If you are interested in promoting yourself and your website or your book or other product, one way is to write free articles for distribution on the Internet. The site www.ezinearticles.com is one place where you can submit articles and have them distributed without any cost to you. You'll be able to see how many times your article was requested.
The pay-off for you is that at the end of each article you can include a bit about yourself and what you offer, ideally with a link to a website (or, if you have a book, a link to it on Amazon.com). Posting one article won't have much effect, of course, but if you post enough of them and they are popular, you should start to see some results over time.
Here is one such article that I posted today, complete with little bio and links at the end:
Creating a Writing Flow – Make Writing Effortless
You may be familiar with the concept of "flow" as written about extensively by Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced "chick-sent-me-high"). It's that state in which you are so involved with writing or whatever you are doing that you lose all track of time. Often it's an exhilarating experience in which it seems like we are just writing down the thoughts flowing through us.
The question is, how can we induce such a state rather than waiting and hoping for it to occur spontaneously? Here are three keys:
1: Pick a task that is at or just above your level of ability. If it's too hard or too easy, you won't enter flow. So if you want to write a novel, break it down into chunks you can handle. One might be writing a rough outline. Another might be doing a character biography for your protagonist.
2: Make sure that the task includes immediate feedback, so that you know as you go along whether or not you are doing well. For instance, you can start by setting yourself a goal of writing a certain number of words per half hour. Generally, you need to feel positive at the beginning stages, and eventually the task may so absorb you that you stop thinking about how you're doing it, or how well.
3: Create an atmosphere in which you have as few distractions as possible. Again, later in the process, you may be so involved that you don't even notice things like a phone ringing but it helps if you can start off in an environment that makes it easy to concentrate. This also includes setting aside a period of time when you won't feel you really should be doing something else.
ACTION: Schedule some time during which you want to tackle a project and create the conditions described above. Go into the process with the idea that if flow occurs, that will be great, and if it doesn't, you'll still get a lot done (that mentality makes it less likely that you'lldistract yourself by asking 'am I in flow yet?’).
Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, six non-fiction books, short stories, articles, and plays. He is also an international creativity and writing coach. More tips and techniques are available at his website: http://www.timetowrite.com, where you can also sign up for his free monthly Brainstorm e-bulletin. Also see his blog at http://www.timetowrite.blogs.com.
If you're a writer who wants to promote himself or herself you should have a website and a press kit. One cool addition to both of these is a list of questions and answers that help people to see you as an individual. My publisher passed along to me the questionnaire that Waterstones bookshops give to authors so they can link them to their books on the Waterstone's website. I thought you might like to see them and add them (and your own answers, of course) to your promotional materials:
What was your favourite childhood book?
For some reason, the Redwood City (California) Public Library had a set of books by Enid Blyton, and I read and loved the “Famous Five” series. It was the start of my life-long love affair with England (where I now live) and gave me the hope that my real parents were English aristocrats who would come and re-claim me someday (I’m still waiting).
Which book has made you laugh?
Any book by Carl Hiaasen.
Which book has made you cry?
“Great Expectations,” at how Pip failed to appreciate his father and later came to regret it. If my father were still alive, he might not be too surprised by this choice.
Which book would you never have on your bookshelf?
A book that advocated book-burning.
Which book are you reading at the moment?
“Little Children” by Tom Perotta. It’s so good that I’m afraid to see the film.
Which book would you give to a friend as a present?
If they want to write, I’d give them my book, naturally, but also Brenda Euland’s timeless “If You Want to Write,” and Rollo May’s “The Courage to Create.”
Which other writers do you admire?
In no particular order, Elmore Leonard, Charles Dickens, Anthony Burgess, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, David Sedaris, T. E. Lawrence, and many, many others.
Which classic have you always meant to read and never got round it?
Crime and Punishment. The way things are going, I may get to Crime, I’m not sure I’ll have time for Punishment. (I can’t remember, but I may have stolen this joke from Woody Allen.)
What are your top five books of all time, in order or otherwise?
“Great Expectations,” “Earthly Powers,” “The Courage to Create,” “No More Second-Hand Art,” “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” Those are just five great books that come to mind, I can’t really do a top five, the pressure is too great…
What is the worst book you have ever read?
Even the worst book has some poor soul behind it who put his or her heart and soul into it, so I’d rather not be cruel.
Is there a particular book or author that inspired you to be a writer?
It was more the fact that books were such a wonderful escape that made me want to be a writer.
What is your favourite time of day to write?
Late at night, when there are fewer distractions, and night itself seems a more intimate time to be creative.
Any favourite place?
