Comment here and be entered to win a signed copy of Barbara Claypole White’s latest release, The Promise Between Us—racing up the Amazon charts. A second winner receives a signed book from my bestselling Ghost Gifts series. Which novel? That’s a surprise!
Winners announced Monday, January 22nd. Enjoy the post!
Where we met… in a bar. (RWA, 2012)
Author disclaimer: We are not writing experts. In fact, we bow to a master on this point: “There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly; sometimes it’s like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”–Ernest Hemingway
But we have scratched the writing surface.
Between us, Barbara and I have published a dozen novels, several of them bestsellers. This week Barbara is celebrating the release of her fifth novel, The Promise Between Us. Yay! ????????????
As Hemingway notes, it is nice when writing works out “easily and perfectly.” Personally, I can count on one hand the number of times this phenomenon has occurred. “Me too,” Barbara calls from rural North Carolina. But still, this is nice when it happens and should not be discounted.
Drilling and blasting with charges—true statement. ⛏????When the dust settles, and pieces of characters are forever embedded in your mind, you stare at your explosive masterpiece and think, “Wow. Where did that come from?”
If you are fastidious and dedicated, if you’ve thrown everything you have into your book and wrung your hands raw massaging plot points, character arcs, and revisions, then your finished novel may turn out better than expected.
“We can dream, right?”—Barbara notes
It’s what writers hope for, and it’s what Barbara achieved in The Promise Between Us, an incredible novel! You can read my thoughts here. To celebrate, we’ve put together a list of things writing fiction has taught us. A published book is reason to reflect, so we offer you our hard-fought, albeit uncensored and unsolicited, lessons:
Writing is Harder Than You Think:
LS: Okay, so lots of things are harder than you think, but few can claim the scored-to-your-soul feel of having written a novel. Imagine your novel as the parts of a delicately crafted Swiss watch—laid out in front of you. Now put it together. Blindfolded.
Well, not every aspect of novel writing is this daunting, but it is trickier than many non-writers perceive. For instance, if at a party, nothing makes me smile wider than when all of the following occurs:
“I see you have a new book out! Which character are you?” (Sloshes drink at me in congratulatory gesture.)
Why yes—that’s precisely what I do, cast myself in my novels. It’s what my editor looks for and readers hope to find in a book.
“I’ve always wanted to write a novel! When I retire, of course…”
Well, of course! As leisurely endeavors go, I’d put novel writing up there with free rock climbing and a trip to Pamplona in mid-July.
“I’ve had this idea in my head for years! I swear it’d be a blockbuster novel, probably a movie. I just need someone to write it down for me.”
Inner sigh, bigger smile, reach for another drink…
Your Critique Partner Isn’t Your Ego Masseuse:
BCW: Honest feedback is critical, so choose your beta readers wisely, young Padawans. “I loved your manuscript,” never helped anyone’s learning curve.
LS: Praise is important, but it won’t improve your writing. Conversely, no writer benefits from a red pen scalding. Look for a critique partner or group that offer alternative suggestions to writing roadblocks and note your strengths, as opposed to, “Jesus, this is awful. Have you considered maintenance repair manual writing?”
A Barbara Claypole White storyboard in progress!
BCW: I just snorted out coffee. Yes, constructive criticism is good; “Don’t quit your day job,” is not. I have three beta readers and trust them implicitly. They’ve read all of my manuscripts—including the unpublished one—and while they occasionally give smiley faces ???? for pretty sentences, they’re experts at poking fingers into my plot holes.???? Their feedback inspires me to tunnel one level deeper. I would never submit a manuscript, or even a synopsis, to my agent or editor if my beta pack hadn’t ripped it apart, chewed it up, and spat it out first. Oh yeah, they’re brutal—even my empathetic poet-musician son. Well, there was that one time he said, “Come on, Mom. You can do better.”
Publishing is a Business, Not a Love Affair—or even a hot date:
BCW: When you’re feeling betrayed or unloved, vent into a cushion, NOT on social media,???? and then write like a motherf***er. This is a tough industry, and you cannot take rejection personally. My first publisher cancelled my contract weeks after I handed in the manuscript that would become THE PERFECT SON. I was stunned, especially since I adore—present tense—my then editor, but I didn’t take it personally.
I had this weird belief things would work out, and they did. My amazing agent got me to Lake Union within two weeks, and the book went on to become a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for best fiction 2015. One door closes, one opens… just make sure you don’t slam any in your own face. Also, let writing be the cure. Not every book pads your bank account or finds its audience. The solution is to “keep writing,” she says, glancing at her unfinished story board.
Shaking Off a Bad Review—or two:
BCW: Also called the softly-spoken it’s-all-lovely, practiced in the mirror with a big smile. Because smiling lifts your mood and positive comments are infinitely preferable to voodoo. Not that I’ve ever considered this after a stinker of a review. Have you, Laura?
LS: What? Oh, sorry, I was distracted, just moving a straight pin… Um, probably the worst moments in the whole book writinggig is reading a bad review. It’s like being dumped by that really cute guy back in high school. It’s the end of the world! Everyone is looking, and whispering, and pointing, and you just want the floor to open up and swallow you whole.
