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Write On The Beach

Write On The Beach

This weekend I wrapped up a 2 day inaugural writers’ workshop I was co-hosting. It was a ton of work, but an extremely exciting and successful event – which is what really matters. I’ve never attempted anything on this scale, and bringing together 4 diverse, very successful authors to Grand Bend to teach 90 minute workshops to an equally diverse audience of new and “wannabe” writers proved to be no small challenge.

We couldn’t have done it, and done it so well, if not for the help of my partners-in-crime, Mary Alderson and Jonathon Roulston. Of course without the financial grant support of the Grand Bend Community Foundation, the Lambton County Creative County Fund, and the Grand Bend Art Centre, none of it would have been possible. I’m incredibly grateful for these groups and individuals who pulled together to make this entire event and weekend a success. Our instructors were also a real treat to work with. Jeff Rasley, Alicia Rasley, Bonnie Burnard, and Robyn Doolittle are professionals of the very finest merit. Their wisdom, humour, and expertise were appreciated by everyone. Judging by the comments I received from attendees, each session was chock full of insightful, helpful information and take-aways.

Grand Bend Harbour

Grand Bend Harbour

One of our added goals was to increase awareness of Grand Bend, Lambton Shores, and all we have to offer residents and visitors. Long known for our beautiful, wide sandy beaches, incredible sunsets, beach town vibe and family-friendly restaurants and activities, we wanted to showcase Grand Bend’s cultural and creative side as well. Visitors to the workshop, including instructors Jeff and Alicia Rasley who travelled from Indianapolis, Indiana, came away impressed by Grand Bend, and stated more than once that they’ll be back.

These are all true win-wins for everyone involved. I like that. It also means we’ll definitely be going ahead and doing one again next year, so stay tuned next spring for details.

 

 

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I’m so excited to share information on a new 2 day writers’ workshop series in Grand Bend, Ontario (2 hours from Toronto, 45 minutes to London and Sarnia) this June 11-12/2016! With four A-class, seasoned writers as instructors talking on a variety of topics, there’s something for everyone! Whether you’re already well into the writing journey, just starting out, or want to learn how to get started, these workshops were made for you. 

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I’m so honored and pleased to share the guest blog post I did over at Molly Greene’s blog this week, entitled “Don’t Let Anybody Should On You!”. Molly is a true professional when it comes to writing, and generously shares the information she’s gleaned over years of writing her books. In fact, her site has become one of my go-to places for any writing industry information I might want. Here’s the link to my guest post and Molly’s blog: http://www.molly-greene.com/

Please feel free to comment, and of course, share with your networks.

That’s all for now folks.

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Support breeds success

Support breeds success

Over the years, I’ve had to face many personal and business obstacles. Writing has proven to be my most challenging, and rewarding endeavour to date, but it comes with many obstacles and a host of naysayers. For instance, at a family event recently, a well-to-do family member made a comment to my husband about my writing, saying that although he understood my “passion” for writing, cautioned my husband against really believing it would ever be a financially viable venture. When I heard this, I was furious, both because this family member was unwittingly trying to undermine my husband’s faith in me, and because he was demonstrating what I’d encountered several times before with close friends and family; disbelief that what I was doing would ever amount to much of anything financially.

I’ve worked in commissioned sales for over ten years, and I know from experience that this kind of thinking is detrimental to the success of those who work in this type of career. Writing works very similarly; the writer works his/her buns off to get a project published, endures a great deal of rejection and trials, and only gets paid if the book becomes a commercial success. To be a writer, you have to develop pretty thick skin. You have to believe that what you are writing matters and has value to others. You have to believe in yourself as well as in your dreams. This is no easy task.

Snoopy writingThose who are close to writers don’t always understand what we do. They think we’re playing at an intriguing “hobby”, or worse, wasting our time. They don’t understand that toiling for hours upon hours, days, weeks, months, or even years, and seeing little financial profit is really laying stepping stones to success. Writing is like every new business; you have to be willing to invest the time, blood, sweat, and tears to build a brand and fineness the business model. Many writers work full time jobs and write every spare moment they can in order to create the platform they’ll use. The learning curve is tremendous, and in today’s constantly shifting landscape of book publishing, it’s even more difficult.