My home office. I do find cafes good places to brainstorm while people-watching.
Longhand or word processor?
Computer, although I was happy to find on a trans-Atlantic flight that I was still capable of writing pages longhand.
Which fictional character would you most like to have met?
I’m going to cheat and say T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia)—while he was of course a real person, there seems to be agreement that the persona he created was a mix of fact and fiction. If that’s not allowed, I’d say dinner with the Macbeths might be interesting (but I wouldn’t drink the wine).
Who, in your opinion is the greatest writer of all time?
Well, it probably does have to be Shakespeare, but I’d put in a word for Dickens, too.
Which book have you found yourself unable to finish?
Any book by Jeffrey Archer. And “Don Quixote” (for different reasons).
What is your favourite word?
At the moment, it’s “delicious.”
Other than writing, what other jobs or professions have you undertaken or considered?
As a teen-ager I was a terrible clerk in a delicatessen for a couple of weeks (note: never put a vegetarian behind the meat counter); for a couple of years after university, I evaluated how government money was spent in the field of education (not well); and now as well as writing, I teach writing and creativity courses internationally and coach others to be successful with their writing.
What was the first piece you ever had in print?
It was a review of a band, published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Due to a mix-up, the article was attributed to someone else in the early editions. It was a useful foreshadowing of the writer’s life.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have recently finished a book on right-brain time management for writers and other creative people, which I’m selling as an e-book on my www.timetowrite.com website, and now am working on a novel and a book on scriptwriting.
An article on WashingtonPost.com about cartoonists gives an interesting insight into the creative process of one artist, Matthew Diffee. He sits down with a cup of coffee, a pen, some blank paper and starts brainstorming:
"I'll think of something," he says. "I just thought of a barn. What about a barn? A barn raising? Amish people? What about Amish people? They have those beards without mustaches. What would an Amish guy who had a mustache say to a guy who didn't? Those are ideas, but they're not good ideas. So you leave the Amish and you think: corn. And you come up with some bad corn ideas. But maybe one of the bad corn ideas combines with one of the bad Amish ideas and out of the blue, something comes to you."
Here's another example: Years ago, he says, he was thinking about the phrase 'I was in a different place then.' "I wrote down that phrase and I thought, 'How can I make that funny?' " he says. "And months later, I was thinking about pirates: They walk the plank. They have a hook for a hand. Well, what else could they have instead of a hook? You go through the options. It has to be about the size of a hook. You can't use a broom or a canoe paddle. So it has to be a garden tool or a kitchen utensil. And I thought: A spatula is kind of funny." Presto! He drew a pirate with a spatula for a hand and the caption, " I was in a different place then." The New Yorker bought it.
I'd add one tip for this kind of free-association: write down every key word that occurs to you, even if it doesn't lead to a specific idea. For example, in the pirates situation, you'd write down: pirates, walk plank, hook for hand, broom, canoe paddle, garden tool, kitchen utensil, spatula... Even better, make a mind map of all these phrases. Then try different combinations, so your brainstorm process can go backward as well as forward.
One way to sell more is to look beyond the obvious markets for your writing. Here are some examples:
1) Writing articles? Consider how you can re-slant your topic to appeal to different audiences. For example, to help promote my Your Writing Coach book, I'm going to pitch articles about how to write. The obvious market is magazines for writers, but I'm also going to pitch women's magazines for articles about how writing can heal emotional pain, and magazines targeted to older readers for articles about how to write memoirs for their grandchildren to read.
2) Writing short stories? Consider where the location or theme of your short story might fit in. For example, if your short story is centered around a garden, maybe a gardening magazine might consider publishing it. If they don't normally publish fiction, you could propose it as a special feature for their Christmas or New Year's issue.
3) Writing a novel? If it all takes place in one city (and doesn't reflect badly on it) tourist shops there might consider carrying it. Or if, for instance, it features an archeological background, maybe a museum might sell it in their gift shop.
4) Writing poems? As with short stories, magazines that normally don't publish poems might consider doing so at special times of year, like St. Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July, or Thanksgiving, if the poems relate to the themes of those days.
5) Writing screenplays? While the market for full-length screenplays is limited, often aspiring directors at film schools look for short scripts they can film as projects. You might consider getting your name noticed by writing such a short script--frequently, the best student films are shown at film festivals. You might even be able to fashion a short script based on one part of your full-length script (if so, make sure that you have a contract that keeps the copyright of the script in your name, not the name of the film-maker). I've just done this myself. The short film was shot but I've not yet seen how it turned out--I'll let you know.
