Platform and Marketing: The Difference

July 3rd, 2014 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

Recently on Facebook, one of my friends posted a photo of his book cover with the caption “On sale now…” What immediately followed, along with the 51 “Likes,” was a flood of comments: “Where can I buy it?” “Where is it on sale?” “Is it on Amazon?” “Is it available in kindle version?” “I want it on kindle version too!” One of his friends even shared it on his own FB page, saying, “He’s finally publishing!”

I, too, was excited. I read his rough draft two years ago and encouraged him to publish. This man is a survivalist and a world traveler and has tales to tell that not even Hemingway could have made up. I read further through the comments, hoping to find out where his book is available.

Then I came across his comment: “its not for sale … i just put it up there as a joke.” This, too, was met with a flurry of comments, one of which summed up the collective outrage: “yer a #@* … that would be a book a good few folk would like to read.” Frustrated, I couldn’t resist adding my own two cents. I wrote, “You have what every author dreams of—a market and a platform. You really ought to publish your book.”

In publishing, the first half of the battle is, of course, writing a good book; the second half is platform and market. Writers are often confused by what is meant by platform and market, and sometimes think they are the same thing. But they are not. Platform is an author’s visibility and reach to a specific audience to whom the author has a reputation as an authority in a specific area. Using my Facebook friend as an example, his platform is solid, as he has high visibility and reach with at least 300+ “friends” on Facebook that span the globe. In addition, his blog and YouTube videos, all pertaining to his adventures in the wild and life on the road and showcase his survival skills and gift for storytelling, have a significant following.

Market, on the other hand, is the group of people who want the information, stories, etc. from that author and will buy his books, attend his speaking events/book signings and seminars/webinars, and tune in to his televised or broadcast interviews. Again, using my FB friend as an example, his market is other survivalists/world travelers (and wannabes) along with personal friends who are salivating for his book, which is filled with salacious yarns and fascinating yet highly practical survival tips and techniques.

In traditional publishing, agents and editors are looking for authors who have a solid platform and an eager market clamoring for their book. And in self-publishing, these are just as important. But don’t despair if you don’t yet have either one. Building a platform and finding your market takes time, patience, persistence, ingenuity, and consistency. Keep showing up and don’t give up. My FB friend’s platform has been literally years in the making. And now it’s paying off.

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The Write Stuff

June 7th, 2014 by Diana DeSpain Schramer
One of my favorite people, agent-turned-author Nathan Bransford, blogged last week that writers “kind of have to have” an addictive personality. In his view, compulsive drive is necessary to finish something, whether it is a book or a crossword puzzle. My immediate reaction to Nathan’s premise was “No, they don’t!” as the stereotypical image of a writer well into his cups slouched over his keyboard with a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a burning cigarette within easy reach filled my head. We certainly have our literary greats who fit this profile, such as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but not all writers have addictive personalities. Or do they?

I recently spoke with one of my clients, a twice-published author, who said, “I’m finding that I’m now running a small business, whether I want to be or not.” And she was so right. Published writers today are–and must be–entrepreneurs. So this got me to thinking. Nathan says that writers “kind of have to have” addictive personalities, and I’ve long known that in today’s world published writers must be entrepreneurs. Is there a connection between the two?

Fueled by curiosity, I hit the Internet to research the characteristics of addictive personalities and those of entrepreneurs. I was fascinated by my findings. Both addictive personalities and entrepreneurs are:

  1.  Risk takers
  2.  Nonconformists
  3.  Passionate, at times even obsessive

Of course, this is not to say, or even imply, that all entrepreneurs are addictive personalities any more than all addictive personalities are entrepreneurs. What it does say, though, is that there is a connection. But whether these common traits prove to be the right stuff (self-empowering) or the wrong stuff (self-destructive) depends on various factors. But that’s a topic for another time.

None of us are perfectly well-adjusted; we all have our guilty (and not-so-guilty) pleasures and proclivities that we believe we can’t live without. The difference is the degree that we can’t live without them. So in the interest of good mental, spiritual, and literary health, all writers would be wise to tack to the wall above their writing space The 12 Steps of Queryers Anonymous, one of the most clever posts I have ever read. Of course, my personal favorite is Step 6: Became entirely ready to pay freelance editors to fix our manuscript.

I’m assuming that Nathan Bransford was referring to writers who seek publication in some form, and I’ve taken the same approach here. But remember: being a successful writer is how you define it for yourself.

