Say No to the Multitasking Mistake

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We live in a world that is full of the drive to do more, more, more.  As writers, we suffer from this expectation maybe more than a lot of other people.

We are expected to write more, blog more, market more, be visible on social media more.  It is all Important, with a capital I.  Not doing all these things constitutes failure as a writer. Doesn’t it?

So a lot of us turn to multitasking.

What is Multitasking?

How many of you carry on multiple Twitter conversations while writing?  Or work on more than one book at once. (And by “at once” I mean at the same sitting, maybe even on separate screens.)

How many of you watch TV while working on copyedits or play solitaire while writing your rough draft?  Anyone ever burned dinner because you were sucked into some black hole of research?

The “busy-ness” of multitasking makes us feel like we’re getting a lot done.  If we’re honest about it, though, in most of the above cases, multitasking is really just another term for “unable to concentrate on what I’m supposed to be doing.”

So what exactly is multitasking?  Multitasking is doing more than one thing, side-by-side, which requires one’s attention to be given equally to each.  But since your brain cannot actually focus on two things simultaneously, what you are really doing is switching your attention back and forth between the two things.

Write a paragraph, answer an email, write another paragraph, answer another email. You’re not really working on both at the same time. You’re alternating between two separate things, each of which requires your brain’s undivided attention at the time of the doing.

Writers and Multitasking

Keep in mind that, by “multitasking,” I don’t mean doing different writerly things on different days or at separate times. As a working writer, or one trying to establish relationships with their Right Readers, for example, you may need to assign different tasks to different days.  Writing Monday through Thursday, bookkeeping on Fridays, marketing on weekends.

Alternatively, some writers divide their days into different types of tasks…writing in the mornings and answering emails and doing other business-related tasks in the afternoon.   None of these examples really falls into the category of multitasking because you are focusing on one task at a time.

Sometimes you have to make time for other tasks besides writing spur-of-the-moment. If you’re published, you’ve probably been deep into the first draft of a new book, only to get your editorial letter or your copy edits and have to completely shift gears.  There’s not much you can do about that…because you likely have a deadline.

How Multitasking Affects the Writing

When it comes to the effects of multitasking on the writing, these are the main issues:

  • Decreased productivity. While multitasking may make you feel busy, scientists estimate that productivity is actually decreased by 40% when you’re doing more than one thing concurrently.

Switching your focus to something other than the writing every couple of minutes has the same effect as if you saved your document and closed your program after a few paragraphs, only to need to wait for it to open again to work on it once more a few minutes later.

When you work on something else, then come back to the writing, you have to reboot your brain to get reacquainted with where you were before you can start again. If you’d just kept going, that “reboot” time could have been spent actually writing.

  • Loss of focus. If the words aren’t flowing easily, they certainly aren’t going to flow any better if you allow yourself to shift focus to something else instead, even for a few minutes. You’d be better off staring into space when things aren’t flowing, and letting your brain work out the problem, instead of giving it something completely different to do.
  • Increase in mistakes. Typos, skipping important information in a scene, calling a secondary character by the wrong name.  Sometimes, when you’ve switched tasks, your brain is still back on the other one, which can cause errors.  Another way mistakes can increase is by loss of continuity.  Copy editing while watching TV can cause you to skip sentences. Your focus is pulled away to the television, and when you come back, you don’t go quite back to where you ended, and you miss something.
  • Greater stress level. Yes, believe it or not, task-switching increases adrenaline in your system and actually increases your stress level! While working on your manuscript, your mind may be stressing out over what you might be missing on Facebook.
  • Decreased likelihood of finishing things…like your work in progress. Starting multiple stories and working on them all at once means it’s going to take longer to get these things completed…if they ever do get finished. (You’re liable to get bored with one or both and move on to yet another shiny pretty new things before ever completing any of it.) Multitasking produces activity, not accomplishment.


Multitasking Solutions

Are we ever going to be able to get rid of multitasking completely?   Probably not.

