Wednesday, August 31, 2011

5-4-3-2-1 to a Simpler Life

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief

Make your work easy! I know you probably think I wouldn’t say that if I knew how hard your work is. That is just why I am saying it.  When you allow stress to build in your work, when you keep telling yourself you hate what you are doing, and you keep pushing back and forth trying to get it done…you are creating an impossible situation. You are making your work harder than it really is.  Back off. Take a deep breath. Now work ‘easy’. You’ve heard the expression “easy does it” so, do it easy. You see when you go at your work in a relaxed mode, in an easy stride, you will accomplish it in a shorter time span and it will show your skill.
Somehow, we human beings want to make everything complex. When in truth, most things are very simple. Why we want to make everything in life seem hard I don’t know. Even our learning we seem to choose the hard way.

Here are some tips to make things much simpler.
1.      Stop carrying the world on your shoulders. Trust me the world won’t stop.

2.      Stop taking yourself so seriously. Lighten up.

3.      Start telling yourself you like your work. (I know, you don’t, but tell yourself you do. Quit fighting it; you’re lucky to have a job.)

4.      Make a plan and work the plan. It isn’t hard. Then you will not feel rushed and stressed.

5.      Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Well, there you have it. Now comes the hard part; getting you to do five things that will change your life from hard to simple.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Everyone's A Critic

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

We can learn a lot from art class. And there’s a fair amount we’d be wise to forget.

One of my most important lessons came in grade school. The teacher gave us each a piece of manila paper and told us to draw and color a picture of a house and a tree in a yard. (Even at that young age most of us recognized that our creativity was already stifled by being given paper that was tan in color. But that wasn’t the lesson.)

Dutifully I drew my masterpiece, taking special care to get the angles and dimensions as accurate as any 10-year-old could, and when it came time to color it I got out my diverse spectrum of eight crayons and diligently made the tree leaves many shades of green. As I finished, I wondered whether the teacher would be more impressed with my sophisticated shading technique or the fact that I’d made a perfect frame-within-a-frame, coloring just up to a half an inch around all borders, rather like an old photograph.

“Why didn’t you color to the edges?” she denounced.

 Taken by surprise by her displeasure, but just as quickly reinforced by the artistic ground I had to stand on, I said, “I made a frame for it.”

 “It doesn’t need a frame! The paper is the frame! You should have colored to the edges!”

Well, she never told us that. Nor did she tell us what many of us eventually had to learn on our own, which is: Not everyone appreciates artistic expression, and if you’re not careful there will be plenty who shoot you down when you don’t do things the way they would do it.

In retrospect, I recall that the teacher normally taught math and science, two subjects based in facts which never waver from their cut-and-dried course. I can now understand why letting my Crayolas take a road less traveled signaled an act of deviance to her. I hope the school of life has been equally educational for her, and she has come to realize that in the creative arts, 1 + 1 doesn’t always equal 2.

One can’t help but think about all the art classes–and writing classes–out there, and wonder how many students have not gone on to become artists or writers because someone in authority told them they ‘couldn’t’ do something.

The trick is being able to distinguish constructive criticism from destructive condemnation that has roots in ignorance or even jealousy. As Tracy Crump encourages in each issue of Southern Writers and as Philip Levin reinforces in the new edition coming this Thursday you can’t go wrong surrounding yourself with critics of quality … peers and mentors who have your best interest at heart.

It took a while, plus the advice of much more sophisticated art teachers, for me to rediscover not only the pleasure of creative expression but the truth behind it, which is that real art is allowed to break the rules when it has a reason to.

In the words of Mark Twain:

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as you please.”

 Happy distorting!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Leapin' Lizards!

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor

You are headed toward your goal. You are following your plan. Things are looking up but your progress is slower than expected. You need something to happen to speed you along. You need a QUANTUM LEAP!

Not sure what I mean? We can sell one book at a time or approach one person at a time. But what if we could approach many people and sell many books at once? That should give us a quantum leap toward our goal. Let me give you a couple of examples.

