Sunday, November 29, 2009

How to Peacefully and Gently Promote Your Brains Out in December

I'm somewhat of an organizational savant, and I rely heavily on lists to keep me from spinning off into the next galaxy. Here is an actual* excerpt from my rather longish Holiday To-Do List from last December:

84. Have cat's teeth cleaned
85. See about buying matching urns for the cremated remains of me and spouse
86. Vacuum coils behind fridge
87. Promote my book
88. Iron tinsel and sort in bunches of 25

Unfortunately, I only made it to item #53 last year, which involved making yet another batch of Macadamia Nut Fudge. The last pan put me under the table. When I woke up from my sugar coma, it was a whole new year!

This year, I'm promoting promotion. It's moving up my list-- way up. Top ten, friends. I'm giving it a prime time slot in my month. And it does not involve me packing up books, projector, presentation, postcards, lucky skirt, miscellaneous schwag, and driving or flying anywhere. I am simply going to put into practice what we do best here, which means adjusting the spotlight.

December is laden with low-hanging fruit. Promotion during the holidays can be like shooting fish in a barrel. (Wow. I really hate that expression-- how about petting fish in a barrel? Kissing?) Hoards of over-caffed shoppers armed with plastic are madly chasing a meaningful and personal gift for everyone on their list.

An autographed book can be the answer to their prayers-- either your book, or one from any of the hundreds of authors you may know at this point in your career. But how do we connect the shoppers with the authors? Read on:

1) If you don't already have some, buy/order bookplates (the stick-on thingys that go inside a book that you sign vs. a set of dishes). Now.

2) Next, pick one, two or three authors or illustrators whose work you admire and would like to promote.

3) Contact the author/illustrator via email/Facebook/Twitter, and ask if they would provide signed bookplates for you to give to your contacts.

4) In whatever way that you connect with the world (blog, website, newsletter), spotlight this author's work early in the month. Let your readers know that if that if they buy a book by this author, you can get them an personalized bookplate. Word of caution: If you are wildly famous with squillions of followers, and suspect that this could result in a new full-time job for you, I'll trust that you will set some guidelines to manage this. Perhaps limit your offer to the first ten people that ask.

5) In whatever way feels comfortable for you, let your readers/followers know that you are willing to sign your own books or bookplates as well.

In addition to cool karmic networking and potential sales of your own book, this promotional idea can be used to keep you balanced and awash in good cheer this month. Set this idea loose on your own gift list. Was there a book you read this year that you loved? What if you bought it for nearly everyone on your list? Even if you don't know the author, contact them. Tell them that you're going to buy 5/10/15/20 copies of their book and ask if they'd sign bookplates. You can offer to send them plates and a SASE to make it easy-squeezy for them.

If you are balking at the idea of contacting an author you don't know, consider if is was you being contacted. Would you really mind? Hell, NO! I'd be really happy to do it for someone. And if they do mind, or don't get back to you quickly, move on to the next author on your Wish List.

A book is a completely perfect gift. An autographed book is a treasure. Books are easy to wrap. Easy to mail. Muscle for the mind. Light for the soul. No trans-fats or bitter aftertaste. No expiration date. And, best of all, it can be recycled over and over and over again.

I'm buying as many copies of Lynne Cox's Grayson that I can. It is such a gorgeous work-- an extraordinary parable. I'll be contacting her this week to ask her if she'll send bookplates. I'm betting she will! To go with my book gift, I'm adding a box of Trader Joe's Candy Cane Green Tea (I bought nearly every box in the Continental US-- sorry!) and lush pair of slipper socks. Dark chocolate likely. It isn't even December yet, and my shopping is nearly nailed. I may have time to work on my novel-in-progress!

Count me as an author happy to send personalized bookplates to any of you that ask. I'd be honored. How about the rest of you? If you would like to make yourself available in this way, please email me here and let me know. I'll start the list right here in this posting. And include the way that people can contact you. Thanks!

Authors/Illustrators That Will Send Signed/Personalized Bookplates in December

Do you have a great bookplate? Want to share it with us? Send a photo or link to where you ordered it would be grand. I might even be inspired to part with one of my boxes of TJ Candy Cane Green Tea to the first person that does just that. And I'll add a surprise to go with it. :-)

Robin just popped in as I was writing this to point us all to YA author Sara Zarra's blog. She is proposing an Advent Off of social media for anyone that wants to hop aboard. Starting now through Epiphany. Fab idea.



**'actual' being a relative term for a writer of fiction

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Importance of White Space

This summer at SCBWI National conference, I was one of the nearly 3,000 attendees who was blown away by Sherman Alexie’s opening speech. It wasn’t only the power of his message, or the skill with which he chose his words, nor even his brilliant timing.