But if you’re struggling to get that chapter done, feeling like you’re never quite “in the zone,” wondering why you feel like you’re missing opportunities on Twitter or Facebook to communicate with your readers, finding yourself making mistakes…STOP. Take a look at  your work habits.

It could be that you’re never giving one task all of your attention for any length of time.

Here are a few solutions to making the mistake of multitasking.

  • De-socialize. Turn off email and social media notifications while working. Don’t answer the phone. No one is going to miss you for an hour or two. When you’ve completed your writing for the day, feel free to play on Twitter all you want, giving it all your attention instead of only half of it.
  • Save things for later. DVR your favorite shows if they come on during your writing time. The show will be just as good at another time. Bonus…you will likely pay more attention to the show AND be able to skip commercials.
  • Get rid of distractions. Delete Candy Crush or any other addiction from your phone or computer.  If it’s not there, you won’t be tempted to just “play one more level” between paragraphs. Change when you write.  If all your writing friends hit Twitter at 6 p.m., can you write before that, so you aren’t tempted to multitask?
  • Check into distraction-free writing tools that will help keep you focused.
  • Schedule your tasks and your downtime. Put a day without writing on your calendar, and take care of personal things on that day, or feel free to explore marketing or social media more in depth. Schedule a couple of hours of research time in the morning and then work on the scenes you were gathering research for in the afternoon.  Don’t research as you go.

With a bit of adjustment, you can disable the multitasking bug most of the time.  You’ll find that once you’re focusing better on one task at a time, you’ll accomplish more, faster, and better.

Last month when I wrote my blog post for Rock Your Writing, it took me nearly a week of evenings. This month it took me a few hours one evening, including research time.

Why the big difference?  Last month I wrote while watching TV each night. (And if you don’t think Sam and Dean can take your focus away from what you’re supposed to be doing, you’ve never watched Supernatural.)

This month I turned off the TV and concentrated on one thing, researching and writing my blog post. It took me a fifth of the time.

If that’s not proof of the evils of multitasking, I don’t know what is.

Where do you find multitasking tripping you up?  How do you solve the problem? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Rock Your Writing!

~Shannon McKelden

Sell books (without being an asshat.)

Sell books (without being an asshat.)I read two interesting blogs recently.  First, “Are Writers Badgering Readers?” over at Huff Post Books.  That post was a response to Book Riot’s “Readers Don’t Owe Authors Sh*t.”

The two seemed to encapsulate the writer’s dilemma.  Nobody wants to badger readers — but “if we want to sell books, what else can we do?”  Right?

Not necessarily.

Let’s talk about coffee for a minute.

Let’s say you’re at a coffee shop. You enjoy it there: you like the atmosphere, the coffee’s pleasant, the pastries are really good.  You go in to buy a cup and knock out a chapter.

But the owner clears his throat. “We’ve got a new flavor of latte coming out next week.  I need you to post about it on Facebook and Twitter, and tell all your friends.  It’s important.”

You nod absently.

“Did I mention I’m trying to put my kid through school?” he adds, holding your pastry hostage.  “And that business has been really bad?”

You squirm, look away.

“And I hear you buy Starbucks at the grocery store,” he continues.  “When independent coffee roasters are struggling?  When I sell  pounds of coffee beans right here at the counter?  Do you want to put me out of business?”

You mutter something unintelligible, get your latte and scone, and shuffle towards “your” table.  Only to have him add:  “By the way… you spend hours here, buying only one cup of coffee and a single pastry.  I lose money when you do that.  You know that, right?”

When you hastily drink your coffee, eager to get the hell out of there, you wonder if it was always this bitter…  or if it’s just you.

Meanwhile, in another part of town…

Let’s go to a different coffee shop.

The woman who owns this place has a decent number of table tops in a good location, and she’s been open for a while.

She doesn’t necessarily know your name, but she knows your drink, because you’re a regular.  In fact, you show up enough that she suggests you sign up for the frequent buyer program: just provide your email, and you get a punch card, plus a free latte after every seven.

After you sign up, she sends monthly emails announcing new coffees and tea blends (“Almond Hazelnut Toffee Mocha!”) and discounts on pastries.

