Process: Where Life Happens

Right after I wrote my last post (January 2016 “Taking Stock”), I got sick. Down-for-the-count sick. No longer do I have the bounce-back I did in my twenties. Or thirties. Okay, or even my forties. Gone are the days of a round of antibiotics and I’m up and at ’em, good as new, back to business as usual.

It didn’t take too much reflection for me to realize that I had gotten so sick because I had, once again, burned it at both ends, leaving me a flamed out pile of ash. Having long been a get-it-done kind of person with an overdeveloped work ethic, I derived way too much satisfaction—one could even say I was addicted—to accomplishment and achievement. Even when I felt like I was at the tail end of crack the whip, I was still compelled to keep all the balls in the air and considered every day that I managed to do just that a good one. But when I found myself bedridden, too sick to move or even care, I knew something had to change—and that something was my thinking about life and myself. Rather than focusing so intently upon the end result of my efforts, or the product, I have learned that I need to focus on how I do things, or the process. Product is important, yes. But the process is where life happens and where the quality of that life lies.

This hard-earned wisdom applies to all of us, especially we driven, ambitious perfectionists. Whether writing a book, story, essay, or article, editing one (or all), building a business or platform, or promoting a business or newly published book, what is the point of achieving our goals if we are too burned out and sick to enjoy the fruits of our labor? I now know that I’ve crossed the line when striving for the goal supersedes taking care of myself and enjoying the trip. Since my bout of illness this past winter, I am now all about quality of life over quantity of achievement. Maybe I’ve finally learned my lesson.

As a result, I have developed a much more reasonable and sane strategy for my work life. No more working late into the evenings, getting to bed late, and sleeping poorly, only to get up feeling hung-over (only I’m really not) and dragging myself back to the computer and doing it all over again. Now I finish work by no later than 5:30 p.m. and work only five days a week, which gives me the downtime I need to actually relax and nurture other important areas of my life. And I can honestly say that I am even more productive.

So what about you? Are you focused strictly on product? Or do you have a healthy process on your way to the goal, all while keeping your eye on the prize?

Taking Stock

 And now let us welcome the New Year

Full of things that have never been.

~Rainer Maria Rilke

As I set out to write this post, my initial topic was perseverance. Then it morphed into expectations (which are often as fruitless as resolutions—see my January 2014 post for my take on that) and ultimately led to goals. I like to write about topics that I need to lean into, and perseverance and goals are two big ones as I stand on the threshold of 2016.

But as I pondered these two, I realized that before I could determine this year’s goals and then persevere in fulfilling them—in short, before I could focus on looking ahead—I needed to reflect back and take stock of where I’ve been.

Life is about trying different things to find out what fits and works. As I looked back on 2015, the question “What is it time to let go of?” came to mind. After sitting with this question awhile, I eventually saw where some pruning was in order: a behavior (actually a couple … okay, more than a couple) that was reaping negative returns, a volunteer position that had become stale, even, sadly, some relationships that were no longer healthy—or rather, hadn’t been healthy for ages and showed no signs of changing. I feel a deep sense of loss and sadness where the relationships are concerned, and yet, after letting go of all that I needed to, I feel lighter and freer, which confirms to me that I have made the right decisions. Their time had indeed come.

Some “new” has already presented itself: healthier behavior on my part, a different volunteer opportunity that I’m excited about, and membership to a professional organization I have long considered. Who knows what else is in store? One thing I do know: I will pause and take stock before I proceed.

In letting go, I have freed up space for the new to enter and the energy to engage with it. What about you? What is it time for you to let go of?

 

Guest-Posting Trifecta

In my September 2014 post, I stressed the importance of having a storefront, which for authors (and freelance copy editors, proofreaders, cover designers, and web designers) means a website. Next to an engaging, meticulously edited book, this is your first order of business. But once you’ve done so, how do you let people know you’ve set up shop in cyberspace? Can’t you just “build it and they will come”? Ah, if only that were so.

But don’t despair, for there is the most effective and quite simple strategy that benefits not only your business or blog or both but also that of other industry-related businesses. This strategy is called guest posting.

Guest posting is just what it sounds like—you post an article as a guest on another’s blog. In my case, I saw an invitation on Twitter from a self-publishing company for authors, editors, and cover designers to post an article on the company’s blog. I contacted them, pitched my idea for an article, and received the green light. From that one guest post (April 13, 2011, “Don’t Bypass the Copy Editor”), I have received business from clients I might not have met otherwise. But there’s no need to wait for an invitation. Just contact the owner of the blog on which you would like to post and ask if he or she welcomes guest posts and go from there!

The beauty of guest posting is not only its ease and simplicity but also what I call the guest-posting trifecta: publication, marketing, and goodwill.

