Author and life hacker Tim Ferriss knows a thing or two about self promotion and he needs every iota of that skill to get his latest and possibly most exciting book—The 4-Hour Chef—into the hands and e-readers of the public.
It would be made easier if Barnes and Noble planned on stocking the book. But they’re going Ghandi and hunger striking this “cook book”. Why? Ferriss’ publisher is Amazon. Correction. Ferriss’ publisher is AMAZON!
Barnes and Noble is willing to concede the profits Ferriss’ best-seller-bound book will generate in an attempt to sink Amazon’s publishing ship. Yeah, Amazon published Penny Marshall’s memoir (which has tanked), but if she’s a revolver, Ferriss is Amazon’s atomic bomb. If there were ever an author equipped to give the middle finger to the establishment it’s Ferriss and he will need to summon other-worldly skills to get this book sold.
And just look at what he’s doing. First, check out this book trailer (a great 20th-century tactic authors need to adopt for promotion) and tell me you don’t want to buy the book.
His blog gets 1.2 million visitors a month and it’s all free content. His platform is the type that makes agents drool and others like me very, very envious. He uses it for fun. Homeboy has earned it and I’m rooting for him. Penguin and Random House became a—pardon the expression—Frankenpublisher in an attempt to go Moth vs. Godzilla. We’ll see. My money is on the giant dinosaur stomping Japanese skyscrapers.
Ferriss is a tactician and I think that while he’s miffed by the boycott, he’s excited by the challenge of using his Major League talent at promoting himself to stick it to the establishment.
Big time pitchers like to face big time hitters and by boycotting Ferriss, Barnes and Nobel better brace itself for a 100+ MPH fastball it won’t ever be able to catch up to.
And, by the way, here’s another bullet in his chamber.
I won’t have to tell you much about Natalie Keller Reinart because Alex, the protagonist of her “The Head and Not the Heart”, is a good chunk of who Natalie is: a writer, a horseman, a believer.
Her indie book swoops the reader into the thoroughbred world. Alex is in her twenties, a strange decade where you’re trying to grab a toe-hold in the world, when college spits you out, and when you’re now a pro against other pros. It’s competition time. Alex is in that world and she tries to find out where she belongs.
While not a traditional “road novel”, Alex leaves her place in Ocala, Fl for a weekend in NYC to look at a horse at Aqueduct. She runs into people her own age and questions her place in the world. Ultimately, she follows her heart.
Here’s my interview with NKR.
What made you go with “The Head and Not the Heart” as the title, because Alex is all heart before she thinks?
It’s really about the horse business, in general. That hard-to-find balance between loving horses, and making money from horses. Can you distance yourself emotionally from your horses? Should you? A successful business plan shows turn-over, it shows tax depreciation, it shows dispersals of unprofitable goods… on horses. You know just to where to rub each horse so that they buckle their knees with pleasure; you know which filly likes cookies and which one likes peppermints and which one will tear down the barn for a bag of Doritos. And you have to reduce them to dollar amounts on a balance sheet.
It doesn’t feel right, and it shouldn’t feel right, to think of horses in the same way that you would a warehouse full of merchandise, but that’s how business decisions are made.
Alex needed to leave Ocala in order for her to realize its importance, right?
The best way to appreciate anything is to spend time without it.
Why do you suppose Alex has a hard time fitting in?
Alex is isolated on the farm. That’s typical of horse farms, in my experience. When I was eventing, we met up with our friends at events and horse shows; otherwise we were alone on our farms, scattered across rural areas. When I was galloping, everyone was much older than me. There aren’t that many twenty-something girls galloping racehorses.
The people that Alex does meet are Alexander’s friends, and they, like him, are much older than him and not the sort of people she’d have much in common with. There are a lot of good ol’ boys in the north Florida countryside. It’s a world apart from the south Florida subdivisions and show barns where Alex grew up.
It’s not a “road book” in the strictest sense, but in this instance, how did the destinations help Alex define herself?
Ocala and New York are both sides of Alex’s coin. There was a very common sort of girl at the stables I rode at when I was a kid: gifted, creative, full of intellectual potential, and not interested in anything outside of horses. These girls could have taken two different paths in life. Alex took the path with the horses, but she believes she could have lived some other life, as Someone Creative, Doing Creative Things, and New York represents that to her. When she’s tired of falling off horses, she’s wistful for that archetypal writer/artist’s lifestyle she thinks she might have led. Ocala, on the other hand, is pretty much heavenly for someone that thinks of nothing but horses, and hell on earth for anyone that might have other interests. The minute Alex thought there might be something else out there, Ocala became a nightmare.