Andy Andrews was promoting his book The Traveler’s Gift by giving it to friends, acquaintances, radio shows, television shows, etc. It found its way into the hands of Robin Roberts of Good Morning America. Robin loved it and picked it as the Book of the Month. From there is became a bestseller.

Jack Canfield, in his book The Success Principles, tells how writing a best-selling book Chicken Soup for the Soul was his quantum leap in his career. It opened the doors for more opportunities for audio programs, speeches, and seminars. Canfield said, “It took me from being known in a few narrow fields to being known internationally.” But what got him to a bestseller may have been another quantum leap.

Jack and his co-creator Mark Victor Hansen were giving their book Chicken Soup for the Soul to anyone interested. They got the idea to give it to a sequestered jury. The jury was unable to read the newspapers or watch television so it would be something they could do without violating their instructions from the judge.

This particular jury was seen by millions each day being delivered from their hotel and stepping off the bus at the courthouse. Tucked under their arm was a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul.  The jurors were deciding the O. J. Simpson trial.

The press made inquiries about the book. How many books did it sell? We may never know but we do know it played an integral part of getting the book out.

When Andy Andrews got his book into the hands of the host of Good Morning America, he had no idea it would be read much less loved and brought to the viewers as the Book of the Month. Nor did Jack Canfield know that giving his book to the jury would get the attention it did. Both knew what was needed and continued to move forward by promoting their book. The opportunity grew beyond their expectation. Demosthenes said, “Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.” Take the leap; and may your next leap be a quantum leap!  

Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy Birthday To...You

by Shannon Milholland, Social Media Director

Today is my birthday.  Due to the onslaught of Social Media, I've already had enough greetings to make me feel like a celebrity.  The question is whom am I celebrating?  If I am serious about my message and delivering it to others then even my birthday is an occasion to celebrate others.

My desire is for my birthday to be a celebration of life because I approach everyday with the expectation of finding extraordinary in the ordinary.  Can one use social media to turn a birthday into a celebration?  Absolutely!

Ask Questions

If someone posts on your Facebook wall and you haven't seen them in a bit, ask how they are.  Use Twitter to ask a thought-provoking question and ask for the answer, as your "present".  Utilize questions to turn the focus back on others.

Be Thankful

Traditionally, birthdays are an opportunity for wishes.  I use social media to be thankful for others.  Whether I type or whisper my gratitude in my heart, I send up thanksgiving.  I allow myself to wonder at a life this blessed and ponder how this ordinary life can impact others. 

Let Someone Else Sit in the Birthday Chair

I asked my friend, Patti, to blog for me today.  Not only did I get a break on my birthday but I got to step aside in humility and let someone else shine on "my" day.  It is much more fun to let another sit in the birthday chair.

The next time your birthday rolls around, consider throwing an online party filled with questions, gratitude and humility.  Sing the birthday song as loud as you can and remember the final word is you not me.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Distort of Sorts

by Stefanie Brown

I’ve always been a fan of amusement parks.

Disney World…

Kings Island…

6 Flags over wherever…

They’re all exciting, with thrilling rides that take my breath away.

My mind, however, recalls an amusement park, a rather small amusement park, nestled near a beach in South Carolina.  Many childhood summers were spent passing through its simple gate.

It didn’t have monsterous roller coaster rides.

It didn’t have refreshing water rides.

It didn’t even have familiar life-sized cartoon characters walking around, posing for pictures with their young admirers.

What it did have ~ and what stands out in my mind still ~ was a Hall of Mirrors.

Hundreds of mirrors…

Hundreds of reflections…

Hundreds of distorted images…

I was short-er…

I was taller…

I was thick-er…

I was thinner…

My head was balloon-like…

My legs were as long as stilts…

My arms were like those of an octopus…

My feet were as surfboards…

Untrue, distorted, exaggerated images…

What I saw was me, but not really.

Similarly, life experience can cause a hall of distorted mirrors to alter how we see ourselves thus altering what we think of and about ourselves as well as the call we have on our lives.  If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves bouncing from mirror to mirror in his hall of lies, see and believing.

