Beach Theme Gift Tote

In September, I’ll be at the Alpena Book Festival, signing books and speaking about writing. I’m donating this beach bag full of swag, too, for a raffle that benefits literacy. I had so much fun putting it together, I thought I’d share. It’s a good marketing tool, although that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because it’s fun.

That’s the key to just about everything for me. Is it fun? Does it do no harm? Do it!!

It started with the tote, spied at Lord & Taylor cosmetic counter. The colors were perfect for a series titled Blue Lake. Snagged it and solicited ideas for swag on social media. Women know what they like to take to the beach, I’ll tell you that. I would have added more but my budget was $150 value including books, plus it almost all doesn’t fit now.

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Also, I hope I can resist wearing that hat all summer. If not, I bought it at Hallmark. No wait, I bought it at Bed, Bath & Beyond. They had every color but as you see I mostly stuck to blue. And I went for quality stuff. I’ve been the winner of several raffles at writing events, and the swag can range from delicious to dreary. I wanted delicious, of course. I tried as hard as I could, since the event is not until end-of-summer, to wait for sales.

But the thing with sales is, sometimes by the time stuff goes on sale, the good things are gone. I did not want that to happen to my first ever swag bag. I wanted everything to be a fresh delight. I even snagged some Michigan Lakes themed items, like this “keeps hot or cold” mug. Good for beer or coffee or water. Oh I saw the cutest wine glasses but they were glass and I’m thinking glass + beach = not so great. This mug will hold wine just fine.

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#1 Question Writers Ask

I was at a writing conference last weekend and had a fabulous time. The workshops were inspiring, the food was delicious, the keynote speaker’s jokes made me laugh. He had a serious message, too, as all keynote speakers do. He’d been hearing the same question all day.

“How Can I Make Money From Writing?”

Seriously, there are so many ways. And once you actually write the book, (and it should be a well-written book with a subject people want to read about it, even if they don’t know it yet) and get it published, you will find the ways that suit you. We call that marketing.

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I’ve been writing a long time, with 10 published books and number 11 on its way, and what I think about that big question new writers (or maybe some not so new writers) ask is probably the wrong question. It depends, really, on your goals in writing. What do you want out of this gig? If the first answer that pops into your head is fame and fortune, you need to move to New York or L.A. and you should also be young and beautiful and work in publishing or become a celebrity. Those people get book deals all the time.

But if you write because you love the process, and the way to tell if you love it is to ask yourself “would I still write if I never got paid?” Answer yes and I can tell you how you might find your way into a happy writing career. Obviously, you’re going to need a day job. At least for awhile. That’s fine. You’ll find the right day job that will help you write better books and even help you publish and sell them. Work for a university and their press may print your books. Self-publish a book for your creative writing class and your dean might make it required reading and sell it in the bookstore. I know because that’s how I published and sold my first book in 2008. It’s in second edition and remains my best-selling title.

It takes a lot of time, though, from dreamy poet to college professor. I not only had to acquire a couple of college degrees, I became a mother. Twice. Best writing decision I ever made. My first published essay in an anthology was about being a single mom. I later wrote a novel with the same theme. But that first story was a true one, and my boys were at the center of it.

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What I’m really saying here is that the writing life–any life–is like a safe and you have to crack the code. You do that by listening like a safecracker with his ear to the combination, listening to the tumblers until you hear the click. Inspiration is a first click. Daily practice is another. Finding what brings you joy in life and going for it even if on the surface it seems to have nothing at all to do with writing is the final click that will open the door to the treasure inside. Or as the keynote speaker, Detroit poet ML Libeler, put it so well “Do what you love and the money will come.”

 

Crisis of the Writing Soul

When I cut 140 pages of my most recent manuscript, I had a crisis that led to a startling revelation. I’d been revising for awhile and knew the problem with the manuscript was a really boring subplot. At first, unwilling to do the necessary radical surgery, I tried to fix it. Much cutting and pasting later, I realized I was mostly deleting those subplot scenes while layering in a new point of view character.

Excited about the new character and what she brought to the story, I decided to chuck the rest of the draft. It had been helpful to write, but trying to fix it was becoming tedious. I gathered up my courage and cut. I didn’t trash those pages, I just put them in their own document. I knew I couldn’t use them, but saving them felt less radical than sending them to hell where they belonged.

