Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to My Deadline…

My last pair of deadlines nearly did me in. Truly, there were times when I wasn’t sure I was going to make them. Since I have yet to miss a deadline, that would have traumatized me utterly. So in a desperate bit to free up enough time and limit the distractions in my life, I radically unplugged.

Now I have unplugged for a day or two in the past, taken a cyber vacation, but this was different. I did a very daring thing: I un-bookmarked all my normal writing blogs and industry haunts. Just deleted them from my bookmark list and toolbar.

And you know what? It was hugely freeing. I felt this great big whoosh of energy come into my life. I discovered I loved all that quiet. I didn’t miss my daily distractions one single bit. Because in retrospect, that’s what they were. Distractions. And that revelation had me reevaluating the way I use my time on the internet.

The truth of it is, at one point in time, I loved talking about books and the industry and literature. Well the truth is, I still love talking about books and literature. However, as a published author, I feel that a lot of my conversation is restricted. This is a small industry after all, and authors always find out when someone publicly says something less than enthusiastic about their work. That makes it very hard to enter some of these conversations.

I also used to love keeping up on the industry and what different agents and editors were looking for. But once writing became my full time job, something shifted. It was no longer energizing or uplifting or stimulating, or even due diligence. It became a weight on my creativity. And now that I do this for a living, that creativity has an honored position in my house; front and center.

I am also not one to step into a hot topic and therefore tend to avoid the kerfuffles and occasionally vigorous conversations that swirl around the cybersphere. Recently a writer received some criticism for not making a public statement regarding a controversy pertaining to her book. Some people felt it was her job to argue for her book; she should have expected the need to engage in back and forth regarding her work. Honestly? The mere thought of that horrified me. I would rather have my wisdom teeth pulled than engage in a public dialog about my work. There is no way you can win that one. If you are lucky enough to have the objectivity needed, no one will believe that you do. But few people are that objective to begin with.

So I discovered that a number of my previous cyber haunts were mostly habit, they weren’t feeding my current needs, the needs of my career, or my publishing goals.

Yes, there is value to keeping abreast of market and industry considerations. To a point. But oftentimes people get waaaay too focused on that, long before they need to. Often before they’ve even finished a first draft of their manuscript. I am also very happy with my current agent and editor, so I don’t feel compelled to know what Publishers X, Y, & Z are looking for. There went another dozen sites and blogs.

I paid close attention to what sorts of interactions I was missing and have now decided to take some very smart advice from top marketing guru Seth Godin to heart. He talks repeatedly about excelling at one thing rather than diffusing your energies ineffectively over many. If you blog well or are a great tweeter, consider using the other platforms to support that primary focus, rather than spreading yourself too thin over all of them. I enjoy blogs, even though many claim they are passé. I like the longer length of the blog format, for both reading and writing so that is where I am spending my energy.

I know there are many introverts who use it successfully, but Twitter still strikes me as a very extroverted media. You have to enter into hundreds of conversations at once, and as Deva Fegan said in a recent blog post, sift through mountains of data to find the few applicable nuggets. Twitter advocates will tell you that being a part of that conversation is where the true benefit of Twitter lies, but to me it is the cyber equivalent of a ginormous cocktail party with all of its required small talk, so I've decided to take my publicist's advice and use it to augment my blogging rather than feel it is something I need to fully embrace.

Now clearly these were my criteria and what worked for me, but I thought I'd share some of the questions I asked myself when considering which blogs and sites to eliminate. Maybe you’ll find them helpful at some point when you want to re-evaluate your cyber habits and see if they are in line with your own publishing goals.

Which blogs/sites/platforms feed my process? Which don’t?

Do I really need this type of information at this point in my career?

Is this information stuff I can actually do something with? If not, does it add too much anxiety or background noise?

How does it make me a better writer?

Does it make me more effective in reaching my intended audience?

Does it pertain to my specific marketing path and personal career goals?

Mitali Perkins is someone who has become quite an industry presence, but she also tweeted over 50,000 words last year. Another blogger I know spends 30 hours a week on her blog. Look at your own personal career goals and ask yourself if this is really where you want to spend your energy. It is very possible that it IS where you want to spend your energy, and if so, fine. But just make sure it is your choice and your decision, not a default setting. It all boils down to our limited amounts of energy, and this is especially true for introverts.

