Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Writers and Self-Defeating Language

Words are powerful. I know, that sounds trite when you're talking with writes, but it's true. I'm not
talking about the power of the word on the page, though. I'm talking about the words we say about our writing lives and the impact our word choices have on our productivity, our outlook, and our work ethics.

Behavioral scientists have established the effects, both long-term and short-term, of the words we say and hear. Certain words elicit powerful, immediate responses on a subconscious level. Others, over the long term, actually do impact our cognitive processes, resulting in changes in mood, attitude, and behavior (for better or worse). That's why things like positive affirmations (which I scoffed at the first time I sought counseling for depression) actually work.

Feeling better about yourself and your writing will absolutely help you along in your career, and speaking positively about both is a great habit, but that's not what I want to focus on. This website and companion podcast are primarily aimed at writers who want to make a living at writing, and the full-time writer doesn't have the luxury of only writing when (s)he feels [insert appropriate word or phrase here]. Full-time writers know that we have the same skills in our toolboxes no matter our mental state on a given day, and we know that we have to work or we don't get paid. So, let's talk terms.

"I have not yet..."
Years ago, a counselor encouraged me to be careful about saying "I haven't..." or "I never did..." or "I wish I had..." when talking about things I wanted to do. (Writing, for example.) Instead, he encouraged me to say "I have not yet..." The former phrases have an "over and done with" connotation, while the latter conveys a sense of intention, even expectation.

This can be a powerful tool for a writer. Suppose it's almost bedtime and someone in your network asks, "How did everyone do with their writing today?" You've put no words on the page today. You could respond with:

1-"I didn't do any writing today." This is a surrender phrase. The day is over, I did no writing. Maybe tomorrow.  It's also an insidious phrase, Do it enough and it becomes a habit so thoroughly ingrained in our cognitive processes that we don't even recognize it. Or we could try:

2- "I have not yet written today." This phrase recognizes that the day isn't over, there's still time on the clock, and I am in control of my choices. It might be almost bedtime, but there is nothing stopping me from opening up Word (or Scrivener, or whatever) and embarking on a "damn the torpedoes" ten-minute writing sprint.

This also goes for your particular spot on your writing/publishing journey. Suppose you meet another author at a conference, and (s)he asks you if you're published. Do you, with downcast eyes, say, "I'm not published," or do you smile and say "I'm not yet published?" One is the language of failure, the other is the language of optimist, intention, and commitment.

This also goes for things like:
I've never finished a manuscript/I haven't yet finished a manuscript.
I don't have an agent/I don't yet have an agent.
I haven't hit the bestseller list/I have not yet hit the bestseller list.
I'm not a full-time writer/I'm not yet a full-time writer.

I'm sure at least some readers are rolling their eyes at me right now, thinking I don't understand. I won't pretend I've walked in the shoes of everyone out there, but odds are, I've experienced most of the challenges common to writers: Writing while working two jobs, going to college, raising children, running a household, living paycheck-to-paycheck, mental illness, physical illness, the decline and death of someone close to me, writer's block, rejections...

You get the picture. For several years I managed to write a book a year while dealing with all the above and more. It meant a lot of late nights, lots of discouragement, but I did it. I recognized that, despite the stresses in my life, there was always available time to write, and what to do with that time was my choice. I don't say this to make anyone feel bad for making different choices, but to encourage everyone to recognize that, ultimately, we are in control. On that note, let's talk about:

"I chose not to..."
This one might raise some eyebrows because, at first glance, it seems contrary to the talk about positive thinking. On a superficial level, that might be true, but on a deeper level, it's the language of empowerment.

Some of you might have read a recent article titled “I Published My Debut Novel to Critical Acclaim—and Then I Promptly Went Broke." Subtitle "On the Dark Side of Literary Fame." The short version is, the author's debut novel, like many, many novels, received some positive reviews, won/was nominated for a couple of awards, but didn't earn out. After that, she stopped writing. The phrase that leaped out at me was:  "I haven't been able to write since the moment I started thinking I could or should be making money as a writer"

Writers have a bad habit of using words like can't, couldn't, and unable to describe our choices not to spare even a few minutes to put words on the page. [Note: if you recently lost your hands in a bizarre swimming accident, and you can't use voice-to text because you were born without a mouth, you're excused, though I have to wonder how you managed to navigate to this site.] Here are some of the self-defeating statements authors often make:

I can't write unless (I have the right kind of music, I have quiet, I have the house to myself, I have my laptop, I'm at home at my desk...)

