2013: The Year of Confluence

Whew.  Just like being back from any vacation, I’ve been getting my bearings back from an entire Year of Cruise.

I learned a ton of things. I did a ton of things — most of them unexpectedly.  I essentially “pantsed” an entire year, and now live to tell the tale.

The biggest takeaways:

1.  Assume distractions have valuable information.

In 2012, I discovered Permaculture because I took a little detour into researching organic farming.  I discovered a whole new way to look at promotion and tribe building by researching presidential campaigns (and I’m not even political.)  I also learned the connections between exercise (specifically flexibility, strength training and stamina training) and their corresponding elements in writing, discovered the creative benefits of a hot cup of tea. Oh, and I discovered how holograms can be both a metaphor and just plain cool.

Any other year, I’d probably have berated myself for “wasting time” in pursuing these weird little pointless eddies of information.  Now I know: keep an eye out for the clue. Because sure enough, every single time, there was one… and it usually wound up being an unexpected harbinger for greater things, a way to see smaller patterns contributing to larger ones.

2.  Qualities are the seeds of motivation.

I started the Year of Cruise with the premise that I’d focus on qualities, rather than goals.  I knew I wanted to be less stressed; that I wanted ease and comfort and curiosity. (That mostly worked, incidentally.)  The real gift to that, though, was asking myself:  well, if I want to feel this, what exactly does that mean?  What elements in my life contribute to that?  And what’s standing in the way?

(Note:  External GMC, anyone? Yes, I felt like an idiot.)

Ease and comfort took a number of forms.  It meant pushing back some deadlines.  Looking at exactly what my finances could bear, and pruning away things that I didn’t need, both in terms of expenses and assignments/work.

It’s funny — when I was younger, I used to think that ease and lack of stress meant shying away from the brutal realities of finances, or perhaps avoiding the unpleasant confrontations of saying “no” to demanding clients/employers.  Now, I discovered: that initial pain is the key to the gateway to ease.

I’m sure to many of you this seems obvious, but to me, it was a crucial shift.

3.  Everything is everything.

In using the year for exploration and self-examination, I was able to reconfirm and clarify my life’s mission:  I want to show other people that it’s possible to live a sustainable, creative life, despite the obstacles and the fear and the nay-saying of the outside world.

This is usually the theme of my fiction; it’s the foundation of Rock Your Writing.

I teach people that despite the crazy-ass nature of our business, it is possible to actually complete a novel, publish same, and figure out how to make a living, albeit not necessarily an opulent one.  No matter how long the odds or how much you may have felt you’ve “screwed up” in the past, you can do this.  I’m living proof.

Once I reconnected with that, I saw where everything else I was pursuing fed into that.  Looking at everything through the lens of the mission suddenly focused everything — just like reconnecting each scene in a novel with the primary story question and primary character GMC.

Even things like taking care of my son and cleaning my house suddenly clicked into the pattern:  following dreams and being able to sustain a living without working every second of the day was something I want my Boy to learn, so I am showing him that.  I want to write more efficiently — it’s easier to do with a clear desk and, strangely, a tidy kitchen.

Making the choice to connect everything to the central question suddenly added fuel and value stacking to everything I did.

I declare 2013 “The Year of Confluence.”

According to Miriam Webster, “Confluence” is defined as:

“a coming or flowing together, meeting, or gathering at one point.”

It seems like I’ve spent the past few decades chasing seemingly tangentially related elements and trying to juggle a million things.  Taking the past year “off” — as it were — gave me the space and the ease to get a big picture snap.

A “confluence” of what?

Everything.

Managing time to write.

Value stacking everything else you do to make writing easier.

Promoting in a way that is efficient, effective, and sane.

Publishing in a way that supports what you’re trying to achieve.

Writing in a way that supports your life, how you want to publish, and what you’re trying to promote.

What would help you most?

To help me help you, to quote Jerry Maguire — what is it you feel you need the most when it comes to your writing?  What is the next level?  What do you feel is getting in the way of you achieving it?

