Target audience, and writing for Rina.

Rina, my BFF.

My very best friend in the world is Rina.

I met her my first year in Berkeley, in my first art class.  We struck up a conversation about Disney’s Fantasia re-release, I wound up going to her house to watch it, her mother fed me lasagna and I basically lived as her unofficial roomie, like a stray cat, for four years.  Then an additional four, after graduating and spending several years in the wastelands of L.A.

Rina was the one who loaned me the first single title romance I ever read, The Lion’s Lady by Julie Garwood.  She then inadvertently gave me a career path and an addiction to genre fiction that she continually feeds, like a dealer.  (I say this without malice, since she introduced me to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and I am now returning the favor by hooking her on my favorite series.)

Rina is my ideal reader.

She has a twisted sense of humor and an eclectic taste in stories. If readers were types of animals, she’d be like those deer that nibble a bit of everything yet still manage to decimate gardens.

More importantly, she likes my work, she likes me, and best of all, she gets me.  As in, she gets what I’m writing about.

We have inside jokes.  We have outside jokes.  One of these jokes is that we share a brain.  (When one of us did something dumb, we’d call the other and ask, “okay, do you have the brain today?”)

Rina is my “target audience.”

I was once told by a marketing professional that it’s a mistake to assume your readers are just like you.  I get that.  It’s what’s known as The Usual Error — we project what we like and dislike, how we think, onto other people.

That said, it’s taken me over ten years to realize that just because my readers aren’t just like me, doesn’t mean that I need to “target” the largest “likely demographic” and work toward attracting and convincing “potential readers.”

I just need to find my Rina’s, essentially.

How to find a Rina.

I didn’t go to Berkeley saying, “Today, I am going to find a best friend.  I am going to look at most likely candidates.  I am going to wear my most friend-attracting clothing.  I am going to have a dedicated plan, and I am going to work it religiously.”  Hell, I was eighteen years old, and I was lucky to roll out of bed on time for class.  I didn’t exactly have my shit together.  Even if I did — seriously, who does that?

I found Rina by being where I wanted to be — a practice of art class.  As an art major, which was a scary and exciting thing.  We both discussed something we loved:  Disney, and animation.  (Something the other art majors did not seem to be into, strangely enough.)  From that discussion, we segued to reading, another shared passion.  And over the years, that’s just solidified.

How does that translate to promotion?

In my opinion:  the best way to promote is to simply be yourself.  In public.

I love reading.  I’m finding places that not only discuss reading, but discuss reading stuff that I like.  In short, even if I weren’t a writer, I’d “hang out” there anyway.

I’m commenting on things that I find interesting, and leaving stuff I don’t find interesting alone.

I’m seeing what other people are saying.  Finding friends.  They may not buy my books — but they may know people who would love them. I don’t know, that’s not my business.

Process, not project.

You can’t control people.  You could do all the “right steps” and still have no financial gain to show for it.  The trick, I think, is to realize it — to surrender the illusion of control, and simply connect with readers who like what you like because it’s frickin’ awesome to connect with other readers who like what you like.

It’s a sort of magic, but I think the readers will follow.

Be yourself out loud.

Connect where you can.

And let your right readers — people you’d hang out with, people you like — find you.

Testing this theory.

I realize that, even for me, this concept is amazingly woo-woo.

I want to set this up as a bit of an experiment.  (Apparently 2012 will be forever known in RYW lore as  “Year of the Experiment.”)

I’ve got an Urban Fantasy coming out in December.  I have never written UF before, so that’s already a bit scary.  I lost a good chunk of my newsletter subscribers when I switched email service — and honestly, I have sucked at newsletters, so that hasn’t been a very viable avenue of promotion for me.

My author blog?  I am going to owe Kristan Hoffman a big fat “you were right” — because I’m re-thinking how the author blog should and does work, and what I want to do there.

I want to see if I can prove that you can develop a readership in non-icky, totally benign and even fun ways.  Just by connecting.  I think I’m going to use the newsletter as my “measurable proof.”  Well… or book sales, I guess.  (It’s squishy science, but I’m not writing my doctoral thesis here.)