But think back. A) Was that really the case, or was your mind exaggerating what “the world” was thinking? B) More importantly—we grow. We’d never define ourselves by a crush gone bad. Don’t let one naysayer have this power over your work.
BCW: C) Remind yourself that reading is subjective by checking out negative reviews of books you love. And treat yourself! I always bring out the good gin after a negative review, because I’m worth it, and haters are a weird sign of success. ????
Be Loud and Proud with Your Writing Voice—own it, girlfriend:
BCW: Repeat after me, “I’m a badass author.” I learned a long time ago that my quirky style isn’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey. Nor does it have to be. Find peace with the sentiment that not everyone’s going to ‘get’ your fiction and focus on being true to your voice. My voice is the one thing I control in this crazy business and editing it—even if I break grammar rules—is non-negotiable. Not every story has been told, because no one else writes with your voice.
LS: Barbara’s right—voice is solely yours. But like a singing voice, it takes time to develop and clunker notes are inevitable. When I first attempted novel writing, I mimicked one of my favorite authors—sentence structure, cadence, pacing. It was a critical learning tool. The more confident I became, the less I needed to hear her voice. The more I heard and understood my own.
Do NOT Go Green—Coveting Another’s Success is the Devil’s Fodder:
LS: This is an easy one to fall into. No matter how evolved and gracious we are, envy is a natural reaction. There is no one-size-fits-all fix for this. Sometimes the easiest way around that Grinch-like heart palpitation is to quietly acknowledge your “Why not me?” feelings and move on. Focusing on others’ successes will get you and your WIP nowhere.
BCW: Couldn’t agree more. Acknowledge how you’re feeling and then recycle jealousy into something more productive. Retail therapy will only take you so far—besides, that often leads to guilt—but try a random act of kindness for another author. Works for me.
Growing a Following is Like Partnering with a Sloth in a Three-legged Race:
BCW: I used to describe growing my writing career as trying to build a 6’ wall from pebbles. I’m proud of those pebbles, but my wall is still pretty low. I keep plugging away, but I also treat any interaction with readers seriously. I have to because I’m writing about the impact of mental illness on families, and readers often have their own heartbreaking stories to share. Those stories remind me why I do this. Mental illness isn’t a sexy topic, but writing about it is my passion. Bring on the sloths, I say!
Procrastination is the Mother of Defeat:
Barbara’s latest, ON SALE NOW!!!
LS: Writing a book is 10% inspiration and 90% ass-in-chair. And when your ass is in that chair, keep other distractions at bay. For example, if you are supposed to be working on a novel proposal, don’t be diverted by things like the release date of your very good writer friend’s most amazing new novel, and mischievous ideas about a blog on writing/publishing tips. Keep your goals organized, at the forefront, and manage time wisely.
Uh, wait a second…
Can You be a Hybrid Panster-Plotter?
BCW: Totally! I’m an organic writer. However, writing to contract taught me to speed up my sloppy process. Outlining might be algebra to my math-challenged brain, but books on screenwriting make sense. As a visual person, I can analyze a movie. After reading SAVE THE CAT, I started creating storyboards written to movie beats. They’ve become my road maps. Even if I abandon them, they get me on the journey.
LS: Here, here. While Barbara and I write very different books, our process is somewhat similar. I learned long ago that I can’t see past the headlights in the fog. I had to figure out how to write a book with that limitation—or even better, make it work to my advantage. My single secret: for every book I write, I know the precise ending before I’ve fleshed out the beginning. Then I start driving in that direction. ???? —You may rely on it
Social Media Can Drive You to Drink, Pass the Gin:
BCW: I never need an excuse to pour gin, but you have to act the parent with social media and set limits. Right now I have book launch squirrel brain, but normally I restrict my social media to a quick fly-by when I stop for breakfast—my day starts at 6:00 a.m., another quick fly-by at lunch, and I engage in the evening. Guard that writing time if you want to be productive. (I have to write with the Internet off, otherwise I start checking out sales on RueLaLa or Garnet Hill. Off Fifth has good ones, too…) The best advice I had as a newbie author was to pick one social media platform—that worked for me—and use it well. Although I probably shouldn’t be posting around gin o’clock.
LS: What Barbara said… ????????????
*Comment here and be entered to win. Contest open to US residents only.
Women in Hollywood and beyond are finally finding their voices, and they’re revealing crimes of harassment and inappropriate behavior they’ve long had to endure. It’s tempting to believe these brave women are at the cutting edge of a new trend. But, on her recent Books in Three Bytes podcast appearance in the AuthorBytes Café, historical fiction, and non-fiction author Leslie Carroll talks about some of the most powerful—and infamous—figures in history…who just happen to have been women. Listen to Leslie’s episode below.
Notable Quotes From the Interview
“Royal women are just like the rest of us. The just have better clothes and jewelry.”
“I want to give women of royal generations a voice of their own and make them relatable to the contemporary reader.”
“It’s great for women to have role models in literature, but I’m afraid in biographical history it’s slim pickings. It’s in historical fiction that you’re going to find strong women and strong stories.”
Powerful Women Throughout History
Leslie Carroll is the bestselling author of fourteen novels, as well as seven non-fiction works focusing on the loves and lives of European royals. She’s intensively researched her characters, and she’s even learned how the royal women of the Bourbon court glided—seemingly effortlessly—in gowns and hairstyles heavy enough to challenge even today’s elite female athletes. Learn more about Leslie Carroll by visiting her website, LeslieCarroll.com.