I've been unable to write because (I've been depressed, I've had a busy day, a new video game came out, I just didn't feel like it, I didn't know what to write, I didn't get enough sleep, I couldn't turn off my inner editor, I grew bored with my manuscript...) 

These are all lies we tell ourselves, and the more we repeat them, the more we train our minds to believe they're true. They're easy lies, because they remove the responsibility from our own shoulders and place it elsewhere.

Let's rephrase some of these passive/surrender phrases to recognize that we are in control:

-I chose not to write today because I had the house to myself, so I chose to do a Harry Potter movie marathon instead.
-I was excited about the new video game I bought and I chose not to do a little writing before playing the game.
-I've been pantsing my book, wrote myself into a corner, and chose not to continue.
-I had a ridiculously busy day today and was exhausted, so I chose to use the little time I had at the end of the day to unwind instead of writing. 
-I'm feeling depressed, anxious, insecure, or discouraged so I chose not to write.
-I have chosen to believe there's a magical fairy called a "muse" who flips the switch inside my head that turns on the language/cognition centers of my brain and makes my fingers move along a keyboard. I've also chosen to believe that there are switches in my brain.
-I have chosen not to write because right now I need to give priority to other aspects of my life.
-I have chosen not to write because, deep down, I fear failure.
-I have chosen not to write because coyotes gnawed my fingers off and I have chosen not to purchase Dragon Naturally Speaking.

The above represents a variety of reason, some obviously more valid than the others. And yes, it's possible that making some of the above statements will potentially lead a person to feel bad, but there's a deeper, positive impact. All of these statements:

-recognize possibility and potential.
-give us a real picture of our impediments to writing.
-remind us that we are in charge of our choices.
-tell us that we CAN do it.

Scratching beneath the surface, looking beyond our superficial excuses, might hurt at first, but I've found that it's healthy in the long run. Over time, using language that is honest about the choices I make, choices which impact the things I have not yet done, reminds me that I'm not a victim of forces beyond my control. I can do this. I will do this. And when I accomplish something, even if it's just a brief writing session, it's time to celebrate.

"I wrote today!"
Too many times, we say, "I only wrote___ words today" or "I planned on writing every day this week but I only got on one session" or "I've only written short stories" or "I've only published one book" or "I've only sold_____ copies."

Screw that line of thinking. What we do adds up. Maybe I "only" wrote for ten minutes and got 200 words. Do that every day for a year, and suddenly I'm closing in on the end of that novel I've "not yet written." And how did I get there, because I made choices. Every day I recognized that writing is a hard, awesome job, and most days I chose to at least put a few words on the page. I chose to get in a short writing sprint on days my time was limited. I chose to make the new video game a reward for a productive writing session instead of an impediment. I chose to take the time to learn story structure and really think through my book so I didn't write myself into a corner. I chose to believe that I could make quality words despite how I was feeling on a given day. And on the days I fell short, I chose to recognize why it happened, forgive myself, and then keep moving toward accomplishing that which I have not yet done.

This isn't easy, and it won't happen overnight, but a long-term commitment to the language of optimist, of possibility, and personal responsibility can help carry the working writer past the obstacles that will inevitably stand in our way. Good luck!





Friday, September 9, 2016

Indie Publishing Success- Facebook

Listen to the companion podcast episode.

Facebook author pages is a subject that is frequently discussed in author circles. Publishing houses
often push their authors to establish a dedicated author page, yet the author doesn't know how to best utilize it. Meanwhile, many indie authors are questioning the value of these pages due to decreased engagement with their posts. I believe these pages are still of great value for a few reasons:

The Value of Facebook to Authors


Opportunities for genuine interaction with readers.
Comment threads can develop into conversations, which allows the author to build connections with her or his readership in a way that a newsletter, tweet, or blog post does not.