Leave a comment, and please feel free to share this.  I’ve got big plans for this year, peeps — and some really great, simple tools I’m dying to share.

Onward! To confluence! :D

Promotion & Permaculture

A while ago, I mentioned in a post about target audiences and using myself and my December novel as a guinea pig.  It’s August… which in publishing terms means December is more than right around the corner, it’s breathing down my neck.  So that means promo gets in gear.

Do all the things!”

The problem I have seen with many promotional theories — even my own, back in the day — is that they assume you can’t miss anything, so you should somehow try everything.  That usually means getting on every type of social media there is (twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Google Plus, Pinterest, Linked In, whatever) and then constantly streaming stuff about your book and yourself.

What’s more, there tends to be too many tactics.  You’re expected to set up a blog tour, send out review copies, write guest posts, comment on book blogs, keep up with Goodreads, work your social media, set up local signings, order and send out promo items, and maintain an author blog on your own website.

While writing.

And, presumably, maintaining the rest of your life — namely, your family, your day job, your social obligations, and your own self-care, which tends to come in last on the list.

Promotion burnout.

The main complaint I have heard from other authors:  they are overwhelmed, unsure of where to go, and exhausted from trying to do everything.

What’s more, most aren’t even sure the tactics work, and if they are working, they have no proof and no sense of connection between activities and results.  This is where the “I write the best book possible and hope for the best” tribe tends to spring from.

That said, if you haven’t been doing all the things, and you’ve got a book launch around the corner… what’s an author to do?

Slow approach to promotion.

It’s often said that the best time to “build your platform” is long before your book is published, and with a continual, steady effort.  I can agree with this, although part of it, for me, is a mind-set thing.  There’s a difference between getting in contact with your community and making genuine connections, and acting like a Mafia don, doling out favors that you fully intend on recouping later.

In a “bestseller” world, the key is traction.  You want to sell not only a lot of copies, but you want them to sell in a short time frame.  Booksellers look for traction to see if a book is worth re-ordering or pushing. From a digital standpoint, traction tends to nudge the algorithms that “suggest” books to buyers.

When it comes to print books, traction is more important because after a certain time frame, you either justify taking up space on the shelf, or you don’t.  In digital, while you may languish in obscurity, you won’t get kicked out.  There’s time to grow.

How I think this would work:

  • Lower the goal.  Set a lower sales goal… but at the same time, actually set one.  Or maybe a different metric.  Reviews.  Subscribers.  Something measurable.
  • Widen the time frame.  Most launches seem to live or die in the first four weeks.  If you don’t make it in that first month, your publisher’s on to the next (unless you’re self-published.)  Set a lower goal, with a wider time frame.
  • Tighten the focus.  Most promotion efforts and tips I’ve seen want to target the greatest number of potential readers.  I am wondering if a smaller but more focused group is a better idea.  (This is going to be the bulk of the experiment, I think.)
  • Track the results.  It’s impossible to see if your promo efforts directly result in sales unless you’re generating sales directly from your site, or something.  Which is why those other metrics, especially subscribers, might be a better way to go.  Need to noodle on this, to determine “yield.”

 

The experiment.

In my next post, I’m going to go into more detail of the actual experiment. (Plus, I’m going to talk to my science-y friends and discuss how an experiment is best set-up.  It’s been years.)  But in a nutshell, I’m going to test:

1.  Creating goals that are measurable and achievable (with time frames and everything!)

2.  Creating a strategy that takes into account how much time I can spend/want to spend, with a set of criteria that all tactics need to go up against.  Sort of a “What Would My Right Reader Do?” decision matrix thing.

3.  Creating tracking metrics and definite check-ins (which I will then report back.)

I think that it’s possible to hit a Slow Writing target, with a minimal but consistent amount of energy/time expended on a weekly basis.  In my next post, I’ll lay out the parameters of the experiment for my December novel.

And, now that I think about it… I might need to get some control subjects, to see what the difference is.  (Anybody else have an Urban Fantasy coming out in December they might want to also use as a guinea pig?)

