Monday, April 14, 2014

Author Interview on Social Media

Most of us pay attention to social media.  For some, it’s a chore to periodically check the Facebook pages, the Twitter feeds, comment on the posts and blogs of fellow authors.  For others, social media is a conversation starter, an online world brimming with possible connections and even new friendships.

The theory behind social media in Frances Caballo’s new book, Avoid Social Media Time Suck: A Blueprint for Writers to Create Online Buzz for Their Books and Still Have Time to Write, is to manage the time you spend on it – no more than 30 minutes a day is ideal in order to avoid the “time suck” that depletes energy and promotes procrastination, taking away from valuable writing time.   I found the book fascinating in its depth.  Caballo even analyzes the best hours and number of times a day to post on the various social media outlets. This book is worth a read for authors who realize that if you can't fight City Hall, then join it and at least have some techniques, apps and strategies that might work for you.

As part of the WOW! (Women on Writing) Blog Tour, I am pleased to welcome Frances to the Circle. Your comments and experiences with social media, pros and cons, are welcome.  ~ Susan

What prompted you to write a book about social media?

When I started teaching social media workshops to writers several years ago, at the end of each session the attendees would ask me, “Is there a book that explains this?” At the time, there wasn’t a how-to-book on social media specifically for writers, so I wrote my first book, Social Media Just for Writers: The Best Online Marketing Tips for Selling Your Books.

After that book was published, I began to hear writers say that they didn’t have time for social media or that social media took too much time out of their day. That’s when I decided to write a book that explains the process I use every day and that helps me to economize my time without sacrificing results.

The book is brimming with links and apps on every imaginable subject from how to improve traffic on your website/blog, increase Twitter followers, jumpstarting writing. How concerned are you that no sooner is your book out than many of these links/sites you reference will be obsolete? And if so, do you plan to update the book as time goes on?

You are right. Social media is a dynamic field and some applications are purchased and absorbed by larger enterprises within a year or two of development. I use my blog, Social Media Just for Writers, to update my readers on apps and tools that are no longer available and to introduce new applications.

How long did it take you to compile all the information and where did you find it?

I’m always reading social media blogs and books, and I learn quite a bit from those sources. I also used Safari, Google and Firefox to search for the types of applications I was hoping to find. I typically spend a year researching each book.

Where do you live and how long have you been a writer?

I live in Northern California, in Sonoma County. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about seven years old and I’ve been writing since at least high school.

What do you enjoy most about being an author?

That’s an interesting question. I’m an introvert and I love to explore ideas. Writing enables me to expand on ideas I have and it gives me a reason to spend time at a retreat center, in silence and writing. However, I also like spending time with writers so I’m pleased that by writing a book I’m surrounded by more writers. Finally, my books have opened doors for me in terms of teaching, meeting leaders in the field, and becoming a part of the San Francisco Writers Conference. I like how writing enriches my life.

Whether you’re a seasoned or a newbie social media user, this book will introduce you to posting schedules, timesaving applications and content-rich websites that will help you economize the time you spend using social media to promote your books. You will learn:

· How to create and perfect your author platform.

· Where great content exists on the Internet and how you can use it to further your brand within your niche.

· The importance of being social and applications that make this task easy and fun.

· Tools that enable you to track and measure your success so you can better understand the return on investment of your valuable time.

· Which tools prevent you from accessing the Internet when the time comes to sit and write that next book.

· Exercises for introverted writers to help you feel comfortable on the social web.

About the Author:
Frances Caballo is a social media strategist and manager for authors. Her clients include the San Francisco Writers Conference, the Women’s National Book Association—San Francisco Chapter, and the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association. A free ebook, Pinterest Just for Writers, is available on her website at

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Forget the Lofty Perch and Write!

How do we hold back our writing? Beliefs hold us back. Those messages - spoken and unspoken in the family of what can be said and what can’t. The Inner Critic. We all know about that one! A lack of motivation and not setting intentions.  And then there is my favorite:  A view of life that there are only a few of those lofty perches out there.

Wise reminders from our Connect to the Creative Writer Within workshop led by Cathleen O'Connor who drove to Chester County from Westchester County, New York to lead us in a day of creativity, inspiration and fun.

How do we move forward with our work? Take action. Set your intention by practicing balance and boundaries.

Realize the difference between perfection and perfecting something. As Cathleen noted, there is a reason why Navajo weavers purposefully weave a mistake into their work – only God is perfect. (There is no "perfect" pen, no "perfect" desk, no "perfect" manuscript.)