1. Publication

This is the dream and goal of every writer, even those who may not be concerned with book sales, such as freelance editors, proofreaders, cover designers, bloggers, etc. Writers are communicators and connectors, but in order to so, they need readers. I have writer friends who tell me they aren’t interested in publication, yet they are prolific bloggers. Guess what? Without realizing it, they are already published! And there is no better way to increase readership and thus communicate and connect with even more people than guest posting on another’s blog.

2. Marketing

Ugh. Just the word, along with its sister “networking,” strikes dread if not terror in the hearts of most writers. Yet guest posting is a fabulous way to market yourself and your work, all through the written word—your chosen medium—and from the comfort of your own computer. Music to your ears, right?

3. Goodwill

All business is competitive, and book sales and blogging, as well as the business of freelance publishing professionals, are no exception. But it doesn’t need to be adversarial. Guest posting actually inspires goodwill between the site owner and the guest rather than pitting them against each other. And this goodwill is paid forward when the guest then welcomes another to post on his or her blog. As I see it, we are all on this journey, so why not help one another succeed?

The best part of guest posting is that it’s a win-win. You and your book, business, and/or blog gain exposure, as does that of the site owner when you promote your post through word of mouth, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. So don’t be afraid to reach out to other site owners (including yours truly!). Many of them would love new content and, like all savvy business people, the opportunity to expand their readership.

The Necessity of Slowing Down

Fast food. Microwaves. Speed dating. Twitter. Life today runs like the scrolling electronic tickers at the bottom of financial television shows. And writing is no exception. Just the other day, I happened across a book online touting how to write, market, and publish a bestseller (of course) in less than three months!

I don’t know about you, but everything in me resists this frenzied and ever-increasing pace. Although I may appear calm and steady, inwardly my default setting is a cross between the Energizer Bunny and that aggravating, cymbal-clanging monkey who does a back flip every five seconds. Over the years, I’ve learned how to achieve and maintain my equilibrium, but the lure to the Land of Busybusybusy is relentless, ever nipping at my heels.

So hearing novelist John Dufresne speak about the necessity of slowing down this past weekend at the UW-Madison Writers’ Institute was like chocolate raining from heaven. Referring to his book Is Life Like this? A Guide to Writing Your First Novel in Six Months, John said of the subtitle, “It’s a lie. I can’t do it.” (Apparently, his editor insisted on this subtitle over his protestations.) He then went on to say, “Slow down. Take your time,” and described his process for doing so. In the midst of my running from one information- and camaraderie-rich session to another, this successful, prolific author confirmed what my frazzled spirit already knew but needed reminding yet again: Slow. Down.

We’re told that moving at warp speed is a necessity if we are to achieve the fulfillment of our heart’s desires. But it’s a lie. All that brings meaning and beauty to life is not accomplished overnight. As it takes time for a fetus to develop in its mother’s womb before it’s ready to be birthed into the world, it takes time to create a transformative work of art, be it a book, a painting, a sculpture, or a rose garden. Ideas and stories, like babies and flowers, need time to incubate and germinate in the dark before they are thrust into the light of day.

So slow down. Take your time. Nurture your babies, literary and otherwise. Don’t push them into the world before they–and you–are ready. You’ll know it when you both are.

What Does Your Brand Say about You?

What immediately comes to your mind when you hear or read the following names: Oprah? Stephen King? Joel Osteen? Most likely, it is an image, a concept, or a word. But whatever the form, that is that individual’s brand, or, in other words, what he or she represents or stands for.

To those familiar with Oprah, Stephen King, and Joel Osteen, the words talk show host, author, and televangelist are synonymous with their respective names. However, what these individuals do is not their brand. Their brand is that one quality they bring to what they do. For Oprah, living authentically is the quality she brings to every TV show she produces and every issue of her monthly magazine. For Stephen King, scaring us all half to death is the characteristic of the majority of his books. And for Joel Osteen, the positivity of faith for financial success, otherwise referred to as the prosperity gospel, is the theme of his broadcasts and books. All three of them stand out from others in their field for something specific. That “something specific” is their brand. And most people know them not only for what they do but also for what they stand for. That is an effective brand.

Here’s another way of looking at this. As I was writing this article, the image of a branding iron kept popping into my head. Ranchers place their unique stamp on their cattle to set them apart from the cattle of other ranchers. So I ask you: What is your stamp that sets you apart from other writers? What do you want to be known for?

Your brand derives from who you are, not from what you do, so determining your brand may require some soul searching. In doing so, don’t be afraid to ask those you trust what they see is your stamp or “something specific.” Oftentimes, others can see it better than you can.