Me, a writer, there’s simply no way ~ LIE…

I’m not talented ~ LIE…

No one will read what I write ~ LIE…

There’s no way He could use anything I put on paper for His glory ~ LIE…

Who am I to think I have anything worth saying ~ LIE…

I’ve dreamed WAY too big ~ LIE…

Instead, may we turn to the Creator, the Author, the Truth…

“Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!  Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” ~ Psalm 139:14 (NLT)

The lies cannot stand against truth ~ the Truth.  We’re wonderfully complex, His special design, His masterpiece, His marvelous workmanship.  May we see our reflection in HIM and Him ~ alone. 

He’s called us to write.  He’s put the passion within us.  He’s gifted us and has a story to share through us.  All He wants us to do is believe THIS truth.

Dismiss the lies…

Claim the truth…

“For we are His masterpiece…”  ~ Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

_______________________

Stefanie Brown is the wife of Dan Brown, Executive Director of LIFT Ministries. She is currently a Seminary Grad Student at Liberty University, pursuing a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree. She and Dan, who just celebrated 9 years of marriage, re-located their ministry to the Dallas Metroplex in 2009. She and her family reside in Plano, TX and are partnering with Canyon Creek Baptist Church, Richardson, TX.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Wonderful Feeling

by Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief

It’s a wonderful feeling to give back and help people. A writers group used their talent to do just that. Twenty-two of the members wrote a short story, published a book, and dedicated it to the Literacy Council. They used the Flesch Reading Score in the text so the Literacy Council could use the book in helping people read.  For every book the group sells, fifty percent of the net profit goes to the Literacy Council.

The same group is working on another book and has chosen the animal shelter to receive proceeds from this book when published.
Being able to invest in your community is a privilege––supporting your community is an honor.

We are all a part of a community and we have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than we are, and contribute to the common good of charitable organizations. They need us and we need them.
There is a warm feeling you get when giving back, one of connecting yourself to others and you know you are contributing to make someone’s world a better place.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Take the Long Way Home

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

A few years back I had a boss who was fond of staff meetings, whether we needed them or not.  (In his defense, we usually needed them.)   In the course of these, he would often share a personal philosophy or something else unrelated to work.  Perhaps because it wasn’t always obvious why he was taking up time with something so apparently irrelevant, most of his wisdom went in one ear and out the other.

But not this pearl, which immediately got our attention: “Tonight, when you leave here, take the long way home.”  None of us had a clue what this had to do with anything. 

He added, “In fact, get lost.”

The staffers looked at each other with concern, wondering if this was his subtle way of telling us we were all fired, or if he simply had lost his mind and we were witnesses to the breakdown we secretly suspected would come eventually.  But before we called Lakeside – for him or for ourselves – he went on to explain.

“While coming into work today I took a wrong turn and wound up driving through a part of town I hadn’t been in years.  On my way here I saw a house painted pink, businesses I didn’t know were around, and a couple of kids drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk.”

Taking all of this in, we were at least semi-assured we weren’t fired, though the second possibility remained on the table.  However, I’m happy to report that the reason he thought we’d benefit from this seemingly random advice was a rather creative one.

During the rest of his drive, he told us, he found himself thinking of pink houses and the type of person who would live in that house.  He considered whether they might be artists, and whether the kids on the sidewalk would grow up to be artists too.  He thought about a frame shop he saw right next to a Chinese grocery, and pondered what kind of framing is suitable for Chinese rice paper artwork.  His ultimate point was, he dwelt on things he normally wouldn’t have thought about, and on this particular day, it opened his mind creatively.

In honesty, we still didn’t quite get it, and those of us who preferred going straight home rather than waste time expanding our minds never altered our route, at least on purpose.  Years later, however, the truth of our boss’s suggestion has rung true many times, usually in retrospect.  Trying out a new restaurant has led to enlightening conversations with owners about why we like the things we like.  Visiting a sick friend at the hospital elicits strong reactions in the presence of countless details we don’t think about in daily life.  Even stopping for a moment at the mall to take in the hubbub can inspire elaborate imaginary stories about a complete stranger.