This doesn’t stop the true writer, or entrepreneur though. What family members, friends, and others who share the sentiments, don’t understand is that true failure comes when we becomes so downtrodden and unsupported, or disillusioned, that we cease trying. The other thing that often happens to writers, is that they fail to understand that writing and book publishing are also a business. If writers fail to understand how the business operates, learn the tools, and utilize them effectively, they’ll become disillusioned and fail to succeed.

In truth, this goes for everything in life. So what can you do when faced with naysayers and obstacles to your goals for the future? First, stop and take stock of where you are in the process. Make a list of all the things you’ve done to get to that point, and where you want to be. If you’re way off the mark, you may have to adjust your trajectory. That’s okay. No road to success is ever without misjudgements, hills and valleys. Your job is to find ways to continue moving ahead in a direction that leads you closer to the goal.

Pushing a boulder up a hill

Pushing a boulder up a hill

When starting any new venture, it’s very easy to underestimate what’s involved. That’s because human beings don’t come equipped with a GPS map to the future. It’s also why most financiers advocate creating a business plan that would address any potential obstacles and force the entrepreneur to pre-think of ways of seeing and dealing with those obstacles.

In life, we tend to move merrily along on our path, until faced with opposition. Only then do we stop and realize that the path we’ve been walking has veered too far to the left or right. The smart person takes stock of the opposition, learns everything he/she can about it, and adjusts the path accordingly by going through it, over it, under it, or around it. Some might also enlist the help of others to remove it from the path altogether, to allow them to continue forward. There are always solutions, but first you have to understand the problem. Same goes for writing. I keep hearing from writers that they’re “artists” and don’t want to do any of the work associated with marketing and promoting their work. They want to let others do it for them, or worse, do nothing at all, believing that if their work has merit, like cream, it’ll rise to the top. This is a fallacy. You have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone and risk taking on new challenges. You have to be willing to accept that others aren’t going to understand you or why you’re doing what you do. You have to take responsibility for ensuring your work gets noticed and demonstrate why consumers want to purchase the product or service. You have to be willing to forge your own path, irregardless of the obstacles.

I recently met a fellow London, Ontario writer, Sunil Godse, who contacted me via the social media, LinkedIn. As a business mentor, he often counsels managers, CEO’s and struggling entrepreneurs about the benefits of learning from their failures, and how to turn those failures into successes. Because of the many stories he’s heard from his clients over the years, he decided to write a book about it, entitled, Fail Fast, Succeed Faster. As a savvy businessman, he knew writing was a whole other animal to his usual work, and so he enlisted, and solicited, as much help as he could get.

A few weeks before his book launch, he contacted me via LinkedIn and asked if I had a few moments to talk to him about writing and publishing. At the time, I had no idea what his subject matter was, but in the spirit of paying it forward, I agreed immediately. When we finally set up the date and time for a telephone call, I was surprised and impressed with what he’d accomplished so far, and intrigued with his subject material. In fact, I had just penned a blog post earlier that week on the subject of benefiting from failure and achieving success. A coincidence? Perhaps, but in talking to Sunil, I began to realize that he’d approached his book project like a business. He’d researched every aspect of the book publishing industry, worked with a qualified co-writer, hired a professional editor, cover artist, web designer, and after careful consideration, decided to self-publish his book. Honestly, I was impressed and wasn’t sure what I could offer him in the way of advice. In speaking with Sunil, it became quickly apparent that this was a man willing to listen and learn from others. He’d talked to heads of national corporations, new entrepreneurs, and everyone else he thought might have an interesting story or ideas to share. He initiated the contact to perhaps learn something from me about the writing and publishing business, and in doing so, taught me something in return; ask the questions, learn the processes, be invested in doing the task right by hiring qualified people, and ask for assistance when needed.