Marketing

Last month, I wrote about the importance of writers having their own storefront, or website. So this month, I want to address how to drive traffic to your website. In a word, marketing.

I confess that marketing felt dry and impersonal to me, as it tends to be data driven, which is not my forte. I am a words and people person, not a numbers person. However, while attending the Wisconsin Book Festival last week, I had an epiphany that led to a new perspective: Marketing is about making connections with people and attracting those who are the right fit for you and your work. With that in mind, four elements are key.

Key #1: Know Your Market

Market research is vital or you will end up trying to appeal to everyone, which is impossible, or you will turn yourself inside out trying to connect with readers who are not the right fit for your work. Writers of horror will most likely not appeal to readers of romance. And chances are memoirists will not draw a following from the sci-fi crowd, no matter how moving and well written the story. And be specific. Are your readers men, women? Or does your writing speak to both? What is the age group? Children? Young adults? Middle-agers? Octogenarians? Are they professionals, blue-collar workers? Are they retired? Married? Single? Divorced? Empty nesters? Parents of young children or teenagers?

Key #2: Find Your Market

Where do readers hang out?

  1. Book festivals
  2. Indie bookstores and coffee shops–Introduce yourself to the owners and ask if they would be willing to allow you to give a reading/book signing at their store or shop. Also ask if they would be willing to stock your books.
  3. Libraries–Ask if you could do a reading/book signing or presentation.
  4. Writers’ conferences–Offer to be involved in a panel discussion, give a presentation, lead a workshop, and/or have a table at its book fair.

At all of the above, be sure to hand out business cards that includes your web address and have a sign-up sheet to gather e-mail addresses of attendees.

Key #3: Maintain Contact with Your Market

Options abound: print and e-newsletters, blogs, and social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google +. But don’t overwhelm yourself thinking you have to do them all. Choose one, two, or however many you can sanely manage. But whether it’s one or four, be consistent. Using only one platform regularly is far more effective than using four occasionally. Try whichever platform(s) appeals to you to find your own comfort level. The more comfortable you are, the more likely you will use it consistently.

Key #4: Grow Your Market

In addition to the suggestions in #2 and #3, follow blogs of agents and other writers in your genre. Make comments on their blogs and ask if you could write a guest post on their blog. And, of course, offer the same to them. This promotes goodwill and helps increase exposure for you both. It’s a win-win, the best kind of exchange there is.

Marketing is not only a business strategy for those who want to sell books or a service. Marketing is also a connecting tool for those who have a message they want to get out into the world or stories they long to share. And be creative in your marketing. Come up with your own ways to connect with people.

Author Website: Your Storefront

Two weeks ago, I was chatting with an acquaintance who is also self-employed. A massage therapist, she rents space in a salon on Main Street in her city. We discussed the perks and perils of self-employment, and then the subject turned to marketing.

“In order for people to remember you, you have to be in front of them all the time,” she said, slapping her hands as punctuation. “How do people know about your business?” When I told her online, she said, “Eeuwww! Then you can’t use your personality! With me, people can see me!”

The next morning, I had a phone conversation with a business development manager of a regional publication who remarked, “You really don’t have a business.” My hackles raised, and I said, a bit steely, “Yes. I do have a business.” “Well, I mean you don’t have a retail business with an actual physical location.” “You’re right,” I told her. “I don’t have an actual storefront, but I do have a business.”

These back-to-back conversations got me thinking. Frankly, I was shocked that in our cyber-digital world that these two businesswomen held the apparent notion that physical presence is everything; that real businesses have an actual brick-and-mortar storefront with the owner’s physical body inside. To me, this smacks of “Build it, and they will come.”

Authors, editors, and web designers—those whose business is intellectual property rather than the sale of tangible products or services—often do not set up shop in the mall, a business park, or even a quaint artsy district. But to believe that they do not have a viable business is pure baloney (actually, its more colorful counterpart). First of all, renting space, and the overhead that goes along with that, would not be financially wise for these types of businesses. And all savvy business owners must be financially wise, especially in the early years, or they won’t be in business for long.

But both of these women did make a good point: all businesses need to be visible. And that includes yours, Authors. So what is your storefront? Your website. And it is vital that you have one.

I told my acquaintance that I do use my personality online—through my words. But it’s more than that. Everything from the colors, the font, the graphics, the pictures, the design, and all the bells and whistles we choose to have on our website reflects our personality and speaks of who we are. Our website not only tells the world what we do and have to offer, it also tells the world who we are as a real, live, in-the-flesh human being. And that is whom people connect and want to do business with and buy books from.

Setting up shop in cyberspace is the first step in becoming a business owner as an author. And don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have a real business!