Category Archives: A to Z Challenge

P is for Patience

The idea of patience in publishing is a double-edged sword. It requires patience to publish traditionally, and it requires patience to successfully self-publish. Note that I say successfully self-publish, while traditional publishing requires patience no matter what the outcome.

When publishing traditionally, it is necessary to have patience to wend your way through the labyrinth of hurdles you will encounter: how to write the book, get an agent, see the book sold (patience, patience), and wait for it to come out, all while still maintaining your online platform and hopefully writing your next book. I recently had a client who, while giving a presentation, was asked, “How long did it take you to get an agent?” His response: “Lucky 151.” He had compiled a list of appropriate agents, and had submitted his query to 150 agents before receiving a response. Now that’s patience.

But it paid off. His book was released in October by an imprint of Penguin Random House that specializes in mystery, and he received great pre-publication reviews. He has made the finalist round of several awards around the country, and even carried home many of them. He is, of course, having a ball, but he also approached this methodically and carefully. He knew he needed help; he had a day job that he didn’t want to give up, and he couldn’t navigate all the way himself.

There are many other stories of the travails of successful authors. The internet is replete with rejection letters of famous authors. One letter to Dr. Seuss read, in part, “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” What do these best-selling authors have in common? They didn’t give up. Some of them actually went ahead and self-published (you have to imagine, out of utter frustration). Beatrix Potter was one of these. We wouldn’t have The Tale of Peter Rabbit if she had given up.

Now, as to self-publishing, this also requires patience, in order to do it successfully. It is my belief that in order to be a successful self-published author, you must follow the blueprint of the traditional publishing houses. This can be very difficult, especially since many people who self-publish do so explicitly because they do not want to wade through the morass of the traditional publishing maze, taking the year or more that it typically takes to do so.

This is why self-published books often aren’t available as advance copies, why they don’t have firm release dates, and why there are now often not even print runs. With print-on-demand (POD), you may save yourself from having boxes of books stacked up in your garage. But not having a release date or a print run also leaves you with less of a commitment, and this is transparent to the media.

I know, there are self-published authors out there who have done well without following the usual timeline of traditional publishing: advance copies out six to three months ahead of publication, reviews in all the major industry pre-pub journals (Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, et al), a media campaign that ensures the largest portion of interviews and appearances the month of the book’s release. It’s possible to be successful if you have a great platform and method of distribution.

But while self-publishing may soon overtake traditional publishing in pure numbers, it will take longer for the entrenched media to adjust their methods. I, as much as anyone, would love to see some new innovative way to capture readers’ attention. As we all know, though, it does not take just one big hit, but many, many drips over a condensed period of time to stick in the minds of readers. And this, again, takes patience.

I’m not saying that everyone should publish traditionally, but I am saying that they should take a cue from the traditional publishing world to get the attention of media. And then, the beauty is that you can do things quicker, even with the advance copies. And you retain all of your artistic control. Often, it comes down to what you want to spend your time doing.

There is a great big world of readers out there. You can reach them if you take the time to learn how. Amanda Hocking had a built-in audience, selling her stories online (admittedly poorly copyedited), until she decided that she wanted to spend more time writing than answering emails. Now she’s with St. Martin’s Press, so she can focus on what she does best. Seriously, though, read the interview down to the bottom: that’s the key.

The only difference between a writer and an author is time. And the only difference between a successful author and an unsuccessful author is equal parts patience and tenacity.

O is for Online

Online is a big word. But what does it mean for a writer? It means ‘online presence.’ What is your online presence? Have you ever tried searching on your name? Hit Google and type it in. You might be surprised. If you have an uncommon name, you might get some interesting results.

Using A Computer For Browsing Internet And Checking Email

More to the point, how can you build, maintain and grow an online presence? What can you do to ensure that this appears the way you want it to? That is a trickier question. We’ll start with the basics.

If you are not on a social media platform, then by all means, pick one. Just start somewhere. Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter. I have only met one author in all my years in publishing who really didn’t need to be on social media. She was 80 years old and had published a book of her mother’s letters. It was more than a personal family project, but not her own work. She needed something online, so she created a website, and was good with email, so that was all I could ask of her. I cannot imagine her zipping along on Facebook. It just wasn’t going to happen.