I’ve heard many arguments for and against horse slaughter, but I had never heard the argument you presented, which was, these animals are biohazards, it was a different tack altogether.
Horses put down with chemicals really are biohazards. The chemicals used in a euthanasia procedure can taint groundwater, and so some places have laws preventing the burial of euthanized animals. Water contamination in Florida is a major concern because the water table is so high. Consider also that if you have a farm, you are probably drinking well water from your own land. You don’t want the same chemicals that just killed a thousand-pound animal seeping into your water supply, and the government doesn’t, either.
The chemical argument against horse slaughter is a little different. Basically, drugs, both topical and internal, leave residue in the body. Some have a withdrawal period, after which the meat from the horse is considered safe for consumption. Some, like phenylbutazone, do not. I’ve yet to meet a horse that has either never had bute, or whose owner could prove to me that the horse never had bute. Horses rarely have one owner. Who can account for the chemicals that they’ve consumed over a lifetime?
This story is pretty close to the marrow, isn’t it? To what extent is this book autobiographical?
The struggles to find a balanced life, one that isn’t tipped too far in any one direction… that’s very real.
Horses can very easily take up every breathing minute. The outside world can just disappear. That works for some people… it didn’t work for me. I need a little bit of horse, a little bit of society. Not just one or the other.
You opted to self-publish? How did you come to that decision and what steps did you take from drafting to your pub date?
I wanted to write a book that would ring true to horse-people. I wanted to dig into the emotions of loving horses, and look at all the tragedies and triumphs of life with horses. That’s not a huge audience to write for. The book I wanted to write was not going to have a shot with a big publisher. And I wasn’t particularly interested in smaller presses that specialize in equestrian books, because their books are so expensive and their print runs are so small. A self-published book has a print run that lasts as long as people want to buy the book, and I could price it reasonably. No one wants a $35.00 hardcover of The Head and Not The Heart. They don’t have to. That doesn’t hurt my feelings at all.
I also think that self-publishing is an opportunity for a writer to produce a book as a work of art as they meant it to be read. There are many musicians and artists producing work that hasn’t been edited into a commercially palatable form, and quite a lot of it is very, very good. I don’t think a book necessarily has to appeal to the widest possible audience. I’m not sure a book has to appeal to anyone but the writer. If the writer loves it, and feels it says everything the writer wanted it to say, then if someone else loves it as well, that’s just the cherry on top.
As for the steps that I took before production, I did everything myself at first. My husband, who is a bookseller and who has the same taste in books that I do, was my editor. If he doesn’t like something, he’s right and it’s wrong. I copy-edited. Ten times. I memorized the book. There are a few typos, but fewer than your average Big Six book. I created the print edition. I created the Kindle edition. I created the Nook edition. I created a cover in Gimp, which is the freeware version of Photoshop. I produced the print and ebook editions of this book on less than a hundred dollars.
My publicity largely came from my blog following. I run Retired Racehorse Blog, and was blogging daily at the time. I had incredible page view numbers, which contributed some book readers. I was running a weekly book review of horse books, to draw attention to the genre. Some authors and bloggers ran reviews of the book. And this is where self-publishing’s value really shows itself: it took about nine months for the book to really take off, but since mid-summer it has been a consistent best-seller on Amazon’s Horse Racing and Equestrian lists, and has been reviewed in mainstream publications. A commercially published book that took nearly a year to “hit” would probably not be in print by that point.
I’m a believer.
Which is harder, being a writer, or being a horseman?
Being a writer is a struggle for me; I fall back on the horses over and over again. I always have. It’s hard to live your own life and live other people’s lives in your head as well. Not to mention, as a writer I was paying the bills by writing all sorts of articles I couldn’t work up the slightest interest in, which was just depressing.
Now I do both. I found a day job that lets me work with horses, and I write when I can fit it in. At first, it seemed like a kind of failure: I had wanted to write full-time, and here I was going to work with my lunch-bag every day again. I produce a lot less, which I find frustrating. But I can’t deny that I’m a horsewoman, and I have to fulfill that side of my personality as well. It would be easier to just be a horsewoman, and concentrate 100% on horses and then come home and watch TV and fall asleep and not feel guilty that I didn’t write, but that wouldn’t be fulfilling either. I need to be both.