Easy sharing of information.
Word of mouth (yes, virtual/cyber word of mouth counts) is critical in book marketing. When a dedicated reader shares your post about your latest release, that implicit endorsement carries weight with her/his Facebook friends who are also readers, particularly if they read in your genre. If these readers are not familiar with your work, there's a good chance they'd never have heard about your book if your announcement was limited to your website and newsletter.

It's more active than a website.
Active marketing strategies are critical. It's the rare author who can rely exclusively on passive strategies, like putting up a post on her/his website and waiting for the sales to roll in. Yes, a non-sponsored Facebook post is still a passive post, but for people reading it, the opportunity is there to share it, thus putting it in front of new and different readers. That sharing of information makes it active, and it gets you and your work out in front of new people.

Building a support network.
Some of the nicest people I know are people I've met through my author presence on Facebook. Some are readers who love my work, seem to like me, and are always happy to go the extra mile to help me out in a variety of ways. Some became the core of my "street team" (which is a topic for another day). I've also developed friendships and professional relationships with authors, editors, cover designers, and audiobook narrators. I don't know where I'd be without those connections.

Facebook is huge.
Despite its shortcomings, Facebook is still the big dog in social media. (Or, at least 'a' big dog). Not having a presence there is a missed opportunity.

How Should I Utilize My Author Page?

Don't just advertise your works for sale.
You can't, and shouldn't, keep up an active Facebook author presence if all you do is post new release announcements, "buy" links, and news of sales and giveaways. You need more, and it needs to be interesting. Some of the things I include:

-Snippets from my work in progress. (Preferably something funny. If a character makes me laugh while I'm writing him/her, there's a good chance my readers will get a chuckle out of it too.)
- Interesting things I learn during my research.
- Photographs from my research trips.
- Other interesting photos, for example, if I meet up with a fellow author or another industry professional.
- Cover reveals
- Updates on my writing progress.
- Celebrations
- Freebies
 -Content to draw readers to my website

Remember it's "Social" Media
Try to be interactive. Reply to their comments. Be open to questions. Solicit their opinions and suggestions. Always remember to say thank-you. Without readers, we don't have a career.

Newsletter Signup and Other Features
Facebook's author page makes it easy to set up a newsletter signup form on your author page. Use it. Visitors to my page also see things like: "Author App", which provides cover images, synopses, and links to my books for sale; a link to Authorgraph, an app which allows authors to e-sign Kindle books; a link to my website, and info about me. All of it is very easy to set up.

Pay Attention to the "Insights" Tab
"Insights"will give you information on views and interactions with your posts, so you can see what is most interesting to your page visitors.

Frequently Asked Questions


Facebook changed the way they handle news feeds, and now my post views are low. Can I do anything about it?

Yes, many of your posts will have low views, but not if they're interesting. For example, I have a little over 700 likes on my Facebook author page. Some only get 20% engagement, but some do very well. I posted a link to a free audio short story, and it has over 1,400 views. I did a cover reveal for a forthcoming book and it has about 1,300 views. So, it is possible to get solid engagement. Things to consider:


-Likes tend to snowball on Facebook. The more people who "like" your post right away, the more likely it is to turn up  in other feeds. Thus, if there's something you really want people to see, you might want to post it at a time that most of your audience is likely to be on Facebook. For me, it's after 5:00 US Eastern time.

-Posts with a picture or video tend to get better engagement than a post without.

-Be interesting. Post things on your author page that are exclusive to that page. 

I've tried that and I'm still getting a low percentage of engagement. Should I keep my author page?
-Yes. Stop thinking about who isn't viewing your posts and focus on who is. Every person who engages with you on your author page is someone you might not have reached otherwise. Consider them your foundation and look for ways to build up rather than excuses to tear down. Also, it's a good look to have a professional Facebook presence independent of your personal page, and, as mentioned above, it's something many prospective agents and publishers look for.

How can I get more "likes" on my Facebook page?
The most engaged segment of your audience will probably be the readers who like your books and then seek out your Facebook page. Be sure to put the Facebook link in a place on your website that's easy to find. Also, most mailing list templates have spots for quick links to social media. You can use your author bio (in your books and ebooks, on your Amazon page, on your website) to invite people to connect with you on Facebook. Finally, you can use a Facebook ad targeted at readers in your genre to bring new readers to your page.