I'd be curious to know what blogs/sites/haunts other introverts have on their must read list. Most especially the ones you do simply because you love them or they feed some part of your process or soul. For example, one of mine is Nathan Bransford's blog, even though I am not in the market for an agent nor do I think he represents what I write--but I love his blog voice and his general outlook on life and all things publishing. I read Deanna Raybourn's blog because I love her books and her daily blog voice simply entertains me. What about you?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Solutions In Action: The Zen of Blogging

We are very excited about our guest blogger today. Talk about Solutions in Action! Lee Wind has created two cyber-niches for himself, both of which are great examples of karmic marketing and helping others. We're excited to have him stop by today and talk about his newest venture, a blog on. . .blogging-- The Zen of Blogging, to be exact.

Seriously, with more and more authors being told to blog, and more and more blogs popping up like toadstools after a rain, some blogging advice is sorely needed. A touch of Zen? Even better. Whether you are struggling with trying to decide whether or not to start your own blog, or not sure what to do with the one you've got, we think you'll find some helpful information here!

Can you give us a sneak preview of some of the things you’ll be talking about on your new Zen of Blogging blog?

How to do specific things with your blog, tips, exercises, inspirations, great things other people are doing with blogging and social media that I want to share - it will be a mix of fabulous stuff. And all of it will have the goal of empowering every blogger out there to realize that they don't have to stress out about their blog. You can blog. And it can be fun. Manageable. And yes, even "Zen."

You have another hugely successful blog, "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" that was voted Best GLBT Book Review Blog, BBAW 2009. How long did it take you to develop that blog into its present award winning state? What surprises or pitfalls did you run into?

When I started "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" I had very little traffic. I think that first week I had 5 posts and maybe 20 visitors. But I worked at it steadily, and it built momentum and a following. I guess the "secret" was that I treated it like a professional. I showed up every day, was consistent, and offered unique content in an area where no one else was offering what I was. There was no other safe space online to find out what teen books are out there with GLBTQ Teen characters and themes. Now there is - my blog - and beyond that, I've been able to do so much more covering not just GLBTQ teen literature, but also culture and politics - and it's all been around the theme of empowering my readers, gay and straight.

So what made you decide to launch another blog, one on blogging?

I didn't set out to do a second blog. In fact, I resisted it for quite a while. Here's what happened: After more than 2 years of blogging 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year at my main blog (and having some nice success with it in terms of awards and traffic, with over a quarter of a million page loads and more than 160,000 unique visitors there) I felt that I had learned a lot about blogging. There's so much information and noise out there about social media that I think it's easy to get lost and overwhelmed. So last year I set out to write a simple guide to blogging - one that didn't focus on the technical stuff or on the noise, but rather on the 7 basic principles that can make any blog more focused and successful. I called the resulting e-book "The Zen Of Blogging."

I was so excited to put it out there and actually be selling something I wrote. And I think it's streamlined and simple and really useful. I got some wonderful early reviews, and built the website myself. I launched it on my birthday of this year, January 11, 2010.

My husband (who is one smart cookie) kept asking me, "but Lee, how are you going to promote it?" and I assured him that I had a plan.

This was my plan: I had all these listserves I was on. And all those friends on facebook. And my email lists. And twitter followers. I would tell the world! And I did. I did all of it. In one day. And there was some traffic. And then, the next day, I realized that I couldn't blog about it again on my main blog. I couldn't bother people with a second email. I couldn't talk about my book any more on Facebook, or twitter, or anywhere else without looking completely self- absorbed and trying to hard-sell everyone I knew. How many tweets from another author about THEIR book would I want to endure?

With social media, you want to be part of a conversation, not dominate it. Just like in real life - I don't want to hang out with someone who I feel is only trying to sell me something. I didn't want to turn people away.

And that's when I realized: I didn't have a plan at all! And my e- book sat there. All nice and pretty and ready for the party, and practically no one knew it was there. Without generating new content on an ongoing basis like a blog, the fancy website that I'd worked so hard to create just sat there. A good day was 2 visitors. (Compared with a good day at my main blog, where I top 600 visitors!)

So I came up with the idea of doing a 1 minute video blog series of tips for bloggers. And I arranged with some social media experts who have their own blogs on blogging and marketing books and social media to premiere the videos there. And I launched the first one over at "Market My Words," Shelli Johannes' awesome blog on book marketing. But once the day of the video premiere passed, traffic on my website
tanked again. And Shelli is really prolific - the video post was quickly eclipsed by newer material. So what would be the permanent on- line home for that video and all the ones to follow?

