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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Marketing: Every Writer's Bane Whether They'll Admit it or Not

I'm ten months into this blogging adventure. I have to admit I was pretty ambivalent about it at the front end. I tend towards being a private person, so journaling--which is what blogging is--was heretofore a one-on-one effort. Just me and my collection of leather-bound journals that contain my dreams, hopes, disappointments and random thoughts.

In addition to starting this blog, over the last year I've also developed presences on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Goodreads, Linked-In and now there's Pinterest. I still remember getting my profile together on Google+. I'd gotten my name in there and a couple of other things when my hands crashed down on the keyboard and I screamed, "Nooooooo!" It actually took a couple of months to force myself to go back and finish that profile. It's all pretty overwhelming, really. And I've just scratched the surface. There are lots more social media sites where I could paste my picture and make pithy little comments throughout each day.

Problem, other than the obvious one that I feel really exposed, is there are only so many hours in any of those days. If I spend a couple of them keeping up with social media, that's time I'm not spending writing, or exercising, or playing with my dogs or whipping up something interesting in my kitchen. Then there's my long term marriage. I really like spending time with my husband. And listening to music and watching movies. Gee, I have wireless feed to a big, flat screen television and I think I've only watched two movies in the past six months.

Everything is a balance. My current "pact with the devil" (as I've come to view social media) is that I limit my time posting on various sites to 45 minutes a day; half early in the morning and half at night. Unless it's a day when I create a new blog post. Then you can add about 45 more minutes to that total. I do not have feeds from any of the sites routed to my phone. So far, that seems to  be working. I think the technical term is detente. Where both sides maintain an edgy neutrality. So long as half a dozen new social media "must haves" don't crop up, I think I'll be okay.

Other aspects of marketing that are time consuming are researching sites to send books for reviews and attending science fiction and fantasy conventions. (Btw, the "cons" are really fun.) Then there are book blog tours. I'm just finishing my first one. It was hours of work at the front end creating a bunch of new blog posts and interviews, but it's paid off in sales. And I've learned a whole lot about web design, since I don't want to be dependent on someone else every time I want to change out something on my website.

All in all, the world of writing is fascinating. And not anything like I thought it would be during the months I was writing my first novel. I'm sure I'll continue to learn as time unfolds. Any thoughts on social media and marketing would be welcomed.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Are You Living the Life You Want??

How many of us can answer "yes" to that question without stretching the truth just a bit? So much of what we do every day is for others, or for the future, or "because it's good for you--or someone else". Not that you can't be living the life you want as you do for others. Many of us find fulfillment in philanthropy. I suspect far more of us get mired down in a daily grind, though. It's hard to plan for a more fulfilling future when there's not enough time, money or personal resources to go round.

Another almost universal truth is that every silver lining has a cloud around it. I love writing. It nourishes me and fulfills me. But I discovered early on in the process that the thing that makes salable fiction is a combination of good writing and careful editing. I'm not nearly as fond of editing as I am of writing, but I take the time because my name is on what I write and I don't want people who read my stories to see me as lazy or slipshod.

I'm reading a NY Times Bestseller. It's genre fiction, which is my preference. I'm only about a third of the way through and so far the book is full of unnecessary uses of "that" and it uses lots of passive constructions that distance the reader from the story. I practically choked when I was reading last night (same book) and found several egregious point of view glitches. I suppose I  could live with all the technical snafus, but the plot isn't very tightly woven. Sigh. I want whoever did the PR for that book on my team! If they could sell that, they could sell anything to anyone.

Like all trades, it's not necessarily what you know, but who you know. The above author was well connected. It worked for her. The reading public is picky, though. And opinions vary widely. All you have to do is follow threads on Goodreads or any literary commentary site to discover that.

A year or so ago, while on a backpacking trip, I had a single paperback book with me. The author was apparently a "close friend" of Terry Goodkind (at least that's what information on the cover inferred). That one was also a really poorly written book--but it had a great cover, which is what attracted me in the first place. I wouldn't have finished it, except I didn't have anything else to read. I fear the book in the previous paragraph will end up in the burn barrel. No need to finish that one since I have a house full of potential replacements for my nightly reading time.

I'm not sure writing has exactly ruined reading for me, but it's sure changed the way I look at fiction. Unfortunately, I now apply the same jaundiced eye that I look at my own stuff with to nearly everything else I read. So, what does this have to do with living the life I want? It's pretty simply, really. I enjoy being a writer. I'm not naive enough to believe any chosen path has only plusses. Life just isn't like that. If one of the downsides is that I edit manuscripts in my head as I read, I can live with that. Maybe it will improve my own writing on down the line.

I'll take the joy I get from the creative flow. It's a high in and of itself. If another down side is editing, well I've learned a whole lot about the structure of the language along the way. I feel lucky, really. It's not everyone who finds a career that can carry them through their middle years and beyond.

