Liberation Day, or Being Thankful for Change

I tend to refer to one of the days around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as “Liberation Day.” That’s my way of being thankful for a shocking and demoralizing day in my life in 2011 when I was suddenly demoted from my director position at work. The personal earthquake has turned out to have positive results, and the resentment for the way it was carried out has mostly faded. Although, I’ll confess, there are days…

Here’s what I’m thankful for about the whole situation:

  1. A decrease in stress. My job is no longer a major stressor.
  2. I discovered the world of independent publishing. I published Second Death and The Source of Lightning, as well as a collection of short stories, The Color of Darkness and Other Stories.
  3. I focused on God to help me through and strengthen me.
  4. I learned the people I work with were (and are) supportive and impressed (amazed?) that I handled the situation with grace.
  5. I realized I’d been coasting for a long time, and found the energy to launch into other areas.

On January 22 of this year, I’ll attend the Service Awards Luncheon and receive an award for 25 years at my workplace. But I’m thankful that’s not my only source of self-worth.

Happy Liberation Day to me!

What do you know about ignorance?

“Don’t know much about history.
“Don’t know much biology.
“Don’t know much about a science book.
“Don’t know much about the French I took.”

Okay, I get this litany of how ignorant the singer is contrasts with the fact that s/he “loves you,” and how reciprocation of such would engender a wonderful world. But singable though it is, the conceit behind it has always annoyed me. What we don’t know is perfectly acceptable as long as we have a warm, fuzzy emotion to go along with that lack of knowledge.

I’m not really sure where or when the inherent anti-intellectualism in our society originated (sure, I could google it, but if you know, post a comment). I nearly entitled this post, “Ignorance is piss.” Why is ignorance a positive trait?

In this age of instant access (which I alluded to in the previous sentence, in fact), ignorance is inexcusable. Writers in particular need to combat ignorance. It’s what we do, right? Create knowledge and/or information where none existed before? Knit up diverse strands of data into a coherent whole? (Hello? Is this thing on?)

(I feel quite curmudgeonly as I type this. I must’ve pushed one of my own buttons.) I’m frequently annoyed by writers who protest, “Oh, I just don’t know how to use Twitter.” Why not? Find out! I can think of at least three e-books off the top of my head that explain in detail what Twitter is and how an author can use it in marketing her books. Can’t afford the e-books? Ask! Independent author sites abound, with lots of free help available. Saying “I don’t know” without proceeding to remedy the situation is just plain lazy.

The world is such an amazing place, full of intriguing and insane and annoying and wretched and intense and blissful and spiritual and stupid people. To my mind, writers fight ignorance with every paragraph, every sentence, every word, filling in the vast emptiness of ignorance with glittering webs of information, with new discoveries, with new ways of looking at existence. The creative writer enlivens dry facts, giving birth to brand new life. One of my greatest joys in reading is not necessarily the words on the page or the pixels on the Kindle, but the ideas for my own writing that spin off in little creative whorls. Usually these ideas have nothing to do with the words on the page. Something just clicks. Because the writer took the time to write.

Writers, don’t be lazy. Before you type the words “I don’t know” on Facebook or complain to someone about your ignorance, stop. Remedy that lack, fill in that lacuna, google it, and instead, share the knowledge with the rest of us.

You’re lifting up the entire human race when you do.

Drop a comment below and let me know what you think of the subject.

How to Survive the Slough of Despond

I’m not sure how many people these days understand the allusion in the title. It refers to a location in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I’ve never read it, honestly, although I’ve heard the phrase for years. Here’s a quotation from it, via from the Wikipedia entry for “Slough of Despond,” which literally means swamp of despair: “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended…There ariseth in [the sinner’s] soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place, and this is the reason for the badness of this ground.” I left out the parts about sin; that belongs in a religious commentary, which this isn’t.  Substitute “writer’s” for “sinner’s,” and doesn’t this sound like the state of mind in which we often find ourselves? Fears? Check. Doubts? Check. Discouraging apprehensions? Oh yeah, in spades.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m in a personal Slough of Despond at the moment. John Bunyan wouldn’t understand the actual phrase “burned out,” but he’d probably include the essence of that phrase in his nasty swamp. I’m not burned out on writing, surprisingly, but on marketing. No, the writing of the WIP (which stands for “work in progress,” for those of you who were afraid to ask) is going along swimmingly, thanks. Y’know, when I actually find time to write. At the moment, writing is easy. Marketing is hard.

Marketing is hard anyway to most writers. If you’re fearful of ridicule in reviews that say your heartfelt work is crap, how are you able to tell everybody in the world they should read it because it’s great? If you doubt your ability to write because no one has bought it or even downloaded it for free, how can you summon the catchy and intriguing prose that will compel readers to catapult you to the Amazon top 100? As has been pointed out elsewhere (I’m not finding the actual quote, but trust me on this), writers of fiction are not generally used to writing marketing copy, especially for themselves.

It’s especially discouraging when you aren’t seeing great sales. That’s where I am these days. My sales are pretty pitiful (like a couple of sales a week or less), despite a regimen of marketing and participating and trying to get my name out there. I’ve put out a collection of stories, but I’ve been too burned out to really promote it much. The next book, The Source of Lightning, is in editing, and I’m hoping it will find more readers. But in the indie marketing game, “hoping” just doesn’t cut it.