About Books in Three Bytes and the AuthorBytes Café
Books in Three Bytes is the first podcast show in the AuthorBytes Café. The show serves up conversations with successful fiction and nonfiction authors whose books span numerous genres and topics. Hosted by celebrated broadcaster Jordan Rich, the podcast focuses on three essential elements related to an author’s books or writing career. Sit back, and take a sip of the Cafe’s weekly brew.
With Halloween upon us, ‘tis the season of scariness. While most of us are thinking about ghouls and ghosts—candy to be disbursed and consumed—AuthorBytes saw an opportunity to discuss scares. After all, it’s the ritual of pulse-pounding fear that lives at the core of All Hallows’ Eve. With this in mind, Authorbytes invited author Leslie S. Klinger to be a guest on Books in Three Bytes, a podcast on the AuthorBytes Café, to explain the nuances behind the beloved classic horror story. Listen to Leslie’s episode below.
Leslie is considered to be among the world’s foremost authorities on Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, H.P. Lovecraft, and Frankenstein. He’s written numerous books on nineteenth-century genre fiction, delving into the inner workings of the classic horror masters. He has won countless awards for his books and served as a technical advisor with major Hollywood studios producing genre films.
Why We Love To Be Scared
As you’ll hear on the podcast, there’s a reason we love to be scared. Leslie fills us in on how the masters of horror created their never-ending brews of page-turning novels, and why their works remain relevant today. He’ll tell us why the classic characters, Dracula and Frankenstein’s creation, have lasted generations, and he’ll share the reasons why one of these timeless creatures might be ringing your doorbell on Halloween night.
Listen to the AuthorBytes Café. Afterward, learn more about Leslie Klinger by visiting his website, lesliesklinger.com.
About Books in Three Bytes and the AuthorBytes Café
Books in Three Bytes is the first podcast show in the AuthorBytes Café. The show serves up conversations with successful fiction and nonfiction authors whose books span numerous genres and topics. Hosted by celebrated broadcaster Jordan Rich, the podcast focuses on three essential elements related to an author’s books or writing career. Sit back, and take a sip of the Cafe’s weekly brew.
Recently, a student told me she was too scatterbrained to write her novel without help, and that she needed someone to crack the whip, set deadlines, help her focus, etc. She said she needed an editor or a partner, or both.
This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that sort of thing from writing students. Maybe such people are better suited to journalism, which thrives on deadlines; or writing assigned articles, where the subject matter and the word count are predetermined. Not easy to get such work these days, of course. I wish I could wave a magic wand and give emerging writers more discipline and focus, or that I had an address book full of the names of editors just waiting to help unpublished writers write their first books, but I can’t, and I don’t.
What I can do is share some hard truths about writing:
Only you can write your book. Although editors and “first readers” can help you polish the finished product, unless you hire a ghost writer, no one is going to write your book for you.
Discipline is required. If you can’t crack your own whip over your own head and get your butt in front of a keyboard or blank page and learn your craft, focus and stick to it, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year… well, see 1) above; no one is going to do it for you.
Writers write. We do it alone, mostly, although writing groups and/or creative writing programs can help us learn craft and give us, sometimes, useful feedback. Writers may talk about writing, they may read about writing, but that’s secondary to their primary activity, which is the actual writing.
Writers read. I can’t tell you how many students I have who say they want to be writers, but don’t read. I despair.
There is no magic spell, or ritual that will make you into a Real Writer. People always want to know, “What’s your schedule?” “What’s your process?” What they’re asking is, “Tell me the secret…” Okay, here’s the secret: there’s no secret. Everyone finds their own way to the page. There are as many methods and processes as there are writers. Mine won’t work for you. Yours won’t work for me. Meditation? Tea? Incense? Candles? Drawing a chalk circle around your desk and standing on one leg while reciting T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland? Sure, why not. Try it. Try anything, you never know what will work for you. Ultimately, however, it’s probably easier just to sit down and start typing.
If you write for any reason other than that you love the process of writing, you’ll be miserable. Writing, the process of forming meaning from your experience in the world, is the only thing you can be sure of. Everything else – publishing, reader response, critical response, financial success — depends on outside forces beyond your control, no matter how relentlessly and masterfully you self-promote. If being a writer is going to enhance your life, rather than make you psychotic, then your solace, your comfort, your joy, and your satisfaction must come from what happens when you sit in front of the blank page, not from what happens after you hand your manuscript over to an agent/editor/publisher/printer.
Writing is a lonely business. Even My Best Beloved, a man as supportive, kind and devoted as any in the history of time, has his own life and responsibilities and interests (as he should) and can’t be expected to sit around gazing at me in adoration while I chase the muse. I recommend getting a dog. Being in relationship with a dog (or some other critter) is like being in relationship with one’s own soul. (But that’s another essay, I suspect.) Anyway, accept the solitude and find a way to deal with it. Writers are not Nature’s socialites.