What do you guys think?  Is this something you’d be interested in reading about?

 

 

 

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?

 

 

What if you couldn’t screw it up?

I’ve noticed on some of the writer forums and blogs I check out, and in some of my classes, that there is this obsession with getting it right.

What’s the right way to plot, some ask. How should this work?  What do editors want to see?  What should they focus on, or ignore?

Or, if they’ve sold:  what’s the right way to promote?  What’s works, what doesn’t, and how do they make the time for it all?

Ultimately, I think that what they’re asking is:

What can I do that will make sure I succeed?

I feel for them.  I didn’t even realize until this year just how much this question permeated my life.

I’ve got books out, and more coming.

I’ve been freaking out, despite my intentions to the contrary.

But, in true ask-and-you-shall-receive style,  here’s the thing that I am getting hit with left and right this year:

What can I do that will make me succeed?

Nothing. 

There is nothing I can do to guarantee that I’ll succeed. I could blog three times a day, build a platform that could launch a space shuttle, write a novel that would make the angels weep.

And it still might not work.

But you know what?

That’s the good news. 

Yes, you read that right.   I have no control over the success or failure of my book.

And that is awesome.

By saying that I have no control over the success or failure of my book, I’m not saying that I can now blissfully ditch that whole writing debacle and live a quiet life of meditation while becoming a Walmart greeter.

I’m not saying that I am going to crawl under a rock, pretending that my book releases are not happening — on the assumption that I still have book releases.

I’m powerless over the results, yes.

That’s not the same as helpless.

It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do things.  It means that I can do what I feel, in my gut, is right — and then let go of what happens afterwards.

There’s an element of accidental Buddhist here.  There’s detachment.  I can want something (namely, success for my book) without being crushed if I don’t get it.  I can look at what I might want in the future, and what resonates with me in the present that lines up with what I want then.

I’m probably sounding like a goob, or terribly obvious, but bear with me — this has been a big one this week.

So what would promotion look like, in this new world order?

I am proud of my book, and love it.  Therefore, I want people who would genuinely enjoy it to know about it, because if I were them, I’d want to know about it.  Connecting with my Right Readers isn’t a chore, or at least shouldn’t be — it’s just touching base with friends.  It’s demonstrating gratitude that they’re in my life.

It could be doing five nice things.

It could be giving presents.

And if I don’t make a bestseller list, hey… writing letters to friends doesn’t suck.

The same goes for writing the book.

If I’m so stressed about writing it in a way that will guarantee success… well, my Muse will not be happy.  I’ve discovered she does not like being a wage slave.  She’s a servant of story, not one of my employees.

If that means I make my livelihood on something other than writing to keep her happy, well, I’ll have to suck it up and do that.  (Note:  this does not apply to everybody, or maybe even most people.  I’m just speaking for me, here.)

But it doesn’t mean that I stop writing.  I don’t write because I want to make gobs of money.  (Excuse me.  Had to stop laughing enough to keep typing that.)  I write because… well, I’m insane, and it’s my compulsion.   Stop writing?  Why not stop breathing while I’m at it? Puh-leeze.

I knew all of this.

I mean, I’d had bits and pieces of it.  I’ve posted about things related to it, I’ve read stuff about it.

But I also know that, in the thick of deadlines and launch dates, I’d ignore all these things I know, and run around like a headless chicken on crack.

The trick now is remembering it.

I can’t screw it up.

And God, does that feel good.

 

 

 

Promote Your Book: Lessons from Cinderella

I’ve written romance for over a decade. One of the most popular tropes is the Cinderella fantasy: a woman, mistreated, misunderstood and basically hidden from sight, is suddenly plucked from obscurity by a “fairy godmother” to great acclaim, living happily ever after after being recognized for her awesomeness.  It’s been done in a million guises, for both women (Pretty Woman) and men (Rocky.)