If you want to make some changes in your own life, pick one thing. Yup, just one. Figure out a single tweak, then put it into action. Give that tweak some time to percolate, then pick another. One thing's for sure, if you do nothing, well, then nothing will change. Change is always gradual--and not generally linear. By that I mean, there will be ups and downs along the way. Give yourself permission to shift gears if one of your tweaks isn't working out the way you'd like.

If you're kind to yourself and tolerant (something I struggle with all the time) you'll begin to see changes blossom around you. It takes two to make (or break) something. If you change what you bring to the table, others will need to alter their contribution as well.

What kinds of things would you like to change for 2012?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why I Don’t Want to Grow Up—Not Ever

This is a guest blog post I created for Heroines With Hearts back in October of last year. Thought I'd give it a bit more airtime!

Do you remember back to when you were really young? When the boogeyman lived under the bed, or in the back of the closet? And your mom told you he’d get you if you didn’t finish your peas. There was that little frisson of fear that would scuttle down your spine. Part of you knew things like boogeymen didn’t really exist—or did they? The possibility that they might added an edgy, exciting dimension to things.
I sometimes wonder if the box age (you know, the one that started with television and ended with computers and smartphones) hasn’t shifted that sense of wonder we who grew up in the fifties and sixties used to have. There were mysteries when I was a kid and no internet to race to in a hunt for answers. So, some mysteries remained just that. And that was fine. It was all right that some things had no answers; that you just sort of took it on faith that there were at least a few things that couldn’t be dissected into their component parts.

So, what does all this have to do with writing? Authors, really good ones, are able to transport you to another world. It doesn’t have to be a far-fetched science fiction or fantasy world like the ones I frequently write about, but it does have to have enough in the way of world-building to anchor you in the writer’s imaginal process. Reading is an escape and if the world inside the book isn’t sufficiently enticing, you’ll put it down and move on to something that captivates you.

As a sidebar, I’d like to say a couple of things about the imaginal world. Like, for example, what it is. On its simplest level, it’s where we go in our imaginations. For many artists though, this place can turn into a multi-faceted experience. Once they asked Nijinsky what was in his head as he danced. His response was, “I am sitting in the front row watching myself.”

What I think he meant by that was he was able to split his conscious mind into two parts: the part keeping his agile body balanced through the amazing, gravity-defying twirls and jumps he did on stage, and a more cognitive part choreographing his next moves. Because what he did had a physical element, the marriage of his physical and intellectual selves was his link to the imaginal world and the basis for his genius.

How does the imaginal world pan out for writers since it’s a far less physically demanding artistic pursuit? I can only speak for myself, but when I’m deep into a story, my head is so full it’s difficult to stop writing to come down to start dinner. And when I do, God help the poor, hapless family member who actually tries to talk to me because I’m not living in twenty-first century America at that moment. Nope, I’m running alongside my characters as they sketch out their next moves in a sort of parallel universe. Terry Brooks once said something like, “In this business, if you tell your muse to go away, you never know when you’ll see her again. Or if.”

I’ve been writing long enough now I trust the muse will return. It’s simply a matter of when. Problem is, if I skitter out of the imaginal world back to the other one, I get grumpy because it’s not where I want to be. I suppose I’m happiest when the story just keeps on unfolding and I find myself letting pretty much everything else go to hell as I spend hours and days at the keyboard before coming up for air. I’ve always been grateful for my tolerant family. They’re my first beta readers, my biggest critics and my greatest advocates. Long hours on the trail in the backcountry help too. I’ve written lots of short stories in my head on those journeys and gotten the underpinnings for novels as well. Solitude stokes my imagination. Doesn’t take much to bring me back to being a five or six year old kid wondering if tonight is the night the monster will spin out of the closet.

Which circles back to the title of this blog post. Children are born with wonderful imaginations that we set about drumming out of them practically from the time they can talk. There’s nothing wrong with something hiding in the closet, or a magical staircase rising up just there next to the window.

We live in an age that is antithetical to mystery, and because we want everything explained to within an inch of its life; it is also an age that is antithetical to imagination. Without imagination, it becomes progressively harder to lose oneself in books or anything else. I think the fix is to read more, especially to children. Teach them to love books. Let them regale you with fantastic tales about dragons and wizards. Read them The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Pull out the Narnia Chronicles. There’s something irresistible about a magic door in the back of a wardrobe leading to a whole other world. I just finished Lev Grossman’s Magician Kings and it has a definite C.S. Lewis feel about it. Probably why it was a best seller. They don’t access Fillory from a wardrobe, but one of the many routes into that magical land is through a grandfather clock.

This is getting too long, so I’ll wrap up. Find the Alice in Wonderland door in your own mind. Revel in the unexplained. Grab onto a dream and make it real for yourself. Take a couple of really deep breaths and tell your best friend how much you love them. Read to your kids and grandkids. And never lose your sense of wonder.