Cross Promotion

The publishers for my travel guide have been at it for a while, so they know how to promote a book. For example, my point of contact got an article in the Huffington Post about “Under The Radar Tourist Towns” featuring my location — Astoria — and other titles in their stable.

See it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/11/10/post_583_n_780645.html#slide_image.

Several points make this a genius move:

  1. HuffPost is a major news website, meaning he got the word out to a passel of potential purchasers.
  2. The format made it so easy to write, he probably banged it out in half an hour.
  3. Because it’s a news source, it lends the message authority.
  4. Appearing in a news website positions the publisher as a travel expert.
  5. He might have gotten paid. Unlikely with the HuffPost, but the theory is sound.
I used to do similar when I ran a martial arts school, by writing self-defense articles for local newspapers and magazines. You see the major movie studios doing the same by turning their upcoming blockbusters into newsy pieces in the glossies and on TV.
Challenge for the day: come up with three ideas to get somebody to pay you for promoting your work. Write proposals and get paid for one of them.
Thanks for listening.

Habits of Highly Effective Writers: The Magic Notebook

Ray Bradbury says that ideas are like cats and women: the harder you chase them, the faster they run away. Instead, inspiration comes at odd times and under strange conditions. It hits when you’re driving, or mowing the lawn, or standing in the grocery line. Or as you’re drifting off to sleep, or when you’re four-thirds of the way to drunk with your brothers on Christmas Eve.

All of this underlines the importance of one of the best habits a writer can take on: always carry your magic notebook.

When ideas stream through your consciousness, scrawl them down in the magic notebook. When you’re working later, you can review your ideas and work on what’s on your plate that day. This process accomplishes several things:

  • You stop forgetting brilliant ideas you had while away from your work area.
  • You can avoid writer’s block by having a list of ideas ready to hand.
  • You’re less tempted to abandon current projects for new inspiration, because you’re confident the idea will still be available later on.

Your notebook doesn’t have to be an actual pen-and-paper notebook anymore. Many writers use a digital audio recorder, or even a practically antique handheld tape recorder. Cell phones will do in a pinch with an integral audio recorder, or you can just call and leave yourself a message. The new app phones combine the best features of notebooks and audio. Me, I stick with my grid-ruled Moleskine notebook — just like Hemmingway and Morrow, but Odin knows I’m a bit of a Luddite.

One final word on the notebook for shower thinkers. By happy accident, my baby boy taught me a solution to the shower inspiration: tub crayons. These wipable, waterproof babies let you preserve those ideas without stepping out, chilling yourself to the bone and soaking the floor in the process.

Thanks for listening.

Accountability

This week was a big, steaming brown pile from an accountability standpoint.

Instead of working on writing goals, I built some furniture with my son, visited with old friends from out of town and cleaned the living bajeezus out of my back yard and garage.

I did manage to meet my basic moneymaking goals, to post on this blog and work on an ongoing speculative project I plan to launch soon. I also finished off a larger assignment and took two meetings on another project I might become embroiled in.

I should have scheduled this week as a week off — I knew ahead of time how hard it would be to get everything done. That way I’d feel pretty okay about meeting my plan instead of vaguely uptight with myself for slacking off.

Ah well — the best part of screwing up is that you get to try again.

Thanks for listening.

4 Ways to Get Paid For Your Work

You can write all you want, but you’re an amateur until somebody gives you money for what you’ve written. There’s nothing wrong with that for all the folks who write for the simple joy of the craft. If you want to make it as a full-time writer, though, you need to get paid for your work. Either that, or marry somebody rich.

Not too long ago, there was just one model of getting paid for your work. You sent your work to magazines or book publishers and hoped they liked it. If they did, you got some money and then started up on your next project.

That situation has changed. Traditional publishers are starting to hemorrhage. The market isn’t as strong, and the pay isn’t as good. That’s the bad news — and it’s not comforting. The good news is that as that market fails, others have sprung up.

1. Advertising Revenue

If you blog, or have another kind of website that brings in traffic, you can set up advertising accounts that get you paid for every visitor who clicks through to the ad. Google Ads will work with your page even before you have any traffic, paying you a small fee for each visitor. As you get increasingly more visitors, you can find higher-paying and more focused sponsors.

2. Content Writing

Print magazines that sell advertising and subscriptions close every day, but they are being replaced by websites hungry for a constant stream of fresh, well-written content. Many of them work on the ad revenue model from above, only on a massive scale. The best sites pay up to $25 for a 500-word article on basic topics, up to several hundred for longer feature pieces.

3. Company Blogs

Company websites need blogs — they’re one of the surest and simplest ways to keep a page high in the search engine rankings. They also provide useful information that attracts and interests potential customers. Although large companies have their own people for this, small businesses can’t afford a full-time guy, and the owner rarely has the time and talent to do it right. You can reach out to local businesses and offer to do their blog, or search writing job sites for potential clients.

4. E-Books

Instead of submitting your book to a traditional publisher, you can make your own e-book and distribute it on your website, via eBay and on Amazon. Print publication through on-demand printers is also an option, but e-book printing is free. There’s no risk other than the time you spent to write the book…and your share of the profits is much higher than if you’d published through a traditional house.

Later, I’ll go into some of the best practices for success in each of these models. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I’ll share what I do know.

Thanks for listening.