Your write, “I was sick to death of horsemen who did things a certain way because that’s the way they’d always been done.” Can the deep-seated culture and Old Kentucky Boys be changed? Will they allow it?
Isn’t the definition of good ol’ boys kind of that they just won’t change from the good ol’ days? They do things the way their pappy taught ‘em? The people I admire in racing come from the sport horse world, like Michael Matz and Rodney Jenkins. They have a more well-rounded understanding of horses, in my opinion. They are riders with first-hand knowledge of the athletic abilities of horses far beyond how fast a horse can run.
Where does your optimism lie in horse racing?
I don’t know that I am optimistic about racing. I know that I love it, but I am rarely successful in convincing other people to love it. It feels like there are just enough rich people buying horses every year to keep the races running, but the average American remains unconvinced.
And there is great gulf between the sport/pleasure horse world and the racing world. On both sides, most participants are completely ignorant of how the other operates. There is no cooperation. There are no shared concerns for the future. There is such potential for collaboration, especially considering big legislative topics that affect everyone involved with horses: land use, the diversion of corn from feed into fuels, national regulation of animals. But racing continues to exist as something apart from the rest of the horse business, isolated.
America has this incredible population of horse-lovers who know nothing about racing and do not care to. Until this year, when the retired racehorse shows and programs started showing up at racetracks, the horse racing industry made it pretty clear they didn’t need the horse-lovers. Maybe that opinion is starting to change.
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You’re driving down a nice country road in south Jersey and you look at all the pretty cows. Soon those pretty cows look homogenous, boring. Then you see a purple cow. Holy sh*T! Did you see that purple cow!? It stands out. It’s remarkable.
Sure, much of it revolves around businesses that provide a particular service or product, but many of the principles apply to writers. What’s key is NOT appealing to the masses. There is so much static and distraction: Internet, TV, iPad, iPhone, movies, kids, dogs, elections, the Tunguska Event. You name it. You need to get nichey with it.
Wait for it: here’s the question writers love to hear … Who’s your audience? Who’s going to buy your book? And once you figure that out, how will you stand out? How will you be remarkable?
There are four groups of people Godin describes and they fall into the typical bell-shaped curve. On the far left are the Innovators and Early Adopters (leaders looking to get a jump). The belly of the curve is the Early and Late Majority (followers). Laggards fill out the far right (slackers, people buying their first digital camera today.).
The key is to appeal to the far left: the innovators and early adopters. They are passionate consumers looking for the “in” thing. They like to be ahead of the masses so they can recommend cool products to their friends. These people somehow have the iPhone7, the one with the inter-planetary time warp. Essentially, these people are bloggers eager to review and share their insights. As writers in a tenuous publishing climate, we need to seek out these people. They will review your work and talk about it to their 500, 1,000, 2,000, 10,000 followers.
If you can reach several dozen bloggers and their collective readership is 100,000 people and 10% of those people buy your book, that’s 10,000 books. Not New York Times Best Seller stuff, but that’s a lot of books from a modest reach. What if you reached 1,000,000 people from 100 bloggers?
Of course you still need to write a great book. But let’s assume you already knew that. All of this is moot if your book isn’t fit to line bird cages.
What do a lot of [wannabe] writers do? Trust me, I’ve spoken to a lot. Many love this idea of holing up in a cabin and being the solitary writer. Steaming coffee. A fire. Snow in the mountains. This is unremarkable in terms of building a brand. Stephen King can do this. Suzanne Collins can do this. You can’t.
Things I do?
No. 1, and this might seem stupid, but I feel it’s gotten me this far, however far that is. I suit up. I always wear a suit when reporting and when I appear in public. I feel it’s how I got the access I got to the executive characters in Six Weeks. Especially as a sports writer, dressing nicely makes you remarkable, you stand out from the sheep. Plus it makes me feel good. First impressions, when you see a guy in a nicely tailored suit standing next to a guy in tattered khaki shorts, flip-flops, and a ball cap, who will garner a better first impression? Exactly.
