December 25th, 2017

Ask for What You Need

Kathryn Craft

Happy Holidays to all of today’s Writers in the Storm readers! Did Santa bring you everything on your list?

What’s that?

You didn’t make a list?

 When did we adults stop asking for what we need? Personally, I think independence is overrated as a hallmark of maturity. We writers can be especially stubborn in this regard, as if a helping hand might in some way diminish our creative accomplishment.

I beg to differ. Asking for support is a bold move, a signal to the universe (and okay, your family) that your course has been charted, you plan to reach your destination, and you are worthy of their wind in your sails.

Here are some of the many ways that asking for help has benefitted my writing.

Household chores. When you work, care for others, and write, there are times when something’s got to give. I’ve asked for help babysitting, chauffeuring, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundering, mowing, and more. Sometimes relief from one tiny chore is all I need to free up the energy to write.

Accountability. Before I had an agent or a publisher awaiting my material, I had several accountability partners through the years, whose sole purpose is to make sure I put words on the page. Like a labor coach, she’d hold me to goals I made before I lost my mind. It’s far superior to broadcasting word count on Facebook: your partner actually cares, since you are holding her accountable as well.

Brainstorming. Nailing a solid story concept is crucial to inspiring my devotion to a project. Characters I care about who are in a tight spot will turn my “daily grind” into an opportunity to show up and do right by them. I have several friends who will say yes when I need to toss around ideas.

Research. Everyone knows someone who knows someone. When I am struggling to obtain a piece of much-needed information and don’t even know how to ask Google for help, my Facebook friends and local research librarians are always willing to lend me a hand.

Travel. Internet and book research may point the way, but a time may come when you simply need to fill your senses with the settings in your book. Ask for support in this. With advance planning, this can be incorporated into family vacations, visits, or trips to help someone move.

Critique. We need fresh eyes. Period. Never feel bad asking another writer to read and provide feedback, if you are willing to do the same for her.

Unblocking. One time a friend and I were bemoaning our lack of progress and we decided to take turns sending each other a writing prompt. Each day we used the same prompt in our respective works and shared the (drastically different) results. Soon the creative juices were pumping again.

Education. Writers need education as legitimately as those who hope to excel in any other profession. If you’re queasy about how much to invest in a profession with such uncertain financial reward, ask other writers which programs delivered the best bang for their buck. Then spread the word among family members that “education vouchers” make great gifts!

Exercise. Everyone can use a walking partner or a fellow gym rat to get them moving. In fact, social accountability is sometimes the only thing that can pull us away from our computers. Both body and mind will thank you for seeking help.

Recipes. While funneling my creative energy into my work all day, it’s hard to come up with new ideas for healthy meals. Asking for recipes, and sharing yours, will make this piece of daily drudgery into a way to enliven the senses and make new friends.

Referrals. There comes a time when we are ready for developmental editing services, an agent, a blurb, or design services. Even if you toughed it out alone so far, eventually you will need to reach out for a hand up. If you practice early in your career, this step won’t be as hard!

Marketing. Despite the miracle of social media, individual reach only goes so far. Cultivate relationships in your genre that will inspire you and your friends to share and share alike. That following you worked so hard to find will make others happy that you asked.

You may have struck out with Santa, but it’s not too late to ask for help. As you set goals for 2018, think about the way others might be able to help you.

If you are willing to phone a friend, success might be closer than you think.

 

What are some of the ways your writing has benefitted from asking for help?

For those of you brave enough to try it, go ahead and ask for help with something right here in the comments.

Who knows—maybe the WITS community can hook you up with someone who can help?

 

*Note from Kathryn: Thank you to the WITS readers who have so faithfully looked for my monthly fourth-Monday posts these past four years! I’ll be moving to a quarterly schedule in 2018 so look for my next post on Tuesday, January 23!

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Kathryn Craft  is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writingboth from Writer’s Digest Books.