What do you guys think?

What would you most want to test?

 

The Slow Writing Movement.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been researching promotion, trying to come up with a plan that isn’t so frenetic.  What I discovered was, rather than simply a new approach to promotion, I’ve been casting about for a sustainable method of writing.

By this, I mean writing without burning out and freaking out… and still potentially making a living.

You’d think this would be a relatively simple thing.  Apparently, it isn’t.

Nobody’s interested in making a living. They only want to make a fortune.

–  Joss Whedon

I have been burned out by reading writing blogs.  They seem to fall into two camps:  those that see writing as a business, and those that see writing as an art.

The writing-is-an-art camp.

Those that see writing as an art bemoan the state of literature.  That people only want crap.  That something like (I won’t name names — think of any runaway bestseller that people are panning the hell out of) can make the NYT list, but any writer with “real talent” is forced to make less than $50 a year indie-publishing his or her own book.

They usually talk about how they don’t care if they make any money or if anyone reads their books — they’re in it because they can’t help themselves, that their writing is purely about self-expression and writing the best book possible.  They see branding as a plague and writing as, essentially, a hobby.

Some may never complete a novel.

The writing-is-a-business camp.

There’s a spectrum here.

You have the aggressive self-promoting indie, for example, who is working on increasing his productivity, branding his work, posting on LinkedIn about his latest tweet about Pinterest pins.

Then you’ve got the anti-indie, who sees self-publishing as the lazy man’s way out, a fool’s gold rush for amateurs who can’t hack it.  This group might suggest that true writers know the industry, pay their dues, and realize that if you want to play with the big boys (and make the bestseller lists), you’ve got to think like the big boys.  Or, namely, the Big Six.

Here’s a new one.  Writing-as-farming.

Wait.  Writing as… farming?

If you think about it, there are a lot of parallels.  We’re producing something for others to, essentially, consume.  But we’re not constructing  a building or mass producing cars.  A lot of factors can influence the novel — and we’re never quite sure what the seed is going to ultimately yield.

You could just garden for yourself, sure.  No harm in that.  In fact, there’s a lot of pleasure in that, and you could putter around and try different things every season and if all you wind up with is weeds, well, shit happens.  Better luck next year.

You could try to start a commercial farm.  You could pick a really popular “crop” and plant a boatload, hope that you get a good harvest.  If corn suddenly becomes unpopular, you could tear up the soil and start over with beans.  It would mean a metric ton of work, and a good deal of risk, and you’d need to go for marketability and speed and transport — hardiness over flavor, in some cases.  You’d need a larger market to make the whole thing profitable.  It would be anything but a hobby.

The Artisanal Farmer.

Or you could grow stuff that you like, that you know other people want… because, well, you hang out with a lot of those other people, and they’ve said, “you know, I really wish someone would grow a really tasty heirloom tomato around here.”  And you’d think:  well, I frickin’ love heirloom tomatoes.  And I’ve got a good sized plot of land.  And you know these guys are willing to pay more for good, local, tasty tomatoes.

You might not make a living off it for several years.  But you’d have a bunch of really fun tomato aficionados to hang out with, and hey, yummy tomatoes.  That doesn’t suck.

As word of your tomatoes grows, you find that you’re onto something. You’re growing maybe some other stuff, too… corn and beans, let’s say, that are also heirloom and they work with the tomatoes. (Permaculture!)  And you’ve got enough demand that you’re ready to shift to part time on your day job.  And you bought the empty lot next to you, and you’re building the soil so you can grow a few more crops.

You’re not going to suddenly buy a twenty-acre farm out in the boonies.  But you can make a decent living, selling things people want, growing things you enjoy.  While you’re still working quite hard, it’s work you love.

Neither artist nor corporation.

While a delicious, luscious heirloom tomato can be a thing of art, I don’t think farmers think of themselves as artists.  They know that there’s craft, science, and hard work in what they do.  The plants don’t give a damn if your Muse is feeling recalcitrant.  The land needs what it needs.  And every day is different.

