Category Archives: Writing Coach

How Important Is Social Media?

I’ve just spent half a day upgrading and connecting and reconnecting and tweaking the various social media sites I belong to. I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter since forever: 2005 and 2006, I believe. I’m a very gung-ho Early Adopter, but my attempts to integrate social media in any significant way into my online moneymaking ventures have been desultory, at best. That probably shows in my bank balance, but really I’m mostly about the Social in social media. As a writer, my days are spent focused on this screen. If I want companionship, to hear another voice, to debate the day’s events or just to vent on the day itself, I turn to social media: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Quora, and so on. At one time, I had a solid ranking as an Influencer. Now, not so much.

This morning I decided to explore just why despite the stats being relatively okay on this site, on my eBay selling account, on my ArtFire.com shop, and on my Facebook pages, there were no what they call conversions coming in. In other words, no one is buying anything I’m selling.

Even going in I know that my use of social media could be optimized if I had a clearer understanding of what my goals are, what each of my selling venues is looking for, and how the different social media platforms work for or against my goals.

I could spend a lot of time here elaborating on my findings regarding ArtFire.com and eBay.com. However, this is a site about writing and writers, so let’s just jump ahead and rename this post,

How Important Is Social Media for Writers?

The one-word smart alecky answer is : very. But what exactly does that mean?

Despite my stated fondness for using social media to socialize, I have spent a lot of time over the years learning all I could about the use of social media for marketing. The subject fascinates me: it appeals to my tech nerd and my psych nerd selves, and I’ve pursued it via conferences and seminars and books over the past decade or so that the topic has been evolving.

So when I answer the questions “exactly what does social media for writers mean? And how much is it going to cost me?” I’m speaking from a point of relative expertise.

Exactly what does social media for writers mean?

It means using the various platforms of social media to build a community of readers who will not only buy your work, but will encourage others to buy it as well.

In the old days, say when my book was published back in the mid-70s, I was pretty much at the mercy of the publishers, Doubleday, for whatever advertising and promotion they decided to give it. Mine was a mid-list book, which meant that they never expected it to have any rousing success, and they certainly weren’t going to spend any money to publicize it. Their in-house publicity department booked some radio interviews for me, but that was it. The most I could do to help with sales was to have postcards made of my book’s jacket and send them to everyone I knew.

Today, that would be a different story. For one, the publicity departments of the publishing houses are encouraging/demanding/insisting that authors take an active role in their online social media lives. For those who are self-publishing or using one of the small presses, social media marketing is a must. No questions. Without a doubt.

So, there you are, in the final stages of your writing project. Now what? And–also:

How much is this going to cost me?

A one-line smart alecky answer: you get what you pay for.

There are any number of social media marketing experts out there trawling for business. I saw a sponsored post on Facebook the other day pitching a seminar to tell writers Everything You have to Know To Market Your ____fill in the blank____.

I don’t know about you, but when I see a promotion promising Everything, I immediately think, hyped-up marketing. That kind of overgeneralizing in the aid of a snazzy headline is a hackneyed ploy impossible to deliver on. There are basics of marketing, yes, but social media marketing for the written word is not the same not the same for all writing and all writers. Marketing fiction can be a world away from marketing a self-help book. Marketing a mystery calls for a different skill set than marketing a romance.

And then there’s the issue of how you best learn. Have you taken webinars and found them satisfying? Or do you do better in a small group? Or, one on one. Me, I’m a one on one kind of girl. In groups, no matter the size, I end up perceiving the event as a dialogue between me and the speaker. It’s not something I set out to do; if anything, I try to blend in with the others. However, there is something about my instincts and style as a communicator that fosters this kind of tunnel vision.

That being the case, if I’m going to hire someone to help me market my writing, I’ll go with an expert who I’m paying to focus on me, my project, and the specific ways in which I need to perform my personal social media dance in order to further my particular goals.

And you? As you think about what you need to help you market your work on social media, what’s important to you? And what do you actually want to know? I’ll be talking about this over the weeks, so this is your chance to get a complimentary one on one with me.

Writing Prompt & Free Offer: The Things I Carry

Have you ever read Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried? It tells the story of a platoon of soldiers in the Viet Nam war through the things that they carried in the knapsacks. I used to assign it when I taught Comp & Lit at Lehigh. For one, I wanted my overindulged students to get their minds around something other than their latest hookup. Even more, though, I love the idea that we tell our own stories by the things that we feel we need to have with us every day.

  • Empty your purse, backpack, briefcase, or shopping bag and look at what you’ve taken out. Now choose the things that for whatever reason are always with you.
  • Describe them.
  • How are they related? How are they not? What does it say about you that these things are necessary to you?

This is an exercise in three things:

  1. Your powers of description.
  2. Your ability to analyze, to move from the concrete to the abstract, to see the patterns (or lack of same) in things that seem unrelated.
  3. Your willingness to come to a conclusion about what the things you carry say–or don’t say–about you.

 

Bonus offer: Want to know what it’s like to get an Intensive Critique from me? I’ll give a free Mini Intensive Critique to the first five people who send me their drafts. Just save and copy your draft to the Comment section on the form below.

Writing & the Freedom to Fail

A client once said to me,

“Writing this story feels like I’ve set out on the ocean with a lot of heart and grit and a general sense of direction, but I don’t want to spend months rowing hard to get to France only to learn that I’ve landed in Texas.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond.