No. 2 What I’m working on are videos and book trailers. Goofy mini-movies that sometimes touch upon writing and books. Sometimes they might just be a funny skit. What’s the point? Well, I don’t want to be “spammy” for one, but I also just want to entertain in a different form. If people are drawn to those videos, they’ll be more likely to sample my work. To quote Godin, “Don’t Be Boring,” and “Safe is Risky.”
Another idea that I’m going to employ? Giveaways. This isn’t completely novel, but I have a theory if you give away something, it will snowball into better publicity if the people signing up for the giveaway 1.) Like it. And 2.) Review it on Amazon and Goodreads and spread the news.
Again, Innovators and Early Adapters.
Which is why, if you’ve made it this far in this post, I will give away—for free!—a personalized copy of my book “Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year.” All you have to do is subscribe to my blog using the email form at the end of this post. Or you can click on that “Follow” tab in the lower right-hand corner. Once you’re confirmed, I’ll contact you for your address and see how you want your book signed and I’ll mail it away Media Rate (7-10 days delivery time).
Books go to the first 30 subscribers, so I’d love to hear from you in the comments and I’d love for you to subscribe.
Mathina Calliope came out of the Goucher College creative nonfiction MFA program with me a few years ago. She’s a crazy, salsa-dancin’, hip-shakin’, word-writin’ kinda gal and I think you’re gonna dig her guest post about that little wink of punctuation: the comma. She blogs here and DOESN’T TWEET ENOUGH here, but that’s neither here nor there. But, she is HERE dropping a grammar bomb from the heavens. Enter Mathina!
My freshmen composition students thought they knew what commas were all about. Commas peppered the students’ first essays like New England fall leaves: abundant, lovely, and ultimately destined for unloading. Then, we started looking at comma rules: Use a comma after an introductory clause or phrase. Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction to connect two independent clauses. Use a comma between coordinating adjectives not joined by and. Do not use a comma between cumulative adjectives. Abruptly, comma insecurities crowded the room like monsters in a closet.
The students weren’t the only ones rendered suddenly unsure. I used commas correctly all the time, didn’t I? I mean, I had an undergraduate degree in journalism, a master’s in education, and another master of fine arts—in writing. I wrote test questions about comma usage. Christ. If I couldn’t explain why you didn’t put a comma after “Maryland” in “Jesse and I brought home Maryland blue crabs to throw in the pot for supper,” who could? And yet here we were, getting into the comma weeds, as it were, and the more we discovered, it seemed, the less we understood.
The conventions of written English generally come to native English speakers via silent absorption, the way language does, as we grow up reading all manner of texts, and witnessing, sentence after millionth sentence and word after hundred millionth word, just where commas do or do not pop up.
For nonnative English speakers and for nonreading English-speaking natives, however, commas confound, and the rules only seem to make it worse. Suddenly, it’s not enough to drop a comma in naturally, where one might pause in speech. No, now one suddenly needs to understand advanced grammatical terms: coordinating conjunction (not to be confused with subordinating conjunction), independent clause, clause, phrase. Yet, when one reads the definition of an independent clause—a group of words containing a noun “doing” a verb but not preceded by a subordinating word—rather than having things cleared up, one must now find still further definitions.
Frustrating, to be sure, but also complex and wonderfully mysterious, even tantalizing.
Any of us, if we have spent any time learning anything, has encountered this phenomenon. I first noticed it right after learning to drive. Never having considered all that went into coordinating steering, braking, accelerating, changing lanes, I viewed driving as nothing but a thing. But after one lesson, when I rode with a friend who safely and confidently merged into high-speed traffic, never interrupting her monologue about her prom date, I stared at her in awe.
Any skill or domain of knowledge with which we have no experience is necessarily opaque to us. As we peer closer, as we remove layers of opacity, we find not clarity but complexity. And this is what makes learning worthwhile, why it is inherently “fun;” it creates dissonance between reality and what we thought we understood. Our reward for resolving that dissonance is satisfaction—and an ever-greater appreciation for the richness that is life and learning.
Now to persuade my students that this is the case …
Mathina Calliope teaches English 111 at Northern Virginia Community College. Read more of her musings—grammatical and otherwise—at www.calliopeterpsichore.com
I recently finished “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”, a novel by New York Times best-selling author Jonathan Evison. It’s the best book I’ve read all year. The book is wildly funny and punishingly sad.