The muse is constantly feeding us ideas and information we can make use of in our writing, but we’re often too ingrained in our usual path and our typical way of thinking to notice them.  Looking back, haven’t some of your most original ideas come out of the blue when you’ve taken a road less traveled?

You may we wondering, as we did, why our boss told us to try his approach going home that night, instead of following his example the next day and coming into the office all inspired.

He didn’t want us to be late for work.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Moving Toward Your Goal

by Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor


What is your goal? Are you moving toward it? Do you make progress each day? We all need to know what our goals are. Someone once said a goal without a plan is just a wish. We need to have a plan to move in the direction that will ensure success in reaching those goals. How do we get this done?

First determine your goals. In the business world we have a short formula we use to determine our goals and it has three steps. They are: “How Much? By When? The Details?”

Let’s say you are building your platform and you decide you want as part of your platform 1,000 Followers on Twitter and 1,000 Friends on Facebook. There is your “How Much?” question answered.

Now we move on to “By When?”. You want those numbers reached by the end of the year. This will coincide with the completion of your first draft and you can refer to these numbers in your query letters you send to literary agents.

Next “The Details?” step is more complicated. You determine the steps you must take in order to meet those numbers by that date. You know you can’t reach your goal in an hour, day or even one month. So you will need to determine what you will do and how you will do it consistently to complete your goal. You must break it down. An example: you have 200 days left in the year and need 2,000 new Friends and Followers. You need to add 10 a day for 200 days. How will you do it? You will need to say “I will reach my goal of 2,000 additional Friends and Followers by contacting 10 to 20 new contacts a day and request they become my Friend or Follower.” With that decided you must act.

I love the quiz; three frogs were sitting on a log and one decided to jump. How many frogs are sitting on the log? The answer is three. A decision without action has no results. In order to reach your goal you must act and do so in a continuous steady fashion. Jack Canfield, co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul, calls it “sustained effort”. AndyAndrews, author of The Traveler’s Gift, The Butterfly Effect and The Final Summit said, “I persisted without exception.”  If Canfield or Andrews had made the decision and not moved on it we would not have these great works available to us today.

The only way to get nearer to your goal is to move toward it. Determine how much, by when and work out the details. THEN JUMP!  

Friday, August 19, 2011

What a Twit?

by Shannon Milholland, Social Media Director

When asked if I was on Twitter, I wondered if the inquiry was a veiled insult.  Was I just called a twit?  Did my so-called friends think the world would better served if I limited my thoughts to 150 characters?  Most importantly, why would writing shorter thoughts benefit me?

I eventually dipped the tip of one wing into Twitter.  My first 450 characters felt like a twanxiety or twanic attack but I persevered.  Eventually the little blue bird taught me some valuable reasons Twitter should be a part of every writer's platform.

Twitter Teaches You to Be Yourself

The more I tried to be cute, pithy or engaging, the less interested the tworld was in my thoughts.  When I engaged the real Shannon, I was twinteresting.  Know who you are and tweet authentically.

Twitter Rewards You for Being Considerate

If you make Twitter all about you, few followers will engage on more than a surface level.  Make your tweets about them and be amazed as good things come your way.  Celebrate your friend's successes.  Boast about other's informative articles.  As mama might say, "To have a twiend, you have to be a twiend."

Twitter Encourages You to Be Open-Minded

Has this happened to you?  You write a blog you feel like only your aunt and her bridge club read.  You have a Facebook club liked only by people you're already "friends" with.  Blogs and Facebook are based primarily on circles of relationship.  You get the highest response from your closest friends, lesser responses from casual friends and little reponse from acquaintances and strangers. 

Twitter expands your circle of influence to the size of the equator as quickly as you're willing to grow.  However, you have to be willing to actually engage the world.  Traditional relationships are based on alignment of interests, belief and standard of living. 

Are you willing to follow an urban rapper or a country bumpkin?  Are you willing to learn about sky diving or couponing?  Are you confident enough about your own beliefs to entertain different political or religious points of view? 

Open your mind and expand your twinfluence exponentially. 