Continual edits are a fear response. There comes a time when you have to release your work and say to yourself, "I'm ready. Stop."

Hold off on the "internal screening" and let it flow.  When we feel carefree, it opens our creative muse. Be receptive to a willingness to play with words and imagination.

Get rid of the competition inside and outside of your head.

And this quote from Rumi: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. ...I'll meet you there."

For me, the day was an opportunity to collaborate with other writers, not just through collaborative writing exercises, but by sharing in a group. 

One of my favorite exercises started out with the writing prompt to create a character and dialogue with the opening words:  "I am guided by  . . ."  Then after 10 minutes of writing, we passed off to another person and let them finish the story. (Candice and I had great fun with this one!) The exercise teaches us to be attuned both to voice and collaboration.

This workshop reinforced that the gifts of writing are abundant.  (Interestingly in both of Cathleen workshops I've attended, I've drawn the "abundance" card from her wisdom deck of cards which she uses as prompts.)

Job well done, ladies!

A special note of thanks to the Holiday Inn Express in Exton, PA who provided the perfect room and dining room for our day, met all of our needs (even found us an unscented candle) and in general treated us with utmost hospitality and cordiality.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Author Entrepreneur Success Guide

In today's dynamic publishing landscape, collaboration, sharing ideas and helping promote each other's work are crucial to the success and validation of the independent author. But sometimes even that's not enough.  Mastering how to create "a buzz," becoming your own publicist . . .  these are essential tools for the indie author who wants not only to survive, but thrive. It's why I'm excited that Sonia Marsh, an expert at guiding authors how to combine book sales with platform, is presenting a workshop brimming with tips.

This is Sonia's first East Coast workshop and it is being promoted through the Women's Writing Circle. The Author Entrepreneur: How to Sell Books and Build A Platform  is open to the public, men and women alike, who have dreams of publishing their work or who already have, but feel stymied or frustrated by the challenge of breaking out among the tsunami of titles flooding the marketplace.

As a contributor to Sonia's My Gutsy Story anthology, and as the author of two memoirs Again in a Heartbeat and Morning at Wellington Square, and a collaborator on our anthology, Slants of Light, I understand and appreciate how hard it is to get the word out about our books.  Sadly, it isn't enough anymore to master the craft of writing, do the bone hard work of shaping and writing a compelling story; now it is the savvy author entrepreneur who takes center stage. Please welcome Sonia to the Circle. ~ Susan

"Successful authors become entrepreneurs.  They also focus on Their Brand.  I believe we are fortunate to be writing and publishing books in this day and age. With so many options available to us, we can make ourselves visible to readers, both online and offline. We can promote our brands without spending a dime. Notice how I used the term “promote our brand” rather than “promote our book.” How come? Well, indie (independent) or self-published authors have to become entrepreneurs if they wish to sell their books in book stores, Costco and other large retail stores.

At the March 2014 IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) “Publishing University” conference in San Francisco, publishers, agents and book marketing experts repeated the following:
The Author is the Brand
The Book is the Product
Authors build fans with their Brand, not their Book

Most authors would prefer to stay home and write rather than market and promote their books. Some authors believe that the way to get readers to buy their books is to say, “Buy my book.” Unfortunately neither method is successful in building an audience of fans, potential readers or “customers.”

With the dramatic increase in indie-published books, it is crucial for all indie-authors to step-up to the competition, and to view themselves as entrepreneurs, rather than just writers.

If we look at statistics, Bowker reveals that the number of self-published titles in 2012 jumped to more than 391,000, up 59 percent over 2011. Add to that the number of traditionally published books, and we are now competing against 600,000 to 1,000,000 new books published each year.

According to Beat Barblan, Bowker Director of Identifier Services:  “The most successful self-publishers don’t view themselves as writers only, but as business owners. They invest in their businesses, hiring experts to fill skill gaps.”

As an indie author, publisher and now a “gutsy” book publishing and marketing coach, I’d like to share what’s worked for me, and what I encourage writers to think about when they start their journey towards becoming a published author.

Since most of us are not celebrities with tons of fans, press opportunities and a full-time publicist to book us on national TV shows, our biggest problem:  Discoverablility.  (Another popular term mentioned at the IBPA conference.) As the experts mentioned: It might be easy to write a book; the hard part is selling the book.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is: How can we publish and market our books professionally, on a small budget?

