“Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.” ~ Richard Dawkins
As I mentioned in a previous post, agents and editors want writers to have an established platform when pitching a book. I’ve spent the past month consulting experts and reading books and blog articles on the topic while I try a few techniques. For example, I tackled Twitter with some success even though I’m a major introvert. I’m growing my social media following, blogging more often, and gathering additional subscribers to my email list for Write Now Columbus.
No matter which book I pick up, which expert I talk to, which blog I read, the bottom line comes back to one thing: Generosity. If I’m not offering my followers and readers valuable information, I’m doing both of us a disservice.
Learning this reminded me of a saying I heard years ago. “You have to give it away to keep it.” Seems like a paradox, eh? But in yet another area of my life, it’s proving true.
The books and blogs and experts talk about “noise to signal ratio.” If there’s too much “noise” (Buy! Buy! Buy!) and not enough “signal” (Here’s a helpful thing.) people will turn and run. If I follow someone or subscribe to their blog and all they do is pitch their wares, I won’t hang around.
Why would I expect this to be any different when the tables are turned?
To address this, my current experiment is to share 99% useful or humorous (laughter is also a gift) information. I offer techniques I’ve found helpful, answer questions, and (of course) share cute animal photos. Cue #Scarlet the #ninetyninepercentgooddog. Use her hashtag on my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts!
The remaining 1% of my platform is sales pitch material. This might be a link to my newsletter, a request to follow this blog, or an announcement of a class I’m teaching. It’s just a fraction because, when people think of me, I want them to see me as helpful and entertaining rather than as someone chasing after their wallets.
The unintended consequence of trying to be “of service,” is that I no longer dread “marketing.” More than once, when I’ve been sad or in crisis, a mentor has advised me to reach out to help someone else (unless I’m in a deep deep depression for which I need medical intervention). Invariably, just as in the rest of my life, if I can be useful when promoting my business, I feel better too.
What is your experience with being generous in business? I’d love to hear about it!
In today’s Columbus Dispatch, “So to Speak” columnist Joe Blundo writes of the Columbus arts scene, “We’re still not New York City, but as you read what’s ahead in the arts, keep in mind how far we’ve come.”
The same can be said for the “book scene” in central Ohio. Steve Stephen’s piece, also in today’s Dispatch, truthfully proclaims “Plenty of authors await ravenous readers,” and lists a half page of writing events.
In January of 2003 when I began publishing Write Now Newsletter, a monthly email listing central Ohio reader and writer events, the list had nine entries. Wow has that changed! Due to the summer lull, this month’s email in August 2018 “only” included thirty-two events while the April issue had sixty-one. The poetry scene is exploding as are the number of author readings, writing groups, workshops and other writing and reading events of all kinds.
This abundance of options is fabulous news for the readers and writers of our community. It provides an opportunity for eager readers to meet the people behind the words. I still thrill at watching a favorite author pen their name on the title page of their book.
While I do my best to include every reading and writing event in our multi-county area, I fear I miss a few. Please help me make Write Now Newsletter as complete as possible by sending reader and writer events to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, if you’re so inclined, drop a few pennies in my tip jar. Thanks in advance!
Now get out of here and go see those authors!
“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe
My memoir, formerly titled Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two: How a Sedentary, Middle-Aged Manic Depressive Became a Marathoner (with the help of her dog) has a new working title: Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink.
But that’s beside the point.
The real news is that the manuscript (whatever you want to call it) earned a spot as a finalist in the 2018 William Faulkner – William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition in Nonfiction. The winner will be announced in September at the conference in New Orleans.
How in the heck did that happen?
It happened because I followed the instructions of my writing coaches, the award-winning authors Tania Casselle and Sean Murphy. Among other things, they advised me to enter every single contest for which the book was eligible.
Every! Single! One!
Still, how does someone who continues to have depressive episodes so crippling they make it difficult to get out of bed some days achieve such a goal? My secret? Structure.
The following five structures work for me:
1) Classes and Workshops.
The idea of entering every contest (or submitting to every publisher) that fit my book came from two extremely qualified writing instructors. Suggestions might come from other students as well. In either case, these people could help you do what might not occur to you, what might seem too difficult, or what you might think is a waste of time and money.
2) A deadline.
The final days of a contest or publisher’s reading period usually is enough to spark me into action. It’s that pressure cooker effect. There’s no time for perfectionism. I just have to get it done.
3) Tracking Tools.