When you show up to write for hours at a time, she notices.  Only instead of railing at you about it, she talks to you about what you’re working on, and even suggests you hold a writer’s group there.

Badgering, begging, and marketing.

Removing the validity of any of the guy’s statements, how likely is it that you’re going to go back to that first coffee shop?

Personally, I don’t care if it’s the smoothest coffee in the world, served in 24 carat gold cups, and Johnny frickin’ Depp is pouring. I’m not drinking there.

Guilt trips aren’t a marketing technique.  They’re emotional blackmail.  And they have no place in a business.

Marketing is more than a coupon.

Now, look at the second cafe.

That owner has enough tabletops that even if several are occupied for hours, she’ll have enough room for turnover.  She needs to sell x number of cups of coffee to make overhead… and she didn’t open a cafe until she knew she’d have enough money to get a location that would actually make that possible.

She pays attention to her customers, so she knows that you loiter for an hour or two while you’re working out scenes.  She also knows you’re good for a tall latte with a shot of espresso, and that you can be coaxed into getting a cookie if it’s raining.  She gets a healthy balance of people like you, plus stressed out executives from the office park across the street, mommies taking a breather after the Gymboree class next door, and teens too young to hit bars every evening.

She knows her business.

Further, she’s not thinking “I need to get my daughter through private school, so you’d better add a morning bun to that order, pal.”

She’s thinking of the customer.  That is, what’s important to the customer — what the customer wants and needs.

She also knows that if you only wander in to grab a (free) sample of muffin before making excuses and reading the (free) paper, you’re not a customer, you’re a distraction.

If a distraction complains about the fact that she’s “always trying to sell something”  she’s going to ignore him.  Why?  Because he’s not really “business” that she’s going to lose.

She knows that people like special deals, and they’re willing to trade access to their inbox for the occasional free vanilla latte and a price break on a cinnamon roll.  If they aren’t, they don’t need to sign up, or they’re free to unsubscribe.  But she’s betting on the fraction that are, and that bet tends to pay off.

Instead of carping about you loitering like a wannabe Hemingway, she’s looking at ways to broaden her market.  Consequently, her reward is twelve new potential regulars, on top of selling about twenty-four cups of coffee and eight pastries plus a pound of French Roast when your writer’s group meets there.

That, my friends, is marketing.

How can we apply this as writers?

Most authors put off promotion until a new release, then they get into this frenzy of activity… until the launch month has passed, at which point they can gratefully return to their writing caves until forced back to repeat the cycle with the next title.

Others are the “badgers” that the article mentioned.

They’re All! Sales! All! The! Time!!!! 

You can’t throw a dart without hitting some blurb about their books, recent reviews, or special sales.

Technically, that’s just saying “buy my book!”  and it’s only one element of a marketing strategy.

Working an actual marketing plan takes people from:

  • cold (“I don’t know who the hell you are”)
  • to warm( “okay, I know you, but I don’t know if I’ll like your work”)
  • to hot (“I will pick up your next novel and sign up for your newsletter list”)
  • to molten (“I will buy you in hardcover and name my first child after your main character”  )

That involves lead generation.  List warming.  Up-selling.   And especially writing more books.

If you’re a writer, you’re in business, right?

It might sound hard, and some of these terms might sound alien at best and skin-crawling corporate at worst.

But for the most part, they’re simple, if not easy.

The bad news is, there’s a learning curve.  The good news: if you can plot a novel, you can make a marketing plan.

And if you’ve worried about how to promote without turning into a douchebag narcissist, then trust me: this is the way to go.

Click below for related posts on promotion:

Promote Your Book:  Lessons from Cinderella

Right Reader, Revisited

The Slow Writing Movement

Case Study: 10 Steps to Promote a Novel, Part 1

I’m breaking this post into two parts, because just the first five steps clock in at over 1700 words!

Last week, I was grateful to be able to use Linda Cassidy Lewis as a case study on how to profile a Right Reader.  Since she’s a glutton for punishment, she’s graciously allowing me to use her again… this time to illustrate what I’d suggest be her next 10 steps for promoting her self-published novel, The Brevity of Roses.