No, what struck me like a two by four to the forehead was his masterful use of white space. This man had no fear of letting the room fall silent. In fact, he not only let the room grow silent, but he let that silence build and build until it was nearly bursting with expectation. Then he would step into that void and boom! Connect.

Or conversely, he would say something slyly humorous, then patiently wait for us to catch up to him. You could hear the faint click of our synapses as they sparked, lagging a few seconds behind the speaker, then our laughter would catch up with his words. Or else he would say something funny, then wait for us all to realize the galling pain behind the humor. Clearly, this was a master at work.

And one thing I adore about masters is how we can learn from them.

For me, when I speak, I scramble to fill up every second with something witty, pithy, or meaningful. I experience moments of silence as extreme pressure, a reminder that the onus is on me to produce—and to carry everyone along with me. My presentation’s silent moments are fraught with panic. Sometimes I’m even afraid to be silent long enough to take an actual breath.

But Alexie’s presentation showed me the error of my ways. White space could be wielded as effectively as the most brilliant prose, and to equally devastating effect.

What you leave out is as important as what you leave in.

And really, this applies to all aspects of our writing careers; from our prose, to our presentations, to our blogs.

White space is not merely blank. Its existence creates the balance or emphasis. Without the judicious application of white space, we are in danger of creating something that is far too akin to static.

White space gives depth, adds layers, it creates room to breathe.

I knew all this from a design standpoint, but I had never, ever seen it put to such effective use in a speaking format before.

But white space is not for the faint-hearted. Your speech must be extraordinarily well written. Just a long pause between sentences won’t do; the silence must say something. In a presentation, white space creates drama, it can foreshadow what’s coming next, or leave something to the imagination for the participants to fill in. You want to be sure the meaning in your words will support the weight of all that white space.

But I also wonder if it might not be a chicken/egg thing. Does the importance of your words allow you to use white space? Or does the white space give meaning to your words? Both, probably.

I think that as introverts, we are especially drawn to white space. It connects directly to our souls, feeds our aesthetic need for silence and room to think and breathe. And since it speaks so directly to who we are, it makes sense for us to consider using it as part of our communication style...

Here’s wishing you lots of white space in the next few days as you navigate the joy and noise of the Thanksgiving holiday!


We also want to sneak in a quick announcement of our contest winner from last week.
Laura Salas is our winner for her inspired quote entry. She wins a copy of Rebecca Stead's WHEN YOU REACH ME. Laura, email Mary and she will get that prize out to you!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Group Recharge

Photo by Charlyn W
In last week's post, Robin gave us all permission to step back from social media as needed, and learn to listen to the needs of our inner selves. I'd like to expand on that permission and offer us all a week off from promotion in general, so that we can fill up our stores. I'd love to have you join me!

When I'm recharging, I need a break from people, from noise, and from schedules-- but I never need a break from words. I crave them, all kinds of them. I have some of my favorite words stenciled in a few places in my house. If I lived alone and was not trying to be a considerate spouse, I would probably have many more. I would happily turn my walls in giant canvases for words-- words that inspire me, ones that never fail to stop me in my tracks, and words that make me smile. (For some fun ideas, check out Wall Words. Said spouse's eyes roll back in her head when she sees me looking at their catalogs. Prefers her words confined to books for some reason.)

I've been wanting to put together a collection of inspired thoughts about introversion for the longest time. I have not been able to find as many as I'd like, and a majority of them sound as if they were written very long ago, with an awful lot of doth-ing and goeth-ing. And by mostly about men, it seems. Surely, there have been some contemporary musings on introversion as well! So, for those of you who would rather not think about promotion this week, I'd love to invite you on a word-treasure hunt. I am looking for words to honor and inspire the contemplative in us each. Since you are mostly all writers, please feel free to send original quotations . My all-time favorite is the one from Ursula LeGuin, which we have had in our sidebar since day one at SVP.

Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule. This is rather odd when you realise that about nineteen writers out of twenty are introverts. We are being taught to be ashamed of not being 'outgoing'. But a writer's job is ingoing. --Ursula K. LeGuin

Here are a couple more that I love:

Conversation enriches the understanding; but solitude is the school of genius.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. -- Henry David Thoreau

Don't you think this second one would be nice on a living room wall? :-)
If you submit a quotation, we will enter you in a drawing for Rebecca Stead's phenomenal book When You Reach Me (Wendy Lamb Books), which I read while I was recharging this weekend. Read in one long, admiring bite.

Another great way to recharge is to reflect on all that you have accomplished vs. worrying about all that you need to get done. It is essential that we each master the skill of being present in real time. We all spend entirely too much energy traipsing through our past, or speed-skating a trajectory to the future. In doing that, we miss the vibrancy of N-O-W.