You’ve already seen my Early Early Early mantra. If you are knee-deep into your book already, it’s not too late. But start as soon as you can. It may take years for you to truly get where you want to be with your online presence. It can be done quicker, though, if you focus and work on it.

The first thing you should do is to synchronize your presence. Make sure that you are appearing as you want to appear wherever you are mentioned. Be mindful about your brand. This may involve some thought, it may involve a designer creating a logo, it may involve a discussion with someone who can help you focus your goals.

Once you get a concrete idea of who you are and what you are trying to do online, you need to cultivate that presence. Be aware of how others perceive you. It takes some work, but then so do most things worth doing. When you speak to someone online, remember that you are speaking to them as that online presence. If this is simply your personal self, so be it. But if you are trying to cultivate an image of being upbeat, offering helpful advice, and coaching people, then it wouldn’t do, for instance, to complain about your neighbor, office mate or traffic all the time. Find somewhere else for that outlet.

This is not to say you should be phony. I know, it’s complicated. Your online presence should not be artifice. But it should be on purpose. I know one author who does an excellent job of engaging with her fans, but she doesn’t mention the names of her family members. And when her father died a couple of years ago, she simply stated that and said she was taking some time off social media (this was all happening on her Author page). This allowed her fans to express their condolences, but not to be enmeshed in her personal grief. This is one of the biggest arguments in favor of having an Author page on Facebook. So that you can keep the personal personal.

I do know some people who simply mix it all together. They would have to be gregarious, extroverted people in order to do this, and that does not describe most authors I know. If those who are naturally private do not separate their personas, it only causes them to be wary of social media and stilts their engagement. An online presence that cultivates the professional aspect of what they are doing will serve to allow engagement on that level, which is better than none at all.

You can engage on social media without giving away all your secrets. You just have to do it on purpose. Draw up some rules, if that will help. What will you not mention? What areas are off limits? Kids’ names? Names of their schools? The name of the town where you live?

On the other hand, if you want to just go all out and be yourself on social media, you can do that too. It’s all about your comfort level and what you are trying to do accomplish. The bottom line is, the more you engage, generally the more your online presence will grow.

Your online presence is about more than social media, though. It includes your website, your blog, and any profiles you may have on any other websites. It includes posts that you leave on other people’s blogs, it includes guest blogs, and it includes information about you on the websites of any organizations you may be involved in. I am a member of several organizations that include member information on their websites, including the Minnesota Book Publishers Roundtable and the National Book Critics Circle. I also have bios on websites for which I’ve done a guest blog, where I’ve taught a class, or where I’ve participated in a reading.

All of this makes up your online presence. If you want to ramp this up, the first thing to do is to sit down and think about what you are trying to do overall. If you can pinpoint that, you will be on your way to a cohesive, professional image that will project your mission to the world.

One last thing: Know that being active online may lead to some conversations you may not want to have. You may find that not everyone online is a nice person. Someone who continually makes nasty comments or who tries to pick fights is called a troll. Be aware of the trolls. Above all, don’t engage them. Just ignore them. They are the schoolyard bullies of the internet.

N is for Newspapers

If you think about having a review published, very often what comes to mind is your book being reviewed in your local newspaper. Oh, of course it’s always nice to be a different city’s newspaper, or to perhaps have something in the New Yorker or the big trade pubs like Publishers Weekly or Library Journal. But the newspaper – that’s where the people you know will see your book discussed in print.

Newspapers

There are other reasons for having your book reviewed in newspapers. I don’t think I have to convince you of this. It sometimes happens that bigger newspapers pick up the reviews of smaller ones. Often a review with accompanying event information will lead to bigger crowds at your events.

As you may suspect, newspapers are inundated with books to review. Laurie Hertzel, the Books Editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, is very transparent about her work. She posts photos of the stacks of books that await her whenever she comes back from vacation. She has posted videos of the trek she takes to the book room, where shelves full of books await her. Her standing policy is that she won’t review self-published books, because she has to draw the line somewhere.