Bruce Croxon and me

Bruce Croxon and me

When we finally met at his book launch two weeks later, I was again impressed. He used his contacts and financial backing to create a great launch, and invited a truly impressive keynote speaker, Bruce Croxon, of tv’s Dragon’s Den. Both men were ready and willing to talk to attendees as much as needed, and I was pleased to have about 5-10 minutes with each. Again, I learned something from each of them, and enjoyed the event tremendously.

Another on-line friend, Jonathan Gunson, of Bestseller Labs, also wrote an interesting blog post earlier this week that really resonated with me, entitled “The Key to Growing Readership: Your “Writer’s” Voice”. This week Jonathan tapped into the subject of overcoming naysayers, keeping your eye on the goal, adjusting the path where needed, and having faith in yourself, your own abilities and “voice”, and believing in the path you’ve set for yourself.

One other thought; when we support others in their goals, we can strengthen our determination to succeed in our own, and sometimes, learn new ways around the obstacles we face in our own lives. Oh, and when I heard what that family member had said, I understood that they in no way thought they were being unsupportive (not consciously anyway), but boy, did it strengthen my resolve to prove to everyone who doubted my writing future that they were WRONG!

If you’d like to leave a comment, please take a few moments to share some of the obstacles in your life, or business, that you’ve successfully overcome.

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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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Review Writing

It’s been all the buzz in the publishing industry. Amazon has been pulling reader book reviews on it’s website, seriously upsetting authors world-wide. It would seem that, in this case, one bad apple – or even half a barrel, do spoil the whole bunch.

This appears evident in the “sock puppet” case, whereby prize-winning English crime writer, R.J. Ellory, admitted to having written negative reviews of other writers’ books under a pseudonym, while at the same giving his own works glowing reviews on the same sites. In an article on Forbes.com, Suw Charman-Anderson tackles this subject, effectively explaining and expounding on the issues. After reading it, I had to admit I agreed with her position. Is Amazon throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Hmm, maybe so.

Staff writer for the L.A. Times, Carolyn Kellogg, states that, when one author questioned Amazon in a letter, he received this reply in return, “We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we’ve removed your reviews for this title.” According to both articles, this seems to be the standard reply. Not very heartening.

Okay, I understand you don’t want reviewers who gain financially from a review, and it can and does happen, but what about the thousands of writers who write legitimate reviews on books we’ve personally read? I’d have to say the number of authors who write honest reviews would far outweigh those who try to manipulate the system. As both Carol and Suw state, all authors are not evil rivals. I feel this way about the sales industry too – sure we’re all out there working our butts off, but we can also be our own greatest source of support, if we choose.Being new to the industry and naïve, initially I was shocked to learn that this was happening. I’d also never dreamed there were paid reviews, which could quite easily be skewed in favour of the paying author or publication house. Then I thought about it. It isn’t so shocking really. This type of underhanded behaviour happens in virtually any money-making business. Competitors are often vying for the same market, and everyone wanting a bigger piece of the pie. But that doesn’t make it right.

We can all help

I’m an author, but I’m also a reader. It’s no surprise or stretch to imagine that writers also read – a lot. We often become writers because we read. As I put one foot in front of the other in this business, I look to other writers who’ve gone before me, as well as the ones who are walking the same road beside me. Some day, I’d love to be one of the writers who will reach back to those coming along behind me. To me, that’s the way life should be. We all help each other, not out of avarice or desire to get something back, but because we want to; because it’s a hard road and helping one another makes it a little easier, and a lot more fun.

As a writer, I also review other author’s books. I understand what goes into making a good book, how hard it is to find the right words, the struggle to get the story from a writer’s mind and into the hands of readers, and the learning curve to understand the requirements and demands of the complex publishing business. It’s tough.

After writing for countless hours, we then shake out our confidence and don it like a voluminous overcoat to protect us from the onslaught of rejections we receive from agents and publishers who tell us “no thanks”. More and more authors are tired of running the gauntlet and facing the gatekeepers inherent with the traditional publishing mode. They’re stretching themselves even further and becoming “indie” authors—writers who publish their books independently, using publishing venues like, oh, Amazon.