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Writing Groups: The Right One

May 1st, 2014 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

Last month, I attended the UW-Madison Continuing Studies Writers’ Institute, which was tremendous. The last presentation of the Institute was a panel discussion about how to keep our enthusiasm for writing alive after the conference. Spending two or three full days attending back-to-back sessions all pertaining to writing-related topics, surrounded by and hobnobbing with editors, agents, bookstore owners, published authors, and other writers, breathes new life into our writing dreams. We realize once again that, yes, they are possible. We, too, can one day be the next Michael Perry or Anne Lamott, and we are flooded with renewed passion to make those dreams come to fruition. But then we get back to our everyday lives, and before we know it—poof!—our enthusiasm and passion—along with our dreams—have gone up in smoke.

So how do we maintain our passion and enthusiasm for our writing post-conference? At the top of the panel’s list: join a writers group if you haven’t already done so.

A good writers group does several things:

  • takes you and your writing seriously
  • encourages and supports your accomplishments
  • helps you become a better writer through praise and constructive criticism
  • helps you stay focused by providing a deadline—the kick in the pants all writers need
  • refers you to copyeditors, proofreaders, cover designers, editors, agents, and writing classes and conferences

Having a consistent, equally committed group of people in your corner, and you in theirs, is a key factor that fuels the flame of enthusiasm in a writer’s spirit. Without it, all writers—and their writing dreams—perish.

However, notice that I said a good writers group. By “good” I mean one that is the right fit for you. For example, if you prefer a more structured format, a loose, informal one will most likely set your nerves on edge. And if you’re a gregarious Chatty Kathy, a group of serious No-Nonsense Neds will not be your crowd. As with dating, where we all must fish awhile before finding and hooking the “right one,” sometimes writers must shop around before they find the group that is the “right one.” So be patient. As in dating, the right one is worth the wait.

For those of you who don’t yet have a writers group, here are some helpful resources to aid in your search:

  • your local library
  • independent and big-box bookstores
  • writing.meetup.com (search by zip code)
  • www.writerscafe.org
  • start your own, in person or online Read the rest of this entry »
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Blah, Blah, Blah, Or How Much Dialogue Is Too Much?

April 4th, 2014 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

The dialogue bubbles that appear on my smartphone in texts has got me thinking about dialogue (again), so I want to continue this topic from last month.

In response to last month’s article, one of my subscribers asked, “How much dialogue is too much?” That’s a good question and one that has no clear-cut answer. It all depends on the scene and the characters involved. However, there are two questions you can ask yourself to help ensure that your dialogue is concise, effective, and efficient.

1. Could more information be revealed through dialogue?

Many details, such as a character’s education level, age, and outlook on life, can easily be reflected in the words and tone in which he or she speaks, and thus alleviates the need for distracting backstory or asides. For example: ”I ain’t got no time for all this gobbledigook!” This character is most likely elderly, uneducated, cantankerous, and cynical—all of which is conveyed in only nine words.

2. Can important information be revealed through actions or the use of punctuation rather than spoken words in the course of dialogue?

In other words, show rather than tell, a mantra all writers are familiar with. For example, through action:

“It’s time to leave.” Susan rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh.

(rather than) “It’s time to leave,” Susan said, frustrated.

Through punctuation:

“I walked in the door and—”

“Hey, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?” Jim said.

(rather than) “I walked in the door and fell over the rug.”

“Hey, I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?” Jim interrupted her.

In both of the above examples, the writer shows the reader vital information that adds depth and nuance to the scene without taking the reader out of the scene to tell him or her pertinent details.

Finally, a good practice for determining if your dialogue is too lengthy or includes too much detail is reading your scene out loud or, better yet, having someone else read it out loud to you. Often our ears will catch what our eyes don’t. Even if we struggle with writing dialogue that flows and sounds authentic, we know it when we hear it—and when we don’t.

 

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Just Say It

March 5th, 2014 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

Dialogue is one of the trickiest elements of writing. The ability to capture on the page the natural flow of speech and conversation is a skill that comes naturally to some writers and evades others. But never fear. Writing dialogue well can be learned.

There are three components to dialogue: words of speech, cadence and flow, and dialogue tags, all of which together can reveal the character’s personality, temperament, ethnicity, and current emotion or mood. Here, I’m going to address dialogue tags.

Dialogue tags are the two words at the end or in the middle of a line of speech, e.g., “said John” or “John responded.” Their main purpose is to keep the reader informed as to which character is speaking. But when they are overused, they tend to interrupt the flow of conversation and thus distract and irritate the reader. The first rule I abide by is this: When there are only two characters in a scene, it’s not necessary to include a dialogue tag every time each character speaks. However, in lengthy scenes of dialogue, do add them occasionally to keep the reader up to speed as to who is speaking. And of course, in scenes containing more than two characters, including dialogue tags more often is necessary.