It’s a first-person narrative told by Ben Benjamin, a former stay-at-home dad who takes a course in caregiving. The workforce has passed him by and this is his way of rebuilding himself. He works for the sexually frustrated and tyrannical 19-year-old Trev, who is disabled by MD. Trev’s world is small, limited by his physical body. Ben is disabled in another way. The two are an unlikely pair. They need each other and they hit the road in their van for adventure, for deliverance.
I reached out to Evison on Facebook, asking him if he’d answer some questions. He said he’s on the road a lot, but if I emailed him he’d answer them as timely as he could. I emailed him some questions. He answered them in about an hour. Yeah, he’s that kind of guy. Few authors would do that.
As fate should have it, I went to Maryland this past weekend and he was a featured author at the Baltimore Book Fest. He’s approachable and has earned his lot. He said at the festival, “I succeeded by failing.”
BO: You’re last novel “West of Here” is big in body and scope, “RFC” is tighter and narrower in its focus, what was the motivation for the change in tactical story telling? “RFC” is deeply personal for you.
JE: Every novel I try to challenge myself in some new way. With “West of Here”, those challenges were formal and structural. With The Revised Fundamentals, the challenges were emotional. I had to dig up a lot of old bones and strew them about, plum a lot of emotional depths, etc. In the end, it was nothing less than cathartic.
BO: Ben is broken. How did you come to nursing/caregiving for Ben to rebuild himself?
JE: My life was in the shit-can ten years ago. My first wife left me for a surfing Buddhist, I was working at an ice cream stand, and I was sitting on eight unpublished books. There were a couple of yeas that were just a blur. I took a night course in caregiving, which really helped turn my life around. Caring for others while I was barely able to care for myself, built me back up into something resembling a human being.
BO: Trev’s orbit is small, to expand it without risk, he watches the Weather Channel and puts pins on a map, how important was it for him to break free? Did you need a physically limited person for Ben to feel needed again?
JE: Man, I did everything within my power NOT to write a road novel—I was really resistant to the idea. You can feel me trying to subvert the road novel for the first hundred pages. Finally, I just had to give in. The characters made me. They needed the road to deliver them. I’d say Trev and Ben are equally limited. While Trev is physically disabled, Ben is emotionally and spiritually bereft. Also, I think they care for each other equally. Ben needs Trev every bit as Trev needs Ben. Wait, did I answer the question?
BO: How did you approach the writing? Ben has a crushingly sad history and that is carefully parsed out. How did you approach that strategy instead of just dumping it on the reader?
JE: I wanted Ben to earn the reader’s respect. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for any of my characters, not right from the get-go. I wanted to show them warts and all. Structurally, I always visualized this novel as an artichoke, where the reader peels back the layers of armor to get to the heart of the thing. Handling this just about any other way risked being mawkish, I think.
BO: How did you go about assembling this ensemble for the road trip?
JE: I think my unconscious mind did most of the heavy lifting. The cast just seemed to appear inevitably along the way. Each new character naturally addressed one of somebody else’s needs—usually Ben’s or Trev’s.
BO: Many—if not all—of the characters are in limbo, hinged to a heavy past, but trudging through the muck to move forward, talk about that commonality.
JE: Well, first, flawed as they are, they’re all doing the best they can to manage what they’ve got. Critics have called my characters losers, but they’re not. They’re not quitters. They’re not pessimists. They wanna believe things will get better, and so they grope their way through, often failing miserably along the way, but always meaning well. They want to re-invent themselves, they want to find hope, they want to be decent people.
BO: Now, either you had a blast on Urban Dictionary.com, or you’re incredibly depraved—or both—which is it? Ha!
JE: All of the above! I’m pretty sure I made up a few of those sex acts.
BO: How did you strike a tonal balance between humor and somber in the book?
JE: Necessity. I don’t think I could write about irredeemable loss without a lot of comic relief. Tragedy and comedy are all tangled up in my mind, always have been. So striking this tonal balance came very naturally to me. I grew up around gallows humor. Some of the most tragic events in my life have been tinged by humor. Like finding my grandmother dead, with Tums antacids bubbling out of her mouth, and discovering a TV dinner at her bedside, and seeing she only ate the cherry pie, and left the rest. Now, that’s not funny, but c’mon, it is, right?