Amazon has long been the friend of authors, without whom they would not have climbed so far up the publishing and distribution ladder. It’s supposed to be a symbiotic relationship, but as with so many things in business, rules and regulations take over from common sense. People misuse and abuse the trust placed in something as simple as a book review. Amazon has always used these reviews in their algorhithms and ranking of titles and authors, but also posted them for other readers, so they can get an idea of whether a particular book strikes their fancy. Simple.

When I think of all these shenanigans, I wonder why people have to muddy the waters. I mean really, to me, a review is kind of like a thank you, or at the very least, constructive criticism. It’s also intended to help other readers choose a book or author they might enjoy. But then I’ve always believed in thanking others for a job well done, or offering honest praise/feedback.

Even when standing in a line-up, if I really love the earrings, shoes, whatever, of the woman ahead of me, I’ll tell her so. We’ve become so insular that, on hearing the praise, the woman is always surprised. Then she smiles—a genuine smile, and says “thank you”. She goes away smiling. No matter what else is going on in her day, someone said something nice to her, or noticed the extra effort she took while getting dressed that morning. So simple.

I also work for a rewards and incentive marketing company, and one of the things we try to remind CEOs and company HR personnel, is that rewarding and recognizing employees, referral sources, and those who help make your business a success throughout the year, can pay huge dividends. People respond more favourably, and are more inclined to give back to the company, when they feel appreciated. Simple, yet effective.

 

Simple, yet effective

So, I can’t do anything about how others conduct themselves in this world, but I can do something about how I deal with others. I can approach the business of sales, writing and publishing with integrity, and when I review a book, article, or comment on a blog, I can do it with honesty. If others want to misconstrue my good intentions, I can’t change that. I am only in charge of me. Simple.

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So just how importantare rating and reviews to book rankings?

Juding by the information I’ve been able to gather over the past few months and the inside talk-very. To investigate a little further, I Googled ‘how to review a book’, and found an article called, “So you’d like to get your book reviewed on Amazon and boost your sales“. Okay, perfect. This is just was I was looking for. According to Amazon, “Good reviews on Amazon are particularly crucial for books by new authors and for niche books, and it stands to reason that they boost sales not only at that site but everywhere people are buying books, although we don’t yet know what percentage of buyers at brick-and-mortar bookstores made their choice by reading Amazon customer reviews.”. This article also went on to explain how to approach Amazon’s top reviewers, and even provides a sample script to try to elicit the review.

Of course there’s a downside to reviews, and that is the dreaded negative review. In that same Amazon article, they point out, “Yes, negative reviews can hurt sales in the short term, but over the long term, allowing criticism builds credibility and helps shoppers decide what to buy, Bezos says: “We don’t make money when we sell things; we make money when we help people make purchase decisions.”

Rampant Techpress has an excellent article on Amazon Sales Rank Tracking that’s well worth taking a look at, as it breaks down how the giant book seller actually ranks an author’s book. I found this really useful in understanding the mechanics behind rankings.

Opinions seem to vary between “no, not important and it’s just an author’s vanity”, to “yes, extremely important”. With the advent of indie publishing, self-publishing and ebooks, I believe book rankings has become one of those hot topics everyone is trying to figure out. According the big hitters, ranking is definitely important. After all, what is the New York Times Bestseller’s List, but a ranking of books the publisher’s and critics like? Why are the readers’ opinions less important. To authors, they aren’t. In the grand scheme of things, readers buy books, not publishers, agents, critics or even book stores.

Can rankings be padded or faked, of course they can, and sometimes are. Word is spreading that some of the big publishing houses are actually even hiring individuals to post poor reviews for indie authors for the sole purpose of bringing their rankings down. I have no idea if this is true, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Selling books has long been big business, and in today’s highly competitive publishing industry, with the increasing rise and popularity of ebooks, it’s no wonder.

So, are rankings and reviews important. I think so, but hey, I’m an author, so I care what others think of my work. It’s how I plan to grow and improve my craft, as well as how I hope to sell my books.

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