As you can see, it's worth spending a bit of time brainstorming how to go beyond the usual in terms of marketing your writing. By the way, for more brainstorming tips, see my website, www.BrainstormNet.com.
In the last post, we looked at what you might add to make your writing more likely to sell. This time let's see what you might subtract:
1) Writing a non-fiction book? The "Dummies" and "Idiot's" guides have become hugely successful by simplifying complicated subjects. How can you subtract complexity but still do justice to your topic? One way might be to use mind maps or illustrations in place of a lot of text--the old 'picture is worth a thousand words' strategy.
2) Writing an article? People have less and less time to read, so brief, to-the-point articles are valued these days. Use bullet points, top ten lists, and sidebars to condense information.
3) Writing a blog? Personally, I'd rather read several short posts than one long one. And again, if you can use graphics instead of a lot of text, so much the better.
4) Writing a screenplay? The trend is for punchy, short, impactful descriptions of the action.
5) Writing a novel? Prose master Elmore Leonard says his rule is to cut the sort of things he'd skip if he were reading the book himself. He also says he cuts "anything that sounds like writing" --in other words, elements where the prose calls attention to itself. Not all novels have to be that way, of course, but at least consider whether yours would be better if you followed his lead.
I was going to list ten guidelines but I've cut it down to five :-)
If you want to sell more of your writing in the coming year, it's worth spending a little time thinking about how to make it more appealing. One strategy is to ADD something. Here are some examples:
1) Writing a non-fiction book? ADD a website that adds value to the reader (as I've mentioned, this is my strategy for the book I have coming out next year).
2) Writing an article? ADD photos the editor can use. Of course it's best if the photo relates directly to the article--that is, if it's a photo of someone or someplace featured in the article. But in some cases, especially when dealing with smaller, lower-budget or online publications, it can also be helpful to offer a more generic image that you've purchased from one of the stock photo sources (e.g., iStock). They offer images for between one and ten dollars--but double-check their 'approved uses' clause to make sure that you're not exceeding your rights and let the publication know the situation. For online publications, pictures with a resolution of 72 dpi are fine, but for pictures that will be printed, the resoution should be 300 dpi and the file should be CMYK, not RGB. If these terms don't mean anything to you, do a bit of research via Google regarding photo resolution and digital photo files.
3) Writing a poem for publication? Again, if the magazine uses images as well, sending one (letting them know you have the rights to use it) may help. Make it clear that you're just offering this in case they want to use it, not that you expect them to use it.
4) Writing a blog? Add sound or video files from time to time, to make it more appealing. Ideally, use these media for information that would be hard to get across with just text. For example, for New Year's, I've made a one-minute slide/music "card" that will be on this blog as of December 31, to wish you a happy new year.
Screenplays are the exception--generally you shouldn't add anything to it, as adding merchandising ideas, or graphics, or pretty much anything else marks you out as an amateur. The only thing they may want (and usually they'll say so) is a one-page summary. But in all other cases, it can pay off to brainstorm what you can add.
With best wishes for the holiday season and a productive, happy year featuring lots of great writing--yours and other people's! Below a little gallery of aspiring Santas who didn't get it quite right (although the pirate came close...) -- all the best, Jurgen
I'm always interested in how the media are evolving, and one new development is the launch of Monkey, a free online mulit-media weekly "lads'" magazine (this means it features photos and videos of cars and of well-endowed, scantily-clad young ladies).
It comes from the same company that made a fortune with Maxim and Stuff. Magazine mogul Felix Dennis thinks that with the cost of distributing paper magazines way up, plus the spread of the Internet, plus the fact that young people are reading less, Monkey is the way to go.
It's free, so revenue will come from ads. And if you check it out, you'll see they're not spending much--if any--money on writers so far, since this is mostly a collection of photos, goofy videos that are hosted on YouTube, and a few ads with sound files attached. (If you want to have a look, click here--if you then click on 'see the latest issue' you can browse without signing up for a subscription.)
As a magazine, it sucks, but what will be worth watching is whether this format catches on; if so, more intelligent magazines may follow.
Sue Morrow, director of photography at the St. Petersburg Times, suggested some questions for writers to ask themselves when coming up with story proposals. It seems to me they are great questions for us to ask ourselves twice when writing anything--once before we start, and once when we've finished the project (which could be an article, short story, novel, script, or non-fiction book):
* Define what the basic story is in one sentence by answering this question: What is the story?
* Why is this story important and relevant? What is the news in the story?
* Who are you trying to reach with the story? For example: senior citizens or 13-year-olds?
* How will you execute the story? What is the time frame to get the story done? (a day, a month, long term?)
* Why is this story important to you?