When I send books to Laurie, I often will try to entice her coverage with news of events, and certainly news of what else the author is doing. If the book is a real stand-out in its genre, if it has some mitigating factor that might separate it from the hordes, or especially if there is any tie to current events or real news, I will let her know. Laurie gets about a shopping cart full of books every day, and I have to make it as easy as I can for her.

Still, it is not often that she reviews a book I send to her. There are just so many others. I have worked with her on finding other reporters to cover it, sometimes: a memoir by an acclaimed actress and singer was covered by the Theater reporter; a novel that featured baseball was sent to a sports columnist. It’s important for me to know who else does what so that I can take a stab at wooing someone else, and offer their readers something different.

Over the years working with Laurie I have picked up various hints and tidbits. It helped me to know when working with a small publisher that Laurie sorted her books by month of publication. I tried hard to convince this publisher that yes, they really did need to set a launch date, and have a firm publishing month. Maybe the beauty of working with a small publisher is that things can happen more quickly, but the basic tenets of working with the media still apply. Let them know when they can expect your book to hit the street.

In general, newspapers need to have review copies 2 to 3 months ahead of time. I realize that this can be difficult for some people, and that this idea of having the book ready to go, and waiting, is one reason why many people choose to self-publish. But if those same people also want to see their book reviewed in general media, they need to have the patience to produce the advance reading copies (ARCs) and get them out ahead of the launch date.

Send a list of events that have been set up, particularly if this is your local paper. But even if it’s not, that list will let the paper know that there is at least a modicum of demand for hearing you speak about the book, and that there are places willing to have you do so. Of course, highlight anything local.

I always include a press kit. This will include a short press release, which is not just a synopsis of the book but a little information about the author and what they are doing. I also typically include a bio of the author, and a short synopsis of the book. Sometimes, I will include another bit that is created specifically for the book, such as a character interview or a fun list or something. But never, no, never will I include glitter, or anything else that takes up bulk or is messy. When I was a book review editor, I received packets of cocoa (nice thought, that) and assorted other items. But they never swayed me.

Laurie recently had the misfortune of moving offices with the Star Tribune. Apparently to avoid confusion, a rabid publicist sent a review copy to her house via FedEx (that’s just creepy). When Laurie finally tracked down the publicist, she was told that she just thought the ‘super’ would sign for it. Folks, we don’t have supers, not in Minnesota. So Laurie had to go to the FedEx office after work and sign for the package. Do you think this endeared that publicist to her? It would have been far better if she had just sent the book through normal channels. Moral of this story: don’t make the books editor work harder to get hold of your book.

My experience of five years as a book review editor and the short stint I worked on a newspaper (during which I worked for the Arts editor and did interviews and reviews) taught me that the work must speak for itself. Like all the journal editors said during my recent AWP experience: send your best work. And for newspapers, send it early.

M is for Media Lists

If you want to contact the media, you must first create a media list. Now, this does not mean to get a list of all the newspapers in your area, or all the major newspapers in the country, and add all the highest-rated talk shows. We’re talking about your own personal media list.

Your media list is directly related to the content of your book. If you have written nonfiction, it is going to be directly related to the topic, with some general interest contacts thrown in. If you have written fiction, you have to really think about who your audience is. And don’t say, “Everyone.” No book is for everyone. Think about comparative titles. Who reads those?

TCLive

I like to say start local, then work your way out. You might make a list of all the local publications that you think might be interested (notice that I did not say “That you want to be featured in”). It’s all about what’s appropriate for their audience. It should be fairly easy to find the list of publications, but if you can’t find a complete list online, take a look at newsstands. Look at the masthead and find out where the publication is published. Look at newspapers (daily and weekly), magazines, and other periodicals that come out in your area.

I like to go to the library and take a browse through their magazines (again with the libraries). Most libraries have many subscriptions. They also keep backcopies. In my library these are back on a shelf in the corner. I take a stack of back copies and look to see what’s been covered that relates to my current topic. I look at mastheads, and sometimes read the editor’s letter. If there have been any shake-ups, it’s often noted there. I will often find other magazines that were not on my radar in this way, too.

