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Archive for May, 2013

merry go roundI’m a huge believer in “what goes around, comes around”. This holds true for me in my personal life and in business. Of course I expect to be paid for my work, but I don’t always expect something in return for small things I do for others. For me, this is more an acknowledgement that the universe (or God, or Fate, what have you) is set up this way. I truly believe you get out of life what you are willing to put into it. I also know that human nature is generally one of selfishness. We have to put food on the table, a roof over our heads, and pay our bills, but when we step outside ourselves and do something to help another person, purely because we can, then we benefit as well. This benefit most definitely may not be monetary, but it makes us feel better about ourselves, our own lives, and our capacity of effect change for other people.

 

As much as I admire huge accomplishments, like those performed by such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, the Gates family, and other proponents of social change, I’m equally as impressed by the small, individual acts of kindness and assistance we can all perform in our every day lives.

 

As writers, we reach out with our words to audiences we may never meet. We extend ourselves to hopefully touch the lives of our readers in some manner. It may be for pure entertainment that readers read our stories, articles or blogs, but even that small touch point means something. If we are successful and have done our jobs correctly, each reader takes something personal away from our work. The interpretations of our words and stories are as varied as the people who read them, but that’s the beauty of it. It is completely and utterly subjective.

 

How can I helpThat’s all very well and good, but how can we really pay it forward? How can we go beyond our work, our lives, and ourselves to help others? It’s really so easy. Whenever a writer shares information with another writer via social networking groups or blogs, or stops in their busy day to answer a question posed on one of these forums, we can help other writers. When we attend a book signing, reading, or seminar we’re giving, we help when we answer questions of attendees. The questions may not seem particularly earth-shattering, but to the person posing the question, it’s important. If we take the time to answer the questions thoughtfully and honestly, we may be helping not only the questioner, but others in the audience who were too timid to ask.

 

I’ve always been a questioner. I listen to what’s being said, then I want to know how, where, why, when?  That’s how I build my own conclusions. I’m not always right, and I don’t profess to know and understand all the nuances of any particular subject, but I ask. As a writer, I also read. I read industry related articles in on-line magazines like Forbes and Writer’s Digest. I read other writer’s blogs for the information they have to share, such as Bestseller Labs, and Writing Secrets of 7 Scribes. When I’m front and center and asked a question, I do my best to be honest and forthright, and if I don’t know an answer, I admit it. No shame in that, even in a public appearance where we’re supposed to be the “experts”.

Paying it forward can be as easy as forwarding an email you know would be of interest to others in your circle. Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter have become the ultimate sharing sites, but there are literally tons of others. I share everything from inspirational quotes that might brighten someone’s day, to articles I’ve discovered from another writer or journalist that I think would benefit someone else.

 

What does this gain me for my work, my books? Maybe nothing, but perhaps just one person will be interested enough to look a little further and see what else I have to say, or share. Maybe they’ll Google my name and see that I’ve written a book, or have a blog and website, and check it out. Maybe they won’t be interested, but forward the information along to someone else who might. The truth is, I’ll never know, and I’m good with that. I don’t need to know what’s in it for me every time I do something. There are enough people like that out there, scrabbling in business to make a sale, to undercut the competition, to lure the customer in. It isn’t that I’m above all that, I was in sales for over ten years, so I know how hard it is to earn every dollar. I’m also far from independently wealthy. In fact, my husband and I are pretty monetarily strapped right now, trying to live on his small pension since being downsized out of a huge corporate company after thirty years service (that’s another discussion altogether). We have to watch every penny that comes in and goes out, but I can still do small things that don’t cost me anything but my time.

 Book writingAs writers, we often feel pressured to “produce”. We’re always working on the current WIP, the next project, marketing, promotion, personal appearances, etc. So who has the time to help someone else? Heck, we may be struggling to figure it all out ourselves. I know I am. That’s exactly when it’s important to share what information we have and come across. It doesn’t take a great deal more time to share a timely article you’ve read with followers on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. As writers, we also know how important ratings and reviews of our work are, so if you’re reading something, take a few moments to post a review and rating! You know how thrilled the other writer will be to hear your comments, and what it means to algorithms (if you don’t you need to learn about this too, then share your findings).

 

In fact, there are so many ways we can “pay it forward” as writers. Don’t worry about what’s in it for you, just get out there and do it. You may be surprised where it leads down the road.

We're off to see the Wizard...

We’re off to see the Wizard…

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Beware of False Claims

Beware of False Claims

Caveat Emptor”; it means “buyer beware”. Scams and rip-offs are nothing new, and writers are not exempt from being targeted, especially eager new writers. I recently read an article on Forbes by Suw Charman-Anderson about this very subject, and I couldn’t help but think of all the ways that people can be taken advantage of in this industry.