Literary critics often pan Cinderella stories, because they believe it promotes being a nice doormat while waiting around to be rescued by a random magical stranger.  I see their point: I’m a firm believer in being proactive.  However, I also believe the fantasy showcases most people’s desire to be discovered, while not being pushy — being humble, yet still being noticed.

I am seeing a lot of that when it comes to promotion.  Authors want to be recognized; they want their happily ever after.  That said, they want someone else to vault them there: to dress them up, put them in a shining carriage, and do everything but place a neon arrow over their heads that says “one to watch.”

The real lessons of the story, I believe, work a little differently.

Cinderella could have stayed home.

Yes, the godmother provided the opportunity: the dress, the flashy ride, and let’s not forget the glass slippers.  But in most versions the emphasis is not on anonymity, and the godmother offers no guarantees once Cinderella gets there.

There was a chance that Cinderella could show up, and someone would say “hey, what are you doing here?  Don’t you clean houses?”  They could have pointed fingers and laughed.  They could have coldly cut her off, because she was a stranger, because they were jealous.

Or her stepmother could have grabbed her, dragged her outside and beat the everloving crap out of her.

Cinderella took a risk to get there.  She deliberately left her comfort zone to pursue her dream.

The Prince wasn’t the point.

Cinderella took that risk simply to get to the ball.

Not to land the prince.  Not to get revenge on her family or prove something to the aristocracy.  Certainly not to escape her current (and admittedly horrible) circumstance. She just wanted to show up and see the beautiful party.

Just getting to the ball was enough.

She won the moment she walked through the door.

It was more than the dress.

One imagines that the dress was phenomenal.  She probably had magical make-up on, and was dazzling beyond belief.  And those slippers?  Bling, baby.

That said, Cinderella didn’t sneak in, gravitate to a wall, hide behind a pillar all night, and sneak out again.

She also didn’t head for the royal punch bowl, get liquored up and go Princesses Gone Wild on a table top.

She could have hidden — she didn’t.  She could have attracted attention for attention’s sake — she didn’t.

She wasn’t obnoxious, or even somehow supernaturally outgoing.  The magic didn’t mean that every word out of her mouth was suddenly riveting and she was inexplicably popular.

She was dressed up, yes.  But ultimately, she was herself.

The dress was the hook. The personality is what landed the prince.

The lessons.

1.  You’ve got to leave your comfort zone.

If you don’t play, you can’t win.  Cinderella took a chance.  She had a window of opportunity that shut down at midnight. She grabbed it and ran.

2.  You’ve got to dress up a little.

This is where marketing comes in.  Your dress is your blurb, your book cover, your website.

Note: Cinderella didn’t wear fishnets and hooker heels.  Attracting attention does not mean “big pimping in the promo world.”

3. Change your end goal.

If you won’t be happy unless you get the whole fairy tale — the NYT bestseller list and J.K. Rowling’s bank account, with Oprah on your speed dial — then there’s a good chance you won’t be happy.

4.  Be yourself.

Promotion is not prostitution.  Marketing doesn’t mean wearing a mask. You, and your work, are not only sufficient to attract an audience — your uniqueness is essential.  Cinderella didn’t pretend to be something she wasn’t.  She just turned up the volume on what was already there.

If you believe there’s truth in fairy tales — and you want to share a little of the magic — please re-tweet!

Photo by jj_judes on Flickr.

How to Find Time to Write and Promote.

I’ve seen a lot of people wrestling with this issue lately. I’ve been juggling quite a bit, myself, and being a bit time management challenged in the past (read: overbooked and incapable of triage/saying no) it’s a topic that’s close to my heart.

How do you find time to write and promote?

I haven’t perfected the system. I don’t think anyone ever does.  But here are the steps I used to get into the groove that currently allows me to offer my services, write this blog, write my novels, and grow my audience… all while raising a five year old.

1.  Start small.

You guys know how I feel about author platforms. Promotion is crucial: pushing sucks.  The key is to be connected — to be social, but at the same time, making conscious choices.