The background: promo to date.

Linda “indie” or self-published her women’s fiction/commercial lit fic novel The Brevity of Roses in April 2011.  In that time, she’s done three interviews and one guest post, and has approached seven review sites.  The book has been featured as a giveaway on Tony Eldridge’s Sunday Kindle Book Giveaway, and she’s done a Goodreads giveaway, as well.

She’s got social media covered.

She’s an excellent example of social media coverage:  she’s got her blog, which she updates frequently.  She’s on Twitter, with about 1300 followers; she’s got a relatively new Facebook fan page, she’s on LinkedIn, she’s active on Goodreads.  But she still hasn’t quite reached a sales goal that she’s comfortable with.  She’s looking to improve her results.

The sticky wicket of Lit Fic.

(Try saying that ten times, fast!)

I was initially a little stumped coming up with my “next 10” promotional steps plan… and then I realized it was because I’d become spoiled by genre book bloggers.  Genre bloggers are a bit more open minded about self-pub; not all of them, but enough that there’s wiggle room, and there are also a lot of reader blogs just starting out.  Not so much with literary or mainstream women’s fiction, I discovered.

Goals:  tailored and frugal.

Linda’s got a great link on her blog called the Frugal Self-Publisher, which tells you a little about her mindset.  She’s looking for the most bang for her proverbial buck.  But then, aren’t we all?

The First Five Recommended Next Steps

1.  Define goals.
This seems bone-head obvious, but with the clients I’ve been working with on publicity, I notice when I ask “what are your goals?” their answer is usually:  “I’d like to sell a lot.”

On the Kindle Boards, they have specific threads where you can post your sales numbers — sharing information as well as cheering/commiserating results.

This could be a good place to gauge what a realistic goal is if you’re self-published and have access to sales numbers.  (For traditionally published authors who are dealing with publisher’s voodoo numbers, this is more difficult to use as a yardstick — might be better to target “I’d like to have 20 stops on my blog tour” or “I want 30 reviews on Amazon” or whatever.)

With this magic number in mind, you’ll find yourself more focused and more motivated — and more likely to track results.  (See #11.)

2.  Join tribes.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  everyone writes alone, no one succeeds that way.

I know that Linda has an engaged tribe of her own, with frequent blog commenters — always a good sign in a blog.  I would suggest that she pick two forums to visit regularly, commenting daily if possible… not necessarily about her book, but about things that contribute to the tribe.

Some suggestions:  Writer Unboxed’s Facebook group, and Nathan Bransford’s forum, or especially the aforementioned Kindle Boards.  Or she could comment regularly on a blog, like Women’s Fiction Writers or, again, Writer Unboxed.  (Have I mentioned my great love for W.U.?)

The point of this?  Becoming recognized by people who will help her get the word out.  Ordinarily, I agree with Kristen Lamb: writing about writing isn’t necessarily going to get the job done when it comes to courting readers.

But this is women’s fiction bordering on lit fic.  Let’s just say it’s harder to find the reader tribe — they’re nomadic, their groups are fluid, they don’t necessarily identify with any particular set of fiction favorites.  (While us genre peeps fly our freak flag proudly, baby!  We own our turf!

Writers are still readers — more importantly, they’re going to help her get the word out as well as help her sell some books.  She’s going to be establishing herself as an expert… which is going to help her break into some of the harder-to-crack sites that will really help her get the word out.

3.  Go for cover quotes.

There are three main reasons readers won’t buy your book:  they don’t know about it; they’re not sure about you; and they’re afraid they won’t like it.

If you get a good cover quote from a known author (or even a lesser-known author in some cases) you’re handling the second point. Known authors are like friends to readers: when they say “hey, she’s okay” the author is in essence vouching for you.

Of course, this puts a lot of pressure on the quote-giver, because if it’s a book that they really feel isn’t very good, or just don’t connect with,  they’re put in the awkward position of saying, “um, sorry” or making excuses. Or they’ll go ahead with a “meh” cover quote… and then they’re going to lose trust from their readers, who bought the book as a result and feel burned.