That said, they don’t all say “I’m going to compete with WalMart” either.  They’re not looking for the best tomato strain to travel cross country in an eighteen-wheeler so they can capture more market share.

The Slow Writing Movement.

I believe that writing involves hard work.  I think it’s important to know the industry, to understand the factors involved.  I think it means continually improving your craft, putting in the hours, planning and revising and being open to feedback.

I believe that writing means connecting with readers.  I think that it’s important to know who you’re writing for.  I think that this audience should be larger than simply yourself, although I think it can be considerably smaller than most would have you believe.

I believe that writers deserve to be adequately compensated for the work that they do.  I also realize that “adequately compensated” is a moving target, especially in the new world of digital publishing.  Yes, a book costs less than a latte.  But the author can, in theory, make more per copy on that “cheaper” book than he might have in a legacy publishing structure… even after overhead costs of editing, design and promotion are taken into account.  Things vary.

I believe that we can take some more time in crafting quality novels.

I believe that, through thoughtful connection rather than calculated hype, we can slowly build an audience that will sustain our work.

I believe that once we move away from the “bestseller” approach to fiction, we can start to develop a more enjoyable, higher quality, and still profitable model of business.

And I may be crazy, but I strongly believe I’m not the only author that thinks this way.

Please share, re-tweet, or forward… and let’s see if we can’t start growing a movement that, in my opinion, is long overdue.

Permaculture for Writers.

Remember that post where I mentioned I’d be talking about Permaculture?

This is it.

The Permaculture Principles.

For those of you who would like to geek out, an example of the full scale principles can be found here.  (I also highly recommend Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemingway.)  While they were originally meant for agriculture, they’ve since been applied to things like engineering and design.  Frankly, I’d be shocked if some economist isn’t working busily away, using the same template.

In a nutshell, though, here are the principles (I’m using theGaia’s Garden version, which is a little different than the website’s), and how I feel they can apply to writing.

1.  Observe.  Take your time and look at something, rather than diving forward and hoping things work out.

For writers specifically, this can mean observing the publishing climate — especially in a time of extreme shift and uncertainty, like now.

2.  Connect.   Hemingway writes:  “The number of connections among elements creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem, not the number of elements.”  It’s not how many plants you have — it’s how well they all get along.

For writers, this could mean how many connections you have between the fiction genres you write — how many connections between your readerships.  How well you connect with other writers in similar genres.  How well your promotion plan connects with your writing plan.

3.  Catch and store energy.  From an agriculture standpoint, it means doing everything you can to capture, collect, and hold stuff that will be helpful.  Got rain?  Get a barrel. Tie it to a slow drip irrigation system.  That’s a hell of a lot better than shlepping a watering can all over the place.

For writers, the most effective thing I can think of is:  routines.   Templates.  Systems.  Not for the creative writing itself.  But how much energy do you waste if you’re flipping through your previous books to remember your hero’s eye color?  How much do you waste in re-inventing the promotion wheel?  In writing different emails to every blogger you want to query?  Not saying that everything needs to be coldly mechanized, but you can nip and tuck a template if you’re asking to be reviewed.  You don’t need to start from scratch every time.

4.  Value stacking.   Everything needs to serve more than one purpose.  You plant a thorny hedge around your property that’s fruit bearing.  That keeps the dear out, gives them something on the pointy side to still nibble at while still saying “hey, stay out.”  It also provides your family with some fruit, maybe.  So that’s protection and food.

For writers:  how often have you heard “the quality of your book sells your next book?”  So your novel is both a creative outlet — which, when you’re writing, provides you with a certain amount of happiness and stress relief — as well as entertainment for others, and serves as a promotional tool.  Value stack!

5.  Redundancy.  If something needs to be done, there are a few elements that act as fail-safes: nobody keeps the eggs all in one basket.

For writers, I see this really tying to promotion.  Don’t count on one review to push you over.  Don’t necessarily count on one book to pay your income, either.  Look for several things that will accomplish what you need… just in case.