Then look at broadcast media. Television and radio generally like to feature local people. This will vary by the size of the market. Larger markets are harder to get coverage in. They have all the big names coming to them so it’s harder for the little guy to get noticed. Look at the websites and get contact information for someone who may be called Producer, Talent Booker, Programming Coordinator or a similar title. There may be several producers so you’ll just have to take a shot. Sometimes the show will mention a producer’s name. I love it when they do this; then that’s the name I use.

If you’ve not been interviewed by the media before, start small. If you want to prepare well, maybe take a media training class or find someone who can coach you. I have done no interviews on radio or television, but I have taken a two-day media training class, and had a two-day class on how to do presentations, as well as a few sessions on how to do live presentations in front of an audience. So if you’re nervous, you’re not alone. Start where you are most comfortable, and work your way along.

In a former life, I had access to some great software that helped me make these lists. It was called Vocus, and now it is called Cision. This is fairly expensive, though, and I actually found that many times my contact list was updated before theirs was. So I don’t make that investment any more. However, if you are going to be doing a lot of speaking around the country, you may find that this investment makes sense for you.

It is important to be familiar with the media you are approaching, at least somewhat. If you are jetting all over, this might not be possible. But if you are starting local, the best thing you can do is to watch and listen to the programs, get a copy of the publication, and get to know what’s going on with them. I follow a lot of media on Twitter, and I know a few editors personally. They are actually some of my favorite people.

I also take any opportunity to meet and greet media folks. An organization I belong to had a Meet the Editor event a couple of years ago. It was great. They invited editors in from a lot of different publications – mostly magazines – and we attendees were able to just introduce ourselves and talk about what they need and what we do. These were people that I would not have met in any other way. If you belong to an organization for which this makes sense, see if they will consider having something like that.

Most editors, producers, and hosts are looking for great content all the time. You could be helpful to them. But they are not going to listen to what you have to say if you deluge them with emails or phone calls, or if you immediately send them great hulking files and demand an immediate response. These folks are human too and they would like nothing more than to showcase the best you’ve got.

Build your list carefully. Tend to it like a flower garden. It will grow and bloom and reward you for your effort.

L is for Libraries

This week just happens to be National Library Week. How awesome is that? I mean, I love libraries. A week celebrating something I truly love is a wonderful thing. I love my own library, and I love just about any library that I come across.

ALA_NLW2015

I have heard many authors say, “But the library lets people read my book for free! How does that help me?” Let me tell you that if that is your concern, you are missing the point. The theme this year for National Library Week is “Unlimited possibilities @ your library,” and I’m here to tell you it’s true.

My area is blessed with a vibrant and thriving library system. I have several library systems within 50 miles of my house. These neighboring systems have thriving Friends organizations, as does my own. The population that uses these libraries is as broad as you can imagine.

My home libraries are my favorites. I am very lucky. I know that. I live in Minnesota, which I believe has got to be one of the library centers of the country. I’m only basing that on the fact that my own system and neighboring systems are so strong, it’s silly. And that everywhere else I go, the library looks pathetic compared to what I’m used to. I frequent two local branches of my library system.

What do these libraries do for me? I have an online account, which allows me to reserve titles that interest me, and pick them up at my local branch when they become available. I also belong to two different book clubs, through two different branches, which allow me to have book discussions that I would have never had otherwise. There is programming that I go to. I have done research there. I have volunteered there in the past, and I know the librarians. It’s a comfortable place to go.

Many authors don’t realize the importance of libraries. Think about it. If a child reads your book at a library, they could be a fan for life. If a single branch shares a copy of your book (or multiple copies) with patrons, they could become the fans that request your subsequent books be purchased by the library. And eventually, you could be one of those authors who has 14 copies in the system with a queue of 152 people who will wait to read it. Not instead of buying it, understand, but instead of reading something else.

If you are lucky enough to have a local library (and I understand that not everyone has the same embarrassment of riches that I have), then you should frequent it. Go there. Go to the library and get to know your librarians. If they have programming, check it out. My local systems have a rich assortment of programming, including many author events, regular reading series, book clubs, and classes. I always recommend the classes to anyone who wants learn anything about computers. It’s a great place to start.