BO: One of my favorite turns of phrase comes toward the end when talking about, of all things, Mr. Baxter the fish, “I’m guessing he’s bat-shit crazy from turning circles in that murky little bowl his whole life, and that he doesn’t care anymore whether he lives or dies. Then a few pages later when he’s expelled from his bowl, “Mr. Baxter, who I’ve sorely misjudged, is flopping furiously for life on the nearby throw rug …” How did you come to these hysterical places in the book?
JE: Again, my poor bumbling characters led me to them, more often than not. In the case of Mr. Baxter, his life is a perfect reflection of Ben’s own circumstances—stuck, dissolute, depressed. Ben empathizes with him.
BO: The men in your books—Ethan Thornburgh (West of Here), Ben, Bob, etc.—feel shrouded in inadequacy, have something to prove, where does that come from?
JE: I love the theme of masculinity in crisis. Hell, I was raised by bodybuilders, how could I not? As much as I imagine it sometimes sucks being a woman in a world that is all-too-often tailored to the masculine sensibility, it’s anything but easy being a dad in our culture, and living up to the various expectations foist upon us by ourselves, and by women, and by our children. I’m just fascinated by the nuances.
BO: On your epitaph you write, ‘… Mostly, he lasted.’ The same can be said for Ben, right?
JE: And the same can be said for your beloved Red Sox.
BO: Changing gears, give me as sense of the work you put in to illustrate the difference between BEING a writer and those who crave to occupy the writer’s space (Every book signing I’ve done, I get a couple of people ‘writing their books’ but they never do, partly because they don’t realize that it’s WORK)?
JE: Oh, I work my ass off. I get up at four in the morning to write. Do you think I wanna be up at that hour? Hell no. That said, it doesn’t feel like work to me, because rather than draining my stores of energy, it begets more energy. The work makes me a more expansive person—a better husband, a better dad, a better friend. It’s pretty sill to want to occupy the writer’s space, because by and large, it is an exercise in humiliation. The work is where it’s at.
BO: For writers, what has been you experience in promotion your work Is there anything that’s a waste of time and/or money? What should a writer do YESTERDAY that he or she isn’t doing today?
JE: Don’t think of it as promoting, for one. I think of it as an extension of the work. Me, the artist, reaching out, trying to connect with readers. It’s always better to start a dialogue, rather than just blow your own horn. Nobody will listen. You have to engage your readership, not recruit them.
BO: What types of rejection have you faced?
JE: Easily 400 form rejections. Not to mention all manner of other rejections in life. Failure makes me stronger.
BO: Can a great writer be made, or, like a gifted singer, is greatness handed out to the few, like Pavarotti? Can it be earned?
JE: Beats me. I guess I think, like Kierkegaard, that the artist herself should be the first work of art. If you can make yourself into a good, kind, empathetic, observant person who cares deeply about the human condition, and you entertain an endless curiosity, well, then you can probably learn to string some sentences together.
BO: How do you spend your non-writing time?
JE: Drinking and chasing my kid, in no particular order. I walk in the woods a lot, play scrabble with my wife, play a lot of ping pong with my nephew.
BO: How much do you THINK about the act of writing?
JE: Always. I AM the act of writing.
[Brendan’s back] And if that wasn’t entertaining enough, you should take a look at the book trailer for “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.” I love it. I actually have some commercials in this vein in the hopper. It’s what Seth Godin would call a “purple cow.” Great to see someone of Evison’s profile adopting it. Take a look:
I was looking through my scrapbook today (Yes, I had a scrapbook in high school. Go on, get it out. Hey, when you write your memoir, you’ll wish you had the shit I kept on hand.) when I came across the only literary awards I have ever won.
The story, which I no longer have, was called O’Meara in the Rye. Catcher in the Rye was the first book I truly loved and we had just read it that year. OitR was a self-deprecating tale of a guy who couldn’t get the girl. As you can tell, it was critically acclaimed. I kept these “ribbons” for a reason. What I should be asking myself is why was this story I wrote when I was 16, and why was this story I wrote when I was 13, the best work I’ve ever done?
My best answer is that awards of all kinds are political and/or popularity contests. My OitR story was OK. It was kind of funny. But the class liked me and I was popular so when my story went up against, oh, I don’t know, the clarinet player with talent, I won because that’s what popular do: they win.
Now I’m not as talented as the heavy hitters in my genre and I can’t win a popularity contest anymore, so up shit’s creek, as they say. Awards are nice and they make you look good, but it’s wise to understand that people are doing the voting and if they begrudge you just a touch, they won’t vote for you out of principle, even if your work is superior.