So what do you do? You’re not going to like the answer. Everybody tells you there’s no magic bullet. Everybody’s right. If you read the authors of “how to” e-books I reviewed in my last post, they’ll tell you it’s hard work. And luck, as J.A. Konrath always reminds us. You keep at it, that’s what you do. Hire it done, if you have the money to spare. Check out people like Duolit. Read blogs like Indie Author Community for inspiration. Join groups like Indie Author Group to learn and rejuvenate. Above all, keep at it.

Really, that slough can’t stretch on forever. You’ll get to the end of it eventually. Or you’ll decide it’s too hard and give up. Take courage in the fact that you’re an indie author, and YOU are in charge of your destiny. Reach out for help. Keep on keepin’ on. If you don’t illuminate the path, luck won’t find you.

Comment and let me know how you survive the Slough of Despond.

3 Useful Books on e-Publishing

Maybe it’s because I’m involved in e-publishing, but every news item I see lately is about how great independent publishing is, or how horrible it is, or a debate on the topic. Most of that debate is preaching to the choir. Still, as part of that choir, I pay attention. I’m always interested in learning new tips. What is writing about, anyway, if not continuous improvement and [self] exploration?

Along the way in my exploration, I’ve picked up three e-books that each take a different tack on the subject of self-publishing. The first is John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! With a title like that, who can resist? I’ve read criticism on Facebook’s Indie Author Group that he’s not sincere and such. I don’t really care; I’m not adopting him, I’m reading his book. His background is business. His approach to e-publishing is analytical and, well, businesslike. It’s an interesting read with useful advice. The main takeaway for me is the idea of knowing who your audience is and marketing to that audience. He says that if you’re doing it right, you’ll get negative reviews from those readers who are not your target audience, but they should be balanced by positive reviews from those who are your die-hard fans. I think part of my problem with Second Death is I’m not quite sure who the audience for it is. If I care about selling more copies of it, I need to figure that out. He also emphasizes caring about your fans and cultivating them by being accessible.

The next e-book on self-publishing is less of a how-to-publish guide and more how-to-market. I discovered Jon F. Merz several years back when I started on Twitter. I won a contest of his after buying one of his e-books (before Kindle). He seems like a genuinely nice guy who cares about his readers. His book is How To Really Sell EBooks: Practical Steps to Increasing Your EBook Sales. I haven’t had time to implement his suggestions yet, but the book is, as the subtitle says, above all practical. The big discovery for me was TweetAdder, a program he gives step by step instructions on how to use to increase your sales. Marketing is the key to success in self-publishing (or traditional publishing, for that matter). And Jon F. Merz knows marketing.

The third book is one I just bought the other day and started last night. Michael R. Hicks is a seasoned tweeter whom I’ve followed with interest for several months. His self-help title is The Path To Self-Publishing Success: How I Left My Day Job Behind for a Full-Time Writing Career. Now how could I resist that? It’s my dream! In what I’ve read so far, Michael emphasizes the journey. Self-improvement is key to success, he says, and recommends several books that helped him. Having been on a journey of self-rediscovery myself, this advice is right up my alley. The tone of the book is friendly and casual, but the editing is good so far (in fact is in all these choices). I look forward to reading more.

Three books, three different approaches to e-publishing. Great, now it’s completely MY fault if I don’t sell more books.

[Speaking of selling more books, pick up The Color of Darkness and Other Stories, hot off the computer!]

Perseverance 101

Do you find it easy to keep writing day after day, effortlessly summoning enthusiasm? Do you do exactly what you set out to do, never deviating from the marketing plan? Wow, good for you! You can go away from this blog now.

Okay, now that we cleared the room of all those liars, let’s talk about the challenge of sticking with it.

I don’t have the luxury of writing full time. I wish I did, and I greatly admire those of you who do. But I suspect this problem affects full-time writers as well. I have a difficult time coming home from work and writing. It’s easier on the weekend, but not by much. I have more time then, but not necessarily more inclination. I’ve constructed a nice long to-do list of marketing tasks that Outlook reminds me of every day, as well as one that says, “Write 500 words.” On far too many days I click “dismiss” on that one, despite really wanting to finish the work in progress.

Can you tell I’m writing this post for me?

I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s all in the mind. I have to make up my mind that I want to keep writing and do it, without letting the tired parts of me interfere. Paul (the Apostle, not the Beatle) had it right when he wrote, about 2000 years ago, about the dilemma we face: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). It’s about discipline, and I am so not disciplined unless it’s something I really want to do. So I need to MAKE it something I want to do. Let’s try these steps:

1. Stop thinking of writing as a chore but as a privilege. I get to sit down with my characters in this world I’ve created and tell their story.

2. Instead of having a goal of a set number of words a day, write for a set amount of time a day and do nothing but write the novel during that time.

3. Have a story goal in mind for that 30 minutes of writing, preferably a question. This isn’t the overarching goal for the character, but a simple next step: “Will she find the person she’s looking for in the building?” or “What happens when her father finds out she’s disobeyed him?” Write that goal at the end of the previous section of writing to be ready for the  next day’s session.

4. WRITE SOMETHING. It becomes a habit after, what is it, six weeks of doing something? For me it may be longer.

5. Keep that final word count in mind, but on the first draft, don’t stress over it. If you’re that hung up on it, and you’re writing in MS Word, insert a field ever so often of the number of words produced. That may make you feel better. (Cool idea, Donna! Thank you, Donna.)

I’ll see how this new plan works out for me, and I’ll report in a later post how it’s going.

What about you? How do you keep persevering in your writing, even when you want to quit?