6.  Make the least change for the greatest effect.  Hemingway calls them “leverage points” and they are the simplest thing that will pack the biggest punch.

I’m still playing with how this can help.  Maybe it means giving up your anemic and distracting author blog and diverting that energy to your next manuscript.  Maybe it means simply shifting from five supporting characters to one aggregate supporting character.  Look at what you can shift.

7.  Small scale, “slow” systems. Develop small systems, test and tweak them until they work, then build from there.

This again could apply to both writing (and you guys know what a fiend I am for noting and developing a writing process) as well as promotion.

8.  Optimize edge.  They say that the border between two environments is one of the most diverse & productive places in any system… so go for the edges.

Again, still playing with this.  Could this be the “edge” between two genres, the way urban fantasy exploded out of nowhere a few years ago, or chick lit sprouted from the intersection of romance and women’s fiction?   Or steampunk?  Or is it the edge between readerships?   Worth thinking about.

9.  Succession.  There’s a cycle to everything.  In nature, ecosystems go from immature to mature — from barren land to weed-filled grassland to shrubs to young forest to mature forest (if you’ve got enough rain, anyway.)

Nobody has to tell writers that publishing is cyclic.  The key is to know where in the cycle your genre is, and where in your career your cycle is.  Contemporary romances are showing signs of coming back; angel and demon paranormal romance is on the wane.  As to careers — where are you in the cycle of succession?  Just starting out?  Mid-list?  Riding a high?  Or maybe waning, and ready for a re-boot?

Digital publishing has everyone a little crazy, and it seems hard to predict, but it’s worth thinking about in terms of succession.  It’s I’d say moving out of a grassland, past shrubs with some real trees filling in there (ironic metaphor, I know.)  The landscape is changing.  What do you want from it?

10.  Use renewable resources.  This probably rings a few hippie chimes, I know.  But it’s also just smart, from a “lazy person” perspective.  If I use rechargable batteries, I’m not constantly running down to the store every time my kid runs down his Wii remote.  I’m also not looking for places to dispose of e-waste.  Right there, the rechargable battery is brilliant.

For writers, what could this mean?  Honestly, off the top of my head… series is a renewable resource.  You’re not starting from scratch in every novel.

Also, your Right Readers are renewable resources.  Once they consider you an auto-buy, you’re not constantly funneling effort and time into getting past their reservations and convincing them to try your book.  In fact, a good Reader will be an advocate for your book.  They are worth cultivating.  Hell — they’re worth their weight in gold.

11.  Obtain a yield.  If you have something, it needs to do something.  If you grow an annual plant just because it’s pretty, without any thought to the rest of your design, you’d better gain a hell of a lot of enjoyment from it… otherwise, it’s wasting space, energy, and time (your time in planting it and caring for it since the other plants won’t really connect and help it out.)

Similarly, if you’re doing something — writing something, promoting something — the steps you take should give you something.  If it recharges your batteries, that does count, by the way.

12.  Evaluate your trials.  Mistakes are important.  “Failures” are important.  That’s how you learn.

That doesn’t even need an explanation, right?  Although I will say this:  most authors don’t do a post-mortem of what works-what doesn’t other than a collection of rejection letters and royalty sheets.  Granted, with stuff like promo, it’s often hard to say — there isn’t a clear line between, say, a blog tour and a sales number.  But there are ways to track somewhat.

And there are ways to see what actually works for you, personally, beyond the traditional “sales” yield.  For example, if going to a book convention makes you break out in hives, don’t do that.  Unless you really feel like it sold a ton of books and that’s more important… but odds are good that’s not the case.

Way longer post than intended.

Still with me?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the principles, and if you think that there are connections — and possibly a more organic way to approach what we do without it devolving into complete creative anarchy.

If you think I’m nuts, I’d love to hear that, as well. 🙂

And if you could please share this via Twitter or Facebook, and see if any of your writing compatriots might want to weigh in, I’d really love to see if there are people interested in adding to the discussion.  Thanks!

 

Postcard from the Year of Cruise.

I can’t believe it’s May already.