The second rule I adhere to like glue: Use any word apart from said sparingly. I came to accept this rule kicking and screaming because, in my own writing, I loved using the diverse tags that (I thought) added such color and depth to my scenes. Clever words like opinedelaborated, and divulged along with everyday words like explainedinterrupted, and replied. However, as an editor, I now embrace and laud this rule, as I’ve seen over and over that these tags often distract from the narrative and, yes, even sound pretentious. And in most cases, they are redundant and therefore unnecessary. In the course of the dialogue, it is typically apparent that a character is opining, elaborating, divulging, explaining, interrupting, or replying.

So remember: go easy on the use of dialogue tags in scenes containing only two characters and refrain from overusing various words in dialogue tags. Often, a simple “said” is sufficient.

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The Muddling Middle

February 5th, 2014 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

When I began my newsletter eight months ago, I was on fire, brimming with ideas and enthusiasm and committed to having it sitting in my subscribers’ inboxes first thing on the first day of each month. And for the first six months, I did just that. But then on the seventh month, it showed up in their inboxes on the fourth day of the month (because of the New Year’s holiday, I told myself), and now today, the eighth month, it showed up on the fifth day of the month. What’s happening??

Like all of us do at one point or another, I’ve hit the muddling middle.

The muddling middle is that place where the flame of our enthusiasm has waned, our once clearly charted course has veered into the brambles, and our keen vision and sense of purpose has grown cloudy and sludgy. We have all been there or are now. The muddling middle of life. The muddling middle of winter. The muddling middle of writing or editing a book. The muddling middle of building a business. The muddling middle of (you name it). Despite the circumstances, the muddling middle feels the same: blechy.

Blechy, perhaps, but part of the process. All living things have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the creative process is no exception. We give life to whatever we pour ourselves into, whether that is a relationship, a project, or a cause. I’ve found that realizing and accepting that the muddling middle is just part of the journey—as winter is a part of the cycle of nature—helps me soldier on toward my goal, one step, one keystroke, at a time. Eventually, I find that I’ve slogged my way out of the muddling middle and have ended with a sense of accomplishment and renewed vision.

So don’t lose heart once the dead of winter sets in. Just keep showing up every day and do what you can toward your goal, even if it’s very little. Remember: winter may be long and hard, but spring is on its way—and every day we’re one step closer.

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Journeying

January 6th, 2014 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, mainly because they tend to be just that—New Year’s resolutions. An event. A short period of time, like the New Year’s holiday. Once the resolution period is over, which for New Year’s tends to be around January 31, so is our commitment to our new resolutions.

Bottom line, a resolution is a determination to change, fix, or accomplish something. So why do we so often fail? I believe it’s because we resolve to possessing the end result (e.g., be twenty pounds lighter, have ripped abs, be on The New York Times bestseller list) rather than committing to what it will take to achieve it. Once we embark on the journey toward our dream, we find “getting there” will take a whole lot longer and require much more work and sacrifice than we thought and is fraught with unknowns and potential perils we never imagined. As we allow fear (or boredom, impatience, laziness, discouragement, etc.) to chip away at our resolve, our dreams lie buried in the rubble. Instead, we gain ten more pounds, our abs become flabbier, or our unfinished novel molders at the bottom of our desk drawer. Then next New Year’s we make the same resolutions all over again. With the same end result: nada.

I love the adage, “It’s about the journey, not the destination,” but I only agree with it in part. We need to keep our eye on the prize to remind us what our heart longs for, to motivate us when we feel we can’t take another step or type another word, and to encourage us to not give up when all we see for our best efforts is an ocean of blood, sweat, and tears or a mountain of rejection letters. But that can’t be all we focus on, for the purpose of the journey is who we become and the lessons we learn on our way to “getting there.”

So if you’re a goal-oriented control freak like me who likes to foresee and plan for every possible occurrence, whose “getting there” muscles are way overdeveloped, here’s my writing challenge to you for 2014 (notice I didn’t say “resolution”): Plant your fanny in the chair, place those fingers on the keyboard, and allow the journey to take you where you need to go, in the way you need to get there, and in the time it takes to get there. Take it from Diana Nyad, the 64-year-old marvel who swam 100 miles from Cuba to Florida: “getting there” will be all the sweeter for it.

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Beware of Galloping Prose

December 2nd, 2013 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

I recently read an article that took me back many moons ago to when I was about eight. I was riding with my mom in my dad’s white Ford Galaxy, which was a stick shift. Mom ground the gears as she tried coordinating shifting with her right hand and steering with her left while using both feet simultaneously with one on the accelerator and the other on the clutch. As I clutched the door handle and braced myself hard against the seat to avoid whiplash, Mom growled under her breath, “Damned car galloping down the street!”

