

    End result: Convenience!

    Those are some of the tools that have helped me get the business stuff into my head while still protecting my writing time. Just a little bit every day adds up over the months. Share your favourite tools in the comment section.

    BTW, if you feel as though you are a year to two out from publishing your first book, it is time to start treating your writing as a business. And if you do, you will already be ahead of the game. Good luck!

  • 10,000 Hours

    Posted on January 29th, 2009 jean 1 comment

    Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, claims that ‘geniuses’ like Mozart were not simply handed their genius status at birth, but in fact, worked really hard to achieve their status. Gladwell claims you have to spend 10,000 hours at something to become truly good at it, which is what happened in cases such as The Beatles, Mozart, and Bill Gates.

    If you consider this theory, it could explain why there are no real ‘sudden’ writing geniuses. For example, the ‘geniuses’ who have burst onto the publishing scene with stellar first novels, aren’t an actual sudden success. They have worked long and hard to become this overnight success. In fact, it is rare for these ‘amazing first novels’ to be a true ‘first’ novel. Generally it is simply their first published novel. The writer has, in reality, been working at their talent for years and years and often have a stack of discarded manuscripts and accompanying rejection letters to prove it.

    Let’s say you decide to put in your 10,000 hours. How long will that take?

    At one hour a day, five days a week = 260 hours a year. 38.46 years. Gulp.
    At three hours a day, five days a week = 780 hours a year. 12.8 years. That’s still a lot.
    At eight hours a day, five days a week (remember, no holidays) = 2080 hours. 4.8 years.

    Yowzers, it’s hard to get in those 10,000 hours, isn’t it? You have to live it, breathe it.

    I’ve been writing for 2 ½ years and I can see the difference that time has made in my skills. Over time, they have improved dramatically. But, have I put in 10,000 hours yet? Not likely! In the past 912 days (2 ½ years), I know I haven’t put in 76.3 hours a week to make 10,000 hours. Say you put in your 10,000 hours, then are you a genius? I would argue, not necessarily. Look around a typical office. Is the guy who has placed himself at his desk day after day for the past ten years further ahead than that newer guy who lives and breathes his work? You know, the one who jumps at every chance to go to a conference, who reads work magazines and puts intention behind his professional growth?

    Although I am not drawing in on 10,000 hours as of yet, I would say the hours I’ve put in thus far have been full of intention. When I sit down at my laptop, it is with the intention of learning something new, of adding onto my skill set. There is an unreal amount to learn as a writer. HUGE amounts. It isn’t simply about plot and grammar, there is the business aspect and the personal growth. Challenging yourself. Building on your strengths, working on your weaknesses. If you aren’t spending your hours with intention, how far do you really expect to go?

    In the past two years, I have sat down at my laptop and read agent blogs, editor blogs, publisher blogs, joined online communities, participated in online chats with authors and agents. Made friends, critiqued the work of others, had my own critiqued. Mulled over tons of advice and integrated it and shared it. I have reworked a 300-word document over 60 times, each time bringing something different and new. I’ve written five manuscripts, each time getting better and better. Stronger, more succinct. I learn a new word everyday to build my vocabulary. I read books on writing, I’ve attended workshops and taken classes. I look up grammar rules when I’m in doubt. I’ve built two blogs and a website. Even when I read for pleasure, I am working on my writing, seeing how the author has slowed the pace, described something, built a character or plot. How they made me laugh. Their sentence structure. It’s all there. Intention.

    I might be only half way to 10,000 hours, but imagine what I can learn in the next 6,000 if the first 4,000 are any indicator.

    I can hardly wait.

  • New Year Writing Workout #8: My, His, Her, Their

    Posted on January 8th, 2009 jean No comments

    Ha! I lied. I have one more writing exercise for you. I was doing edits yesterday and this HUGE flaw leaped out at me. I couldn’t make myself wait a whole year before sharing it with you guys. So put on your warm-ups, it’s action time!

    Whether you’re writing first person, third person or whatever, sometimes it’s easy to slip a few extra possessives in there. In my first person stories, I noticed that I use ‘my’ a lot. As in: I went into my kitchen and got out my pots and pans to make my Killer Brownies. Yeah, Stop the bus on that one. With a little rearranging, we can make it stronger. Sometimes, you need the odd ‘my’ in there. For example, say this was the beginning of a new scene. We might want one ‘my’ in there to demonstrate that this is her house. You know set the scene for the reader and all that good stuff. However, those three mys in one sentence are killer.

    After edits: I wandered into the kitchen and slowly brought out my pots and pans. It was Killer Brownie time. There are many different ways to rearrange to eliminate the ‘mys’ as you can see above. Play around and see what works for your story and your voice and what you want to achieve in your scene.

    What about ‘his’, ‘her’ or ‘their’? Same thing. She went into her kitchen and got out her pots and pans… Blah. Fix it up! She stormed into the kitchen and began slinging pots and pans…etc.

    Now that you know what to watch for, see if you fall victim. Some places, you can’t get around those possessives, but in some places you can eliminate the excess. Go forth and eliminate, it’s always reduction time.

    Enjoy!

  • New Year Writing Workout #7: Comparison

    Posted on January 7th, 2009 jean No comments

    Okay, last writing workout and then I’ll let you off the hook until next January. Maybe. No promises as I may circle around to check up on you. If you haven’t kept your writing butt in shape, I may be forced to post more exercises.

    Moving on…comparison. Similes. Metaphors. Analogies. They all have a place in writing.

    To quote Noah Lukeman (my hero) from his book The First Five Pages, “Comparison is one of the few devices that really put a writer’s skill in the spotlight because it offers the most room for a writer to “turn it on”, to indulge the limits of his creative expression.” A picture is worth a thousand words and at times, you want that reader to see exactly what you or the character sees. Paint that picture. Lukeman claims that “the proper use of comparison will enable you to cut a tremendous amount of description (which inevitably slows the book down). It will save you literally pages of work and make for a much tighter read.”

    Have I sold you on the idea yet?

    Some things to watch out for when you are placing comparisons in your work: too many comparisons or not enough (about one every two to three hundred words or so is probably okay); bad, cliche or overused/common comparisons (although they could have a place depending upon your work); comparisons that are not specific (make distinctions in your comparisons to aid in the picture you are painting–such as what type of tree or what type of bug?); using the wrong word or an imprecise word in your comparison.

    Here’s an exercise borrowed from Noah Lukeman. Pick an item from the room you’re in and come up with five similes and five metaphors for that item. Examples: The fig tree looked like a man reaching out to grab the passerby. (Simile) The fig tree was leafless, like a stake in the ground. (Metaphor) If you want more exercises on this, check out his book, it’s great.

    To add to the feel and tone of your work, you can ensure that your comparisons echo the theme of your book. For example, if one of the themes is death, your comparisons can echo that. (Just don’t over do it.)

    Enjoy!