If you answer these questions before you start, they will give you a solid direction and will guide your research, your outlining and your writing.
If you ask them again (or at least numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5) after you've finished, you'll be able to see whether the process of writing has led you astray. It may simply have led you in a different direction, which is fine as long as you still have good answers.
As we come to the end of this year, it's a time when it's natural to look back and assess how well you've done with your writing (or other career or goal). Most likely, you'll find that your results were mixed: success in some areas, but not yet in others. It's also natural for us to focus more on the things that haven't worked out for us yet, and sometimes that's depressing. That's why I thought this is a good time to suggest something that it took me quite a while to figure out:
You are not your career.
Your value as a person and your status as a writer (or other work-related position) are two different things. This is sometimes difficult for creative people to get. Instead, we equate our value as people with how well our careers are going. This is false and even dangerous.
As you do your year-end evaluation, also consider all the other things you are: friend, son/daughter, parent, sister/brother, teacher/learner, and....just plain human being. It's enough.
I'm doing the final version of my forthcoming book, Your Writing Coach, to be published by Nicholas Brealey next Spring. Because there is quite a large section on new media, I wanted to include some reviews of relevant books. I wrote to one publisher, asking for a review copy of a new book on writing for games and interactive programs. They wrote back saying, "Sorry, we only have a very limited number of review copies and you're not getting one." Or words to that effect.
How short-sighted is that?! The book costs something like $25 (about £16), but of course that's the retail price. It probably costs the publisher less than one-third of that. So for, say, $10 including postage, they could have had their book mentioned in a key section of another new book. Of course I don't know how many copies my book will sell, but one of my other books, Successful Scriptwriting, sold over 60,000 copies. Would that kind of exposure be worth $10? I think so. Furthermore, I was considering sending a proposal for a new book to this publisher, but now that I know how little support they offer their authors, they're off my list.
Compare that to the response from a software manufacturer I asked for a review copy of their program. Not only did they send it, they suggested that we consider how we might work together in the future to mutual benefit, and I've already come up with one win-win idea.
Some people get it, some people don't. Keep reaching out and forge alliances with those who do!
I recently posted about how the new media give us a chance to prototype new projects cheaply. Now I've spotted an article on CNNMoney.com, about how the TV networks and YouTube are getting friendly. The article points out that CBS has established a channel on YouTube, on which they put clips from their shows, like David Letterman's. It has boosted his ratings and those of several other featured series. The article says:
"In the end, the prize fight we pundits have been expecting between Google and old media may rapidly turn into a love fest. While that may not score big ratings in the short run, it's sure to produce a lot more quality entertainment for TV viewers far into the future."
But the bit that relates to my earlier post is this:
"Spending millions developing sitcoms only to mothball them halfway through the season? Try developing a three-minute sketch first, rather than a whole pilot, and see if it flies on YouTube. Not sure who to cast in the lead role of your latest crime drama? Show online viewers the audition tapes and let them choose for you."
In this case, what CBS can do, you and I can do, too.
As you may know, I'm all for coming up with innovative ways to get attention for your writing, but it may be that Michelle Paver went one step too far. She was signing copies of her book, Soul Eater, which features a wolf talking to a child, so she brought with her...two young wolves.
These two turned out not to be as well-behaved as one might expect for a quiet Waterstone's branch...they leaped on chairs and windowsills, ate some books, and relieved themselves on the carpets.
Maybe the old actors' warning about never working with children or animals applies to book signings, too...
My good friend Bob Cochran (below) is the co-creator and Executive Producer of the hit international series, "24." An interview with Bob will be one of the features of the website that will tie in with my forthcoming book, "Your Writing Coach," but in the meantime, here (from an interview in worldscreen.com) are his observations and those of his writing partner, Joel Surnow, on the importance of pace in today's writing:
SURNOW: You're always impacted by the fact that people have hundreds of choices on TV--how do you poke your nose out above the pack? That's why we have those '24' moments, those outrageous moments that happen over the course of the show that hopefully get people talking. Jack Bauer kills people in cold blood--I think that kind of storytelling is exactly what you have to do in today's marketplace.
COCHRAN: You do get the feeling that all television shows, or most of them, are more fast-paced now than they used to be. Those things pervade the industry as a whole and they get in our DNA as you're writing or producing. I don't think it's a conscious reaction to what's going on, but you certainly can't afford to bore anybody and you'd better get on with the story pretty quickly and you'd better come up with twists and turns of whatever kind that keep people watching. We don't say to ourselves, there are a lot of two-minute episodes on cell phones and iPods out there, we have to compete with that. But it enters into the way things are done in a more subtle way.