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Fire

Fire

I was reminded of a favourite song of mine the other day, Standing Outside The Fire, by Garth Brooks. The song focuses on the need for people to take chances in their lives and to create the destinies they want. I truly believe that. I always have. I guess that’s why that song, and others like it, strike such a strong chord within me.

When we write anything, an article, a song, a poem, a story, a letter, anything at all, we have to believe that what we have to say is worth others hearing. Some call that ego. Maybe it is, but maybe its also about sharing this human condition of living. I like to think it’s about connecting with others on a basic level.

When a writer writes a story, they create characters who have to DO something. The characters must have a purpose, needs, flaws and desires that readers can relate to, otherwise the story is boring. Plot lines and flow charts aside, it’s the characters who must echo humanity and human lives. Even in science fiction, horror or other genres where the characters aren’t actually human, the characters must exhibit a human character. They have to move the story along by their words and actions, just like we do.

A writer's space

A writer’s space

But by nature, most writers are introspective and can be a little more solitary than some people. We are happiest to sit at our desks and create worlds, characters and dialogues in our heads while putting them to paper, or on a computer screen. Then the book comes out. Now we’re supposed to be PR experts and marketing moguls. Uh, maybe not so much. But if we want our work to be a commercial success, and if we don’t that’s fine too, but if we do, we have to step outside our comfort zone. We have to push ourselves to get out there and promote our work and ourselves so people will know we, and it, exists. I write for two reasons, because I love it, and because I am hoping others will get some real enjoyment from the stories I’ve crafted. I hope the characters will come to life for readers and provide a measure of entertainment and escape. Oh, and yes, I would like some financial redemption for that work. No apology. If I have to make money somewhere, this is how I’d like to do it.

 That means having confidence enough to push myself beyond where I’d normally go. I’m not an experienced public speaker, and I don’t necessarily seek the lime light. I watch famous writers like James Patterson, J.K. Rowling and others who have learned how to reach out to readers and brand themselves to the buying public. Maybe they’re more extroverted than I am, but possibly not. They just know it has to be done, so they do it. I like to think I can too. I’m fortunate to have been blessed with years of watching both my mother and younger sister, Stephanie, in public speaking engagements. Each is amazing and inspirational. They speak about women, to women, and business professionals about creating the business and lives they want. I love listening to them. They are my inspiration. My middle sister, Melanie, runs a very successful business with her husband and has done for the past fifteen years or more. They’ve learned a lot along the way, and she’s definitely had to step out of her comfort zone to promote her business, on more than one occasion. My brother, Stephen, followed his dream of playing in the CFL when he was younger and now runs his own contracting company. He wanted to play in the Greycup, and damn if he didn’t do it! I’m so inspired by these people and their drive. I’ve always been the quiet one. The studious one. Now, I’m having to step outside my comfort zone and pull out all the stops in marketing and promoting the heck out of my book. I’ve been contacting local libraries to ask for book readings/signings, I’ve contacted local news publications to ask if they’d be interested in interviewing me as a local emerging author, I’ve had to start reaching outside myself in so many areas I feel my arms are growing (too bad my legs wouldn’t). It doesn’t feel natural to me, but it’s important. When I needed to have my book on Kobo because I’m Canadian and Kobo is a major venue in Canada, supported by major book retailers and libraries, I stepped in and liazed between my publisher and Kobo directly to encourage a working relationship. It worked and In The Spirit Of Love is now on Kobo, in addition to all the other venues it’s been on.

Each step I’ve taken these past months has been difficult, but also fun. I’m learning and growing and gaining confidence. My first public appearance was at a book reading/signing at a small local library. I had no clue how to proceed, and neither did they, but I went with my gut instinct and kept it light, easy and hopefully fun, for the attendees. I’d never done anything like it before, where I’d be the center of attention, and you know what, I liked it. I was fine, and I brought my mother with me for moral support, which was a great idea.

My point is this. As writers, we have to make our characters stretch and grow to gain the desired objective. As people, we do too. While recently talking to the manager of a local major book retailer who is considering placing my books on consignment and hosting a book signing, she told me flat out, “I want an author who will connect with my patrons and draw them in. If he or she just sits there, I’m not going to be happy, and I won’t invite them back.” Point taken, challenge accepted. I might bring my mother with me though, for moral support.

So, like Garth Brooks sings, “Life is not tried if it’s merely survived, If you’re standing outside the fire”.

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Create a To Do List

Create a To Do List

People keep asking me, how do I stay focused and productive every day? Well, each day I begin with a “To Do” list of things I’d like to accomplish. It helps me sort out what I need to do and (hopefully) not get so easily sidetracked. When you work from home in relative silence, getting sidetracked is easily done. There’s always something you could/should be doing around the house, or the weather’s so nice you’d rather be outside doing  just about anything, or someone calls and you’d rather chat, and then there’s the reading. It’s no surprise that writers are also avid readers, so the temptation to just curl up and indulge can be huge.

