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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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Dream Big

Never stop learning, dreaming, believing

I am continually amazed at the learning possibilities of life. A well-written book holds clues and insights never imagined before. A new place holds beauty and experiences never imagined before, and new people hold friendships and stories never encountered before.

On a recent business trip I was fortunate to travel to Clearwater/St.Petersburg, Florida. I thought it would hold little surprises for me. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. While there I was introduced to people who met us with warmth and laughter, while fulfilling their roles as guides to the locale and places I was there to become more familiar with. Each of these people revealed expertise in their chosen fields of work and the properties they were proud to showcase, while making me and my team mates feel welcome and treated as honoured guests. Over the course of that three day trip, I learned I knew nothing of the area I was there to see. I had come with pre-conceived notions. I was wrong. Clearwater, St. Petersburg proved to be an incredibly beautiful destination with fabulous hotels, warm clear waters, wide sandy beaches and friendly, welcoming people.

While there we were introduced to Winter, the dolphin who lost her tail after being ensnared in a fishing trap. The movie, Dolphin Tale, is based on the remarkable story of Winter’s fight for survival and subsequent rise to dolphin stardom at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. After hearing the story and seeing Winter myself, I couldn’t help but reflect how much all of us can learn from animals like Winter and their tenacity for life. Even more fascinating to me though, is the story of the humans who went out of their way to help Winter and make a difference. The resulting rescue and ripple effect of the publication of Winter’s story continues to expand, changing both human and animal lives on a daily basis. In a society hell bent on consumerism and the attainment of surface beauty, the story of Winter, her caretakers, and those who stepped beyond their everyday lives to save a life, this is a much needed reminder of what can be accomplished – if we don’t give up believing in possibilities.

Writing a book is a little like Winter’s story. When a writer sits down to pen a new story, it feels a little like being wrapped up in that fishing trap. The heart of the story is there, it’s just all tangled up in a bunch of other stuff, and if left like that, it’ll die a slow and painful death. But unwrap it, rescue it, breathe life into it, work with it, and rehabilitate it to get it to where it’s whole and shiny, and you’ve accomplished a significant feat of faith and perseverance.

Oh, but then you have to sell it, market it to the world so others can share in the vision, and perhaps impart some value and entertainment. If you are really, really fortunate, your story will resonate with even one reader who will enjoy it enough to recommend it to someone else. If you are fantastically lucky, your story will sell enough to actually help you pay some of your never-ending stream of bills. Kinda like the movie they made of Winter’s story, Dolphin Tale. Because of the movie, the dedication of the entire crew, staff at the aquarium, and the unstinting backing of the people of Clearwater/St. Pete’s, this incredible story has a happy ending. Not only did Winter get her tail, but many other marine wildlife have also been rescued. Not only that, but public awareness of marine rescue and rehabilitation has increased exponentially, and continues to grow daily. On my recent trip our guide, John (an amputee himself), pointed proudly to the beginnings of a new building being constructed directly as a result of the revenue from the movie. The tremendous success of the film, along with the publicity generated, has resulted in enough funds to build a second, larger building to house and care for even more marine life.

This brings me back to the beginning of this post; because of a business trip, I learned more about an area than I ever dreamed I would, I learned that dreaming big and working hard result in outstanding accomplishments (look for my upcoming posts on a new blog site I’m developing with Strategic Incentive Solutions, about the people and places I am fortunate to visit), and that faith, tenacity, and gritty determination really can transform a dream into a reality.

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Hold close the beauty of each day

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve taken on a new position as Business Development Manager for Strategic Incentive Solutions, a Canadian/US incentive and rewards marketing company. I’m pumped, I’m excited, I’m ready to rock and roll. I’m  ready to get out there and kick butt. But…

Having committed to this writing gig, I also acknowledge that I have to fine tune my time management. No longer can I devote my time soley to my writing, but allocate blocks of time to successfully work at both. Each is time consuming and comes with it’s own set of demands. As I dive into the sales pool again and surface, I know I have to stay motivated in each area in order to make them work. But how to accomplish that task?

Motivation is a funny thing. Typically, humans aren’t motivated to change unless given a reason – an incentive if you will. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Well, you might want to fix it if the same old same old simply isn’t working for you any longer, or if there is an incentive to change or take action. For example, most people will motivate themselves to get up in the morning and go to work because the incentive of a pay cheque waits at the end of the week (or whatever pay period you have). Going to school? The obvious incentive is to gain education and thereby hopefully secure a good job in a field of interest, and get paid for it. What about writers who write a book, article or journal? Again, the motivation might lie in wanting to get paid for the work we do.

But there are other motivators and incentives, as well as the inherent rewards. What about the social aspect of work and school? I remember my children at around the age of eight or nine years old telling me their motivation or incentive to go to class wasn’t getting education – far from it. They were motivated to get up and out the door by the prospect of seeing their friends and playing with them, or doing something neat like a school trip, or being leader of the class for the day. Later in life, when we start working for a living, yes we need that pay cheque, but we also crave the social aspect of working with others. Most of our friends are cultivated from work or the work place, so we want to go there and interact with others.

Then there’s the motivation to succeed, to improve and to grow for it’s own sake. I know I personally am often motivated to do something because I enjoy the challenges, or the learning experience. Every time I take on a new project, I learn more about the subject matter, and about myself. When I travel, I love seeing the truth of the place beyond the commercial glitz (I’m not averse to commercial glitz and enjoy that too!). I love discovering neat little out of the way places, or talking to the locals. So, even though I’m terrified of alligators, I’ll hold a baby one (yep, me big chicken) and go to an alligator zoo to get up close and see the criters, because I’m motivated to learn and see something new.

That brings me to recognition. Most people also seek recognition of what they do, whether in the work place or on a personal level. Recognition can be as simple as a heart-felt “thank you” from a boss, coach or trainer, or it can be as elaborate as getting an all expenses paid vacation to a fabulous destination. In fact, experiential rewards top material merchanise or gift card ones by far, every single time.  Recognition can also come through fame; by attaining that level of notoriety whereby you are recognized by peers and the world at large for what you’ve accomplished, which can be it’s own motivator.

In fact, studies have shown that when employers recognize and reward their empoyees, the confidence in the company increases, production and sales increases and loyalty increases. Getting paid and just having a job aren’t enough to motivate people to do their best, to remain with a company, or strive to excel. When employers and managers see the value in those who work for them, and when teachers, coaches and trainers understand the true merit of incentives and rewards, then, and only then, will they see the kinds of performance they need to reach certain goals. I call this a “thoughtful team work approach”.

The fact is, people are motivated by a variety of factors. Each is as valid as the other, and every person is subject to his or her own motivators. Our jobs as human beings is to find what motivates us to change or do something proactive and use it to our best advantage. In fact, to borrow a military saying, “to be the best we can be”.

Question: What motivates you to achieve success or reach a goal, and how do you act on that motivation?

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