They can help you learn about ebooks. They rent ebooks! At some libraries, you can even rent an e-reader, if you want to try it out. They can help you learn new computer programs and find out about all kinds of new things. Libraries are also vast repositories of databases. My system hosts many different databases – from series lists to historical information. Great for research. They will also do inter-library loans, which let me get books from all over the state. How great is that?

Friends groups are another component of the library that you should get to know. The Friends groups that I am familiar with are very active, and sponsor award programs, loads of programming, and have gala events every year. They run used book stores and periodic blow-out sales, and raise funds for collections and buildings. They are dedicated groups that work behind the scenes to make sure the library remains strong.

So the fact that libraries loan books for free is a plus, not a minus. If a library sees demand for a title, they will order more. If they see it has won awards, they will include it in displays. If they run a reading series, they may ask you to come be a part of it. It’s all great exposure. Librarians are voracious readers, and are often asked for recommendations. If you are familiar to librarians, you will find this carries a lot of weight. Many times, I have read a book first after getting it from the library, and then later purchased it for myself. It’s a place to discover new authors, to find out about new things, and to go to just be with a lot of books. It’s like-minded people.

K is for Black

Yes, K is for Black. I know, sounds like cheating, right? Hey, K is a hard letter. But bear with me.

K is for black in printing. I have worked with printing for over 20 years. I mean, large scale print jobs, offset printing, the kind where there is a big giant machine in a two-story room churning out paper. I have managed literally hundreds of print projects, and I love the smell of something newly printed. I love the complexity of what you can do in printing, the variables; the sheer possibilities are endless.

My career started in paste-up. That is, the period when you took a drawing or a typeset bit of text and actually pasted it onto a board to make your page appear the way you wanted it to. We worked with rulers and arranged things by picas. It was fun, but it wasn’t very long before Quark took over.

Coffee House Press

Then I had to learn about CMYK. CMYK is the acronym for the color spectrum used in offset printing. You only have four colors in a standard print job: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. These colors combine to make all the other colors. I don’t know how. I think printers are wizards, or something. If you want a custom color, you can add it as a fifth color. You can do a spot color, which the printer will custom mix for you. But most things are printed with CMYK. If you have a newer color printer at home, you probably have individual cartridges for the four colors (which is great, since one always runs out ahead of the others).

There used to be registration issues all the time, which made it easier to see the individual colors. If the plates were not lined up just right, the edges would be off, and there would be your yellow peeking out, or your magenta. It makes the image look psychedelic. It was a big problem. When I worked at a map publisher in the mid-90s, registration was a huge deal. Now that plates are not used, it’s not such a deal.

press
Why, do you ask, in a column about writing and publishing, am I talking about printing? Because, truly, it is my belief that you should know the basics. You should know that CMYK is general offset or digital printing. You should know that RGB is the color spectrum used online. You don’t really need to worry about RGB any more, for some reason. I can’t remember why. But it used to be a specification, when you were preparing a file, that it should be CMYK or RGB. (RGB is Red Green Blue, BTW.)

The main thing is that you should be aware that printing has certain limitations and capabilities. You should talk to whomever you are dealing with about possible problems. If you are printing business cards, it’s not such a concern. But if you are printing a book, have a conversation. If you are printing something elaborate and custom, sit down and talk with the printer rep before the job starts.

Above all, try to send to the printer the cleanest files you can. Proof them and proof them again. Look at it backwards and forward. My major concern with any print job is that I want to have no alterations. Alts are changes you make once the job has gone to the printer, and they are expensive. These are not corrections to the job as the printer has performed it – these are nit-picky things that you should have noticed sooner, or stupid typos, or someone changes their mind. This is the kind of thing that drives a printer crazy, so they charge you money to make these changes. They interrupt the workflow and may impact other jobs. So I try to never make alterations, unless they are completely necessary.

I have seen some of the most basic mistakes in printed books: a wrong website address; a hard return in the middle of a paragraph; chapter numbers missing. Page through your manuscript the way a reader would. Take separate passes to look at chapter headings, to look at the body copy, to look at the table of contents. Make sure your table of contents page numbers match up to your pages. Make sure you have any biblio info at the front or back that you will want to have. These are the kind of mistakes that make a work look amateur.