Mind you, the article I was reading had nothing to do with cars, mothers and daughters, or even horses. Yet I experienced the distinct sensation of galloping across hard terrain—ta-DUMP, ta-DUMP, ta-DUMP—which felt no more pleasing than it did in Dad’s car with Mom at the helm. And the reason for this sensation and thus the memory trigger? The article was peppered with commas, very few of which were necessary or appropriately placed.

Now I fully admit to being a full-fledged commakaze myself. However, loving commas does not give one license to abuse their use and thus do damage to the message and cause angst to readers. In the article I was reading, the galloping prose not only obscured the article’s message, it also made me angry with its author for the jolting, jarring read. From now on, I will approach any articles written by that author with caution.

But in that author’s defense, some writers are not innate editors. Still, it is the writer’s responsibility to deliver a clear message that flows more like a canter, and failing to do so reflects poorly upon the writer. Readers don’t care if the author is not a natural editor, but they do care about painful, frustrating reading and often will not give the author a second chance. This is why having a good copyeditor is an absolute must-have, even for writers who are natural editors, as all of us have blind spots when reading our own writing.

So remember: beware of galloping prose. And then hire a copyeditor who is skilled at creating a smooth, steady canter.

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Find Yourself, Find Your Voice

November 1st, 2013 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

Writers are always hearing about voice. “We’re looking for a fresh, distinct voice,” or “You need to find your voice.” I think all of us instinctively recognize a distinct voice when we hear or read it, but how do we find our own? Where do we even begin to look?

In my early writing years, I wanted to write like Anne Lamott, much like in seventh grade I wanted to look like a girl named Kathy. I imagined myself crafting succinct, witty prose colored with biting humor and penetrating insight that delivered a bare-bones, heartfelt, sometimes kick-in-the-gut universal truth. Similarly, in seventh grade, I envisioned myself with long, golden hair flowing to my waist, a sun-kissed complexion with nary a blemish, and pearly teeth as straight as piano keys.

Alas, neither fantasy panned out. Rather, my choppy, canned prose left even me wondering what message I was trying to convey, and the only time I’ve had long, golden hair with a sun-kissed complexion was in drama class after donning a wig and mountains of makeup. And piano-key teeth? Nope. Never. Eventually, I accepted that I am not Anne or Kathy. I’m Diana. And that is when my own voice started to emerge on the page. I had to first find out who I really am by discovering and, most importantly, accepting who I am not.

And I do mean started to emerge on the page. L. Ron Hubbard is noted for saying that you must write 500,000 words in order to find your true writing voice. I break out in hives over all things mathematical, so I don’t know if 500,000 is an accurate number or not. But I do know that finding your voice requires writing a lot of words. And for me that began with trying to emulate an author I respect and admire.

So for those of you who haven’t yet found your voice, just start writing, even if you’re trying to sound like someone else, and trust that your own voice will come. And for those of you who have found your voice, keep writing and honing that voice that only you possess.

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The Power of Words

October 3rd, 2013 by Diana DeSpain Schramer

We have all heard “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Now maybe not all of us have had bones broken from sticks and stones, but I’d be willing to bet that we have all been hurt by words. I certainly have been. I’ve also inflicted my fair share of pain upon others through words, both verbal and written.

Words carry tremendous power. Words build up, tear down, inspire, and deflate. Words cause joy and sorrow, bring hope and despair, trigger laughter and tears. Every time a writer picks up a pen or sits down at the computer, the awareness of the power he or she wields with one stroke or keystroke should remain at the forefront of his or her mind. Remember the first commandment of the Copyeditors’ Typographic Oath, which also applies to writers: Do No Harm.

However, that does not mean that we be dishonest or disingenuous. The tagline for my business is “It’s All How You Say It.” And that’s exactly my point here. It’s not what we say but rather how we say it. This is particularly important in writing because our reader cannot see our facial expressions or body language or hear our tones of voice that help convey our intended message. All our reader has is our words on the page or computer screen. So, again, we must be mindful of our power and diligent in our responsibility to do no harm.

How can we ensure that we do no harm through our words? We can’t control others’ reactions, right? No, we can’t. We can only do our part. For me, that’s paying attention to my gut instinct when it’s telling me that something is not quite right. It’s putting a piece of writing aside until I’ve had a good night’s sleep and come back to it fresh the next morning. It’s asking a trusted, brutally honest friend to read my piece for feedback. As all writers have their own creative processes, they each have their own filtering systems as they develop their crafts. In the end, the filtering system isn’t what’s important but rather that you have one.

Remember, do no harm. You will rest easier, and your readers will respect you for it.

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