Is Twitter for you?  It is if you want to reach multitudes in an abbreviated time frame with your message.  I'll be your twit, if you'll be mine!

________________________

Shannon can be found tweeting as herself and Southern Writers Magazine.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Corn Flakes or Lucky Charms: What's Your Brand?

by Rachel A. Snyder

The best advice I got when I planned my wedding was, “Pick a theme.”

And, yes, this does have something to do with being an author.

A friend of mine had her wedding in December, and everything was snowflakes. The decorations, the invitations, the confetti on the table. She told me that picking a theme made everything easier. She knew that whatever she chose had to have snowflakes. After that one big decision, all the little decisions were easier. When I planned my wedding, she told me to pick a theme first. 

So my husband and I picked a theme: music. We’re both musical, so it was a natural choice for us. Then I just had to stick with my theme. The confetti? Musical notes. The invitations? Concert tickets. Table numbers? We used band names instead. It was so much easier on my brain to know the answer to every d├ęcor question was simply “music.”

Now I’m going to do you a favor and give you some advice when it comes to your online persona:

Pick a theme.
Once you choose what you’re going to write, pick a theme that you can live with. And I mean long-term. When you create your blog or website, you’re building a brand; the title, the design, and even the smallest details should all tie into it.

Here are some things to think about: 

·       Choose something classic. Your title should be clever and catchy, but try not to make it too cutesy (which may turn people off) or too of-the-moment (or it will be out of date in no time). You want your ideas to last in this world of ever-changing media, so choose wisely. 

·       Design for your audience. If you want men and women reading your blog, you probably shouldn’t do pink with flowers. Just sayin’. Think about who you want reading your blog, and make sure the title and design with connect with those people. Consider graphics, colors, and even fonts. And please don’t use Comic Sans. Just as a personal favor to me.

·       Love it. And I mean LOVE it.  This may be the most important. While you want to attract the right audience, be sure you are in love with your title and design; you’ll need to stick with it for a while. You want your page to be recognizable to your audience, and it won’t be if you change your look every week.

·       Read other blogs. This is good advice for social media in general. Make sure you’re looking at other sites regularly to see what new design things people are doing or what buttons other people have. You need some way for readers to get to your social networking locations, as well as additional pages for information about you. Your choices may be limited with certain blogging programs, but do your best to keep up.

·       Carry your theme everywhere. This is another reason you need to love your theme: Every corner of your site should have something to do with your theme. Every heading in the sidebar, text on your additional pages, and even the sentence enticing people to comment should all tie in to your theme. Make it your e-mail address. Use the same fonts and graphics on your business cards. Use the same background on Twitter.  It’s all part of building your brand.

·       Hire help if you need it. If you’re going to be a full-time writer and you don’t have a background in design, there’s no shame in hiring a designer to spruce up your blog or website. While you’re blog-hopping, see who designs some of your favorite blogs (ask the blogger if it’s not listed). Designers are available in a wide variety of price points, and the very least you’ll pay is $50 for something very simple. Make sure you know the designer’s work, and understand that you get what you pay for.

Blogging can be a great avenue for getting published, promoting your book(s) or it can be quite fulfilling as its own endeavor. Whatever your plans, be intentional about creating your online brand. 

If you’d like some personal feedback on your blog theme, e-mail me at TheLazyChristian@yahoo.com.
_______________________

Rachel A. Snyder blogs at TheLazyChristian.com. She currently lives in Indianapolis with her husband and son, but is an honorary Virginian.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I Have a Dream: How Dreams Become Reality

by Susan Reichert

What is it you want out of life? Today can be the day you decide what your desire is. What do you want to accomplish? What do you want your life to look like?
I know these are many ‘what questions’. However, they are important, and you need to answer each one of them. You see, until you decide what it is you desire to accomplish you are not going to do anything. Nothing will change. You will still get the same results you have been getting. You will still be going nowhere.