We’ve all heard about the evils of vanity publishing, which is not to be confused with self-publishing. To my understanding, vanity publishing is where a writer hires a company, for a fee, to publish their work. There is little or no support on behalf of the so-called publisher, no editing, no cover art support, no marketing and promotion. If the writer would like these services, they agree to pay the publisher additional funds for them.

On the other hand, self-publishing has gained huge recognition in the publishing industry at large, and has grown exponentially around the globe. In this instance, writers are taking the bull by the horns and, rather than rely on agents and/or publishers to get their work into the hands of the reading public, they are doing so themselves. They are working directly with companies like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc., to upload their original works into ebook formats, and contracting the direct services of legitimate printers, editors, cover artists, etc., to produce quality books that rival that of the big six publishers ( Critical Pages).

Racing Ahead

Racing Ahead

But here’s the catch, in the eagerness to self-publish, some writers are being pulled in by scams that claim to assist them in getting their work out there to the masses, for a sometimes very substantial fee. According to Charman-Anderson’s article, and others that are emerging, some of these seemingly legitimate sources are proving to be anything but helpful. In fact, claims are starting to emerge about companies, such as Author Solutions (AS), that are apparently backed by Penguin, one of the world’s leading publishers. Who can fault the writer for believing they are safe with a company backed by this big hitter? Not me. With so much falling to the writer in terms of marketing and promotion, design, formatting, reaching audiences and growing a solid author’s platform, I completely understand how some writers are lured in by the prospect of obtaining some “professional” help in these areas. We are overwhelmed and underfunded, but also eager and determined to “make it” in this cut-throat business of book publishing. The writing part is nothing compared to these stresses.

But wait, what can writers do to help ensure this doesn’t happen to them? Well, I’d suggest reading as much as possible about industry related news, to learn who is doing what. The amount of information available on the net is massive, so start small and just begin by typing in words like “publishing”, or “publishing news”, etc. Look around, become familiar with sites you really like, bookmark them, and frequent them often. Next, I’d suggest researching online about possible bad reviews of publishers, editors, and agents. Yes, these reviews exist. Websites like Preditors and Editors, Absolute Write Water Cooler, etc., give reviews and comments on companies who have run afoul of other writers. Also, by Googling the name of a company you are considering, you can learn a great deal about the dealings of a potential company claiming to help authors self-publish. If there are bad reviews out there, best to discover it before signing on the dotted line and paying out hard-earned money.

Another way to be prudent of course, is to have a lawyer examine any and all contracts before signing them. If there are any hidden fees, or obscure wording that doesn’t completely spell out what the company will and won’t do, a lawyer experienced in reading such contracts will ferret it out and advise you. This will cost you money for the lawyer, but perhaps better that than discovering, well into the process, that you are caught in a trap that you’ve paid for.

If it walks like a duck...

If it walks like a duck…

In the end, it really is up to each individual writer to treat their work as a business and ensure, to the best of their ability, that they have checked out any potential company they are considering working with. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This means there is even more reason to check everything out thoroughly, before committing to anything.

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Branding

Branding

I’ve talked before about the importance of book marketing and author branding to build a platform, but it’s also about getting out there, from behind the computer screen, and connecting with people. For authors deep into the process of writing, at whatever stage, it’s easy to get lost in your own world. I know for me, once I sit down and start working, which I do five days a week from 9am to 5pm, hours fly by. I don’t even realize it’s happened, I’m so into what I’m doing. Before I know it, the day is gone and I’ve barely moved from my office. That’s why I know firsthand that finding balance and remembering to live life by connecting with the people you care about and the things you love, are so vital to a writer’s sanity, to say nothing of their relationships.          

This on-line stuff is great, and I love it, but I’m discovering something else. When I get out there and do the book signings at a local library or book store, I’m able to connect much more directly with readers and people who are interested in what I do. Although I was initially nervous to be “in the spotlight”, so to speak, I’ve discovered something else about myself. I love it. I didn’t think I would, but I love answering the questions and hearing other people’s points of view. It doesn’t matter to me whether they’ve read my book or not, although it’s nice when they have. The fact is, these people who attend a book reading/signing have an innate curiosity about books, writing and publishing, and I happen to have gone through some of the initial steps. I’m no expert. I never claim to be. But I have learned a few things since I started this journey, and if I can share some of those experiences, or answer questions people have, then that’s great. 