I know, how can you possibly learn all about printing? I have an advantage: 20 years in publishing and two years as Marketing Director for the regional Printing Industry Association. You don’t need to know much. But you should definitely be able have a conversation with your printer. They should be able to explain to you all of the steps involved. They should be able to tell you what to expect. If you feel uncomfortable about anything, ask. But if you really don’t want to have to worry about this, hire someone to handle your project. I have worked as a project manager for several book projects, and it’s lovely. It’s one of my favorite things to do. This person needs to be involved as early as possible, to get vendors on board and to be involved with the book design.

If you are going to be printing a book, do a little research. Here is a handy Print Glossary. Go to a bookstore and look at other books. See what you like. See if you can find any samples to bring to the rep or your PM to show them what you would like. The array of possibilities are endless, but the techniques are pretty standard.

Once you have a manuscript, you will want to print it. Holding your final printed book is about the best feeling in the world. Enjoy.

J is for Journals

Now, I don’t mean to keep bringing this up, but it just so happens that I was at AWP this week. One of my goals in going to AWP was to find journals that might be appropriate for my work, meet the people involved, and pick up samples. Spend some time getting to know them.

I’ve made a renewed commitment to my writing this year, and this involved a lot of soul-searching, which included finding some things that I was not too happy with. I am, eternally, the cobbler with no shoes (I know, same thing as blogging). I am a writer who does not submit. Or who does not submit enough. For a long time, I worked on the premise that if I saw a good place to publish, or a good contest, I would write something to fit it or see what I already had that would fit. Now I have decided to just write, and then look for places that fit my writing, instead of the other way around. I think it’s better this way.

Oh yeah. And to actually submit. For five years I’ve been teaching a publicity class at The Loft Literary Center, and students always ask how they can get publication credits. Well, I know the answer. Submit. But I haven’t been doing it myself.

So learning about journals is one of the first steps. I always kind of gave them a cursory look, but I haven’t ever really taken a good look. In the past three days I have learned a lot talking to folks and got some good tips in the sessions I went to. One of the people I met is the editor of The Review Review. I always recommend this resource to my students, as it has great articles about various genres, and includes reviews of one journal in every issue. It’s a wide and deep site, and there is bound to be something there for any writer. Sign up for the email newsletters. The subject headlines alone are worth it.

Recently there was an article about AWP in which the writer said that even the publishers and publicists there probably were secretly writers. I have never been secretly a writer – at least in my own head. I’ve always self-identified as a writer. But along the way, somehow I got sidetracked in my outward persona. So it’s time that I was outwardly a writer to everyone else I know.

So when I walked up to these tables that is what I said. And they asked, “What do you write?” And I said, “Creative nonfiction and poetry.” And that, my friends, feels good.

Let me suggest to you that you also consider publishing small pieces before you go whole hog with your book. I mean, keep writing the book. But consider if a chapter might work as a short story. Or flash fiction. I can’t believe how many places had calls or contests for flash fiction. Certainly if you write essays or poems you would do well to send them out singly. The feedback alone could be worth the effort.

Another thing I heard, from both book publishers and journals, was that they liked to see a commitment to submitting and to the publication. For instance, a book publisher would like to see work from a customer who has supported the press. A journal would like to see more submissions from someone who has not been accepted, especially if they liked an earlier piece but for some reason didn’t accept it. The lady at New England Review (NER) told me that if someone received an encouraging comment on a piece that wasn’t accepted, that person should definitely submit again. Persistence and patience. Patience and tenacity.

Another thing to remember is not to discount a journal because it may seem too small, or it may seem like you wouldn’t fit. There is a journal in Marshall MN called Yellow Medicine Journal that deals with indigenous material. The author doesn’t have to be indigenous – somehow when I heard indigenous journal I felt like I wasn’t allowed. But I talked to the editor today and she was all, “No! It’s about indigenous people – all over the world.” It’s a matter of the content, not the author. So yes, I might have something for that.