But I have to work, so after writing out my list, I tackle each task one at a time and check it off my list. It could be as simple as “check and respond to emails”, or “WIP”, which means I need to actually WRITE something on my current book. As things crop up, or I remember them, I add them to the list. What I don’t complete one day, I move over onto the next day’s list. This keeps me semi organized. At least that’s the plan. Usually it works.

A large part of my day lately has had to involve marketing and promotion of my new release. Now, I’d rather just sit and write, or do any of the other thousand things I’d like to do, but if I want to make a career out of this writing gig, and I do, then I need to take it seriously. If I want my book to sell, and if I want to grow my readership, then I have to work at it. I knew going into this writing thing that it would be a lot of work, and I wasn’t disappointed. Good thing I like challenges and don’t mind the hard work. What I don’t like is feeling like I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, what might work, what doesn’t work for me, where to go for resources, who/what/when to connect.

Networking works!

Networking works!

Social media has taken over a large chunk of on-line marketing and promotion, so being relatively active on FaceBook, Goodreads, Twitter is a must, as is having a regular (key is regular) blog and staying top of mind with those who follow you. Your readers and followers might also help spread the word about your work, so an updated, hopefully interesting website with current content is important. That’s it. Simple. Yep, simple, but time-consuming and necessary. If you don’t want to promote your work and are just writing for the sake of writing, then you don’t have to do any of these things, but as in life, if you want to succeed, you have to be willing to put your back into it.

Research is also a large component to promotion and marketing for a new author. After all, you have to know where to go, what the options are, what to do, etc. Thank goodness the internet is a treasure trove of valuable information and websites to learn just about anything and everything you ever needed to know about writing, publishing, networking, promoting and marketing your work (which is separtate from researching things for the story you’re writing). Sites such as The Savvy Book Marketer and Shelley Lieber’s Wordy Woman are terrific resources, as are other authors. Start following authors you admire and reading what they have to say, but don’t be afraid to branch out to new, unknown authors you’ve discovered and following their blogs. Some of the best ideas and suggestions, as well as support, has come from these amazing resources. They’re free, interactive, and allow each writer to explore what works and what doesn’t, while also giving hands-on information on how to’s and links to other sites of interest.

Publications like  Writer Gazette, Publisher’s Lunch, and Writer’s Digest are invaluable in their content for writers of any genre. Use any and all information until you find what works for you, and don’t be afraid to put your own spin on things. After all, you are the master at the helm of your own ship. Steer it where you like, because the beauty is that nothing you do is wrong, it’s all just a learning  journey. Rather than be uptight and worry about whether what I’m doing is the right thing, I just try to have fun with it and do the absolute best I can. If I need to fix something later I can, and if something works particularly well, I’ll use it as much as I feel I need to.

In the midst of all this social networking and on-line research, don’t forget your own backyard though. Explore avenues like local newspapers, for example. I was nervous about contacting my local libraries to see if they’d be interested in my work. I mean, these are libraries for heaven’s sake, and I’m an unknown nobody! I’m not really an agressive sales person, never wanted to be, so this felt like pushing myself on people who may or may not be interested. But I’d committed to doing everthing I could, and that meant putting myself out there, front and centre. I’m fully aware (thanks to my years in real estate, mortgage sales and more recently, incentive marketing, that what I’m really selling out there is me. My books will or won’t stand on their own merit, but I also have to be comfortable and confident enough in myself to stick out my hand and introduce myself. This actually doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m fortunate to have watched my mother and younger sisters do this with great aplomb and success in their own businesses. I just straighten my shoulders and tell myself, ‘If they can do it, I can do it’. And I can.

Shout it out

Shout it out

You see, I’d sent out a “press release” introduction to several local newspapers over a month ago, but none had responded. The success with the local libraries gave me the courage to follow up with two of our larger local newspapers, The Exeter Times Advance, and the Forest Standard/Parkhill Gazette and ask (bold, I know) if they’d be interested in doing an interview with me as a local author. When they each said yes, I was ecstatic! What I’m learning from all this is, first and foremost, I can do this, and second, people just might be more open and receptive than I’d originally thought.

I keep saying this writing thing is teaching me about life; the parallels are always there. It’s also helping me to grow and expand my knowledge on so many fronts, I sometimes have trouble shutting my mind off at night (you know what that’s like). What I know for sure is that I have so much more to learn, and love the experiences, connections and opportunities that keep coming my way. Will it all be sunshine and roses, not likely, but hopefully I will learn something from those too, even if it’s only not to repeat the mistakes. Oh, and I’m also aware of how important it is to just shut it all off and spend time doing the things in my life that are important besides writing and promotion. Things like family, getting outside, taking breaks and sometimes yes, just goofing off for the day and enjoying the moments of sheer freedom. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, but I know balance has to be in play, or I’ll burn out. Today’s a working day, but tomorrow…?

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Cheers!

Cheers!

So, now that I’ve written and had my first book published, drank the congratulatory champagne and danced the victory dance, I’m left to wonder, now what?