Five months into my Year of Cruise experiment, and I have to say — once you’re on board, time gets a little elastic.  But here’s what I’ve learned so far, almost halfway (!!) through the year…

I discovered Permaculture Principles.

Honestly, I was just trying to plan a damned organic garden.  It seemed like a nice, relaxing, “Year of Cruise” thing to do, right?  Besides, I love fresh grown tomatoes.

Then, strangely, it turned into an obsession.

I was studying sustainability and reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and muttering to my husband “dude, we could totally have a farm. And a cow!  Definitely a cow!”

Then, I discovered Permaculture.  In a nutshell, it’s a set of guiding principles, based on an observance of nature, that encourage ease, productivity, and creativity… with the least stress possible.

The principles are elegant.  They are intuitive.  And they are head-smack obvious.

I could wax rhapsodic about Permaculture for hours, so I’ll cut it off there… but it has changed my life, and it’s definitely changing how I look at both writing and promotion.

So there will be more on this, my pretties.  Oh yes.  There will be more.

Apparently, “no goals” does not equal “no productivity.”

I discovered my Muse is in love with Permaculture as well, and she’s been productive as hell. I finished the first book of my Urban Fantasy series, and I can say it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever written.  It feels the most “me.”

I also learned that I love teaching — which I knew, but didn’t know the extent.  I’m teaching more classes over at Savvy University.

I also unearthed that one of my missions in life is helping writers write more easily.  Whether that means getting unstuck, or managing their time/energy/psyches, or plotting their novels, or just having guidelines to editing… that’s what I love.  Creating frameworks and helping institute practices.  I’m a process girl, and a hippie, and I am going to let my freak flag fly long enough to teach some of the practical/woo-woo systems that let me do what I do.

So I’m going to publish a series of little ebooks that illustrate those systems:

Rock Your Plot.

Rock Your Revisions.

Rock Your Query.

Write Every Day.

I’ll let you guys know when they’re out, but they’re very close to ready.

Navel gazing brings epiphanies.  Who knew?

One of the hardest parts of the Year of Cruise has been the quiet investigation of my motivations.  It was humbling to discover that I knew more about my fictional characters’ goal, motivations and conflicts than I did about my own internal GMC.

It’s called “Working in the Soft” — and I’ve discovered that, especially for a creative, emotional, and ultimately cerebral craft such as ours, if I’m not exploring the subconscious landscape, I’m ultimately traveling blind through the “waking” world.

I discovered some real epiphanies around promotion, which I’m starting to sketch out into a workable “practical-woo-woo” system.

I’m calling it Be Yourself Out Loud, because ultimately, that seems to be the key.  I think that most writers look at promotion as looking at what others want, like a high school clique, and then trying to project that facade.

And like high school, instead of looking at who you are and what people would love about yourself — in short, giving yourself the recognition and appreciation you want — they keep forcing it and faking it, or running away and hiding.

It’s a lot easier to say “create an elevator pitch!” than it is to actually work on loving and appreciating ourselves and our work.  But ultimately, promotion has to come from that work in the soft.

In short, the Year of Cruise has been an exploration.

Not every day has been fun, but every day has shown me something valuable.  I’m looking forward to sharing more of it with you guys.

Last note:  Birthday Boy Special!

Not everything has gone smoothly in the Y.o.C.

For example, my laptop died a fiery, painful, blue-screened death.

The Boy, my soon-to-be-six-year-old-son, is going to have a birthday and wants a party with his school friends.

And I’ve got a creativity retreat coming up in July… my first time away from family, giving myself dedicated creative time, perhaps since The Boy was born.

However, all these things cost money.  About $1500 for the laptop, the party, the trip.

So I’m running an editing special to cover costs:  $1 per page for a high-level edit of your manuscript.  When I hit $1500, I’m closing it.  $50 will secure the rate if your manuscript isn’t quite ready.  Just email me.

Also, if you know anyone who would want to take advantage of this, please let them know!

Well, that’s it for me.  How is your writing year going?