Also, places like Georgia University and Harvard Review want your stuff. Even if you are not an Ivy Leaguer or from the South. The editors there told me what they were looking for, and the HR editor went so far as to say “It cuts both ways.” (We may think “Harvard” means elitist, but they want all types of people to submit, so they are not getting the submissions they want.) They want all comers, but all the journals want different things.

So study your markets. Be consistent. Try to read what you can. The editor of the Tupelo Press was at a session and he said, “There is a home for a lot of writing. And your job as a writer is to find that home. How you do that is by reading.”

Start with The Review Review website. Go to your local bookstore and check out any local or national journals they carry. Try your library. It can be hard to find some of these outside of academic libraries. If you get a chance to go to a book festival, see if there will be a CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses) display. Check with your local colleges. And certainly, the journals are a great part of AWP.

I is for Inspiration

Do you ever just run out of things to write about? Do you ever feel like you’re just typing and that what’s coming out is bland and boring? Do you need a fresh injection of creativity juice?

I rarely if ever have gotten what they call ‘writer’s block.’ I typically sit down and write when I get an idea. I know that many people say that it’s better to have a scheduled writing time, and I can see where that would be helpful (more on that later).

But sometimes, even in the middle of a project, I feel like the page is just not alive. At this point, I usually abandon the project and move on to something else. I’m not writing under contract and I don’t have any deadlines. But if you are a writer who has to come up with ideas due to definite obligations, you may need a shot of inspiration now and then. Oh, what am I saying? Everyone needs inspiration!

There are many ways to change up your writing. I have a pack of 52 Creativity Cards, which include writing prompts and activities, called “52 Ways to Nurture Your Creativity” by Lynn Gordon. It’s basically a book in card form. The form is nice because the cards change it up. I also have a little writing prompt pamphlet that I got from the Loft Literary Center. It has some great little suggestions. And it’s so portable! And there’s always a good post on the Loft blog, The Writers’ Block.

Some of my favorite places to go for inspiration are books. On my desk I have a copy of Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman. It is the text of a commencement speech that he gave in 2012 at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It’s beautifully laid out with design by Chip Kidd, and it is full of inspiring take-aways, like ‘Don’t work for the money.’ Gaiman says that whenever he has taken a job just for the money, the work has been uninspired and unsatisfying. He also goes into detail about how he broke into writing (which wouldn’t work these days, unfortunately), and how he set his goals. It’s a lovely little type-designed book, in which I find inspiration just by flipping it open to just about any page.

The other book I have on my desk is a darling little hand-made book called From Tiger to Prayer by poet Deborah Keenan. It was published by broadcraftpress, a press run by her former students. This is hand-bound with a unique paper cover. The book is full of different types of prompts, like she will give you a title and you have to write that poem (“Look at These Altars”). Or questions to ask yourself. Exercises to do with visual art. Lots of questions. So good. I was fortunate enough to take a class with Deborah Keenan back in the old days, and I can attest to her wisdom and expertise. And gentleness.

One other place that I love to look for inspiration is the website run by Hazel & Wren, a sister duo that clearly have a dedication to literary arts. Hazel is a graphic designer, and she does a feature each week called Three Things. Because Hazel is a visual person, she uses three images to spark her writing prompt. Sometimes you are left to yourself to just let the images take you, but sometimes she will ask a specific question or give you something specific to do. This is great if you are inspired by art. Well, and who isn’t?

Other things you might try include writing your character’s bio, writing a scene from a different point of view, writing out an interview with a character, or somehow visualizing a scene or setting, whether you draw it or make it out of Legos.

Hope these ideas help you create that spark! We all need a little help from time to time. What inspires you? Where do you turn for inspiration?

H is for Home Residency

Have you ever wanted to just escape and hide in a cabin in the woods to write for a while?

I applied for a residency for this summer. The idea of a residency is to get away, to get concentrated time to focus on your art (similar to a fellowship, but with a place in mind). I didn’t get it, though I was told that I was placed on a waiting list. I have no idea how long this list is or what my place is on it. I had hoped to go to a secluded spot, where, with minimum interruption, I could write and focus on research for a book I’d like to finish.