I’m happy to inform you that there is a solution.

You do everything you can to become your own professional marketing department and your own public relations agency while keeping those high standards of professionalism.

Step 1-Pre-Publication

Start marketing the minute you write the first word of your manuscript. I realize this may sound a little crazy, but this is the way to build your platform before your book is published. Marketing guru, Seth Godin, recommends starting your blog at least three years before you publish.  I'll be going over how to build relationships, establish a social media presence and networking in your community at the workshop.
Step 2-Writing/Editing

In order to compete with other books, please don’t skimp on editing. Hire professional editors (developmental editors, copy editors and proof readers.) I don’t care if your friend is an English teacher, manuscript editing is a separate profession, and developmental editors know about the narrative arc and story structure.
Step 3-Publishing

As I mentioned earlier, your book is a product. In order to gain exposure and credibility, you have to think about the quality of your product; something you can be proud of that looks professional. If you want to submit your book for awards, or contact your local Costco to do a book signing, (which I’ve done and you can too, (download bonus video on my site) then you must think like a publisher. I attended a conference where agents discussed books, and said,

Indie-published authors have to set the bar higher than traditionally published authors. They have to go high-end with their book covers, and their book must be perfectly edited. There are no excuses for a book cover that looks self-published.”

At the workshop, I'll be talking about interior formatting, book covers, purchasing ISBNs, networking and more.

Step 4-Marketing

Now that you have a book to sell, it’s important to schedule as many book signings as possible. I started with my favorite Peets Coffee shops in Orange County, CA. I found out that when I speak, I sell more books.  We'll talk about the places that you can contact to sell and showcase your book.

Step 5-Promotion

Relationship Building both online and offline, is key to getting to know local journalists, radio and TV journalists.  We'll talk more about this.Thanks to getting to know a couple of journalists on FaceBook, I was able to land an interview and a front-page article in the Orange County Register. This turned out to be one of the best promotional tools, and a year and a half later, people still remember the article.

Step 6-What Next?

Keep marketing.  I'll share with you several strategies including workshops, webinars, Google+ hangouts, Publslush and YouTube videos.

Have fun and become passionate about connecting with others, and remember to ask for what you need. Most people will say yes.  Hope to see you on May 8.  Best wishes, Sonia.

Sonia Marsh, a resident of Orange County, California  is the award-winning author of the travel memoir Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island and founder of the “My Gutsy Story®” series. The first anthology in that series, My Gutsy Story® Anthology: True Stories of Love, Courage and Adventure From Around the Worldwas a silver honoree in the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Digital Awards.Sonia offers "gutsy" book coaching to authors, as well as Webinars and Workshops. Contact her at: or visit her website: Subscribe to her free "Gutsy" newsletter and receive two bonus prizes.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Dashing The Demons Of Writing

A lament I often hear in the Circle: What if my mother reads what I write?

It got me thinking about the “demons” that stifle our writing lives. It's one of the reasons I'm excited we have a great workshop on tap this weekend,
Connecting to the Creative Writer Within taught by Cathleen O’Connor. It focuses on reigniting the belief in ourselves and reawakening our creative center.

But what about those demons? How do they mess with our minds, destroy the alchemy and magic of writing and drain our motivation? And what - or who -  are they?

Probably the most prevalent demon (and I have wrestled with this one) is Am I good enough?  A couple weeks ago I met a former writer; “former” because she confessed she quit her job as a reporter after being compared time and again to other writers and hearing that her writing wasn’t as good as theirs. It beat her down, she said. Now, years later, she was trying to shrug off that sense of "failure" . . . get back to writing and connect with her spirit and writing journey.   "I just got so tired of the competition," she said.

The Alchemist's Museum in Prague
Showing the wrong people your work. You know who they are. It could be your mother, your daughter, or it could be another writer or associate who does not have your best interests at heart.  This person is often in a competitive or controlling mode when it comes to your work. Their “agenda” has nothing to do with helping you become a success. You can hand them a finished manuscript you sweated over and had professionally edited and they'll say things like, "Have you thought about how confusing this part of the story is . . . ?"

I’m a fraud.  Sadly, I heard this from a writer whose poetry was exquisite. After her work was published, she had difficulty even telling friends about it. "I feel like a fraud,” she said.

Overthinking your qualifications. "Qualifications” have little to do with creativity and even if they did, writers whose work has received critical acclaim are often disparaged. I remember I was in a creative writing class where the instructor scorned The Great Gatsby as overrated and rolled her eyes when someone called it a masterpiece. 

Fear of rejection. This comes up often and is toxic. I often hear "disclaimers"  such as "I know this is a rough draft, it's not really put together that well, I was working on it and I wasn't sure whether I should even read it . . . "

So . . .  how do we set ourselves free from demons of doubt? 

Get intimate with them; study them in the light, parse them.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Become comfortable with your style and voice; allow it to grow and thrive. 

While there is no substitute for excellence in writing, discard some rules you were taught to believe are “tried and true” precepts of “good writing.”

Discomfort writing about certain topics? It helps to ask: "Why am I uncomfortable writing about that particular time? Why do I keep putting off this scene? How can I incorporate this discomfort into my writing?"

Meditation, a walk in the woods . . ..

What about you?  What are your writing demons? How do you set your creative muse free?  How hard, how easy is it? 

Monday, March 24, 2014

The "Rules" of Good Writing

Last week my friend and fellow writer invited me to a lecture given by bestselling author Francine Prose at Bryn Mawr College. I drove in a downpour in bumper-to-bumper traffic and asked myself why I was doing this;  the answer, it is always worthwhile to hear successful writers talk about their craft sufficed. When we got to the college and serendipitously it seemed, found the last parking space, we entered a Gothic style building housing the lecture hall just as the reading started.  Prose, a woman the LA Times observed “looks like a cross between Virginia Woolf and Frida Kahlo,” eloquently read in mellifluous voice the preface and first chapter of her novel Lovers at the Chameleon Club coming out next month.

Afterwards, she took questions including how she constructed the diverse voices of the characters in her story. The voices, she observed, come almost in stream of consciousness – either you know people or you don’t and if you do, their voices speak to you and the writer captures them on the blank page. The message was that writing can’t always be taught, although being an avid reader is probably the best way to learn the craft, a lesson reflected in one of her most popular books, Reading Like a Writer, which I bought and had her sign. We also had a brief moment to talk; we asked her about self-publishing. Her response was that she loved it and wished she had her own company to publish all the “wonderful manuscripts turned down by traditional publishers.”  As a self-published author, it immediately endeared her to me!

I went home and settled in with Reading Like a Writer.  Some of the things I found of interest and I hope you do too:

Prose makes a case that there are no “rules” when it comes to some of the traditional rules of storytelling; something she most appreciated after reading the great short story master, Anton Chekhov.

She urges writers to throw out the notion that characters have to be likable or there must be a happy ending to keep readers engaged; or even that narrators need to be “sympathetic.” (I think this is particularly good advice for the memoir writer.  Is it important to make ourselves "likable and if so, why?  Or why not?)

“What might hearten the beginning writer who feels compelled to create a succession of puppy-dog heroes and heroines,” Prose writes, is that “masterpieces survive in which all that’s expected of us is that we are interested in the character, engaged by their fates, intrigued by their complexities, curious about what will happen to them next.”

“He (Chekhov) keeps alluding in his letters to the necessity of writing without judgment. Not to be the judge of one’s characters and their conversation but rather the unbiased observer.”  (More apt advice for memoir writers.)

As for the “show not tell adage”  pounded into the MFA student, she says: “The warning against telling leads to a confusion that causes novice writers to think that everything should be acted out – don’t tell us a character is happy, show us how she screams 'yay' and jumps up and down for joy." There are many occasions in literature where telling is "far more effective than showing.”  Prose cites a short story by Alice Munro who could have “wasted a lot of time showing the reader the character working as an editor and writing poetry, breaking up with her lover, etc. . . taking all the steps that led up to the moment at which the story rightly begins.”

Prose also makes the point – like many writers – that brevity has much to commend it.

Edda Pitassi with Francine Prose
It reminded me when someone said that a good memoir should be no less than 45,000 words and no more than 80,000 words. It seemed ridiculous, this sort of arbitrariness dictating story length, maybe because I wrote my memoirs - each of them in no more than 34,000 words; this after much consideration and parsing of "sidetrips" in the story and removing unwieldy sentences and paragraphs. (Other chapters in Reading Like a Writer.)

Prose used to tell her students that when two main characters have similar names and a lack of distinguishing characteristics, it might be best in the “interest of clarity” to give them different sounding names like Frank or Bill instead of Mikey and Mackey. Then she read Chekhov’s "The Two Volodyas". ( I have been guilty of this same admonition in my writing workshops and read-arounds.)