I choose to comment on two blogs — the same two blogs — every single day there’s a new post.  Because I’m a writer and I run a writing site, I have a bit more than that, but this is how I started.  Just two blogs.

I then chose to post one Facebook status update and one Tweet every day.  Just one.

I did that for a month or two.  Then, I added blogging consistently:  once a week.  Just once.  No post over 1,000 words.  Technically, it made my social media posts easier, but I wound up simply adding a tweet instead of replacing one.

2.  Make it a routine.

The first time I drove a stick shift car, I thought my head would explode. Or that the engine would.  I was already frazzled trying to simply get the gas vs. brake thing down while steering and paying attention to my surroundings. Then I had to add a clutch and shifting while the engine’s whining and the gears are grinding?  Seriously?

Fortunately, my instructor had me learn the basics on an automatic first.  When it was time to switch to stick, I stuck to parking lots where I could go slowly and I wouldn’t need to shift up too often.  Little steps.  It became second nature… in steps.

Finding time to write and promote works on the exact same principles.  Small steps.  For one whole month, time permitting, write every day.  Just one page, if necessary.  And mark on a calendar or keep track some other way.

Once you start doing that every day for at least a month, add one social media thing.  Post on your media of choice, once a day, every day.  Already doing that?  Blog.  Just once a week.  (If you haven’t set up a website, then break that down into steps, and every day, tackle one baby step toward that goal.) Do something small every day.

They call your creative self your “inner child.”  I am learning the hard way: children need, and secretly crave, routine.

3.  Look at what you’ve got.

This absolutely sucks rocks, but I hate to admit, it’s the only way I know that actually works.

Write down what you do every day for a week.  I mean everything.  Start with the time you wake up, then document everything you do while you do it.  Don’t wait until the end of the night and try to remember it — that never works!

Do this for a week, and you’ll see where your time is really going.  I fought against this kicking and screaming, but when I finally broke down (thanks to a cool new planner and an even cooler time management advisor) I was amazed at what I did with my time.  I had a lot more of it than I thought — but I was also basically draining my battery in ways I hadn’t realized.

Once I saw what I had to work with — both from a time and an energy standpoint — I was able to make better choices.

4.  Put replenishment first.

If you’re carving out time but not refilling the well, then you’re trying to run a marathon on a Hershey bar.  That wall comes up fast and you hit it hard.  Worse, you’re probably going to berate yourself for not meeting your goals.

When you look at the time you have, and you’re looking at building your routines, make sure that self-care is the first routine on the list.  Before the page-a-day, before the tweets and posts, pick one small but effective energy pick-up.

Keep in mind: you need to see if it’s really sustaining.  That one-week documenting practice will show you what you’re trying to do to pick yourself up vs. what actually works.  If you’re getting your ass kicked on a day job, and then you’re coming home and unwinding by diving head first into a pint of Karamel Sutra ice cream and a Mad Men marathon, perhaps you might wonder why you continue to feel exhausted despite two hours on your couch.

Your small step might be a fifteen minute walk.  Or a big glass of water.  Or — God forbid — meditation.  Something that is possibly irritating as hell going in, but you know in your gut will actually fuel the engine rather than simply let it cruise on fumes.

Simple, but not easy.

These are not glamorous, not sexy, and not fun.  They seem painfully simple, and probably stuff you’ve read before.

But think of it this way.  All you need is about fifteen minutes a day to start building your platform.  You can write a page a day and have a 365 page manuscript ready for revision.

And a bonus tip:

5.  Get an accountability buddy.

You can’t do this alone.  I have the most supportive friends in the world, but I still feel guilty as hell when I have to tell them I didn’t do what I told them I would.

Look at what you’ve got.  Pick a little goal.  Tell somebody.

I’m thinking of starting a Twitter hashtag, like #RYW #smallsteps, or some other way of staying accountable and reporting in.  If it’s something you’re interested in, could you put it in the comments, or email me?  Sometimes it’s hard to find writer friends who understand, and who will cheer you on (or hold you to things.)

If you know of anyone that this post might help, please re-tweet.