Maybe I wrote such good stories before I ever kissed a girl because I didn’t over think it. I had fun writing stories that were entertaining, that had these wounded, likeable characters. Nowadays I kick my own ass by writing about horse racing and string for local newspapers and websites when I should be in bigger markets.
It’s time to be as good as I used to be!
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Beyond talking about writing and self marketing, I’ll write about looking the part. It’s my feeling that suiting up and taking your appearance seriously helps you get the story and win the trust of your characters. We’re billboards for our brand. If we look put together then by extension people will think our work is put together. You know the saying about first impressions. I’ll take my chances in a suit. Now for today’s post!
Want to have shoe trees but don’t feel like spending $20 for every pair of shoes you own? I’ve got an easy alternative: water bottles.
What works best are the eco-friendly bottles that have a thinner plastic. They are more pliable, but still have shape and structure.
1. Squeeze out a little bit of air.
2. Screw the cap on.
3. Slide the narrow end in first.
4. You’re done! Your shoes now have structure.
Before you recycle, think about reusing. This is one way to put those bottles to use.
Ben Franklin, the only hombre on American currency who wasn’t a president, had it goin’ on. Sure, he came down with syphilis, but who hasn’t?
I read his autobiography a few months back and it’s tough to get through. The edition I have doesn’t have paragraph indentations. Try reading that. There’s no white space. I need a break.
But, Franklin was nothing if not methodical and that’s important for the writer looking to make a living in letters. Franklin had a list of 12 Virtues to follow for self improvement, and maybe I’ll talk about those another time. What I want to talk about is his daily structure. Here it is:
The Morning Question: What Good Shall I do this Day?
5-7: Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness; contrive Day’s Business and take the Resolution of the Day; prosecute the present Study: and breakfast?—
12-1: Read, or overlook my Accounts, and dine
6-9: Put Things in their Places, Supper, Musick, or Diversion, or Conversation, Examination of the Day
There’s something simple about this schedule I like. Also, it works in time to decompress and work on other things unrelated to work or craft. There’s time for music, recreation, reflection, etc.
I write well in 45-minute clips. I have some music records that are 45 minutes and I put the headphones on and blast away until the record is done. Then I get up and walk around, do pushups, pet the dogs.
I’d encourage you to adopt a form of structure, something easily digestible. It’s easy to get derailed. All writers know that.
What is your schedule? Is it random? Or do you carve out time each day?
Today’s post deals with the ever-important query letter. It is the fundamental document of any freelance writer looking to make a living. It irons out what your pitch is about and who you are and why editors/agents should take a chance on YOU.
Here’s what got me into Vegetarian Times’s Vegging Out blog:
I opt for very quick and easy to read letters. One, editors are short on time. Two, they’re reading on a computer screen and most people want to read short pieces on a screen.
First, I called Vegetarian Times and asked for the name of the editor I should pitch to. Next, my opening paragraph is the hook and why the story will be interesting to Vegetarian Times readers (important, not what’s important to ME, but what’s important to THEM. Sometimes you have to alter—as in cater—your voice. Nothing wrong with this.)
Then I jump into my credentials so the editor doesn’t think I’m some yahoo (which will be totally discredited when they see I wrote a book on horse racing, but that’s neither here nor there). I also tag a page on my website where the editor can click and find clips of my work. If they want hard copies, I’ll send them, but in two clicks, the editor will have a broad sample of my writing capability.
Ultimately, my approach comes down to two things:
1. Get in, get out 2. Take Your Time with the Query (this applies more to book queries)
The letter needs to be read quickly and have some semblance of voice and a tightness of language that will be indicative of a longer piece of work.
With the second point, it’s important not to rush when querying an agent or a publishing house because it’s a painfully long process and sitting on your query for an extra day or week won’t kill it. Rushing will make it sound rushed. Treat it like a piece of art. It needs time. The publishing process is long. I’m as guilty as an when it comes to a trigger finger when sending a query or email. But let the query breathe. Your book won’t be published for at least two years. Hanging out for a few more days will help, not hurt it. Here’s my query for Six Weeks in Saratoga that had a few agents biting and sold SUNY Press.
Undoubtedly my queries will get better as I learn more about them. As I learn more and experiment with what works and what doesn’t, I’ll be sure to share that information and samples. I may even try to get a friend or two to write a guest post about the subject.