The next day I had a crisis of the writing soul. I wondered if maybe the whole book had been a mistake. If it was simply one of those manuscripts that didn’t quite come together and should thus be abandoned. The idea of abandoning a story I’d grown quite attached to made me miserable. I was scared. Unsure. Defeated? Not quite. I couldn’t give up. I had to try a little longer.

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I had a deadline. It was a firm deadline if I wanted a book out in 2016, and I did. That I wanted it so much was a revelation.  Writing has always been a vital part of my life, but why, now, did it feel so much bigger? Why did my life, in the day-to-day sense, seem like a huge blank without writing and publishing? That writing has taken on such importance  is a scary thing to admit, but there it is. Writing and I had a nice friendship for a really long time. Now writing wants my soul. Without realizing, I already handed it over.

I love my family and friends. But my current situation is this: my family are, for the most part, unavailable in real time. My kids live across the country and my husband works every day, even weekends. I see him maybe two or three hours a day. I see my kids maybe two or three times a year. Maybe once or twice a week, I have lunch with friends. I volunteer a bit. I cook dinner and do the homemaker thing. Lunch and shopping and cooking and cleaning and being a Good Wife take maybe half my time. The other half, now that I don’t teach, is invested in writing.

Once I realized and accepted that writing is the joy that takes the biggest chunk of my time, I felt a bigger responsibility toward it. Like, I can not let it down. I cannot let the opportunity to publish this book this year pass. Even if it doesn’t happen, I need to know I did my part to make it so.

The crisis was not about giving up, but more wondering if I had it in me to pull off this particular book this particular time. And the only way to know was to try. So I did. I took it bird by bird and rewrote that long section of the book. I finished a few days ago. Yesterday I read the completed manuscript. It was good. I will meet my deadline. Crisis averted.

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PS After four months of intense work, I’m due for a break. Happy to say my husband agrees and we’re leaving snowy Michigan for a nice, long vacation in sunny Florida. I’ll even being seeing my son, who will be there for work! Will post a new entry (maybe I’ll hear from my editor) when I return. 

 

Content is Queen

My heart sank a little at last weekend’s conference when Chuck Sambuchino, the keynote speaker, said he’d been writing, and steadily climbing the publishing ladder, for ten years.

I was first published in the ’80s, so that’s, uh, longer.

But Chuck did say something valuable, something I’d forgotten. He talked about how there is so much about being a writer we can’t control. We can’t control how our writing will be received by agents, editors, publishers, or reviewers. We can’t control rejection. We can’t control bad reviews. Novelists, unless they’re indie, can’t even control the cover that appears on their books. Bloggers can’t control page views or Google ratings or spammers or negative commenters.

The good news from Chuck is that there is ONE thing writers can control and it is the most valuable thing of all: our writing. We control the words on the page and there is no more heady feeling than that. We also control IF we decide to write. IF we put our butts in chairs and do it without getting distracted by Twitter. (Or is that just me?)

I took heart with Chuck’s words and as I revise my novel-in-progress, I vow to make those words the very best I can, because if they are good words, and good stories, people will notice. Content is Queen. It’s all we’ve got and it’s under our control.

Marketing for Introverts & Other People

print.booksAre you an introvert? Many writers are. I know I am. Therefore I’ve made a list of easy things shy writers can do to help sell their work. As I said in yesterday’s post, if  you publish, you need to market as well. So here’s what you can do to improve your visibility as a writer:

1. Join a writer’s group. I did. It’s easy. Go to meetings and listen. I became a member of Detroit Working Writers several years ago and the organization continues to inspire me. DWW started with a dozen women in 1900. We’re still going strong. You don’t have to be published to join.

2. Go to a conference. The workshop leaders and keynote speaker do almost all of the talking. They bring you news from the world of publishing. DWW’s annual conference this year is May 17, 2014 at the Clinton-Macomb Public Library. You can sign up early and get a discount.

3. Enter a writing competition. At our conference, we conclude by announcing the winners of our writing competition. First prize in all five categories is $100, so check it out. You do not have to attend the conference to enter the writing competition, but it would be fun, right?

4. Start a blog and begin to build your platform. If you don’t know what a platform is, you can ask anybody in DWW. Seasoned writers are available to mentor beginners. And blogging, heck, you do this alone in your writing room. What could be easier? I love Word Press but Blogger is also user-friendly.

If you do these four things for your writing self, you will succeed. When I joined DWW several years ago, I had self-published one book, a non-fiction writer’s manual. Since becoming a member of DWW and joining in some of the many networking and critique groups they offer, I’ve published four novels. Proof, to me at least, of the value of stepping out of the shy box.