Of course I have the WIP to continue, which is work enough, but what about getting the word out there about my book. I mean, much as I’m thrilled with the response from family and friends (and I definitely am), there’s the whole wide world I need to reach out to now. Separate and apart from the writing is the marketing and promotion, a beast unto itself.

Before the release of my book, I did invest quite a bit of time investigating websites, becoming proactive in social networking via FaceBook, but what about Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest? What about requesting honest reviews of readers and asking them to post them on sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and so on? What about face-to-face appearances, readings and book signings?

Whoa, this is starting to look like a TON of work, and it is. I read a while back that book marketing and promotion can take up considerable time for an author, because he/she needs to reach out to readers to let them know their book is available for sale. Not only that, but as an author, you want the feedback. ‘Am I on the right track?’ ‘Do people like and respond to my story and characters?’ ‘Do they like me?’

And so it goes. As I mentioned before, writing is a lot like life, and the similarities continue to intrigue me. In order to do well in this world, we need to be willing to risk something of ourselves. We need to be willing to invest in ourselves and trust that at least some others will respond positively to our efforts. Otherwise, why bother? Why put ourselves through the pain and anguish of exposing our deepest hopes and dreams?

storytellingIt’s because we believe we have some talent for storytelling. We believe we have something of value for others to relate to, even if only for entertainment sake. We strike out on this lonely path, and along the way, if we’re lucky, we meet others whose paths merge or intersect with ours. We realize we are not alone, and that they too share the dream. Authors come together, sometimes loosely, and sometimes very tightly knit, to support and encourage.

Ah, but when the reader reaches back and gives praise or useful comment, the writer is blessed. They are validated. They have been heard. The fact that another person has invested his/her time and hard-earned money to purchase your book resonates in a special place within the writer’s heart. It is a warm, sunny space.

 But how to reach the reader, and how to connect with other writers? In my opinion, one step at a time. I recommend researching the options and trying the ones that seem to connect with you. On-line networking has become globally massive, with the potential to connect with more people than ever before, but you have to be willing to participate, and participate with care and professionalism. Still, what works well for one writer may not suit the personality of another, but make no mistake, EVERY writer must put themselves out there and connect on some level.  Even the long-held masters of the craft can’t expect to sit in their writing caves and ignore the outside world for long. Yes, the Work In Progress (WIP) is of paramount importance, but so too is connecting with your audience. Agents and publicity people notwithstanding, readers love to hear from the author directly. They love to ask those burning questions and know that the writer is human.

Now I’m such a newbie, I had no idea how to go about things like press releases and book tours, but I did compose a press release and sent it out to many of the local newspapers. A week ago I was contacted by one of the larger ones and asked if I’d be interested in an interview. Are you kidding me? I was ecstatic! One week to the date of the interview, I purchased several copies of that newspaper and there it was – the cover art of my book, my photo, and the article. A half-page of information about me and my work shone back at me. I learned something from that exercise; ask and ye shall receive. Keep quiet, and no one knows you have something to share.

Another example of something that always works well is word of mouth. When my daughter talked to her local librarian last week, she mentioned my book. The librarian was quite interested in learning of this new (local) author and asked my daughter to have me stop in at the branch and bring along a copy of my book. I was thrilled at the opportunity. It’s no surprise that librarians love and support books, so this was an ideal fit. I had ordered fifty-five copies of my book to sell to family and friends who had asked for a signed copy. Now this librarian said she’d like to purchase and read it. It doesn’t get better than that. A complete stranger wants to read your book and possibly recommend it to others who trust her judgement.

Librarians Rock!

Librarians Rock!

After meeting that first librarian, I then gathered up the courage to contact another librarian at a separate branch and ask if she’d be interested as well. Well lo and behold, that gracious lady immediately jumped on board, asking me to bring her five copies of my book to distribute to other county branches in her area! We chatted when I brought in my books and she asked if I would consider doing a chapter reading, Q & A, and book signing in the Spring. You bet I would!

And so it begins. I’ve now begun contacting the local libraries (we have a lot of them), and have been thrilled with the response. In two days I pre-booked two book readings and sold eight books to libraries. Even though my books are primarily available on e-readers and e-devices, I was pleased to learn that libraries not only promote this venue, but assist patrons with selecting and downloading books they’re interested in. One of our small libraries actually has three e-readers available for loan, to be signed out on a two week basis and returned, exactly like a book! Now that’s being proactive.

As I continue working and networking, I find I’m meeting some amazing people, and I’m learning new things every day. The first draft WIP is almost complete, as I now have people continually asking when the sequel going to be ready. Kind of lights a fire under the butt when you have people clamouring for your next work.

For now I’ll keep working and learning as I go, growing my base and putting down roots. What I know for sure is that this writing gig is what I was meant to do. At long last, after a lifetime of trials and errors, of mountains and valleys, I’ve found something that fills a part of my soul I hadn’t even realized was there. What more could I ask?

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