When you get to the end of life, do you really want to be laying there saying “I wish I had…” or “If only I had done…”?  This could happen. However, I have a feeling you are a person who will make the changes necessary to avoid that being the end.
List out your desires, envision what you want them to look like, draw out the plans, make a commitment to yourself you will achieve them. Sounds as if I have a but coming doesn’t it? I do. You see in order to accomplish those desires you will have to set deadlines. You need one for each phase of your plan. Take ownership and make this happen for you.

Many people set up goals, but they fail to reach them. One sure fire way to fail is not to make a plan and set the deadlines.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Power of Three

by Gary Fearon

They say there’s power in numbers, and that’s very true … the more the merrier and all that.  But one of the most important numbers for a writer is the humble but powerful three.  People love it when things are grouped into thirds.

“Lights, camera, action!”

“Up, up and away!”

Don’t those pack more punch than “Lights, camera, sound, action!” or “Up and away!”

Somehow, lists that come in threes seem to resonate with us in a special way, rolling off the tongue with an appealing rhythm:

Wine, women and song

Red, white and blue

Moe, Larry and Curly

We embed the power of three in our classic stories: Goldilocks and the Three Bears; the three wishes a genie grants; the three ghosts in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

We’ve gone so far as to make virtually every movie, stage play and opera a series of three acts.  Without a beginning, middle and ending, a story has no recognizable framework.

Most well-crafted songs include verse, chorus and bridge.  A bridge, among other things, provides a reprieve from the other two and makes them that much more appreciated when they reappear.

Joke writers know the power of three, and use it to great advantage.  Not only does the power of three provide an abundance of setups (“A fireman, a policeman and a politician go into a bar…”), but the punchline is often delivered third in a series. (“Marriage has a ring to it: an engagement ring, a wedding ring, and suffering.”)

There’s just something magical about the number three.  It’s an easy number to work with, and much like the three doors contestants had to choose from on Let’s Make a Deal, it’s more interesting than two and less confusing than four.  In your plots, in your characters, in your narrative, let the power of three be one of your secret weapons to charm your reader when you’re writing this, that or the other.

Monday, August 15, 2011

World Class: "Write" Marketing

by Doyne Phillips

Would you like to be a world class writer? Do you know what it takes? Author Malcolm Gladwell did a study to determine what made individuals world class performers in their various walks of life. In his book Outliers, Gladwell revealed one of their common traits was each had a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice, rehearsal or training in their individual fields. Examples he gave were Olympic Athletes, musicians such as the Beatles and computer gurus Gates and Job. All had put in the necessary hours to make them world class at what they do.

Gladwell’s research was confirmed months after Outliers was published with the Hudson River ditching of the U S Airways Flight 1549. After losing all engines Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger made the decision to ditch the aircraft based on his experience and evaluation of the situation. His experience included 40 years of flying with over 19,000 hours of flight time. His co-pilot Jeff Skiles after 32 years of flying had over 20,000 hours of flight time. Their feat was truly world class. Thankfully they had put in the necessary time to perform as such.
So how do we become world class writers? We write! What do we write? We write anything and everything. We write that novel, journal, blog, poem, song, email, query letter, promo, instruction manual. We write it with the enthusiasm and determination we would use to author the next classic. We write with excellence and we write often. A friend of mine this time a year ago had a business book on the bestseller list. His next project was a sales manual for a large national corporation. He will tell you, “Write!”

But how does this fit in with Marketing Monday? How is this going to help me market my work? Very simply, you must write to sell yourself. Your query letter sells your proposal. Your blog broadens your platform which is an asset needed to sell your book to a publisher. Your articles, emails, Twitter and Facebook post and yes, even your personal hand written signature with message inside your most recently published book cover is marketing you as a writer. So as we write toward our world class status of the necessary 10,000 hours, let us be sure to include those necessary hours of writing that market us as writers. Let us write!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Even Bozo Gets a Red Nose...Occasionally

by Shannon Milholland, Social Media Director

The day I started my blog, I could barely spell the word. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't even have the sense to read up on the proper way to start one. I subscribed the Nike theory and just did it.

About six months in someone who found out about my speaking and writing ministry asked me if I was similar to a well-known national speaker. "No," I replied, "She's an example of how to do things right, whereas, I am an example of how to not do things wrong."