So let's pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly and have one of our Milestone Mondays. We'd love to have you share some of the good work that you've been doing, fun news, encouraging rejections, progress on your NaNoWriMo WIP, whatever you feel like telling us about. Since we are in our recharge mode, rather making a noisy ruckus with clapping, we're going to start a giant stadium wave for you! Since Robin and I are on the West Coast, we'll lead off-- ready, Robin? Here we go000OOOOOO!

Hope you all find a deeply satisfying way to fill your bucket this week. All the way to the brim!

Mary Hershey

Monday, November 9, 2009

Preaching to the Choir

While I was out of town and during my re-entry phase, my online time was greatly curtailed. I only blogged once or twice, tweeted rarely and updated by Facebook status even less. In effect, I took two giant steps off the grid. Oddly, I find that I’m not missing it that much. In fact, I’ve had a helluva time getting motivated to dip back in to Twitter. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, I did. But without it, there is a great, lovely silence in my life right now, an absolute absence of noise and distractions, as if someone turned off that television that was constantly playing in the background.

Then of course, guilt set in. OMG, I’m not doing Every. Possible. Thing. to sell my books every single day. Panic! Horror! Guilt! Trust me, it’s raining self-recriminations here in Southern California.

Which in turn precipitates a whole new set of recriminations:

1. What if all the online selling and promoting basically takes place in an echo chamber? On all the sites I visit and all the twitter accts I follow and all the blogs I read, I see the same names over and over again. What if we’re all preaching to the choir? What if the only people listening are those who are also interested in selling their books. I mean, sure, a lot of conversation takes place, and they can be interesting conversations, but by the same token, it sometimes feels like the sorts of conversations one has at a single’s bar; they aren’t obscuring the reason we’re all there.

2. I know there are a few people who have achieved astronomical book sales through their blogging or brilliant platform building, but just how many of them write in my field—specifically middle grade novels? Not very many. In fact, maybe even zero. I know there have been some YA novelists who’s online presence has really helped them build a readership, but most of their readership is online, very few middle grade readers are, and if they are online, they’re not on twitter or Facebook.

3. Which leads me to wonder just how many books I’ve sold through my online presence. Ten? Fifty? One hundred? What if the emperor really has no clothes? Or is only wearing a pair of fancy underwear? What if those who’ve sold tons of books through their online presence are the true outliers and there is little hope of replicating their success? What if I’m channeling all this well-intentioned energy right down a drain?

In fact, this conundrum reminded me of a great book I read a few years back called The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. She talked about the sheer amount of energy women spent chasing an abstract ideal of beauty that was constantly shifting—and rarely shifting toward the women’s favor—and just how much energy woman lost in that pursuit.

So this week as I contemplated re-starting all my online engines, a similar concern was running through my head. What if all this energy is in pursuit of an unattainable goal? What if I spend so much time chasing the wrong goal?

Which all goes back to needing to find a way to balance our time and energy. I look at some of these people who tweet all the time and while I love their tweets I do wonder, when on earth do they write? It occurs to me that maybe it’s like those friends who used to like doing their homework with the tv on, versus those who do not.

And the reason I’m doing all this soul searching is, quite frankly, I’m tired. I’ve just come home from a long, hugely productive and overwhelmingly positive series of school visits, I have a book due in (gulp) four months, and a finite amount of energy to spare. I also know that I sold more books in those two weeks than I have sold in all my years online, so it just put me in a pensive mood about where we spend our energy.

For now, I think I have to be content to let my cyber-socializing swing in cycles. People who love and thrive on all the social networking as marketing tend to talk about the value of the conversation, and yes, there are extremely valuable conversations to be had online, fascinating discussions to participate in, and lessons to be learned. There are days when I love the heck out of all those cyber conversations going on out there. Usually when I am elbow deep in copy edits or galley proofing. But other times all those conversations are simply a huge distraction. Like when I have a book due in (gulp) four months. My blogging feeds my writing in that I blog about the writing process and wrestle with writing issues and demons there, so it is a good adjunct to writing. The other avenues are less so.

So I guess I'm struggling to give myself permission to back off my social networking for a while so I can write the next book. And on some level, it annoys me that I think I need permission. But that's what happens when you're raised Catholic--you need permission for everything. (Also forgiveness, but for now I'm talking about permission.)