I read “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk!” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. It’s a short book with short chapters that deal with marketing if you have a product the likes of Pepsi. Many of the laws help two-horse and three-horse industries. How does this effect what we do as writers? Before that, I’ll lay out what the laws are and bold the ones I feel can be applied to the writing life.
The Law of:
It’s important to view your book as a product. Once it’s published, it can be exchanged for money. Brilliant insight! Glad I clicked on the link! Thanks for sharing! Bear with me. Once you’ve honed the manuscript and crafted it into what you deem is a nice piece of art, it becomes a competitor against everything else on those book shelves. It’s a competitor for entertainment, food, gas, etc. When your book is on the shelf that’s one less spot “Fifty Shades of Gray” can occupy. So, yes, it’s in competition.
Okay, let’s look at how the three laws I bolded above can help you promote your work.
1. The Law of Focus
“A company can become incredibly successful if it can find a way to own a word in the mind of the prospect. Not a complicated word. Not an invented one. The simple words are best, words taken right out of the dictionary.”
FedEx swiped “overnight” or Crest got “cavities”. With laser-like focus you associate a word with your brand. In writing, John Grisham is associated with “law drama” and Steven King “horror”. Tim Ferriss is a “life hacker”. But where is Dave Eggers? He writes nonfiction, fiction, etc. Yet he’s wildly popular.
Focus gives us an area of expertise, an umbrella under which we become associated. Sadly, I’m associated with horse racing. The nichiest of niches. I’m broadening to sports (I’ve been a sports writer since 2005) and that’s a much more encompassing area of focus. I also want to do some true crime, but is that smart? Do Erik Larson and Mike Capuzzo own it? Is that their focus?
Focus also applies to platforms for social media. You can’t do them all. Pick the ones that are fun and the ones you’ll come back to.
2. Law of Line Extension
“One day a company is tightly focused on a single product that is highly profitable. The next day the same company is spread thin over many products and is losing money.”
Dave Eggers, again, is the exception to the rule. He writes what he wants and hits it out of the park. Tracy Kidder writes just nonfiction and a large chunk of that nonfiction is rural “backyard” narratives. John Feinstein writes mainly golf, but he’s a sports writer as he famously wrote “A Season on the Brink” about the Indiana University Hoosiers basketball team.
If you’re going to violate this law, make sure the reporting and the writing is so tight and polished a reader won’t care who you are, just how great the story is. Thank you, Laura Hillenbrand for a book about a horse and a book about a WWII veteran.
This also applies to the social media you choose. You need it. And I’d say three or four is good enough. I blog from my website (2 for 1), Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads (where I am a part of the Goodreads Author Program. Goodreads is where readers hang out.). I will do no more. If I do more, one of those above must go. Which leads to …
3. The Law of Sacrifice
“The law of sacrifice is the opposite of the law of line extension. If you want to be successful today, you should give something up.”
As it stands, I use four social media platforms. If I were to give one up? Gun to my head, you’re pulling the hammer back on the pistol, the bean drops into the chamber, you better eliminate one right now!!!!!! I guess it would be Twitter (I put in a lot of time on Twitter and I don’t have the followers to show for it. I retweet people, I reply to people, I share my work and others, and I don’t get the reciprocation “social media experts” say I’d get. If you participate and do those things people are supposed to follow you. At least as a courtesy. Maybe I’m not interesting enough.)
Minimalism is a great way to approach the craft. Getting rid of physical clutter gets rid of mental clutter. I love this quote from Bruce Lee, “One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.”
I got rid of at least 100 books on my shelves by donating them to my library or to friends. I wasn’t going to read those again and they failed to make me look smart so what’s the point? Hey, look at all my books! The important ones are on my shelves now or in my head.
So the law of sacrifice should make you look at what I want to write. After all, what good is it if you write something nobody is going to read? Who would want to read a murder mystery from famed baseball writer Peter Gammons? Not many, we want to read his take on baseball.
Here’s where the novelist has it made. As long as it’s a novel, they can write whatever the f*ck they want. Nonfictionists don’t have this luxury. Why are you an expert in this field? Do you have platform? F*ckin’ platform!
I don’t mean that. Platform is mightily important. Mightily.
I hope these laws help you out and help you find your focus.
What are your thoughts? What is your marketing strategy? Do you find it all overwhelming?