How else can I use Facebook?
We'll elaborate in future podcasts, but Facebook ads, parties, and launch events can be effective ways to market your works and your brand.


As always, feel free to comment or contact me with question, thoughts, added info, or disagreements.







Friday, August 26, 2016

Wood on Words Episode 7- Author Websites

How to create an effective author website.



LISTEN ON STITCHER


Indie Publishing Success- Author Websites

Listen to the companion podcast episode.


A web presence is an important tool for the successful indie author. It's one of the places readers can learn about our books, get news about our new releases, and sign up for our newsletter. But what should our website look like? What should it contain? A few helpful tips:


Think like a reader
Your website isn't for you (nor is your book cover, but we'll talk about that another time). It's not a place for creative self-expression. It's a tool for selling books, which means it should be consumer-focused.Your website should be designed with discovery and ease of purchase in mind.


Design
-Keep it clean and uncluttered. Don't make me work to find your catalog of books, news of new release,  your newsletter opt-in, and a contact form.


-White space is your friend. The text sections on my site are black text on white background.

-Avoid light fonts on dark backgrounds. Horror writers, I'm looking at you. I don't want red text on a black background.

-Don't overload me with text. I want to find your books, in order, see the cover image, read a short synopsis, and click on a "buy" link.

-Make it easy to navigate. The modern consumer wants convenience. Reading is a leisure activity. If I have to work to find what I want on your site, I'll go elsewhere, and maybe even give my money to someone else.

- Avoid videos or music that automatically start playing, and things that make for slow loading. Many of us still live in areas where the only available internet service is slow. (Also, it's obnoxious.) Watch out for flash, as it's unsupported on some devices.

-How does it look in mobile? Lots of people browse and shop on their phone or tablet, so make sure your site is easy to navigate on a mobile device.

-Does overall "feel" of the website match the sorts of books you write? A science fiction writer's website should have a different vibe than a writer of cozy mystery. That doesn't mean you should go over the top with your design. Just consider the overall feel. If you write in a wide variety of genres, consider a simple, professional design that says "author" but doesn't necessarily imply a genre.

-Design with an eye to the future. Choose a look that won't need a massive overhaul every time you choose to branch out as a writer.

-Choose a url that identifies with you as a writer. If you also want to secure urls for your character or series names, and link them to your site, that's fine, but don't make them primary.


Content
-Start with the essentials: Complete catalog of books, grouped by series and listed in order; newsletter opt-in; a place for news of new releases.

-Individual books pages should be simple. This isn't the place for lengthy reflection on the work or your writing process. It needs a cover image, product description, and "Buy" links. When creating those links, be sure to select the "Open in another window" option so the reader isn't forced to leave your site. If you're publishing "wide" (on stores other than Amazon/Kindle), includes those links, too, at least to the major stores.

-Links that support your social media presence: Facebook author page, Twitter, and your Amazon author page are the most important. Some authors load up their business cards with urls for all the above. I don't like a cluttered business card, so I put only my website url on my card and make sure links to the other important sites are easy to find.

- Consider having an "About " section with a little bit about you. Your interests, particularly those which impact your writing, your favorite authors or books, a few photos of you. This isn't an essential, but it's good for self-revelation and building connections with the readers who are interested in learning a bit more about you. "Hey! He likes Neil Gaiman too!" "Whoa! She and I both prefer the Battlestar Galactica reboot to the original!" "Wow! We're both into..." If you've won awards, list them here, particularly if they're prestigious awards.


My Own Website
My site  www.davidwoodweb.com isn't perfect and I'm in the process of streamlining it. (The indie author life is a perpetual treadmill of refining, adapting, revising, re-thinking...) My Catalog section, in particular, is problematic. The catalog page shows my various series in order, but when the reader places the cursor over the Catalog link in the main bar, it shows a drop-down menu of all my books. Thus, it isn't clear that the reader could click on the word "Catalog" and navigate to a catalog page. That's #1 on my "to correct" list.