What I realized was that doing a new blog on blogging would accomplish so many things for me:

1. It would give me an on-line home to talk about blogging, and to share how-to-tips, information, and inspiration (and my video blogs!) While I learned much of this from my main blog, visitors to that site aren't there to discuss blogging, they're there for the content: GLBTQ Teen Literature, Culture and Politics. The Zen Of Blogging Blog lets me focus on blogging for an audience there for just that.

2. I've spent a lot of time and energy with my main blog gaining credibility and expertise in the world of GLBTQ Teen Literature. In addition to being a project aimed at empowering Teens, it has positioned me as someone with a platform. When one of my books gets published with a traditional publisher, I have an audience already interested in what I have to say.

A blog on blogging would similarly engage people interested in blogging and help build an audience for the e-book I already have for sale. Not to hard-sell anyone, but if someone likes what I've blogged, maybe they'll be interested in checking out what I've written in the e-book as well.

3. A blog on blogging, as it builds my credibility and expertise, would be synergistic with my ongoing blogging workshops and consulting work.

Those three reasons were compelling - and once I articulated them, it was an easy decision to start blogging.

What would you tell people who are wavering on whether or not to blog?

Go for it. Blogging doesn't have to be intimidating. I decided for my new blog that I didn't really have a ton of time to devote to it, and I didn't want it to stress me out. I mean, I already have a blog where I've committed to producing 5 posts a week! So for this new blog, I'm going to do one post a week. If I have time, I'll do the next week's post in advance, and pre-publish it (a great trick-of-the- trade to know!) 4 blog posts a month is something I know I can handle, and it won't make me crazy.

What do you find people’s three greatest fears are about blogging? How would you counter those fears?

I think these are the biggest fears:

1. If I start a blog, no one will read it.

2. I don't know enough to do a blog perfectly.

3. What will I write about?

I guess the best answer to those questions is a personalized one for each potential or current blogger. However, here's a big brush / big stroke answer:

1. If you start a blog and only talk about what you had for lunch, you're right, probably no one besides your mother and your spouse will find it interesting. (And then, only because they know and love you.) You need to blog about what you are passionate about. Then your audience grows to include everyone who shares your passion.

2. No one's perfect. I make mistakes all the time. You got to get over this fear and blog anyway. (In fact, this is the topic of my post for this week on The Zen Of Blogging Blog - look for it Thursday!)

3. What will you write about? Imagine the audiences for your books and the audiences for your blog as overlapping. If you've got something to say in your books, you've got something to say in your blog.

What made you decide to go with a vlog format rather than a written format? Or will your blog include both?

I like short (under 1 minute) videos, and I have a lot of fun doing them. Having said that, many of the post will be purely words on the screen, with an image or two. And I'm not sure about a vlog blog having limited traffic - it will be interesting to look at the vlog days and the more text-oriented days and compare the traffic and comments. I'll let you know.

In your One Minute to Blogging Greatness video, you mention platform as a way to build an audience. What are some of the ways you suggest fiction writers--particularly YA and MG fiction writers —go about creating a blogging niche or platform for themselves

I think authors need to create not just "a" blog but "YOUR" blog. Something that's individual and uniquely yours. Just like the books you write couldn't have been written in the same way by anyone else, your blog should be a unique expression of your voice. I can be a guide, with my blog, my e-book, and even my one-on-one consulting, and I can help a blogger find the answers. But even then I can't walk the path for you, any more than I could write your books for you. Ultimately, we each have to find our own path to the Zen of Blogging.

Wow, thank you so much, Lee, for this great perspective on blogging and how it fits into our professional and personal lives!

And now, the winner of last week's drawing (brought to you by Random Number Generator) is number 15--Carrie Harris! Carrie, email me and I'll get your bundle of books out to you. Thanks to everyone for chiming in. It was great to catch up with you all!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Checking in for a Milestone Monday

Hello? Remember me? It feels like ages since I’ve stuck my head in here for a good catch up. I have had my poor nose to the grindstone for the last four months, meeting deadlines for two different books. I got the last one turned in this morning and that squeal you heard about 9:00 PST was me. Phew. It’s over. At least until the revision letters start arriving, which according to my editor should be this Friday. (That is a photo of me two minutes after I emailed my manuscript to my editor. Honest!)

It was an interesting four months. I’ve never had to stay that absolutely focused for that long. I’ve also never had to whittle down my schedule and priorities to such a bare minimum. Fellow introverts will not be surprised to learn that one of the first things to go was nearly all my social media obligations, except for an occasional check in on my blog or FB. With two manuscripts screaming for my attention, it was pretty easy to remember that social media is there to support my writing efforts, not detract from producing them. An important distinction. ☺

Since I feel like I’ve missed out on the last two months entirely, can we have a great big Milestone Monday check in? (Have we really not had one since last November??) I’d love to hear what’s going on in your lives! You all know my milestone: I got two books written in a personal best record time. But how about you? What milestones have you accomplished recently?