 

December 22nd, 2017

Social Media Habits that Support Your Brand AND Your Life

With people all over the world are averaging at least three to four hours each day online, social media marketing is something we just can’t get away from. People use their phones and mobile devices for more than half their time online and 90% of that time is spent in apps. They are browsing, cementing friendships, shopping and making many of their buying decisions based on the posts, videos and recommendations of people in their online circles. 

The rub: unless you are retired, spending that much time online takes away from the other important responsibilities in your life.

My intention with this series of posts is to help you make decisions about how you spend your time online, and how you find online content that provides the most traction for your brand and your book sales. 

What is “your brand?” Simply put, your brand is the image that forms in peoples’ minds when they hear your name. You want to shape that perception with content that cements the brand that you want.

Remember, social media marketing is not about dousing your followers with periodic buckets of updates. It is a thousand drops of water, one dribble at a time, that will help your online presence flourish.

Developing a posting schedule that doesn’t run you ragged…

Here are my time hacks for fitting a variety of quality social updates into your busy schedule:

1. Schedule time to create your graphics and videos. 

Just as you would schedule an hour of writing time, schedule an hour or two of time to create graphics. Doing them all at once, when you are on a roll, allows you to have cohesion with your brand and images. I highly recommend a tool like Canva that allows you to make social media sized graphics, banners, etc. 

Laura Drake did a fantastic post on Canva.

You don’t have to schedule this time every week, but it will pay off if you do. Perhaps one week of the month will be for creating photo shares, another will be spent recording videos and a third week will be spent browsing for graphics to use as background for quotes (these are always popular).

I wait for those “100 images for $100” deals on Deposit Photos so I can run targeted searches for images and save them to my account for later use. Two things take more time than anything else on social media, at least for me: finding images and engaging in discussion about what you post.

Note: You want to include your logo or website on each graphic. This is so people can find you when they see your graphic, and so someone has to work to pirate your images. Yes, people steal photos all the time, without observing copyright. If it’s yours, label it.

2. Use Google Alerts.

Google Alerts is an easy-to-set-up free tool. If there are topics you need to post about – i.e. mermaids or underpants or how to macrame – set up a Google Alert for each topic and you will receive an email whenever it’s mentioned in the news, anywhere in the world. Easy-peasy.

You can save even more time by keeping a list of these tweetable/bloggable links, either through an ongoing email, a Word or Scrivener document, OneDrive or Evernote, or even a draft post on your WordPress dashboard.

Time-saving Tip: You need to have an easily-accessible, ready supply of social shares that fit your brand. This lowers your “content” stress level by a mile, decreases the amount of time you spend online each day, and helps your branding stay consistent. Many people keep a social media calendar for this reason.

3Let IFTTT to bring the content to you (and even post it).

IFTTT has saved me loads of time. It stands for “if this, then that” and it’s a free tool to help all your apps and devices talk to each other. Below is a sample of some of the applets I use IFTTT for.

  • Don’t want to go looking for GIFs? IFTTT has an applet that will email you a list of the trending GIFs for the day from Giphy. You can then share them any way you see fit.
  • No time to do Instagram and Pinterest? I love them both but Instagram is mobile only, which means I’m more likely to have my day-to-day “life photos” come from there. There are applets you can set up to post to various Pinterest boards based on your Instagram hashtag. Here is my Urban Gardening Board, which is more than half populated by my Instagram feed.
  • Want to shake up your Twitter feed with some of those same “life photos?” There is an applet to copy Instagram posts to Twitter as “native photos” rather than as a link. You get two-for-one and the ability to spend your social media time connecting over the photos rather than posting them.

I highly recommend spending one of your online hours setting up a few IFTTT applets. You can always delete the ones that don’t work for you, or populate one Pinterest board at a time. This is for you to decide. 

Note: Do not set up applets for apps you have no intention of monitoring. The goal is to spend less time posting so you can spend more time being social. There’s nothing you can do to piss off people more on social media than NOT being social.

4. Scheduling isn’t always bad.

Tools like Hootsuite and SocialOomph and Sendible remain popular for a reason. You can’t be online all the time, and we all have busy lives. We have readers in Europe who are 7-10 hours ahead of us and we want some of our updates to show up when they are awake.

Note: Doing 100% of your social media updates via a scheduling tool when you are never online is spammy behavior. We don’t want to be called spammers…that’s bad juju.

BUT scheduling some of your important updates, and being around to monitor the results, is just practical.

Jeff Bullas did a great post on the Top 5 Social Dashboards.

What kinds of posts go viral…

There are many many schools of thought on what gets others to share your content, but I decided to go with science because we want results that can be duplicated. Scientific American published a fascinating article that concluded the following:

“..content that elicits an emotional reaction tends to be more widely shared. In addition, stories stimulating positive emotions are more widely shared than those eliciting negative feelings, and content that produces greater emotional arousal (making your heart race) is more likely to go viral. This means that content that makes readers or viewers feel a positive emotion like awe or wonder is more likely to take off online than content that makes people feel sad or angry, though causing some emotion is far better than inspiring none at all.”

Here’s a good social media rule set from Sendible to help keep your brand image out of trouble.

Finally, in the new world of Instagram where you are allowed only a single URL in your bio, a tool like LinkTree has become invaluable. Make LinkTree your single bio link so people can find your other important links – your book page, your blog, or whatever other page drives your fancy this month. Here is my LinkTree, just to give you a sample: https://linktr.ee/jenny_hansen_ca

More than anything, you want your time online to be fun and productive. If your time online is both those things, you’re less likely to resent the time you spend there. Hopefully some of the ideas above will help you have a dependable social media presence that helps your brand and doesn’t drive you insane. In January, I’ll give you some more targeted ideas for content.

Now it’s your turn! What are your tips and shortcuts for building your online brand? Do you keep a social media calendar? Do you set a timer? What do you do to maintain your work/life balance?

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About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

December 20th, 2017

5 Ways to Use the Holiday Season to Benefit Your Writing Career

Jamie Raintree

The holiday season is upon us and I, for one, am having a hard time concentrating on anything that doesn’t sparkle or sing a Christmas tune. Luckily for me, I turned in my latest manuscript before Thanksgiving and have been able to enjoy time with family, decorate the house, and curl up with holiday-themed novels during December, which has been a welcome reprieve from the busy-ness and productivity that I, and most of us, demand of ourselves during the rest of the year.

It’s always a hard shift for me to make because I truly get a lot of enjoyment out of checking items off my goal list and hitting new word counts, but it’s also more necessary to take time away from it all than most of us want to believe because WE HAVE STUFF TO DO AND BOOKS DON’T WRITE THEMSELVES.

Maybe you’re already planning on setting aside your work-in-progress for the next couple of weeks. Maybe, with the kids on holiday break, you don’t have much of a choice! Or maybe you’re stressing because you have deadlines–self-imposed or otherwise–that have to be met and you don’t know how you’re going to find time each day to dedicate to your work. Maybe you want to try to take advantage of the extra time as much as possible.

Whether you’re planning to work or not, it doesn’t have to be lost time for your writing ambitions. Here are 5 ways I’m making the most of the season:

Take a Break. It’s been several weeks now since I’ve written anything and I have to say, taking a break from writing–by choice instead of out of anxiety or procrastination–is a breath of fresh air! Believe me, a not-writing Jamie is not usually a happy Jamie, but it’s good for the heart, mind, and soul to rest once in a while, in anything. With the professional world slowing down for a couple of weeks, now is the best time to CHOOSE to give yourself some time off (we have the most demanding bosses, don’t we? 😉 ). Whenever I do this, I find myself itching to get back to the writing. Already I feel it, and I know I’m going to come back to my work in 2018 with a renewed sense of excitement for all my writing goals.

If you have an external deadline, this may not be possible, but if your deadline is self-imposed and you’re feeling stressed about hitting it, you might consider pushing it back and enjoying this slower time in whatever way feeds you. (Suggestion: binge-reading all the books you planned to have finished for your Goodreads Reading Challenge.)

Work on Something Fun. I won’t be ignoring writing completely, though. I plan to brainstorm ideas for my next book whenever the mood strikes me and I have a few minutes to myself. With constant goals and deadlines, it’s rare that I (and maybe you?) allow the writing or brainstorming or outlining to happen just because I want to, when I want to, and now is a great time for that. If there’s a side project you never have time to work on, or a short story idea that’s been bouncing around in your head, you could give yourself the gift of purely joy-driven writing, with no outcome in mind except that it makes you smile. Believe me, the side effects of this will absolutely benefit your writing career when you come back to your work with your well refilled.

Reconnect with Your Relationships. Do you ever forget that the writing we do is ABOUT people and FOR people? I do. I have a bad habit of getting so caught up in the tasks of writing work that I run out of time to reconnect with the people who encourage and inspire all this work–my friends, my family, my writing community. Take this time to remember what it’s all about. We don’t do it for our to-do lists. We do it because we love people. Our people. And the time we spend with them motivates us, reminds us of why our work is so important and, if your family is anything like mine, gives us plenty of fodder to draw from the next time we come to the page.

Review the Past Year. It’s natural for us to think about how this year has gone as it draws to a close. What did we accomplish? What didn’t we accomplish that we wanted to? What worked? What didn’t? This is good. This is healthy. It may not be easy–we tend to focus on what didn’t happen like we hoped, don’t we?–but there’s so much we can learn from so that, hopefully, we can make the coming year even better. And please, do make sure to spend a good amount of time thinking about what went right.

Think About the Year Ahead. Whether you do this formally, with structured goals and resolutions for 2018, or have a loose idea of what you want to accomplish or improve upon, use this time to brainstorm how you want to take your writing career to the next level in the coming year. Yes, I know, some of you may despise resolutions or be completely disillusioned by setting goals that never seem to come to fruition, but if we aren’t at least trying…if we’ve given up hope completely…well then, what is it all for? The thing that keeps drawing us back to stories–that draws us back to writing–is the promise that people can grow, that we can reach our dreams, that we can fall in love, that we can heal, that we can know ourselves a little deeper. And what is the holiday season for if not hope? I, for one, believe in us all.

Wishing you a very merry holiday season and happy new year! I look forward to all that we will accomplish in 2018!

How do you use the holiday season to benefit your writing? Do you have writing goals for 2018?

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ABOUT JAMIE


Jamie Raintree is an author and a writing business teacher. She is also a mother of two girls, a wife, a businesswoman, a nature-lover, and a wannabe yogi. Her debut novel, PERFECTLY UNDONE, was released on October 3, 2017 by Graydon House. Subscribe to her newsletter for more writing tips, workshops, and book news. To find out more, visit her website.

 

December 18th, 2017

Self-Care for the Newly Launched Author

Aimie K. Runyan

You have a new book out in the world. Huzzah! You should definitely be celebrating. Whether this is your tenth book with a Big 6 Publisher, a new book with a smaller house, self-pub, or your very first foray into publishing, you need to celebrate this accomplishment.

Millions of people want to write a novel. Only a tiny fraction ever finish one. An even smaller fraction of those go on to publish it. Uncork the good bubbly and celebrate with your loved ones. If you glean nothing else from this article, let it be that.

But aside from a nice bottle of Veuve Cliquot, I’ve laid out some things I found useful that I want you to consider when launching your book into the world:

1. It’s OK to feel a little depressed on launch day.

It’s a moment you have been waiting for, perhaps your whole life, and it can feel very anti-climactic. There is still laundry to be done and children to schlepp around. Even if you launch an instant bestseller, it’ll be awhile before life really changes.

2. Set aside time for promotion.

Yes, you should be hard at work on your next book by the time you launch your latest, but set aside time for blogging, social media, interviews and more. If you don’t your work in all areas will suffer and you’ll just be stressed.