My site includes:
Catalog of books
Blog- This is where I share news and notes.
A page for my lesser-known pen name
About Me
Contact Form
Translated Works
A separate page for audiobooks I'm on the fence about keeping this page. I've been told by successful indies that Audible, in particular, likes for audiobooks to be listed separately, though it's rare for an author to get much love from Audible unless you're a "big hitter." I do all right, and Audible hasn't featured me in a long time. 

My newsletter opt-in is a small box in the sidebar of every page. It's small, unobtrusive, and easy to find. I also use a pop-up.

In addition to Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon author links, my links section includes my podcasts, YouTube channel, and a link to International Thriller Writers, the professional organization of which I'm a member. If you're a member of such an organization, there's no harm in including links as a subtle form of social proof. I also include a link to Indiebound. Many indie booksellers frown on authors who only link to Amazon.


Frequently Asked Questions

What hosting service should I use?
There are too many to list here. I use GoDaddy and Wordpress, but there are many options.

I'm broke. Do I need a hosted domain?
At minimum, you need a custom domain name, preferably not too complex. It looks more professional and makes for easy browsing.Others might disagree, but I think you can make use of a free service like Wix or Blogger and produce a professional-looking site that incorporates the essentials.

Do I need to maintain a separate blog?
No. If you see a successful author who's still maintaining a blog that's entirely separate from her/his website, it's probably because said blog has been around for a while, had lots of traffic, and the author doesn't want to lose the blog. If you're starting out, go with a site that has both. Give the reader the complete experience at one site.

But what about [insert author name here]? His/her website breaks all the rules. Why can't I?
Some authors succeed in spite of the choices they make. Some are so successful that it doesn't matter what their website looks like. Ultimately, your website isn't going to make or break you. Theoretically, you could have a successful career with no website at all. A website is simply another tool at your disposal that can potentially enhance your success, and following the practices that have worked for other authors probably gives you your best chance at success.

But..but... my [friend/partner/seven Twitter followers] says my website looks awesome, even though it breaks all the rules.
Did you ask the right questions?
Don't ask "How does this look?" "What do you think?" or "Does this look cool to you?" 
Instead, ask things like, "When you go to my website, how long did it take you to find all my books in order?" or "How hard was it to sign up for my newsletter?" or "When you first look at my site, in what genre do you think I write?" (Hey, that rhymes!" or "Can you tell, at first glance, that this is the website of a professional author?"

Also, remember the limited value of small sample sizes, and of people who already know and like you and your work. If I get 100 of my dedicated readers to give me feedback on my site, that's of limited value. They only represent a tiny fraction of my core readership, and they already like my work, so they're likely to be biased. I'm better off looking at the websites of, and seeking advice from, a large number of successful authors and finding out what works.

Should I sell book off of my site?
There's no harm in setting up a digital site through a site like Selz or Gumroad, but I've found that I get little return for the amount of time I invest. The average consumer values convenience over price, and doesn't want to bother with side-loading a book or even emailing it to him/herself.


I hope this has been helpful. Feel free to ask questions, add thoughts and suggestion, or disagree in the comments or using the contact form!





Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Wood on Words Episode 6- Depression and the Writing Life

What are some steps a writer dealing with depression can take to avoid potential problems caused by the nature of the full-time writing life?




Tuesday, August 2, 2016

On Writing by Stephen King

One of my all time favorite books on writing is the fittingly-titled On Writing by Stephen King. It is subtitled A Memoir of the Craft, which is fitting, because the book is heavy on memoir and light on writing tips. That's not a bad thing, though.

King takes us on an autobiographical journey, beginning with his early childhood. We learn about life experiences that informed or impacted his development as a writer and his journey to publication.

Along the way, he shares his philosophies on writing, and there are lessons to be gleaned, both explicitly and inductively. Some of his perspectives, such as the notion that stories are "found objects" that the writer unearths from her/his subconscious, are not universally agreed-upon, and might not work for everyone, but they're interesting nonetheless. The actual "writing advice" section is more for beginners, but still useful for a writer at any level.

I'm a fan of the audiobook, which King narrates, but On Writing is available in print and ebook if you aren't an audio junkie like me.

Buy On Writing from the Google Bookstore.