My journey into blogging was no different. I made many blunders. Today you are the beneficiary. Here's what NOT to do when starting your blog:

Don't Comment Back

I felt weird when someone commented on my blog. It seemed like if I replied to their praise, I was being egotistical or egocentric. I didn't reply and they stopped commenting.

Don't Read Trade Articles

Despite my attempt at humility through lack of comments, I displayed a rare streak of egotism by not bothering to learn anything about blogging. When I finally started reading articles, like the ones found in Southern Writers Magazine (shameless self-promotion warning), I learned more in a few hours than I had in months of blogging.

Don't Partner with Others

Why in the world would I need to feature other people's work on my blog? How would I ever get read if I was busy highlighting someone else's work? I did all the blogging myself and quickly exhausted my sphere of influence. I had few documented readers I didn't have a personal relationship with.  When I began to network and partner with author bloggers, my readership grew exponentially.

Don't Read and Comment on Other Blogs

I barely had enough time to write my own blog. Why would I spend the precious moments I had browsing someone else's site?  I didn't read anyone else's blog and they didn't read mine. When I started reading other blogs, I got an excellent idea about once a week. It may be a layout enhancement or a social media utilization but ideas rapidly morphed into improvements.  Improvements led to more readers.

When I started blogging, I was a real Bozo. I fell on my face several times.  The result is several bloody noses. With each crash, I learned a lesson. Eventually this Bozo found a nose - a "read" one.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bread-and-Butter Writing: Convert Your Skills to Cash by Writing for the Marketplace

by Leslie Rowe

You’re a good writer. You enjoy fingers flying over keys, ideas brimming, words pouring onto pages. Your novel’s plot thickens and your non-fiction stirred interest at that writer’s conference.
Meanwhile, the electric bill skyrocketed after summer’s heat wave, and groceries fly out of your pantry faster than your teens wear out jeans. Writing is your passion, but right now, eating is your priority.

Why not convert your writing skills to cash? The marketplace is crying for good writers, and while there’s definitely a learning curve, you have what it takes to succeed: talent. 
What can I write?
As a freelance copywriter, here are categories of requests that keep my phone ringing:

  • Resumes – higher unemployment rates mean that more people need a powerful resume.
  • Website content – businesses need websites. Site developers expect businesses to provide copy, or words for the website. Connect with website developers to find these jobs.   
  • Blogs – businesses join the blogosphere to position themselves as experts, develop a loyal customer base, and improve search engine optimization (SEO). Why not approach a business and offer to write their blog?
  • Newsletters – service providers (attorneys, healthcare providers, real estate professionals, etc.), use newsletters to reach clients. Team up with a graphic designer for a writing/layout package.
  • Marketing collateral (brochures, sales sheets) – graphic designers make it beautiful but copywriters write the words.
  • Editing – somebody started the project but they need a professional to finish.
  • Ghost writing – I get two types of calls for ghost writing:
    1. A business professional needs an article for their trade publication and needs a wrter to make it great. Or,
    2. A person has an incredible life experience and needs a writer for their book.
Beware of number two unless they are willing to hire you outright. Some hope that after you write it, they’ll share their one-day profits with you because their story is a bestseller. Ask for a fixed price or hourly rate.

What’s there to learn?
There’s more to learn before you dive in. I recommend The Copywriter's Handbook, Third Edition: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Copy That Sells by Robert W. Bly. The table of contents hints at the meat between the covers:

Writing to sell requires creative skills, but it helps to understand the needs of the business and how to target your audience. Bly’s book offers foundational lessons to help launch your writing-for-cash endeavor.

Features versus benefits
Writing for the marketplace usually means helping a business sell or inform. One of the most basic writing-to-sell concepts is known as features versus benefits.

Let’s say I’m selling a black dress.
The features of the dress: it’s black, sleeveless, knee-length, and made with pure silk.

The benefits of the dress: it’s slimming, alluring, and makes me look sophisticated and beautiful. (I’ll take that one!)
When you’re writing to sell, interview the business owner. Find out everything you can about the features. Put yourself in the consumer’s shoes and ask: what’s in it for me? Does it save time, money, or energy? Make my life easier? Make me look better, feel better, act better? Focus on benefits first and follow up with features.