Just because I didn’t get the residency that I applied for doesn’t mean that I can’t still have that focus, however. I have in my head a little scheme to try to carve out some time from my schedule so that I can indeed get that focus that I so crave.

cabin-in-woods

If I had gotten the residency, I would have received a room at an arts center about an hour south of my home. This would have included a small stipend for food and travel expenses. But I think it would have been a very small amount. Since I won’t have the travel expenses and I have to buy food anyway, the fact of a stipend is negligible.

The residency would have required that I do one or two events in the community. This could have been a reading or workshop or some other type of public event. Since I don’t have to do that, I save the time spent on that effort.

Now, I’m not exactly glad that I didn’t get the residency. What I’m trying to do, of course, is to rationalize why it’s okay to stay home. And it actually is. I save travel time, event planning time and packing time.

What I have decided to do then, is to have my own home residency. I will stay home during that time period, which will be two to four weeks (depending on some other factors), during the month of August. There are typically few literary events scheduled during that time. I don’t have any contracts covering that time period, and if any new ones come along, I can simply extend the contract and excise the month of August from the period it covers.

Most of the regular events I go to do not hold sessions during August. The bulk of the population will be on vacation somewhere, so a short period of time being out of the loop is not going to adversely affect me too much. I am teaching a class in July, and don’t have any scheduled for August. So that means no promotion needs to be done, and the only thing that I would need to keep an eye on is my client’s launch in September. I can do most of the work for that during July.

I think this will work out pretty well. I just need to take myself away from typical daily distractions, like housework and such. I am considering absconding to a coffee shop during the day, something I’ve never done before. That will allay any disruptions by my husband, random visitors or chance temptations.

My residency plan called for writing 2,000 words a day. I am certain that I can do that if I create my own home residency, and focus on the daily goal.

So come August, if you need to reach me, leave a message. I’ll return your call when I’m able!

G is for Guest Blogging

All right, so maybe you have a blog. I would guess that if you are reading this as part of the A to Z Challenge, you are already blogging and finding your audience. But consider another way to reach out to different audience. That’s right, guest blogging.

For many years, I didn’t have a blog at all. In fact, I was resistant to the idea (much as I am now resistant to creating a Google+ profile). I figured I had enough to do, and any writing I did should be either for my clients, or as part of my own personal creative writing. And I didn’t think blogging fit into that.

So for about the past five years, I have been using guest blogging as one of my primary outreach tools. This meant that I didn’t have to maintain my own blog, there was no schedule involved, and there was no pressure to come up with content every week. I blogged for someone else, and then shared the heck out of the link. I had several active social media profiles, so that was all in place to get the word out. I got exposure to my host bloggers’ audiences, likely people who would not have heard of me otherwise. And they got exposed to my followers.

Why then, you might ask, am I now blogging? Well, to tell you the truth, I just felt like I had a lot of information to share. I wanted to lay it out in a comprehensive manner. The Publishing Bones website allows me to do that. I have different sections for articles of different topics, and will soon add multimedia capabilities. But the blog was part of the theme package. It was there, and anyway I wanted a place where I could share timely information: maybe industry news or news about clients. Maybe have some of those fun special features I’d been seeing (I do have one, called Freakin’ Friday, but I have only used it once). I wanted the blog to be more business, but it seemed to swerve over into the personal part of what I was doing pretty fast. And that’s okay.

So the blog, which I call The Bones, is part of the fabric of Publishing Bones. And I decided to do the A to Z Challenge to get myself in gear. I figured if I could write 26 posts in one month, I’d be on a roll and it would continue. Plus I thought I would get to meet all kinds of other bloggers, which is proving true.

Which brings me back to guest blogging. Once you have a blog, you can still continue to guest blog on other sites. In fact, it makes even more sense. I just did a guest post on the site of Molly Greene last week. It was a phenomenal experience, and the response has been really encouraging. She was very happy with the content, and I think the traffic and her readers’ responses have been worthwhile for her. By the way, I met her through Twitter, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Guest blogging when you already have a blog is a win-win situation. You get the other blog’s traffic, and they get yours. Usually this is done in tandem – bloggers swap entries. But not always. I think if you already have a blog, though, and you guest blog on someone else’s blog, you should definitely let your readers know. It’s a great way to build community and get to know other bloggers. Try it!