Writing is an inky fountain of frustration. Then again, what worth doing isn’t? All great passions take patience, perseverance and a love of process. There are a thousand false starts
“Fail Better” Samuel Beckett watching “Waiting for Godot,” portrait by Tom Phillips (National Portrait Gallery, London)
and dead ends and revisions upon revisions. There are commas to be put in, and later that day, commas to be taken out again, as Oscar Wilde so famously said. It can, and often does, take years to write a decent book. If you don’t like the idea of wrestling with the same angel for a very long (possibly dark) night of the soul, you might be better off doing something else. But, if the idea of spending years deeply engaged in a single work appeals to you, pick up the pen and begin… and expect to begin again a hundred times before you’re done.
9. Starting a book doesn’t mean you’ll finish it. I’ve started a dozen books that never made it to a hundred pages, and I’ve started I-don’t-know-how-many short stories that never got finished. Sure, you need to have enough discipline to stick with a good idea and craft it, shape it and polish it until it’s done, but not every idea pans out. Sometimes it takes a long time before you realize this. But, since it’s the practice of writing, rather than the destination of a best-seller list that’s important, who cares? Samuel Beckett said, “Fail again. Fail better.” Every paragraph I write is another part of the metaphorical forest of my soul which I’m exploring, and on that map, everything counts, even the little unfinished squiggly bit.
10. Yes, you must understand grammar, and punctuation and spelling. You can fracture the rules for effect, if your work is thus improved, but first I recommend what the rules are and why they exist. Proper grammar, punctuation and spelling enables the writer to communicate effectively with the reader. Butcher syntax accidentally, carelessly, and you are likely to confuse your reader, or make her snort in contempt. Neither reaction encourages her to continue reading. Okay, maybe you can make a mistake or two around proper use of “that” vs “which” without making it all a hopeless muddle, but you’d be surprised the damage a misplaced modifier can cause. For a writer, learning the mechanics of writing is what learning about harmonics, syncopation and dissonance is for a musician. Sure, you can play with these concepts, but only when you’ve mastered them can you manipulate them to the create the desired effects.
Still want to write? Still think it’s the path for you? Good. Then stop fiddling about on the web and get writing!
The proceeding post was originally published by the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter
Lauren B. Davis is the author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM,OUR DAILY BREAD; THE RADIANT CITY; and THE STUBBORN SEASON, as well as two collections of short stories, AN UNREHEARSED DESIREand RAT MEDICINE & OTHER UNLIKELY CURATIVES. Her work has been longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and shortlisted for the Rogers Writers Trust Prize. For more information, please visit her website at: LaurenBDavis.com
The old adage, “content is king,” holds as true today as it did when the Web first became part of our lives. Sure, great design and technology are both critical for an effective author website. So is the is ease with which content can be shared. But no matter how slick or functional your site, success still comes down to the quality of the content; with a single click of the mouse or touch of the finger, visitors can leave your site for other more appealing online experiences.
So let’s get down to the key issue: what kind of content should be on your site, and how much is enough?
Let’s say you have 549 items you could potentially upload to your author site. They include high school prom photos, video clips of your trips to the dentist, podcasts of your attempts to sing in the shower, your 25-page Q&A that includes details such as your favorite bath mat color, a barely legible copy of an article called “Pumpkin Day” that you wrote for your grade school newspaper, your grandmother’s recipe for fruitcake, early takes of your book covers, and rejection slips from the first 43 agents and publishers you contacted. How much of this should your site’s visitors see?
Probably none of it.
Okay, the above list is hyperbolic. But it’s not that far off.
Some authors could fill the equivalent of a digital 18-wheeler with enough content to send their most committed fans running for the hills. At the other end of the info spectrum, there are authors who won’t spend more than seven nanoseconds generating core information, let alone creating tailored, compelling content. And remember, it’s great content that helps build brands and sell books. Their sites tend to be more like online dust jackets than vehicles for engaging website visitors.
Fortunately, it’s easy to create a balance between overwhelming and underwhelming visitors to your book website. You find that point if you apply the following litmus tests to your content. The tests can help you keep your site focused and lean, yet deep enough to provide a rich user experience. Ask yourself these questions and keep it real; remember, nothing is so precious that it can’t be axed or reworked:
Does the content add value and pique interest in your book? Relevant photo galleries and multimedia elements are great. Details of the story behind the story can create a sense of intrigue and a longing for more. Explain how you hatched the plot for your novel. Or, for a non-fiction work, perhaps describe your research or interview methodology. Also, don’t be afraid to give away a chapter or two—if viewers don’t buy your book because their interest in your work is completely satisfied by a couple of chapters, then you have a larger problem.
Does the content give insights into what makes you tick as an author? A Q&A that reveals what influences you and informs your work is great. Some authors publish a “just the facts, ma’am” bio as well as a more fanciful bio that shows their dreams, aspirations, failures, and successes. It comes down to how comfortable you are about revealing yourself to the world. Remember, though, there’s a line between showing who you are and providing too much info. Find that happy medium and create a blend of information that elicits curiosity about you as an author and establishes your personality and credibility.
Does the content beg to be shared? A tremendous amount of web traffic is driven by the social networking platforms. Is the content likely to be of interest to a wider audience? Would someone want to subscribe to the blog on your site? Would they want to add your blog to their blogroll? The latter is more likely to happen if your blog has some kind of through-line and point of view (it can still be spontaneous and miscellaneous—just make sure your posts have a distinctive voice). And include functionality that make it a breeze to share blog posts and other content. If content is king, ease of sharing is the reigning queen.