  • Was she feeling insecure about her writing overall and needing me to reassure her that if she had planned for France, and worked hard to get there, she would definitely see the Eiffel Tower?
  • Or was she expressing some subconscious uneasiness that she was actually on the wrong plotting track?

There was no right or wrong answer here. The first speaks to the general anxiety writers all feel from time to time. We’re sitting alone creating worlds out of thin air; how could we not feel insecure from time to time?

The second speaks to a more complicated issue: where does our writing come from? Whose ideas are these, if not mine? So why do they sometimes turn on me and take me to a place I never thought of–or wanted–to go?

When that happens to me, I’ve learned to listen to my silent self and, at least for a while, give it rein to move at will. Eventually, I either write myself out of that place–or I find that it actually is where I wanted to go. It means, of course, that I have to allow myself the hardest freedom of all–the freedom to fail.

Grammar! Punctuation! Spelling!

How do you feel about grammar & punctuation? Is it the writer’s responsibility, or can it be off-shored to a paid editor?

That’s the going debate on a private Facebook writer’s group I belong to. The responses, which seem to be running fifty-fifty, are passionate in both directions.

All that grammar stuff stifles the creative urge

versus

Words and the correct use of them are an essential part of the writer’s toolbox.

I say both of those are true, and what we’re really talking about is…

The crying need for a First Draft.

  • First Drafts, which I affectionately refer to as the Vomit Drafts, are where you just pour it all out without a thought for whether it makes sense or is legible.
  • The First Draft is the draft that only you, the writer, see; therefore, you can spill your guts with impunity.
  • In First Drafts, you can leave blanks to fill in later when you can’t come up with the words you’re looking for now.
  • You can write notes to yourself in your First Draft remind you of something you want to describe but aren’t quite ready to.
  • To treat the First Draft as a Final Draft in which you focus on correcting grammar, punctuation and spelling is to deny yourself…

The essence of the First Draft,

which is the freedom of discover.

 

Is What I’m Writing Too Long or Too Short?

That’s a question I’ve gotten in one form or another over the years I’ve been working with writers. I’ve come to realize that it’s just one aspect of the obsession we can create around our writing. Let me not worry about whether this thing I’m working on is any good, makes sense, says what I intend; let me instead worry whether there are the right number of words in it.

The quick answer is this: if you’ve been given a word count–write a five page essay….a short story of no more than twenty pages–then follow this formula.   Industry standard for publishing and academia is: one inch margins all around; double-spaced; 10-12 point font. If you do the math, you’ll see that 5pp=1,250 words and 20 pp=5,000 words.

The more convoluted answer is:

A piece of writing, whatever the genre, should be long enough to say what you want to say, with no extraneous material.

That doesn’t seem complicated until you realize that the devil is in the details–and the object of that preposition: long enough to say what you want to say, with no extraneous material.

This is the tricky part, the place where most writers go off the rails. You must always keep in some part of your mind that you’re not talking to yourself. There’s a reader out there, several or many of them, and they’re not you. They don’t have access to the workings of your mind–your history, both real and emotional; your political leanings; what’s important to you as you live your life; and what’s not. Your audience only knows what you’re telling them. That means you need to make sure you know what specifics you’ll need to tell them to so that they “get” whatever it is you’re saying.

We’ve all been in situations where a story is being told, but it doesn’t hang together. Some information is missing. Some detail, some nuance–there’s a gap somewhere and it drives us crazy because we know that we’d get it, if only that detail wasn’t missing.The other side of that is where the narrator keeps going on forever. He tells you every little detail he remembers, the color of the pants he was wearing and where he bought them. He explain things that seem totally off the point to you.  It drives you crazy because you wish he’d shut up already and stop confusing you with this avalanche of details.

How do you, the writer, avoid making your reader crazy? First, you need to know what you want to say. Is it a concept you’re explaining or a point you’re making? Is it a scene you’re describing or a story you’re narrating? You  need to know enough about whatever it is to determine what your audience needs to know in order to get the point. Does that seem like a mystery to you? Easier said than done? It’s what Roger Angell meant when he talked about the relationship between writing and thinking.

For the second part of the object of the preposition, the no extraneous material part, beware that this is a trap the best of writers fall into. We love the sound of our voice; we confuse clarity with repetition. There are a variety of ways we can get in trouble going on and on and on. For this, the only answer is a firm editing hand when you’re on your second or third draft to make sure that you’re not committing one of the The Sins of Overwriting. I’ll write about them in my next post.

 

Will You Self Publish?

Used to be, self-publishing was known as vanity press. It was the course of last resort for authors who couldn’t get a legitimate house to publish their work. These days, thanks to Web 2.0, self-publishing is the choice of a number of authors who used to call the brand name publishers their home. This article in the NY Times explains why.

When writers ask me about self-publishing, I direct them to Guy Kawasaki’s book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. It’s my guide of choice for laying out what you can expect if you go that route. Turns out, Publisher is probably the easiest part of the process, thanks to the multiple avenues for actually getting your manuscript into book form. Author, angst-ridden as it may be, is not far behind in the process. The hardest part, then, is the Entrepreneur end of the deal, and it’s the one that trips up many writers. Being an entrepreneur for your publishing effort calls for marketing savvy that is often beyond the ken of those not actively involved in the world of marketing.

Thus, as part of my working with writers on the Entrepreneur part of their publishing, I’m always on the lookout for information on this rapidly growing field. Today I’m sharing Book Marketing Techniques That Don’t Work Anymore to add to your file folder labeled Publishing Info.

If you want to talk to me about any part of the self-publishing process, here’s the way to contact me: