A few weeks ago I attended a book-marketing seminar sponsored by the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). Expert panelists included Julia Drake, David Wogahn, and Steven Sanchez.
Most of what was covered affirmed what I’ve learned about platform, marketing, and publicity from Brooke Warner and elsewhere on my journey toward publishing my forthcoming memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness. Here’s a recap of highlights that landed with me.
Know who you are as a writer. What do you write about? What’s your message, mission, or goal? Why did you write the book you wrote? What do you say in your book that you’d like to keep talking about? What matters to you? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you create a sturdy, clear, and specific platform. Focus your website and blog so that they support your message.
Have a clear objective. What do you want out of your book marketing efforts? What’s most important to you? Maybe your only goal is to sell books. But perhaps you’d also like to promote your business, services, or other products.
Identify your audience. Who would want to read your book? What kinds of people? The more specific you can be when answering this question, the better.
Platform: promote your ideas, not your book. You want to initiate a conversation and keep it going. If people care about what you’re talking about, if they think your thoughts and words will add to their lives, they will be more likely to buy your book.
Collect e-mail addresses. This is obvious: growing your email list extends your reach. Ask people to sign in at events. Offer incentives on you website for people to sign up for your blog and newsletter. Be creative.
Have a great product. Make sure your book is the best it can be. If you’re self-publishing, invest in professional editing. The quality of your writing matters. You don’t know what you don’t know. Investing in a professional editor means investing in your book and, ultimately, in yourself.
Social media is a must. Just because there are a lot of social media platforms doesn’t mean you have to be on every one. Pick what you like and ignore the rest. Social media gives you an opportunity to connect with potential readers. The key is to build a targeted following, which circles back around to you and your message. Post on your themes regularly to initiate conversations and forge relationships. This is what social media marketing is all about. Be authentic.
No secret sauce. There’s no easy answer for how to best market your book, no magic formula. Hire a publicist even if you think you don’t need one. Many will work within your budget and serve as guides. Consider which PR tasks you can do yourself and which ones you’d prefer to delegate. Publicity and marketing duties include: writing a press kit; pitching and responding to appropriate print, radio, and TV media; suggesting topics for articles and posts; organizing blog and book tours; soliciting trade reviews; entering contests; setting up Goodreads giveaways; reaching out to bookstores for launch events, readings, and more. It’s important to have a knowledgeable professional on your team. Your publicist will be this person, and you’ll collaborate with her; it’s a partnership. Concentrate your efforts and do a little each day. Slow and steady wins the race. This a marathon, not a sprint.
Author Central Page. If you haven’t already done so, set up an Amazon Author Central page. Include author updates and blog posts that you can link to your website.
Overwhelm happens. When it does, slow down. This might seem counterintuitive, but you’re probably caught in the middle of a thought storm. Don’t take this illusion seriously. Let it pass. Overwhelm happens when your thoughts race ahead to all the things you think you have to do but fear you can’t. Thought catapults you into some impossible future. The best way out is to stop, come back to the present, and focus on one small task. Then another.
Pick and choose. As is the case with social media, don’t try to do every book marketing strategy you hear about. Pick what activities you enjoy and stick with those.
You are enough. You do whatever you can. Look to other authors to get ideas, but resist the temptation to compare yourself to anyone else. Be you. Have fun. It makes no sense to launch a book into the world if you’re not enjoying the ride.
I’d love to hear from those of you who have been through this process. What do you have to add? My memoir is coming out next spring, and I still have lots to learn. Please share your wisdom.
My main altar resides in my living room in front of a floor-to-ceiling window with a view of mountains and palm trees. But I create smaller, impromptu altars elsewhere in my house—on my kitchen windowsill, in my garden, even in my bathroom. I never know when or where I'll create an altar. I engage in this activity without conscious thought. The process is intuitive, spontaneous, and often results from clearing space.
Last week I cleaned out the supply closet in my home office. The job was long overdue. I recycled outdated stationary, mismatched envelopes, stray papers; trashed dead pens; bagged old-fashioned pencils to give away (I prefer mechanical ones); weeded out worn three-ring binders, ill-matched dividers, and more. As I dragged boxes and bags out of my office, the space felt lighter and more spacious—and so did I.
In this state, I was inspired to create a mock-up of my forthcoming book, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness (She Writes Press, May 2018). I printed out a color copy of my designed book cover, taped it to a book from my library, covered the spine, added my name to it, and placed it on a stand on top of my file cabinet. A thrill ran through my body as I saw “my” book for the first time!
I then retrieved an important object from my living room altar and brought it into my office: an egg-shaped stone, which has been a symbolic representation my memoir for the past six years. I bought it when I first “conceived” my memoir. The egg represented the idea that would require years of fertilization to grow. And now, even though the book is written, its path to publication and beyond is part of its incubation and hatching.
Next I added a tchotchke my sister gave me decades ago when I was a young writer: an image of a shooting star, along with the words, “Believe in yourself.”
While cleaning out my supply closet I found an old incense burner that reminds me of a miniature version of Aladdin’s magic lamp. I added that to the bourgeoning arrangement on top of my file cabinet, perhaps as an unspoken request for magic to be part of my publishing experience.
Buried deep in the back of my supply closet, on the floor, I’d found a bag of office supplies my husband cleared from his dad’s house after he died six years ago. It was filled with Post-it pads, pens, numerous boxes of paper clips, and a few knickknacks. One of these knickknacks looked like an empty pot of gold, so I filled it with my grandmother’s gold rope necklace and placed it with the other objects. I would later see the symbolism of this choice—my hope that publishing my book will bring riches. Not necessarily monetary wealth—although I’m certainly open to that—but treasure in its various forms: relationships and human connections, opportunities to share and to be of service, personal and professional growth, and any other prosperity and abundance the universe might have in store for me as I usher my memoir into the world.
The next object that called out to me was a painted, wood-carved angel on her knees praying. Into her wire wings I placed a photo of myself taken a few years ago at an empowering raw-food photo shoot. This image had been the placeholder book cover I’d used when I first started writing to help me visualize where I was headed—toward a completed book. I’d created that mock-up six years ago. Now that I had my actual book cover it was time for an update, but I still wanted to add this image to my altar because it was infused with all my raw-food energy and excitement about sharing what I’d learned about health and happiness in my a memoir.
My altar felt like it was almost done. I added a plaque given to me by my former life coach, Tracey Brown. It contained an acrostic with my name written vertically. Beside each letter the following words appeared: Beautiful, Enlightening, Loving, Learning, Artist—to which I added another photo of me that I like, taken a few years ago at Raw Living Expo.
Finally, I included a candle so I could illuminate the altar—turn it “on” when I needed to activate some mighty memoir mojo.
What I love about space clearing is this: as we release stuff we don’t use or need, we open the space around us for new goodies to enter.
The mock-up of Raw became the centerpiece for this beautiful, inspiring new altar in my office. I didn’t even realize I was building it until I was well into the project, and now every time I enter my office, I feel like I’m calling my book into being and also honoring it—as well as my efforts.
An altar gets made from random objects that turn out to be not so random after all. It’s a creative process. You don’t have to know what you’re doing. Like writing, listen and take one step at a time. See how your arrangement feels. Whatever needs to be expressed will come forward. Often we don’t know what we’re thinking or wishing for until we create it.
When was the last time you cleared your writing space? What happened? How did it feel? Have you ever built an altar? What did you place on it and why? What are you calling into being? Please share. I’d love to hear from you!
A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a book publicist who told me that one of the most common challenges she encounters in her job is authors with unrealistic expectations. A client with no media experience, for example, will be hard to book onto a national television show. In today’s celebrity publishing climate unknown debut authors must be prepared to work every step of the way to cultivate a readership. It’s one thing to write a book, another to get it published, and another to promote it. This is true for authors across the board no matter their path to publication, and can be a rude awakening for some.
The expectations of laypeople can be even more distorted than those of aspiring authors. I’m often surprised by people’s comments when I tell them that my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health and Happiness, will be published next spring. Yesterday two people expressed pie-in-the-sky fantasies. After class, when my Nia dance teacher heard I’d written a book she said, “You’re going to be famous!” I shook my head. “It’s nothing like that,” I said. I wasn’t being modest, just realistic. I presume she has no idea how many books are published, and how few of them earn out their costs. “Well, maybe not famous with a capital f,” she demurred, “but still . . . ” I appreciated her enthusiasm, but her vision was pure fancy.
Later that day I emailed my sister my book cover, and while FaceTiming she oohed and aahed, nodded her head, and said, “This is going to be big!” I adored her conviction and felt her love, but I told her that publishing my book isn’t about making it “big.” It’s about listening to my calling. It’s about showing up and doing my best work. It’s about completion. It’s about sharing. It’s about communication, healing, and growth. It’s also about community.
Mainly, though, I wrote my memoir because I needed to write it. For me. Completing it, putting it out into the world, and letting people know about it is enough. I have expectations, yes, but I also have been reminding myself this week that the success of my book isn’t wholly up to me, even if I do everything in my power to promote it well. “Outcomes are not your job,” my life coach, Tracey, used to tell me.
Long ago I fantasized about fame and fortune. But neither seems important anymore. I have everything I need. I’ve surrendered my illusions of grandeur in favor of appreciating what is. St. Francis de Sales once wrote, “Bloom where you are planted.” These words inspire me to be content exactly where I am. To do my best. To accept my satisfactions and disappointments. There is beautify in blooming fully right where we are. I am. After all, beneath the dream I had long ago for fame lurked a greater yearning: to matter. To be loved. It’s a relief to finally realize I don’t have to be rich or famous to have these things. I don’t have to earn them; they are my—and every other person’s—birthright. It’s a relief to finally understand that my accomplishments—or lack thereof—don’t define me. This knowledge frees me to do what I love: to live and create moment-by-moment, and to let life surprise me.
I’m grateful I get to publish my book with a press I love. With people I love. Working with She Writes Press has been delightful and instructive. I’m learning every day and having fun along the way. Who would have imagined that after more than half a century I could still feel like a flower in full bloom!
I’d love to hear about your publishing expectations and how you’ve navigated that terrain. Please share!
Last week my husband and I hosted a literary salon. We do this a few times a year. We fill our home with flowers, food, and beverages and transform our backyard into an outdoor theater. We can seat 60 people. Usually my students read work written in my class. This time, in addition to the regular student reading, a former student, Robin Finn, joined us and read from her novel, Restless in L.A., which was released in February and “conceived” in my class several years ago.
It’s been over four years since Robin called inquiring about my classes. At that time she hadn’t done much creative writing but felt like she had something inside her. “It felt like a logjam,” she told me. She had a powerful urge to write.
This salon reading was followed by a Q&A session with Robin. I asked her what she knows now that she didn’t know when she’d first called me four-plus years ago. She laughed and said, “About what?”
“That’s up to you,” I said, wanting to leave the question wide open.
Her response intrigued me. She said that the most valuable thing she learned in my classes was how to channel her writing. “I was always looking in my mind,” she said. “That was the main place I was accustomed to being. I didn’t know that the story was in my body—my stomach—or somewhere around here,” she said, circling her heart and belly with her hand.
Prior to having that awareness, Robin said she’d worked really hard, but never seemed to get anywhere. But once she was given the opportunity to show up in a safe, nonjudgmental environment, she relaxed her mind, and the writing poured out. “I didn’t do anything. I just let it out,” she said. “I call it my divine download.”
We writers are a cerebral lot. We are thinkers. We ponder. Strategize. Ruminate. And that’s fine. Until it isn’t. Until our thoughts block access to more intuitive ways of knowing. Our stories may be divine but they come through our bodies. The act of writing is physical. Who knows where ideas come from. Perhaps they circle the ether waiting to enter us—if and when we’re open to receive them. We receive first and then we give. And whether we’re giving or receiving, our experience is richer when we’re open. I refer to this opening process as getting out of your own way so that what wants to come through you is free to do so.
People sometimes think they have to know where they’re going in order to start writing. When I hear this I always think of E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world.”
No matter what we want to do in life, the first step is to show up. Showing up isn’t always easy. Especially for writers for whom any number of real world concerns can keep them from plunking their butts into their chairs. But eventually, hopefully, we sit down. We relax our minds, set aside our egos, and enter unknown territory. This is where magic happens. This is where we become vessels, where we allow something larger than ourselves to come through us. Where we listen first and talk later. Where we trust the creative process. Where we delight ourselves with discoveries—long before we share revelations with readers. Where we can release blockages that have the power to transform our lives.
Where do your stories live and how to do you access them? I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re a writer, your goal might be to finish writing a book. Or start one. Or publish a book you’ve written. Or perhaps you’ve done that and your goal is to promote it. Maybe your goal is to sell out your print run or win a contest. Whatever your goal, you may think that reaching it will make you happy. But more often than not, as soon as we reach one goal, we create a new one. There’s nothing wrong with this, per se—many of us get a lot done this way—but when we believe that our contentment or joy is somewhere “out there” attached to a goal we have to strive, fight, or suffer in some way to achieve, we live in a perpetual state of wanting, and, in the words of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, we “can’t get no satisfaction.”
Michael Neill, an internationally renowned success coach and author, asks his clients to state their goal and then add the words, “as part of my wonderful life.” So, for example, if your goal is to sell out your print run, you’d say “My goal is to sell out my print run as part of my wonderful life.” This is different from the belief—which may or may not be conscious--When I sell out my print run my life will be wonderful. It may be. But it may not be, especially if you’ve been deferring your happiness or feelings of self-worth and putting conditions on your joy. I’ll be happy when—fill in the blank. This is putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Contentment and satisfaction take place in the here and now.
Over the past few years, family illnesses and deaths have challenged me like never before. While I might have referred to earlier times of my life as “wonderful,” that’s not the first word that comes to mind now. Words like hard, heartbreaking, and at times gut-wrenching feel more accurate. Still, I’m discovering that even when the shit hits the fan--especially when the shit hits the fan—there’s still love, beauty, inspiration, and plenty to learn. I’ve been practicing slowing down. I agree with Michael Neill, who says that urgency is insecurity, not wisdom. I’ve also been attempting to surrender my illusions of control and practice acceptance of what is. And I’ve been trying to trust and love more and fear less. It’s a practice. Some days are better than others.
But I’m more likely to experience my life as wonderful—even with “shit” flying in my face—if I have the thought in my head that it can be and often is and keep asking myself questions like, Where’s the beauty here? How can I love more? How can I be of service? This is where shifts in perspective occur; a life can go from wanting to wonderful even when there’s no change in outer circumstances. This is fertile ground.
Our lives matter more than our work. It’s not that your writing isn’t important, but we write within the context of our lives. So honor yourself and your life as the exquisite creative process it is and soak up inspiration wherever you can find it. Look for it in places you might not expect to find it, like in the struggles of others, or in your own aching heart. Be with your challenges. Respect them. And go ahead and set goals—as part of your wonderful life!
Can you see the wonder-fullness of your life even when part of you thinks it sucks? What have life’s biggest challenges taught you? Can you move forward in the direction of your goal while perceiving your life as wonderful? If not, what needs to change right now for you to step into your wonderful life? Please share. I’d love to hear from you.
Most Mondays I wake up raring to go. Some days I hit the ground running, but other days, the sheer number of things I want (and tell myself I “have” to do) paralyzes me. My best defense is to dump everything that’s swirling around inside my head onto the page. This morning my to-do list looked like this:
Meditation and prayers
Write in journal
Write blog post
Re-read last section of memoir
Unpack from trip
Respond to emails
Write birthday thank you notes
Talk to Helen (my daughter)
Consult web designer
I don’t know if I’ll get everything on this list done today. Probably not. It helps to remind myself that it doesn’t matter if it takes me two or three days to complete these items. What does matter is that everything on my list I’m doing for love.
Dr. H. Ronald Hulnick, author, teacher, and world-renowned pioneer in the field of Spiritual Psychology, once told my class at The University of Santa Monica: “The only reason to do anything is for love.” That statement gave me pause. Really? I thought. Part of me wanted to disprove it. I wanted to say that was a luxury few people could enjoy. Would this be true for disadvantaged people? And on and on. But then I stopped myself, and asked, What if this is true? What might my life look like if love motivated my actions? What if I replaced fear with love? Unfortunately, as is the case for many of us, fear motivates a lot of my behavior. I began to wonder how life might be if instead of feeling pressured to do things out of obligation, insecurity, doubt, and fear, I flipped the paradigm on its head and chose to do things out of love.
So I experimented. The result was joy. It’s been interesting to realize that the specifics of what I did every day remained pretty much the same, but how I did things changed. When I realized I was doing what I was doing because of love, life felt lighter. For example, instead of complaining about cleaning my house, I focused on how much I loved my family and my home, and how great it was that I was able to clean my home. It also occurred to me that I was lucky to have a home. Instead of bitching and moaning about how much work it is to be an author, I reminded myself that this work is part of why I’m here. I love it, and I get to share it. How cool is that!
I am sometimes invited to do things I don’t want to do. When this happens, I ask myself, “Where’s the love here?” Maybe it’s connected to a person. Or perhaps it has something to do with the love I feel for a college, institution, or cause. I root around and sniff out the love. If I don’t catch its scent, I say no and move on.
I’m not absolutely positive that Dr. Hulnick’s statement is a maxim, but it’s been a sweet guide in my life and it’s helped me recalibrate everything I do so that I’m looking at my actions through the lens of love.
Recently, Robin Finn, a friend and former student of mine, published her first novel, Restless in L.A. Robin told me months ago, when she signed with her publisher, that her intention was to enjoy bringing her book into the world. And though there have been bumps in the road, which is always the case, she has not strayed from her intention to enjoy the ride. Here’s a great example of a teacher learning from her student, because as I gear up to bring my own memoir into the world next May (2018), I’m going to follow in her footsteps and hold the intention to enjoy the journey—potholes and all! And I’m going to remind myself that I’m publishing my memoir for love. Love for myself and love for others. Publishing is an act of generosity of spirit. It takes courage. The root of the word courage is heart. Anything coming from the heart resides in the neighborhood of love. And when you live there, life is good.
What do you do for love? Please share your thoughts. Hearing from others, making meaningful connections, is one of the things I enjoy most about blogging!
One of my life intentions is to relish the joy of self-expression. But lately I’ve been reluctant to say what I think, especially on social media and in my blog posts. This is partly because posting anything other than politics these days has felt trivial, and political conversations can easily erupt into flames. Putting out wildfires makes me anxious, and I don’t want to live in hatred and fear. I know from experience that crashes are inevitable when anger and fear take over the steering wheel of my life. Another reason I haven’t been relishing the joy of self-expression lately is that when the shit hits the fan, like it has these past few weeks in our country, I tend to think that the problems of the world are so much bigger than I am that nothing I have to say could possibly matter. Of course this isn’t true. It’s a lie fear tells me. I know there’s plenty all of us can do. Especially writers.
And yet, we each have to navigate our own path. We must decide for ourselves what types of advocacy are best suited to our temperaments, personalities, and resources. I’ve been asking myself, How can I serve? How can I do something positive? How can I love myself and others—especially people with whom I disagree? This last question is the hardest. I won’t pretend I have it answered. I just keep asking the question. Every day. And sometimes I’m surprised by what happens.
A few days before my daughter returned to college after winter break, we went to a wholesale florist and bought four dozen white roses. At home, I wrapped each one individually in cellophane and ribbon while my daughter attached handwritten notes that said, “Wishing you a wonderful day. Spread the love.” We handed the roses out to people on the street. Some folks were reluctant to receive; they couldn’t believe the roses were free. “Why are you doing this?” they asked. “We just want to spread some love,” we said, “and bring a little beauty into your life.” Giving really is receiving. We went home with empty buckets and full hearts because of connections and conversations we’d forged with strangers.
Another thing I’ve been practicing a lot lately is my light meditation. I sit for my regular mediation, but position myself in front of a window blindfolded. After twenty minutes, I remove the blindfold and keep my eyes closed. The darkness on the insides of my eyelids is replaced by golden light. I imagine this light inside me; that it’s the real me. In other words, I identify not with my pain, but with this light. I then try to “locate” my elusive spirit. I sit and listen, poised to receive guidance. I bask in the light until I feel that I am this light, which exists in every person on the planet, not just the people I like or agree with, but everyone. I envision the light radiating from every living thing, consider how we are connected, and I pray for us all.
To some this might seem like a waste of time. But for me it’s an essential practice. While anger and fear have their place, they can also be knee-jerk reactions. They are like smog in Southern California in that it’s everywhere. You’re so surrounded by it that often you don’t even notice it anymore. In our culture love is the radical choice, and during these crazy times, I intend to remain sane. The best way I know how to do this is to up my self-care practices: to back away from the ledge when I become dizzy and feel like I’m about to careen into a pit; to turn inward; to appreciate the larger picture of our humanity; to notice the blessings and light; to connect with my heart; to reach out to friends; and to have faith that things unfold the way they do for a reason.
How are you and your writing faring during these turbulent times? I’d love to hear how you’re coping, as well as ideas for random acts of kindness. How do you spread love?
Sometimes inner guidance sounds more like a whisper than a growl. It might stalk you from behind a flowering Camellia bush and distract you with red blossoms. It might tap you on the shoulder and then run away. It may wonder how many times or in what ways it needs to tell you the same thing before you’ll take its advice. But if your inner guidance is anything like mine, it will be patient—and it won’t give up until you receive its message. It will attract a variety of experiences designed to help you, though you may interpret them as obstacles instead of opportunities.
Even before reading Brooke Warner’s Green-Light Your Book, part of me—the part I consider my Wise Self—wanted to publish my memoir with She Writes Press. As I read Brooke’s book, my conviction only deepened. The problem was, another part of me, the one I’ve come to know as my Insatiable Ego, threw a temper tantrum and demanded external validation in the form of a traditional publishing deal.
Meanwhile, I devoured Brooke’s book, which I read twice, all the while nodding my head in assent, my gut resonating with empowering messages about creative partnership, sisterhood, and more.
I listed the pros and cons of publishing with She Writes Press in my journal. My enumeration of pros was long—a download from my Wise Self. The cons consisted of two demands and perceived needs: conventional compensation (payment) for my writing in the form of an advance and royalties, and a yearning for legitimacy as an author. “Legitimacy is an inside job,” my Wise Self said. It also reminded me that the financial picture under the traditional model isn’t so clear-cut anymore, especially with traditional publishers cutting secret hybrid deals and authors in both camps having to pay for publicity. “Besides, this isn’t about money for you,” my Wise Self said.
That was June. I completed my memoir a couple months later, but wasn’t ready to sign with SWP or to shop it elsewhere. I was in limbo.
In October, my memoir serendipitously fell into the hands of an agent who read my manuscript twice and seemed eager to discuss my book with me. Our conversation left me frustrated and confused, however. The gist of her feedback was that my book was fantastic but not right for traditional publishing. She had a whole host of reasons why, and over the course of the conversation told me that my book was too good for traditional publishing. What did that even mean? The upshot of this interaction was that I sent my book to two readers. The first said, “I’m sorry to say I am not the right reader for you.” The second, Gayle Brandeis, a writing professor and award-winning author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write and other books said, “I love this book, and as a writer/dancer/seeker who has struggled with the swing between self-doubt and grand dreams—resonated with so much of it.” She told me that I wrote with honesty and heart and offered a couple constructive suggestions for improvement. Gayle’s comment about self-doubt and grand dreams struck a chord. When I followed up and asked her if the central problem in the story was clear, Gayle said, “The problem felt very clear to me: anxiety and your desire to heal it (even before you knew what it was) seemed to be at the heart of everything in the book.”
I was grateful Gayle “got it” and also for her succinct articulation of my memoir’s spine. But I was confused to receive such different responses to my work. Months earlier Brooke had said the book was done. We had discussed beta readers. “Won’t everyone have their own opinion?” I asked. “Couldn’t that be confusing?” Her response was “yes” to both questions.
My next step—publishing—nagged me. I know many authors who take the time to get feedback from multiple beta readers. And most of the SWP authors I’d spoken to had shopped their books to agents and publishers before choosing partnership publishing. Others, like SheWrites.com co-founder, Kamy Wicoff, turned down a traditional publishing offer from one of the Big Five after she ran numbers and believed she’d make out better financially publishing with SWP. But even she’d made the effort to shop—and she was a co-founder in the press with Brooke. Aside from Brooke, a publishing expert, none of the authors I’d spoken to had gone directly to SWP without shopping elsewhere. Was I crazy for wanting this? Did this mean I was giving up on myself or on my writing? Or, could my resistance to signing with SWP be an opportunity to heal old, destructive thought patterns? Maybe. Probably.
In November, I learned that the SWP author retreat was opening its doors to five members of the She Writes.com community. I jumped at the chance to go, and the experience didn’t disappoint. Brilliant women authors, a gorgeous desert setting, a lovely resort, and stellar author education provided a delicious experience filled with camaraderie, learning, and fun. How many publishers do this? None that I’d heard of! It was wonderful, but my prickly ego still wasn’t ready to sign with SWP. It was holding out for an old fantasy of traditional publishing, dangling a carrot beneath my nose. The problem was, I didn’t want to shop my book.
I told myself to be patient. The answers would come. I’d figure it out after the holidays. Maybe then I’d rally around the idea of shopping my manuscript. SWP was an excellent backup plan. I knew if I shopped my book, I’d have to crank out a new proposal. I’d already written a hundred-page proposal prior to writing my memoir. Agents complimented the writing, but tried to pigeonhole me in a way that felt off. At the time, I stopped shopping my proposal and wrote my book instead—with Brooke’s help.
The holidays came and went. I enjoyed a much-needed family vacation in Cancun. I am rested. I’ve had time off, yet I still don’t want to shop my book! I thought this might change with time. It hasn’t. “How long should I shop my book?” This is a question Brooke often gets. Her answer to me was, “How much rejection can you take?” To be honest, I don’t want any right now. I’ve had my fair share. Perhaps I seem like a wuss for not wanting to deal with the rejection shopping entails, but it also takes strength and courage to green-light your book. To say yes to yourself. To ignore the illusion that there’s one right way to publish. Or that one way is the way. Or that our value stems from what we do or achieve rather than being inherent to who we are. We are all worthy. We are all valuable. What I want from publishing is a positive, rich experience. I want to share my work with those who might find it helpful. And move on.
The root of the word author is “authority.” Authors have to be authors of their lives and careers as well as their stories. It is not enough to know what we want. Receiving clear inner guidance, as precious as that is, is one thing, but acting on it is something else. For months everything in my life had been pointing toward SWP, and yet, I hesitated. I lacked the courage, faith, and conviction to trust my inner guidance. I’d been digging up the same pile of bones only to bury them elsewhere in the back yard of my psyche. Well, I’m tired and I’m done with that. It’s time to go with my gut. The stomach has more nerve endings than the spinal cord; it’s known as the second brain. The heart too is an excellent guide. And mine has been murmuring “She Writes Press” for months.
As I write this, I realize my New Year’s resolution is to continue extracting myself from my ego’s gnarly claw and live in the subtle, yet radiant inner guidance provided by my Wise Self. Have you heard the expression “Let go or be dragged”? It’s 2017 and I’m letting go of old, outdated fantasies and moving forward with real-world opportunities. I’m saying “yes” to the dream of bringing my book into the world and ignoring old “shoulds” about how this is supposed to look. I’m going to sign with She Writes Press, and as I write this, I realize this is a victory for me on multiple levels. Many trails have led me to these people and this press, and I am grateful to have found fellow hikers—literary soul mates.
Years ago, as a grad student at USC film school, I never imagined I’d be producing videos to promote my writing, teaching, and coaching practices. But here I am doing just that. Since completing my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, I’ve been designing a new website, which is launching today! On the site, I’m including three new videos: one talking about my coaching practice, one of me reading an excerpt from Raw, and one of me reading an excerpt from my essay in The Magic of Memoir: Inspiration for the Writing Journey, the wonderful new She Writes Press anthology edited by Linda Joy Myers and Brooke Warner.
The decision to make these videos crept up on me. I didn’t know when I started working on the site a few months ago that I’d include them. But I wanted to break up the text and also bring more “life” to the site. Also, years ago, a social media expert advised me to integrate video into my platform, telling me, “You come off well on camera.” At the time I was flattered, but not ready. Now I finally am!
While it’s true that some people are more comfortable in front of the camera than others, there are things anyone can—and should—do to enhance the quality of their video (live-action) projects. Here are a few things to consider, whether you feel totally at ease in front of the camera or you’re one of those people who dislike, or even dread, it.
Organize your thoughts. Consider what you’re promoting and to whom. Take time to get quiet and turn within. Write in your journal. Explore what you’d like to say. What are the main points you’d like to communicate? You may have to wander a bit before you nail down these essential bits. Give yourself time. Even if you’re great speaking off-the-cuff, writing about what you want to say will make speaking easier. You may also want to write a list of questions for someone to ask you during the shoot (see more about this in the “speaking” section below).
Put your best face forward. Many authors I meet are promoting beautiful, well-written books and also writing businesses. It behooves them to show up on video looking well put together, or at least how they’d show up at a professional conference. This includes an awareness of the importance of hair and make-up. Even if most of the time you don’t wear make-up, I suggest you put some on so that your face doesn’t appear washed out. Do a trial. Put make-up on and shoot a few frames. See what looks and feels natural. The idea is to use make-up to enhance your features. When someone looks at your face, they should notice your face, not your make-up. Your hair should be clean and styled as if you were going to a professional engagement. The ponytail you wear around the house isn’t a great idea for a video in which you’re selling professional services. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen it done. Take time with your appearance, and ask for help if you need it.
Consider your “costume.” Dress for the occasion. Again, be professional. If you’re hoping to book speaking engagements, dress like you would if you were delivering a keynote. Solid colors work best on camera; patterns can be distracting. —Same with logos and printed text. If you don’t want your audience to read what’s written on your T-shirt while you’re speaking, don’t wear it.
Your environment matters too. Recently, I watched a video of an author publicizing her services to help authors promote their work. The video was shot in what appeared to be a messy apartment. As she spoke, she shuffled from one room to another. I wasn’t sure what she was doing or saying, because I was totally distracted by the busy background. I didn’t want to see her kids’ artwork on the fridge, her lived-in family room, her psychedelic lamp near the front door, or piles of unsorted mail. The video was haphazard at best, and felt like a waste of my time. Even if this author had fabulous book promotion ideas, her presentation was so unprofessional and off-putting that I stopped watching.