Does the site create stickiness, community, and increase the likelihood of repeat visits? The best website content is frequently updated and it keeps readers coming back for more. If your book site is loaded with static, low-traffic pages, head back to the lab and create new content. Test, evaluate, iterate, and reiterate—that’s the formula for success. Certain core information doesn’t have to change or emanate razzle-dazzle vibes. But there has to be a reason for people to return to the site. An integral, active blog is a great way to inject ongoing fresh content. Contests and new free downloads work, too. Get creative!
Does the content meet the viewer’s needs or your own? This is a corollary to the prior litmus test. The website is, of course, about you. But it’s not the equivalent of a self-portrait that you hang on the wall because you like it. A website succeeds—builds brand and cultivates buyers—because it’s visitor-centric. Use your web analytics to identify trends and tailor content to your visitors’ interests. This can be painful if you don’t like what you see. Everything—even content that you’re certain will be a surefire hit—needs to be put under the microscope. Inside jokes (stories, photos, videos) that nobody understands won’t help you achieve your online goals. If you keep your visitors in mind and fill your site with materials customized to suit their needs and interests, you’re aiming at the right target.
Finally, remember that readers pay for your books, and they have a vested interest in finishing the work once they’ve started it. But visiting your website is a decidedly different proposition. Viewers are doing you a favor by spending time there, and you have to earn their ongoing patronage. Yes, your author website is part of your business, even if you’re not directly selling books on it. To gain that patronage, you have to capture their attention. And as many pundits have noted, attention is the currency of the digital age.
It all boils down to a simple principle: make your site a worthwhile investment of your visitors’ precious time. That’s one of the major keys to success for any online venture.
The basic premise of book marketing is this: write great books that people will want to read—then effectively market them. If you’re self-published, use professional editors, designers, and formatters so your book looks amazing. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will handle that part. But nowadays, most of the marketing will still fall to you.
Here are several tried and true tips to develop your author platform, social media, and book marketing. Let’s go!
1.Know your demographic. Who is your ideal reader? Most authors have no clue (I know I didn’t at first, either). The best place to start: Pew Research Center. Pro Tip: Everyone is not your demographic, no matter how much you want that to be true. Find your niche and talk with (not blast and spam) those readers.
2.Where is your ideal reader spending time online? That’s where you need to be. Most authors spend their time on their personal Facebook, whining about how their books aren’t selling. Facebook is the largest social media channel in the world – but is it where your readers are? If your books are YA, you need to be on Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and YouTube, which all skew younger. Additionally, all those Facebook personal account posts don’t help you in Google Search.
3. Be social on social media. Too many authors blast and spam (“Buy my book!”) with little to no interaction, which is not only ineffective, it also violates almost every social media channel’s rules. Listen, retweet and share, interact and reply. It’s not all about you. And for all that’s holy, cancel that automated DM (direct message) welcome on Twitter. Newbie mistake. Your reader wants to know WIIFM (What’s In It For Me), not you, the author. Always be thinking about ways you can be generous.
4. Blog at least once a week. This is effective for your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Not sure what to blog about? Focus on your branding and keywords. What are you most excited about? Remember, we brand the author, not the book. Write about what you are authentically passionate about or an expert in (Hint: it doesn’t have to be about writing!). Too many authors write about writing. Unless your book is about writing, and your demographic is other writers, your marketing needs an adjustment.
In addition, learn how to optimize your blog posts for SEO. Google is the largest search engine in the world, and it loves fresh content, but only if it can find it. Learn more here about how to optimize your posts for Google.
5. Add your social media icons and book links to your website and blog.This seems so obvious, but many authors don’t do it. If you make people search for ways to find you (or share your content or books), they’re out. Top right is typically the best placement on your site for follow buttons; top and bottom of each post for share buttons, sidebar for books.
Work with your website designer for your best options.
I’ve included many resources here (mine and others). Work on these and I’ll follow up in my next post with five more tips.
As a creative person, I’m obsessed with time. I’m always seeking ways to squeeze in my writing. And when I’m away from my work for too long, I pine for it the way a new mother pines for the smell of her baby’s freshly washed hair.
Have you ever felt that way?
What if I were to say you could have several daily hours of interrupted time to devote to your work each week? Hours that are quiet and sacred and conducive to engaging and productive work? What if I said you’d be following in the paths of hundreds of creative people like Toni Morrison, Wayne Dyer and Steve Jobs? What if I promised you can have all of this and more?
And you only have to make one small change:
Wake up three hours earlier.
Have I lost you yet?
Six months ago if I’d been reading this article, I’d have quit. Three hours earlier? For me that would be 4 a.m. Insane! Monks wake up then. People who work at Krispy Kreme wake up then.
Not people who flinch at the first ray of daylight or need several minutes to ever-so-gradually emerge from my haven of blankets. Not people who fiercely resist facing reality’s sharp corners, loud noises and jolts.
I’ve never been a morning person. My husband springs out of bed, spry and whistling. For me, getting up in the morning is like being wrenched from a cozy womb with cold forceps, red-faced and screaming in protest.