3. Be responsive

If people email you to congratulate you, post a cover of your shiny book just arrived at their doorstep, or post a review on their blog, make sure to reply and share links as appropriate. People like to be acknowledged, and it will earn you loyalty from your readers.

4. Do read reviews.

This is contrary to a lot of advice, but I believe in keeping an eye on what people have to say. The key is to take none of it personally. If you see a trend, consider paying it some heed. There is no such thing as a flawless book, and if you can learn something from the reviews, go for it.

I also read to flag for spoilers and abusive comments—anything that could legitimately turn a reader away. But an important caveat: never engage a reviewer personally. If you think a review needs to be removed (and this is rare), let the moderators know and hope they’ll do the right thing.

5. Don’t freak out about the bad reviews.

Many of us feel like a bad review is a rite of passage. They lend believability to the good reviews (readers know it’s not just our friends and family reading the book!) and they might steer away others who might honestly not enjoy your book. The trick isn’t just to find readers—you want the right readers, or the bad reviews will just multiply.

6. Don’t obsess over your numbers.

Yes, there are a zillion metrics to follow—sales rank, author rank, Nielsen numbers, and more. All that math is absolutely enough to kill anyone’s creative spark. I’m not saying don’t look. I’d be the world’s biggest hypocrite if I did, but try to set specific times to check so you don’t drive yourself bonkers. Keep yourself busy and productive—and away from the computer—if you struggle with this. Family excursions are my go-to for this. It’s impossible to worry about rankings while you’re chasing kids around the zoo. I promise.

7. Take time to pamper yourself.

A massage and a nice lunch can take away any launch time jitters, but a bath and a glass of wine can do almost as well. Personally, I treat myself to an evening at the movies all by myself. It’s a favorite indulgence of mine, and I can’t check my phone for two whole hours.

8. Talk to other authors.

Especially those you think have experienced a similar publishing journey in the same genre. They can give you tons of insight into what to expect. They will also let you know that much of the neuroses you’re experiencing are all totally normal. I’ve found that one very long Facebook Message chat with a friend from the same publishing house is one of the kindest things I’ve done for myself this month.

9. Thank your publisher and agent.

A lavish gift isn’t expected or necessary, but I like to send a little something to thank my house and my agent for all they’ve done. Something for the whole office, edible, and book-themed is my usual MO.

10. Do have a launch party.

Give your friends and family a thank you for all their support, and give them the chance to celebrate your success!

 

What do YOU do to cope with early-launch stress? We want to hear from you!

 

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About Aimie

Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown, and Duty to the Crown from Kensington Publishing. Her upcoming novels Daughters of the Night Sky (available now as part of Amazon First Reads!) and Girls on the Line will release from Lake Union Publishing in January and November of 2018. She is active as an educator and speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children.

December 15th, 2017

How to Get to Carnegie Hall

James Preston

There’s an old joke about a tourist in New York who asks a native, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall.”

They say to lead off with a joke, right? Well, I’ll lead off with half of a joke that’s older than many of the Writers in the Storm readers. (And notice I did not say, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.”)

When I was in junior high my parents wanted to encourage me to do arty things. After all, Maggie Preston, one of my aunts on my father’s side, was a well-known painter. Well, I’m not. There was a brief spate of clarinet lessons and after a lot of work I got it to make a noise like a duck. Nobody was sorry when I switched to piano. Which leads me to an anecdote about a concert pianist who said, “If I miss a day of practice I can tell. If I miss two days my coach can tell, and if I miss three my audience can tell.”

I recently launched two novellas called Crashpad and Buzzkill. (Insert high-priced commercial here.) I talked about them at some length at a signing at a great independent bookstore in Orange, California called Book Carnival. I talked a bit, read an excerpt and answered a lot of questions, some of which were about the background (they are period pieces set in the 1960’s on a college campus), and a few questions were on how to do it because, as with any audience, some of the listeners wanted to write.