I also know that people remember what they’ve personally experienced. If they’ve attended a book reading, they’ll remember me, even if they don’t read my genre. They might tell someone else they know who does. Even people who stop for a moment at a bookstore signing, or glance my way and read my “Meet The Author” sign on the desk, might remember my name later, even if they don’t remember where they saw it. My goal is that, if they hear or see my name, or the name of my book again, it just might trigger that “I’ve heard that before,” response. That’s what marketing is all about. It’s about connecting with your target audience and getting them to remember you. If you do it right, and often enough, you’ll begin building a brand that people will associate with you and your work. That’s important. 

The Key

The Key

The key is to carefully choose the message you want people to take away about you, as an author, and your work. It has to permeate everything you do that relates to your work. Your social networking posts, your blog, your website, everything you send out there has to subliminally send the right message about who you are and what you write. Too often I read Facebook or Twitter posts that are negative, ridiculous, politically or religiously incorrect, or even worse, share crude remarks that should have no business being on a public forum. I know it’s your right, but is it really the message you want to send to people who’ve never met you? Right, wrong, or indifferent, people make judgements about you all the time, and how you present yourself in public forums is critical. That’s why I’m so careful not to post anything too personal, or negative. These sites are windows into my “brand”, who I am, and what I believe in. If you’re in business, and make no mistake, writing is a business, you’ll want to carefully consider what goes out to the world at large. It’s not just your friends, but your friend’s friends who can read and share what you’ve put out there. 

To me, branding also means looking the part when appearing in public. I always make a point of dressing in a professional, stylish manner. This doesn’t mean a suit and high heels, it means looking as if I’ve taken the time to care how I look. Each time I step out the door to attend a public function, I try to look professional as possible. No jeans, tee-shirts, shorts, sloppy clothes. I call it traditional feminine. A nice blouse, jacket and pants or skirt, with comfortable, stylish shoes does it for me. My hair and make-up are done, and so are my nails. That’s the image I want to portray. Professional. I also smile, chat, and generally keep things light and easy. That’s my style. I don’t try to force something that feels fake. I’m creating a brand people can identify with, but one that feels true to me. It’s how they’ll see me over time, and I’m hoping they’ll relate to me because it’s genuinely how I feel about myself. This business of writing is fun, it’s engaging, and it’s my heart’s desire, but it’s also a business that I take it seriously. My personal appearance and manner of connecting with people hopefully states this, without me having to shout it. Each writer must find a personal style that tells people who they are, before even opening their mouth. But be aware that all the right words won’t help if you’re personal appearance screams sloppy, unprofessional and/or unkempt, if you want to be taken seriously.

I’m finding that the professionals I’m working with; librarians, book store owners/managers, etc., also appreciate this. It gives them an idea of who I am and how I’ll present myself to their patrons. They work hard at cultivating clients and building their own brands. If they’re going to allow me to come in and showcase my work, they want to be assured I can do so in a manner that resonates with their own style. It’s as important to them as it is to me. 

Cozy reading

Cozy reading

The other great thing about getting out from behind the desk is the fun I get to have in meeting new people. Just the other day I was in talking to the owner of a small bookstore, The Village Bookshop in Bayfield, Ontario. This is a small, cozy bookshop the likes of times gone by. It’s a wonderful shop, and the owner has obviously worked extremely hard to build her clientele, and her own brand. She generously supports local authors via consignment sales of work she feels will appeal to her patrons, and where she feels there’s a fit, book readings/signings. How did I meet her? I attended a book reading/signing at the Exeter  Public Library in the nearby town of Exeter, Ont. That librarian suggested that I absolutely must contact this woman and introduce myself. The librarian said she knew, based on my reading and our meeting, that I would be a good candidate for this very selective book store. So, I called her. I introduced myself and told her where I’d gotten her name. She was very pleased to hear that word was continuing to spread about her business, and invited me to come chat with her. That chat lasted over an hour, as we discussed everything from her store, her clientele, and what she looked for in an author and their work. It was such a pleasure meeting this woman, who not only has a huge love of the literary world and respect for writers, but has built a strong, reputable business. I also found that her own style and personality resonated with me, so I’m thrilled to be associated with this type of business. You can bet I’ll be supporting her and the other authors she invites to her readings via sharing the news any way I can. You see, she and her shop become part of my brand. They mimic the message I want to send, and I believe in supporting those who support me. Same with the libraries who host me, and the larger book stores, like Coles Books, (Indigo/Chapters/Coles) who do the same. 

I don’t have all the answers when it comes to this monster called marketing and branding. I’m still learning and experimenting. I only know I’m having fun discovering what works for me, and meeting new people along the way. Who knows, some of them may find their way into a book or two of mine in the future (names changed of course).

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The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

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