I used to be a high school special education teacher, and memories of getting up and going to work in complete blackness still plagued me. One of the luxuries of the creative life was that I could get up whenever I damn well wanted.
But, several months ago, I agreed to teach three classes at the university as opposed to my usual one class. I also took on some extra freelance magazine work, and I was preparing for the launch of my seventh novel. My writing time felt as rushed and unsatisfying as a quickie with a stranger.
I was so unhappy.
Not writing fiction was such an unnatural state for me. I’ve been steadily writing novels for over 15 years. Naturally I was looking forward to end of the semester in December. But as soon as my teaching duties were completed, the holidays would swoop in with their obligations and forced march to make merry. I’d be nearly as bogged down as I was during the semester.
But shortly before the semester ended, I stumbled upon an article about the benefits of early rising. This time I was much more motivated.
Four am. Here I come.
And come it did. With frightening speed. The first morning I felt as if I’d just gone to sleep, but I ignored my mental protests and swung my legs out of cozy comfort and into cold blackness.
But by the time I’d gotten the coffee brewed and was sitting in my office, being up early didn’t feel half bad. In fact, it felt good.
It was so quiet and distraction-free The first morning I easily wrote 2,000 words before 7 a.m. Those words seemed to come from a deeper part of myself than those that came in the brightness of daylight.
I also experienced a deep satisfaction of having accomplished so much while the rest of the world slumbered. Did you know that only .1 percent of the people in the United States wake up before 5 a.m.?
Think of it.
If there are any wonderful stray ideas floating around at four a.m. you’ll be the first to grab them by the tail. And it does seem as if the morning air is thick with ideas. Novelist Edna O’Brien said that in the mornings, “One is nearer to the unconscious, the source of inspiration.”
After over a month of waking up early, four a.m. has become my favorite time of the day. I read an inspirational book while I wait for my coffee water to boil. (Currently I’m reading Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck.) In addition to easily getting my creative work done, I now sleep much better than before. (I go to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 or later if I have plans.). Also I’m much less resentful when as I go about the rest of my obligations because the creative beast is no longer hungry; each morning it’s being richly fed.
Finally, I feel a sense of mastery over my life I didn’t before. It’s the same way I felt after quitting smoking or when I incorporated a regular exercise program into my life. Getting up early has increased my personal power.
I plunged into my new habit, but if you’re the sort of person who takes off a Band-Aid, one millimeter at a time, there are articles out there about how you can ease into this new and profound reality. And here are some additional tips:
Mental tricks help us to win the mind-over-mattress game. Put your alarm clock across the room. Plan a reward for your efforts. (Coffee for me.) Give yourself a suggestion just before you go to sleep. (I will wake up at 4 .a.m. feeling mentally refreshed. Yes. It really does work.)
Tell yourself that, for every hour earlier you’re waking up in the morning, you receive a net gain of the equivalent of 15 days per year. For instance, I’m waking up three hours earlier each day, so I’m gaining 21 hours each week. Imagine that? The equivalent of a part time job.
Remind yourself that the most compelling reason for rising early is you no longer have to delay pursuing your big, beautiful, breathless dreams until you have “more time.” (When does that day come?)
Convinced? I hope so.
From now on when the alarm goes off, and we’re tempted to listen to that cunning voice in our heads, trying to convince us to stay cocooned in our warm, cozy covers, we should declare, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Then we’ll make the early morning leap out of the bed into a life where we actually have time to do what we love.
Occasionally, AuthorBytes invites guest bloggers, authors, editors and industry experts to offer their insights to our clients and viewers. We’re excited to have Georgia’s Author of the Year with us. Karin Gillespie is the national-bestselling author of seven novels. She has also written for the New York Times, Washington Post and Writer Magazine. She has an MFA from Converse College and lives in Augusta, Georgia. She writes a book column for the Augusta Chronicle, and a humor column for the Augusta Magazine.
When it comes to author website design, copyright issues are a major concern. This is particularly true when it comes to choosing photos. Clients often ask if it’s fair game to snag a photo from the Internet and use it on their website or blog. I’m not an intellectual property lawyer, but I can tell you with confidence that if you violate someone’s copyright, there are likely to be consequences. Penalties can range from a takedown notice to a lawsuit seeking substantial damages. As a general rule, assume an image found online is subject to copyright and unavailable to use to promote your book without securing the appropriate permission.
“Oh but it’s just little old me—they’re never going to find my site.” That’s a common refrain, and potentially risky thinking. The problem is that the “they” isn’t a “them,” as in human beings. Rights holders and their agents constantly unleash software that trolls the Web looking for copyrighted material being used without permission. While resulting actions may not amount to anything, they’re still a nuisance and an emotional and potentially financial drain. Remember, the whole idea for you is to write books, not defend yourself in court.
This past year, we saw the problem unfold up close. A client posted commercial music on his site without having permission to do so. Within seven days, a robot zeroed in on the music. Our primary server provider received a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown notice. We were given 72-hours to remove the music in question, or face the prospect of having the entire server shut down—not just the offending site. We removed the music immediately. There were no consequences, other than the time wasted on the back-and-forth communication, as well as the time spent removing the music from the client’s site.
What’s the Best Course of Action When Choosing Photos?