I love querytracker.net and Submittable. Real numbers don’t lie. I can see my submissions and percentages. The geeky part of me loves this. Plus, Submittable recognizes people who collect the most rejections in a month. Anything like that helps.
4) Accountability Partners.
I tell a friend I’m going to do something. I tell my little writing group. I tell my husband or my neighbor. I tell the regulars at the coffeeshop where I write. Eventually, one of them will ask about my goal. I don’t want to let either of us down.
5) Online Groups.
These are a different breed of accountability partners. But be careful with this. Choose wisely. I’m in a secret Facebook group for artists collecting rejection letters. If I’m not entering, I have no rejections to report. Telling these kind strangers is oddly satisfying.
But here’s the true secret. At some point, these external structures become internal. They light a fire inside me and I’m surprised to find myself motivated to attempt things I would never have done before. Magic? Perhaps. But I’ll take it.
What kind of structure do you need to meet your goal? What will help you not give up? I’d love to hear about it.
“First thoughts have tremendous energy. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.” — Natalie Goldberg
Last week, I asked my Facebook followers what they wanted to see on my page. Some of the answers were things I already do. Writing tips. Writing events. Mental health information. Cute animal memes. Photos of #Scarlet the #ninetyninepercentgooddog.
But one request was so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it. A person suggested writing prompts. Wow! And, yes!
I’ve begun to post a daily writing topic using the hashtags #nitaprompt and #writingpractice and #tenminutesgo. My friend Suzanne came up with #nitaprompt when I said these topics needed a hashtag. Since the real Nita is not always “prompt,” I had to go with that.
The hashtags #writingpractice and #tenminutesgo honor my long-time teacher, best-selling author Natalie Goldberg whose ground breaking book Writing Down the Bones revolutionized the way many people teach writing. Natalie introduced “writing practice” as a way to tap into what she called “wild mind” or the first flash of how we see something. The concept of “first thoughts” came from Natalie’s Zen practice. She offered writing practice as a way to help people free themselves from writer’s block.
In the workshops I attended with her in Taos, New Mexico, we sat on folding chairs in the classroom at Mabel Dodge Luhan House. When it was time to write, Nat called out a topic often as simple as “mashed potatoes” followed by the admonition, “Ten minutes. Go!” We were to each keep our hand moving, pen flowing ink across the page of a spiral notebook, as we jotted down the first images that came to mind from whatever topic she offered. These ten minute timed writing intervals created a pressure cooker effect helping us to drop down into our writing.
Writing prompts still serve as the basis for much of my writing. When the blank page proves too daunting, a topic gives me a jumping off place. I often veer off into some other topic more related to whatever project I’m currently writing, but it gives me a place to begin.
If you’re stuck or bored or need a new place to start, scroll to Facebook or Twitter and type in #nitaprompt. Do with the topics as you wish. Ten minutes. Twenty. An hour. I hope you find them helpful.
And if you have favorite topics, send them my way. I’ll happily offer those to the masses as well.
“I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent and what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation.” – Will Smith
I’m currently listening to Racing the Rain by John L. Parker. In one scene, young Quenton Cassidy, the main character, learns basketball tips from a famous one-on-one player. The professional gives Quenton the ball and tells him to take his best shot. As Quenton approaches the basket, the expert crowds Quenton to the right. He pushes him so far to the right that Quenton eventually must move to the left, his weak side since the boy is right-handed. Then the pro easily steals the ball. After repeated failures, the expert explains that Quenton must practice his weak side. “I see you practicing what you’re already good at,” he says. To become a pro, Quenton must practice his weaknesses until they becomes natural.
I think about this with writing. I too adore things I’m already good at and want to spend all my time “playing” at those. I love the first draft, no outline, staring down the blank page. I love the freedom to write whatever I want, making something from nothing. I also love detailed editing, crafting sentences, and choosing the right word. These are my “right side.”
But I grow the most by working on skills that don’t come naturally. Plotting and outlines are my nemesis. Big picture revision is a struggle. While I don’t practice them for hours the way the basketball pro urged Quenton, I recognize their necessity and feel my resistance when it’s time to pull those tools out of the kit. I wish I could say I just push through, but I don’t. I usually stall a bit. I’m like a horse that doesn’t want to get into the trailer. It takes a carrot or two, but eventually, because I’m well trained, I force myself to study the big picture and puzzle out the plot. Professionals do the hard stuff too. Hopefully, this makes the reading easy.