How much do I charge?
Before determining rates, remember that your income dollar is not your pocketed dollar, assuming that you report to Uncle Sam. Self-employed individuals are expected to contribute both the employee and employer share of FICA, or 15.3%, not to mention your income tax percentage. Freelance writing rates vary widely, with $25/hour being on the low side and $100/hour (and up!) on the high side. The busier you get, the more you can charge.

Where can I find clients?
Let people know you’re open for business by telling everyone you know. Announce it on Facebook. Attend chamber of commerce mixers and pass out your business cards. Connect with website developers. Answer writing job ads with a freelance proposition. Create a website and pay for search engine optimization. Hang resume flyers at colleges. If you provide excellent writing and amazing service, they’ll come back for more.

A means to an end
Writing from your heart can be far more rewarding than writing to promote other people’s businesses. But if you have to work, why not hone your writing skills while you are at it? Personally, I hope to transition to writing more about my faith. But meanwhile, I’m earning a decent living, my clients appreciate me, and I work in my pajamas. Not bad for a day job, right?
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Leslie J. Rowe is a freelance business and creative writer. Her tired-but-still-working business website can be found at www.GreatWords.net. Her neglected-but-now-resurrected blog can be found at www.LeslieRowe.com. Leslie has been writing full-time in the business community for nearly ten years, and has gingerly stepped into the waters of inspirational writing. Married for 27 years, she and her husband have three grown children. When she’s not writing for business clients or creative pursuits, Leslie enjoys bike riding, Starbucks with friends, and walking on the beach in her hometown of Sarasota, Florida.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Picture This!

by Susan Reichert
A picture in your mind’s eye is visualization. It can be the key that opens the door. 
Draw a blue print in your mind’s eye how you want something to turn out. Maybe the picture is your life. Where are you going, how are you getting there and what will it look like when you arrive? 
This shows the brain what it needs to come up with to accomplish the picture in your mind.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Name Game

by Gary Fearon

On Monday an author friend and I got on the subject of names.  Not names of literary characters, but those of real people.  Among the monikers that came up in conversation were Piers Tilbury and Thurl Ravenscroft.  Just in case you don’t recognize those names, I’ll tell you who they are in a moment. 

But first, don’t you get a certain feeling from each of these names?  Doesn’t Piers Tilbury convey a certain regality?  Doesn’t Thurl Ravenscroft sound a bit intimidating, like something straight out of Hogwarts?

I won’t keep you in suspense.  Piers Tilbury is a talented artist in the UK who specializes in fiction book covers.  And Thurl Ravenscroft – whose voice was as formidable as his name – did many deep-throated vocal characterizations for Disney, sang the Christmas classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch”, and for over fifty years hawked Frosted Flakes as the voice of Tony the Tiger.

Think about it.  Boris Karloff is a name that overflows with menace, even if you’ve never seen Frankenstein or his other creepy roles.  In contrast, cowboy actor Marion Morrison knew his name wouldn’t hold up in a saloon showdown, and promptly changed it to John Wayne.  What a simple, All-American frontier kinda name.

Obviously, when we’re coming up with names for characters in our stories, it becomes even more important to make them a good fit; perhaps even one that reinforces the role of the character.  Going back to Hogwarts for a moment, doesn’t Harry Potter’s Professor Severus Snape sound every bit as imposing as his character?  And Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s immediately suggests someone who doesn’t take life very seriously.  (I’ve actually never seen that one but I’ll betcha.)

Not to say that a less assuming name doesn’t have merit.  Sometimes it may even be preferable, to make a certain character as forgettable as possible.  In some who-dunnits this has been used effectively to avert you from the ultimate culprit. 

Just like you give your characters interesting backstories, give them a name that goes with their personality.  No one will fault you for using normal, everyday names like Bob Smith or Jane Jones, but something in between plain vanilla and Black Forest Pistachio Chip Ripple might lend your story a few extra flavors.