Well, I’ve studied, of course. But mostly I’ve written. Words on paper. You’d think that was obvious, right? Maybe not so much. The point is that all of those folks who tell you to write every day are right. However . . . Not even Stephen King gets up every morning and knows exactly where the next scene is going. At least, I don’t think he does. But he writes every day, oh, yes, he’s there at the typewriter or the word processor or with a notepad putting one word after another, because that’s what writers do. They write.

Is all of it deathless prose that jumps from his page to the New York Times list? Of course not. Ray Bradbury says he wrote every day for sixty-nine years. Writing every day does not have to mean a new chapter in your novel, though that would be nice. 

I had a writing teacher and reviewer named Paul Bishop. Paul is a now-retired LAPD officer and talented writer. Look for books like Citadel Run and Tequila Sunrise. He told me a story about a writing class he taught and a woman who came up to him afterward, thanked him, and said, “Now I’m almost ready to start, just as soon as I know exactly what the entrance to the FBI building in Washington DC looks like.”  My guess is she’s still waiting. 

So, you think, “Write every day,” and you get up one morning and Urk! no ideas, the old brain is thinking about breakfast or does the car need gas. So what? That concert pianist does not play Bela Bartok every morning first thing. No, she runs scales. (During my piano lessons I got to where I could do that and I’ll bet if I sat down today with only a little fumbling around I could do it again. Muscle memory. Your writing muscle is like that.)

Here are some ways to write every day even when your muse is off shopping.

Much of the following is based on writing prompts developed for the State of California by, among others, my wife Nancy and Fae Rowen (yes, the Fae Rowen who is one of the founders of the blog you are reading now). 

Write a letter from your main character to you. Mine might go like this: “Hey, James, this is Jane. How’s it going? I got all my classes for once and didn’t have to stand in line very long to register. I’m taking Psych 101, and . . .” 

Write a paragraph about your character’s life before the event that started the story. Alternatively write a paragraph in which one of your  characters describes their life before this initiating event. My hero is a man named T. R. Macdonald, a guy who was a very successful broker/analyst in New York until, well, here’s what he would say about his life “before”: Mostly I’m a technical analyst, or I guess I should say I was. Anyway, I was at my station on the trading floor watching three screens and talking in the phone when Bernice, my boss’s Executive Assistant pushed her way through the crowd and pointed urgently at the blinking light on my phone. Until then I’d been a winner: Trader of the Year, fat bonus, Porsche Carrera (provided by a grateful company), stuff like that and it seemed to matter, you know. All it once it changed like a dip in a candlestick chart when somebody unloads a big block. Bernice told me my wife, who I’d left behind in California, had been hospitalized with a drug o.d. You know, I looked at the screens and I couldn’t remember the names of the equities or the client. 

Whoa, when I wrote that I learned something about how Mac felt. Ok, it’s not deathless prose, but I got in touch with him in a new way. 

Write — from a character’s viewpoint — what happened after that event. For me, this might be the reaction of Walter Dalrymple to Macdonald’s return to California. (Side Note: Walter takes center stage in the novella Crashpad.)

Will these exercises find their way into a final draft? Probably not, but so what? I doubt there are recordings of Jascha Heifetz tuning his violin. It flexes the writing muscle. 

So you sit down and your mind is as blank as the page. Write, “I can’t think of anything to say. Why is that?”

Shaquille O’Neal accepted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award in 2000, he quoted Aristotle: ‘Excellence is not a singular act, but a habit. You are what you repeatedly do.’ Classicists might quibble with Shaq’s translation of The Nicomachean Ethics, but in our view he was right on the money.” (Excerpt from What the Numbers Say by Derrick Niederman & David Boyum

There are many ways to practice. I have listed only a few.

Share some of yours. If you have none, take a stab at one of these and tell us about it.

Writing that blog response is, after all, practice. 

 

So the other half of the joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.”

 

James R. Preston is the author of the Surf City Mysteries. This October he launched Crashpad and Buzzkill, two novellas set on a college campus in the 1960’s.