However, since I have finally gotten to a place where I am feeling fast and loose with the permission giving, I thought I'd share some with you:

You officially have the Shrinking Violets Permission to lay down your social networking burdens and write. Or read. Or enjoy the ensuing silence. Starting now!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Helping Those Who Talk Less Get Heard More

Self-Promotion for Introverts: The Quiet Guide to Getting Ahead
McGraw Hill
October 16, 2009

If anyone has wondered whatever happened to our jet-setting introvert coach to the rich & famous, Ms. Viola-- well, wonder no more. I have found her! Apparently at some point, Ms. Viola was taken into the Witness Protection Program. Though they didn't change her glasses or hair, they did some excellent reconstructive cosmetic surgery. She is now quite fetching and goes by the name Nancy Ancowitz. Her new book has just launched to strong reviews. I looked at her Amazon sales rank, and it is #654, which coincidentally is the exact sales ranking as my latest book Ten Lucky Things (if you divide by 381). How. Amazing. Is. That! I'm going to have to call her. Oh, wait, I hate the phone. Never mind.

"Currently winning our race for most intriguing book title of 2009 is the oxymoronic "Self-Promotion for Introverts" by Nancy Ancowitz (McGraw Hill). The "how to" book is filled with tips (rehearse is a favorite). The author's tone is supportive and she does not argue that introverts should become live wires. But what else would you expect from a book whose subtitle is "the quiet guide to getting ahead"? --The New York Times, October 28, 2009

Here is a link to a video with the author, which is a yet another example of an introvert using the buddy system to deflect the spotlight. It's five minutes long, but worth watching for the important message about negative self-talk, for which many of us have been awarded a Ph.D.

Ms. Ancowitz clearly has mastered what an introvert needs to know about self-promotion. She has spoken at New York University, Columbia University, the Smithsonian Institution, and a wide range of corporate and professional organizations. She writes a blog on the topic for Psychology Today. Her media coverage also includes, the executive career site of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Newsday,,, WABC-TV Eyewitness News, and Self, Woman’s Day, Marie Claire, and Gotham magazines.

Like Ms. Viola, Nancy's client list is full of movers and shakers and power brokers. But unlike Ms. Viola, who had a eensy (read mammoth) propensity for name-dropping, in Nancy's case, I think she strives to make the point that introverts are everywhere, and often in the top echelon of the business world.

Back in her digs after coaching/speaking/consulting, she recharges and feeds her muse as a playwright. Her Cemetery of Lips (I cannot believe she snagged this title before I did!) was selected into the CUNY Human Rights Theatre Project, the New York International Fringe Festival, and the Six Figures Theatre Company Artists of Tomorrow Festival. A staged reading of her Hablo, Diablo (translation: I Speak, Devil) played to sellout audiences at Makor (the West Side Center of the 92nd Street Y) and was featured in New York magazine.

I think a lot of us battle with Bragoraphobia-- fear of bragging. The book addresses this neatly, and has a quick quiz to assess where you stand. Believe it or not, there is something between self-aggrandizement and hiding your light under a bushel. Least that's how Nancy "c's it."

"Let’s dispel some myths about self-promotion. First, you can be a nice person and promote yourself. Next, you can promote your-self without bragging, or at the other extreme, begging. You can also do so without stretching the truth, talking someone’s ear off, or pushing. You don’t have to be self-centered. You also don’t have to be an extrovert to do it well; instead, you can let your quiet strengths shine through and do it your way. This book is about helping you fi nd your way.

Let’s look at the differences between effective self-promotion and bragging. Simply, self-promotion at its best is articulating the overlap between what you have to offer and what your target audiences need. It enables you to solve more problems for more people by letting them know about you. Bragging is talking at people, and it’s all about you. It’s not connected to your conversation partners—instead, it’s as if they’re not there. You’re just talkingabout how outstanding you are, the phenomenal achievements you’ve made, and the fancy people you know. Note the glazed eyes around you. After all, isn’t it tiresome when someone tries to impress you? Time to refresh your drink?" (Excerpt from Self-Promotion for Introverts)

So you're probably thinking at this point that I'm going to raffle her book off, don't you? Uh, you'd be wrong. :-) Not going to do it-- least not yet! What I am going to do is offer one of you the chance to join our stellar team of SVP Field Reporters, which includes such luminaries as Jennifer Hubbard, Sherrie Petersen, Boni Ashburn, Emily Wing Smith, Elizabeth Loupas, Irene Latham, Mar'ce Merrell, and Yat Yee Chong. We're looking for a volunteer reporter to contact Ms. Ancowitz and interview her for Shrinking Violets. It can be a phone or email interview, or if you're feeling flush, fly to New York and interview her in person. Whatever works! This is such great practice for getting yourself out there in the world. And we are a supportive and gentle audience. Who's game?

Lastly, I want to take this moment to officially WELCOME Robin back home from her two-thousand-week long school visit to Katy, Texas. Well, it felt like two-thousand. Lordy, ma'am. Way too long to leave us. You were missed! Sleep it off, girlfriend.

Hope you each have a fabulous week. Do something that moves you closer to your publishing dreams, will you?