And to sweeten the pot, we have a three book* giveaway! If you leave your Monday Milestone in the comments, you’ll be entered! (Sorry followers, you need to actually comment for this one.)

Can’t wait to hear from you all!

And a huge thank you to Mary and all the other amazing guest bloggers for holding down the fort while I was hunkered down.

*Giveaway includes:
Edgar Award nominee, Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone, by Dene Low
The atmospheric and delicious Hunchback Assignments, by Arthur Slade
And the much anticipated, stunningly illustrated Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

Monday, March 8, 2010

Shrinking Violet Ideas in Action: THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS

It’s no secret that Mary and I are big fans of using the buddy system for just about every aspect of marketing, from booksignings, to blogging, to just general support. So it’s always very fun to hear from our SVP readers to see just how some of these approaches are working out for them.

This week, P.J., Jessica, and Jo are reporting in with Shrinking Violet readers on their newest venture, a group blog. As you will soon see, it’s not only a great way to add a new dimension to their promoting efforts, but also allows them to highlight others, another favorite Shrinking Violet tactic!


For those of you who haven’t heard of THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS, we’re three kids’ authors from Austin, Texas who have banded together to promote ourselves and our books while making a positive impact in the children’s literature community. THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS consist of PJ Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, and Jo Whittemore .

As to promoting the children’s literature community, every week or so, on our blog, we interview someone we consider a true sweetheart. This person is someone who has gone above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to helping the kidlit community. Some examples of our Featured Sweethearts include Jen Robinson, Mitali Perkins, Cynthia Leitich Smith, and Alice Pope. Please stop by and visit!

So why a group, and how does this help with promotion? The biggest thing we’ve discovered is it is way easier to promote a group than to promote yourself. As readers of the SVP blog know, it’s hard to go up to people you don’t know and introduce yourself and talk about your book. It is worlds easier to walk up and mention a group of which your just happen to be a member of. THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS are taking advantage of this group marketing mentality by attending events like TLA, BEA, and ALA nationwide. And aside from the group marketing aspect, when you’re a member of a group like THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS, you have someone to walk the floor with at conferences like this. You are rarely left standing alone biting your lip, wondering who will talk to you. You have a team. You have a buddy!

And let’s not forget that your individual fanbase multiplies when you’re in a group. Yes, there will be overlap with common friends and organizations, but there will also be plenty of social circles that intersect at just one writer (picture a Venn diagram). If that writer joins a group, the other members now have access to that writer’s social circles and vice versa. Awareness of the writer’s work is increased on an exponential level, and as we all know, word-of-mouth is one of the most effective forms of advertising. Plus, other group members may have access to social circles not accessible to their cohorts. For example, Writer #1 might have no media connections while Writer #2 has a day job at the local paper. If the two combine forces, however, Writer #1 now has access to someone who works in print media and can utilize that to possibly finagle an article. Of course, there will also be a way for Writer #2 to benefit, maybe through a connection Writer #1 has to the school working as the principal.

With a group like THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS, there is an added bonus of a built in support network when it comes to things like brainstorming, career advice, and celebrating the highs and lows of this business. Reaching out via impersonal online social networks or at large meetings can be enough to cause a case of indigestion and the sweats, but it isn’t as overwhelming to ask your group for advice or encouragement. A small, intimate group provides comfort and fosters communication so when faced with daunting tasks like planning a book release event, the support is empowering. Your group can provide ideas and suggestions to make the event a success. Your group will be there to build you up, and knowing you have your support network cheering you on, even if just in spirit, can help you accomplish what might seem impossible otherwise.

The bottom line is groups rock! They offer built in support and the inherent ability to come off as much less self-serving. No matter what group you are a part of, become involved. Think of ways, as a group, you can promote yourselves or reading in general. And if you aren’t a member of a group, join one! THE TEXAS SWEETHEARTS are just one small group, but in the kidlit community, there are more groups than Facebook author pages. Think SCBWI or critique groups, or debut novelist groups like the Class of 2k10. Become involved and you’ll feel enabled to break out of your introvert shell

We also want to announce our winner from last week's contest. WolfPaw6 has won a copy of Teri Hall's new book, THE LINE! WolfPaw, email Mary with your mailing info and she'll get that out to you!