Set the scene. Have you heard the expression “dress the set”? This means everything in the shot is carefully chosen. It has a reason for being in the frame. Most “authorpreneurs” will want to produce films in the three-minutes-or-less category. For this purpose, if you’re making a live-action film (as opposed to animation) it’s fine to sit or stand in one place and talk. But make sure that everything in the shot belongs there. I like shooting outdoors because nature brings life to the shot. But indoors, in your library, office, or den, can work well, too. Either way, don your set designer’s hat and consider how colors, patterns, textures, and content communicate. The overall image needs to be balanced and uncluttered. Think of the shot itself as a blank canvas against which your message will be conveyed, through you. Keep it spacious.
Speaking. If you need notes, set up a white board next to the camera and jot down your main points. Refer to them as needed, but try to talk to the viewer as if you’re talking to a friend or interviewer. It helps to have someone sitting next to the camera. Here’s where that list of questions I suggested you write in the “organize your thoughts” section above comes in handy. It can be helpful if a friend or family member asks you questions. This works well for me. It enables me to forget about the camera and focus on the conversation.
Some people might be able to convey their message in a single take, but if you want to shoot a lot of footage and use selected bits, you’ll need to edit. If you don’t know how to do video editing and don’t want to learn, find someone who knows the craft. Work with your editor to select the best content. See if you can tell a story in the few minutes you have. Shooting the same footage from two different angles makes cutting easier (because when you cut two pieces together you need to change either the angle or image size). This is something I didn’t do when shooting my recent videos, and the result is editing that’s not as smooth as I’d like. But I’m using them anyway, and releasing my need for perfection.
Most importantly, have fun—and be grateful for this brilliant technology, which has gotten so much easier to use since I was a student.
Please share video tips and links here. Let’s all keep learning!
A few months ago, soon after I’d finished writing my memoir, Raw: A Midlife Quest for Health & Happiness, I had the opportunity to share five minutes of my work at a reading. While combing through my manuscript for excerpts, I found myself thinking, Hmm, maybe this writing isn’t as strong as I thought. The writing felt flabby and slow. I found myself tinkering with passages so they’d read better in a shorter timeframe, and wondered if that was okay. In past readings, I’ve mostly read my poems, complete works, each one featuring a beginning, middle, and end.
But my memoir is different. It took time to develop stories in that longer format—time I wouldn’t have in a five-minute reading. I wanted to give my audience the best bang for their buck, to make my reading worth their while. I wanted them with me from the first word to the last. I have been to too many readings where restless audience members pick cuticles, scrimmage inside purses, check iPhones, or stare out windows, all overt cues that they’re desperate for the reader to just finish already. This sucks for writers, but it also means it’s our responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Every time you stand up and read your work, you’re pitching it. If you don’t grab your audience, and keep them with you, they will not buy your book. I’ve given several readings from my memoir since that first one and here’s what I’ve learned: presenting an edited excerpt of your novel or memoir is a gift for your audience as well as your book! In order to most effectively share part of a long-form story in a short-form (time) venue, you will need to compress, collapse, or cut. You may also need to compose transitions, connections, or endings to create a satisfying, standalone experience.
The key is to view a time “constraint” as a container. Make it work for you in the same way specific poetry forms, such as the villanelle, shape a poem. If you honor the requirements of your reading venue and deliver a complete experience, if you craft your work with a particular reading in mind, you have a much better shot of connecting with and entertaining your audience. If you leave them laughing, crying, or nodding their head, they are with you.
I have a three-ring binder with ten edited excerpts from my memoir, along with a list of others I want to develop. At the top of each page I’ve jotted down how long the excerpt takes to read. Please note: read slower than you think you should. Take your time. Plant your feet on the floor. Let your voice rise from your belly.
Edited excerpts will serve you well even if you’re giving a featured reading and have thirty or forty minutes. Remember to consider your audience when choosing passages. Your excerpt filled with sex and “colorful” language, however well edited, might not go over so well at a conservative ladies’ luncheon. This may sound obvious, but I’ve seen authors fall into this trap. You may want to share several edited excerpts that feature different flavors of your story, rather than one or two longer selections. Sadly, attention spans are shorter than they’ve ever been, and while a passage might be perfectly paced in your book, it might not hold a listener’s attention. Consider crafting ten or twenty excerpts of different lengths before it’s time to promote your book. You will be surprised what you can do with five minutes, or less. Being ready to go with as many great, edited clips as possible will make the reading part of your job successful and fun!
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Have you grappled with the problem of reading a passage intended to unfold more slowly in your novel or memoir? Were you resistant, as I was in the beginning, to edit your excerpts? Did you do it anyway? If so, what was the result?