Here are some options and caveats for choosing photos when it comes to your website or blog. Again, this is NOT legal advice, but it does provide basic guidelines for making good choices:
Short of taking the photos yourself, the safest course of action is to purchase royalty-free images from a stock photo company. There are dozens of providers. Just search “royalty-free stock photos” and you’ll find a gaggle of companies, like Shutterstock, iStock, and Getty Images. You can also use completely free sites with beautiful, hi-res photos like Unsplash and Pixabay — they are completely royalty-free and don’t even require attribution.
Here are two guidelines when dealing with stock photo images:
Make sure that the images are royalty-free. That means you can use them in all kinds of contexts—you just can’t resell the images. Since other restrictions may apply too, it is imperative that you read whatever the stock image site posts about how you can use the images. You may also encounter RIGHTS MANAGED photos. With rights managed images, you pay to use the picture for a particular time and for a particular medium, among other criteria. Note that these images can be very expensive, depending on the subject matter, source, and intended use.
Make certain that the image you’ve selected does not say: Editorial Use Only. Generally, this means an image is earmarked for use by people in the news media business. Read that as “not for commercial purposes.” If the point of your site or blog is promote or advertise your book, that’s a commercial purpose. Check out the policy of any site that offers photos for editorial use.
Use a photo-sharing service. When using a photo-sharing service, proceed with caution and don’t assume that all images are up for grabs. Check with the owner of an image about usage restrictions and attribution requirements (a lot of amateur photographers want to be recognized for their work, so a photo credit is in order) and secure any necessary permission to use an image to promote or advertise your book.
If possible, avoid obtaining photos from Google or Wikipedia, unless the owner of the image is clearly identified and you can obtain permission to use the image to promote your book. The mere appearance of a photo on Google Images or Wikipedia does not mean that the image in question is in the public domain or free to use. Often an image appears on such platforms without the photographer’s consent. Explaining to a photographer’s attorney that you found his or her client’s photo on Google Images will not serve as a defense to copyright infringement.
Understand Rights Issues and Fair Use
The Internet is causing legal experts to rethink all kinds of rights issues concerning fair use. Lots of people believe that anything posted should be free to use; others believe that those who create content have a right to protect and profit from their work. Remember this: the fact that “everyone does it” or an image is “all over the net” does not constitute a defense if an infringement case comes to blows. You also might want to contact an experienced copyright attorney if you’re concerned about the images you plan on using.
Finally, the old saw, “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission,” may not be the wisest approach when you’re looking for photo content. How about this instead: when in doubt, take a pass. You can always find something suitable that’s legally okay to incorporate into your author website design.
CAN-SPAM (“Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act”) is a law that the U.S. Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003. The Act is meant to help guide creators of email marketing campaigns and newsletters to be honest and upfront with their unsolicited commercial email messages. Although this is an American law, several countries have very similar laws. For example, Canada’s is called CASL (Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation) and came into effect in 2014.
Offenses to the CAN-SPAM Act carry a penalty of $16,000 USD for each separate email that violates the Act. In addition, the Act authorizes state attorneys general and other agencies to bring claims for CAN-SPAM Act violations, with maximum damages amounts of $2,000,000. OK, now that I have your attention, let’s review the seven elements that keep you in compliance with the Act:
Do not use false or misleading identity information.
You must be clear regarding who is sending the email. Your email’s “From”, “To”, “Reply-To” fields and routing information (including the originating domain name and email address) must be accurate, and identify the person or the company that sends the message.
Do not use a deceptive subject for your email messages.
You need to ensure that the subject line accurately reflects the content of your email message. (In other words, don’t make extravagant claims in the subject that encourage people to open the email but aren’t carried forward in the content.)
Identify the message as an advertisement if it is one.
Initiators of a commercial email message must provide clear identification that the message is an advertisement or solicitation. Many newsletters that authors send out are essentially advertisements but authors see themselves as sharing information about their events and/or an upcoming new release. Ultimately the goal is to stimulate readers to buy books. And that’s fine. What you can’t do is invite people to a free seminar or workshop and then charge them at the door. Just be clear about what your message is offering and whether the email is an advertisement or solicitation.
Recipients must be given a physical postal address.
Being female, I have some concerns about this point. I don’t want a stalker showing up on my doorstep! My solution? A P.O. Box. That’s acceptable under the Act.
Include a clear option to opt-out of receiving future emails from you.
An email message must clearly explain that the recipient may opt-out of receiving further commercial messages from the sender. The best way to deal with this element is to use a mailing list management service such as MailChimp, Constant Contact, aWeber, or any of the others that are designed to maintain a mailing list and manage your emails. All of your emails and newsletters sent through a service should make it easy to unsubscribe. The opt-out mechanism must be functional for at least 30 days after the message is sent.
Honor opt-out requests promptly.
An opt-out request MUST become effective within 10 business days of receiving the request. Here again, a mailing list management service will take care of opt-outs instantly through their software. A newsletter service is much faster–the name is removed once the link is clicked.
In addition, you can’t charge a fee to remove a name from a list or require that a recipient provide any information other than the recipient’s email address and opt-out preferences. Further, once a name is removed from one list, you can’t add it to another list or sell it. Finally, an opt-out request does not expire and is overridden only by the recipient’s subsequent express request to once again receive commercial emails.
Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.
If you hire someone to send out newsletters on your behalf, you are still legally responsible for their actions – so pay attention!
Do they HAVE to Opt in?
A number of misconceptions about the CAN-SPAM Act are floating about the Web. For example, you’ll find articles stating that you can’t add anyone to a list without their permission. While the Act does not explicitly prohibit such an activity, it is generally not a good business practice. If you add people to your list without their permission, you’re likely to receive irate responses from folks who will NEVER buy any of your books.
In the two weeks prior to writing this post, I was added to SIX new lists, and one of the list owners sent me FOUR newsletters in one day! Even if I were interested in receiving his emails, the FOUR missives a day clogging my inbox were deal killers. I unsubscribed and never want to hear from that person again.
Beyond generating bad will, if you use a mailing list service and add names of people who haven’t opted in, you run the risk of having your account suspended or shut down if your first mailing has a higher than normal percentage of bounces, opt-outs, or complaints.
Here’s a simple approach to sending out solicited emails. Never forget that it’s a privilege to be granted access to someone’s inbox. Take that honor seriously.
Barbara Drozdowich is a Mailing List Specialist
Reviewed by Christopher Rooney, Esq., an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law for creatives and small businesses (www.rooneylegal.com)
Some aspects of creating an author website are like doing a fandango in a minefield, and few elements are as touchy as the official author photo. All authors want to look their best, and they should. The website is likely to be their first point of contact with the outside world. The photo, along with the overall tone of the site, says a lot about the author’s brand. But “looking your best” is a tricky, subjective concept and can create diplomatic challenges for the web designer.
Over the years, we’ve been asked to digitally enhance, liposuction, or nip and tuck just about every hill and valley of the human body, from heads to ankles. (If only we could charge the rates of plastic surgeons!) We were once asked to do a body swap by someone who noted that the torso in his actual photo didn’t reflect his commitment to the gym. “Must be a bad angle,” he said. We spent a fair amount of time doing photo research—body transplants are delicate operations and require just the right chest and shoulder size to match the head; otherwise, the results may appear as though Linda Blair of The Exorcist fame assisted in the neck positioning. The added challenge in this case was that we had to find an image of someone wearing a blazer with a sweater that he liked.
We did manage to dig up an image that passed the sartorial test, and the digital transplant procedure was a success. The recovery went smoothly, and the photo looked great on the site. But the jig was up when the client’s wife saw the site and remarked that she’d never seen him in that sweater before. Shortly afterward, the client had a change of heart about his new body and asked us to use the original picture on the site.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Almost all digital photos need some basic processing to improve skin tone, color balance, contrast, and other technical details. As you push beyond the basics, however, you start sliding down a slippery slope. Do you stop with removing shadows under your eyes or removing a blemish? How about knocking off a few years by smoothing out wrinkles so your skin is like glass? Or digitally toning your arms and tightening your core?
A skilled photo retoucher can roll the clock back years or decades. But, keep in mind that, at some point, your image may become a distant relative of the original. If that’s where the photo ends up after retouching, consider the potential disconnect when people meet you at an event. If you don’t mind the disparity between how you look on the screen vs. the podium, that’s fine. But if you’re likely to feel self-conscious about it, play it safe and be less aggressive with your digital makeover.
It’s Not My Best Side…
Author photos are generally unflattering for one of two reasons:
technical issues, or
the author’s expression or posture.
In terms of the former, lighting problems (highlights and shadows) can often be mitigated, as can glare, shadows, and skin tone problems. Sometimes, however, a photo is just too far gone to be salvaged (e.g., it’s out of focus, the camera shook, or it’s just too small or distant to be useful). In either case, it’s time to get another shot.
The second category, expression and position, can be much more difficult to correct. If you really don’t like your expression because you’re frowning, your smile is over the top, you’re slumped over, looking stiff or uncomfortable, or you’re listing to one side, Photoshop magic won’t help. In that case, the best thing to do is to get another photo using the unflattering picture as a guide to what you don’t want.
What Was I Thinking When I Wore THAT to the Photo Shoot?
Perhaps you really like your photo except for one element. Maybe you realize, after the fact, that your purple scarf is unflattering wrapped so snuggly around your neck, or the brilliantly hued tie instantly draws the viewer’s eye away from your face. Ditto for a piece of jewelry that’s shiny and distracting. In these cases, you may be in luck.
Photo retouching makes good sense and is generally easy to do. Color shifting the tie can be easy. Jewelry can often be toned down to reduce glare and sometimes can be removed entirely, depending on its location and how it interacts with your clothing. But, if you want to remove the scarf altogether, you may be looking at a major task involving a rebuild of your neck, shoulders, and upper chest. For a retake or your next photo, think of as many variations and clothing changeups as you can before the shoot.
The technical considerations around retouching are generally cut and dry—a picture is either useable or not. If it’s useable, it can often be improved for color balance, contrast, tone, and other basic elements. While a truly great author photo typically starts at the photo shoot, simple adjustments can turn a ho-hum author photo into a fine author photo.
The emotional and psychological aspects of digital photo manipulation, however, are trickier to navigate. Ultimately, the issues come down to this:
Are you trying to represent yourself or reinvent yourself?