Getting Started: Try This

The first step in becoming a professional writer is deciding you want to be a professional writer. The second step is developing a small body of work. If you want to write fiction, you need some short stories to sell to print and online magazines. If you want to write nonfiction or ad copy, you need a few articles or blurbs to show what you can do.

I’m going to assume that, if you want to become a professional writer, you aren’t one yet. This likely means you have a regular job. Maybe a wife, kids, commute and house to take care of. You can’t devote all your time to making this happen. That’s life…but it doesn’t mean you can’t make your portfolio happen.

Try this.

On Monday of next week, sketch a simple outline of a story or article. For fiction, write a sentence or two about each character and each major part of the tale. For nonfiction, write a note describing each paragraph in your essay or copy structure, and some lines about where you’ll go for further research.

On Tuesday, write the  “sketch draft.” This is the simplest written form of the story. Any time you get stuck, write in parenthesis a note about what you want to have happen and move on. “John looked into Stella’s eyes and said (something eloquent about loving her).” or “(Put actual statistic here) out of 100 Americans say they fear a terrorist strike in their local area within the next 10 years.” Get it all down.

On Wednesday, focus your efforts on filling in those parts you skipped the day before. Look up the the statistics, scan through scenes in books and movies you liked for inspiration about how to handle those tricky scenes. At the end of the day, you’ll have a working rough draft.

On Thursday, rewrite the whole thing by looking at the printed rough draft and retyping from scratch. This process lets you look at each sentence, tweaking and repolishing as you go. When you’re finished, read the story out loud to yourself. Take notes about spots that were jarring, repetitive or weak. Sleep on it.

On Friday, fix the things you noticed when you read it aloud the night before. Once you’re finished, run a spell check and have somebody else proofread it.

On Saturday, walk away. You’re done. If you want, have a friend critique it…but no more fiddling until somebody else suggests something concrete.

Each day should take no more than an hour or two — time you can give yourself if you really want it. If you do this each week for a month, or every other week for two, you’ll have a body of four respectable pieces. Most writing clients want just two samples when considering you for a job. Fiction magazines want you to send just one.

Presto…instant portfolio.

Thanks for listening.

Other Tracking Ideas

Setting structured goals with set timelines is my favored method for accomplishing the things I want to, and it’s one of the most commonly accepted approaches in business, government and military planning. It is not, however, the only one out there. Some other ways to reach the same destination include…

Tickler Files

A tickler file is the organizational version of a nagging mom or accountability coach. You set up physical files, or a calendar program, or one of several apps, to “poke” you when it’s time to get something done. This works for set tasks and for ongoing projects. You can get a reminder a month ahead to buy a birthday present, or set up for daily reminders to write your three pages of manuscript.

To-Do List

You know this one. It’s a list of the tasks you want to accomplish. This method is so common you can buy notepads with check boxes specifically to make one. Google calendar and similar programs include this option. What you might not know is that to-do lists scale up. You can make a to-do list for the year, then break it up by month, week and day.

Inspired Seizure

For some folks, all the goal setting they need is passion for the current project. They work on what they want, when they want to, and come out the other end with a finished product. I know very few people for whom this works on a reliable basis, and even they generally have the luxury of somebody else taking responsibility for their daily upkeep and bills. Still, it is a method and it does work for some people.

I’d love to hear from you. What are your methods for goal setting? Do you use a structured approach, or are you more organic? What’s your biggest challenge when it comes to setting and reaching your goals? How do you celebrate when you cross a big item off your list?

Thanks for listening.

Goal Setting: Ongoing Projects

An area where goal setting gets tricky is the ongoing projects and efforts in your life. It’s easy to say “My goal is to write 10 pages a week for the next month.” Your end is clearly defined and easily measurable. But how do you define your goals for physical fitness, for time with your family, for reading? With no set end to the task, it’s harder to set specific goals.

One approach, and the one I like best, is to make the process itself a goal. Don’t phrase your victory conditions in terms of work accomplished, but in terms of effort made. For example, pursuing new assignments is a big part of my job. Without new work coming in, I have to go work in an office or something — a fate I’d rather avoid if I can. This is a sisyphean task: unending and often difficult. Each week, I promise myself I’ll apply for x gigs, send in y article pitches, and spend z hours on my book proposal.

I came across an interesting structure for this kind of goal-setting in a book by Drs. Roizen & Oz, the “YOU: The Owner’s Manual” guys. It’s not theirs originally, but they’re who introduced me to the 5 to 1 goal pyramid. Their example used this concept as a guide for helping your kids understand nutrition and fitness:

  • 5 servings of veggies every day
  • 4 servings of fat-free dairy
  • 3  compliments to create a positive atmosphere
  • 2 hours or less of screen time
  • 1 hour of active play or exercise
If a mnemonic like that is easy enough for an elementary school student, I’m reasonably confident I could use it without too much trouble. Maybe I could structure it thusly:
  • 5 daily blocks of writing on current, paying projects
  • 4 acts of marketing and promotion daily
  • 3  hours of work on book proposals each week
  • 2 days off weekly to spend with my family and recharge the motor
  • 1 magazine article proposal every day
That might be too simplistic for the reality, but you get the general idea. Ultimately, how you structure these things is less important than being committed about following it. For my wife, a sticker on the calendar for every day she hits the gym is all the formal planning she needs.
Thanks for listening.