I’d suggest Linda approach other authors she trusts, who are aware of her.  Teachers, perhaps; other bloggers.  Ask nicely for a quote; give plenty of leeway for them to back out with no pressure or problems. And ask for more people than needed, because odds are harsh and people are going to back out.

Linda might join the RWA-WF… a special chapter of Women’s Fiction writers in the Romance Writers of America.  For one thing, it’s a wonderful community, and a great tribe to join.  Secondly, there are a slew of authors there. As Linda becomes more comfortable in the community, she might get offers to “blurb” her book, or at least be in a better position to ask.


4.  Reviews, reviews, reviews.

Reviews, on a book blog or review journal, cover the first two points — readers can hear about your book, and technically, someone else they trust (or else they wouldn’t be reading the review) is telling them what you’re all about.  Not necessarily as good as friend’s word of mouth, but I’d say on equal footing as an author blurb (unless you get somebody like J.K. Rowling.)

As a self-published author, Linda’s in a tough spot. It’s the Wild West out there in Publishingland.  Some reviewers still look askance at self-pubs; others have simply closed their doors due to the sheer volume of self-publishing out there.

Here are five places to start with (and I’d recommend submitting to as many as budget will allow):


5.  Re-vamp the book page.

Your book page is a sales page.

There is only one thing you want people to do:  buy the book.

Here’s where those “reader objections” thing come in.  If they’ve gotten to your book page, then they’re at least primed.  You’ve probably gradually gotten them there, through stuff you’ve posted on your blog, which they got to from one of your comments on another blog or on your social media or whatever.

Point is, they’re on the brink, and you need to show them they’re in good hands… and give them all the information they need to decide on whether they’ll buy your book or not.

In Linda’s case:

  • I’d lose the sidebar that has a repeat of her Amazon widget, her social media links, her “recent comments” and her blog roll.  Keep the focus purely on the book.  (From a design standpoint, the two book covers next to each other is a little distracting.)
  • Personally, I’d recommend losing the quote from Emily Dickinson, lovely though it is.  (And it is lovely, I’m not just saying that.)
  • I’d cut the paragraph: “The Brevity of Roses is a contemporary tale of love, loss, and redemption told through the voices of one man and two women. The story is set in the fictional California towns of Coelho and Bahia de Sueños.”  It shows us about the story, but people don’t say “I’m looking for a  story told from the voices of one man and two women.”  They love the story arc itself; in literary fiction, they might prefer the voice.  Either way, this paragraph doesn’t work towards convincing a reader.
  • I’d bump up the back cover copy… bring it up, front and center.  Maybe even open with a block quote sentence from the novel, that captures the feel or theme, instead of the Emily Dickinson quote.
  • I wouldn’t refer to the links to the excerpt, or reader reviews, etc.  I wouldn’t include the character who’s who at all, simply because it doesn’t seem fitting — whereas if she were writing an epic world-building fantasy saga or historical family drama, then that would make sense, but not for a women’s fiction necessarily.  (Unless she’s building a series…but even then, not until other books are available.)
  • Instead of reader reviews, I would only include either the author “blurb” cover quotes, or review quotes from book bloggers or review sites.  Instead of linking to them, I’d have them as emphasized block quotes, right there on the page.
  • I would include buy links on the page itself; just because the widget’s removed doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be there.  Definitely include an affiliate-sale link to Amazon; also Smashwords, and anywhere else available.
  • I would include the excerpt on the page.  Don’t make them click to it: provide it, right there.  That’s the hook — that should be what sells them.
  • Ask for the buy.  Don’t just say: “Available for sale.”  Say:  “Buy now.”  (That doesn’t mean you’re going to add “SUNDAY!  SUNDAY! SUNDAY!” or anything crass… but it turns out people need some sort of direction.  That’s where the call to action comes in.)


Okay, that’s it for today.

Next week:  Part 2 — the next 5 steps.

If you found this helpful, or just want to  wallop one of your friends with a 1700 word read, please re-tweet! 🙂