Another time Prose suggested to her students that multiple shifts in point of view can be confusing until she read Chekhov’s "Gsev" where the differing perspectives shift from sailors to pilot fish, to sharks “until we feel we are seeing through the eyes of God.”

And yet another: What is the point in writing about characters where there is no “conventional” point to why they do what they do? “The point is that lives go on without change, so why should fiction insist that major reverses should always, conveniently, occur?”  (I agree with this.  Lives don't always follow a linear “plot”; it is the inner life which most intrigues me.)

So there you have it – an evening with a writer. I would love to hear your comments on the rules or not of good storytelling.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Marketing Along The Writer's Way

Suzann Jaagus of Joya
Tomorrow our Women’s Writing Circle authors are collaborating with a women-owned and operated fashion boutique in our community. The evening is a celebration of women’s words and fashions as we recognize Women’s History Month. Wine and cheese will be served. After a short reading from Slants of Light, we will answer questions about writing and publishing.

For those who attend the March 18 reception at Joya Boutique in West Chester starting at 5 and going until 8 p.m., a 15 percent discount on stunning fashions and jewelry, as well as baby gifts and children's clothing is offered. I hope you can stop in at any time during the reception and join us.

This initiative was timed to be a part of Women's History Month. The National Women’s History Project writes of Women's History Month: “As recently as the 1970's, women's history was virtually an unknown topic in the K-12 curriculum or in general public consciousness.” The idea of a national movement celebrating women’s legacy and contributions evolved largely due to the fact that too often women’s contributions went unnoticed or unsung.

It is always a joy to be out there, meeting new people, finding new venues for our books, establishing connections and collaborations that benefit both the author, the shop keeper, the library or the bookstore.These encounters and the people we meet are what give voice to our joy.  Positive expectations lead to positive outcomes.

For five years the Women’s Writing Circle has met in an independent bookstore called Wellington Square. They have featured our work on their shelves, display tables and in their windows as have other bookstores. Our writing group supports the bookstores, generating publicity that a writing group meets there; our writers patronize the store and encourage friends and family to do the same.

Our local libraries have featured our work and together we have brought our books, our writing dreams, our experiences with the new publishing dynamic to the public. Gratitude also goes to civic organizations, businesses and churches who have welcomed me as a speaker  . . . to the shops along Philadelphia's Main Line and the Village of St. Peter's Spirit Sisters that display and sell our books.
Robin Eaton, owner of Spirit Sisters

These are energizing times for authors, which is why I am excited that author Sonia Marsh will be presenting to our community and the Circle on May 8. Sonia will offer her knowledge of book marketing and author platform building with an eye toward connections.  Her talk is scheduled from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, May 8 at the Fairfield Inn in Exton, PA.

Connection, collaboration and creating good will – not just in the communities where we live, but in our social media and online world can be a positive and validating force for authors. Negativity should not be tolerated in the blogosphere or cyberspace. We are in this together as authors, writers, purveyors of the written word. We should be collaborators not competitors, however idealistic that may sound.

In the final analysis, one of my joys – maybe the primary one – is that our Women’s Writing Circle seeks inspiration and light.  Together we guide each other and find our way.

What are your encounters in your marketing journey? Please feel free to share those journeys or initiatives, ups and downs.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Memoir Looks At Cancer - Part 2

This is another excerpt from John's memoir. John wrote this in 1992 so realize that things may have changed in how doctors practice "bedside manners" with patients, or - as in the previous excerpt - how corporate America treats employees with cancer. Or maybe after more than two decades, not much has changed.  You be the judge.  I welcome your comments and observations.

I think that for memoir writers, or any writer, John's work is an example of good storytelling and sharing with readers his life experience  in a very human way.  He had dug deep and found his voice.

The following passage will appear in my true life novel about love, honor, and risk-taking. I have changed John's original work from first to third person and use his pseudonym Jay Scioli to tell his story.

Doctors and medicine in America today cure nothing. Although an obvious generalization and oversimplification, the fact remains that most medicine merely treats the symptoms and not the disease. Jay felt sure that in centuries to come, man would look back on 20th century doctors the same way that people today laughed and shook their heads over the lack of sterilization and the use of leeches, a few centuries ago. Jay remembered a wonderful scene in the movie, Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home, where Doctor McCoy and Admiral Kirk are in a 20th century San Francisco hospital and overhear two residents conversing on an elevator. The residents are discussing cancer treatments – radiation, chemotherapy, imaging, when McCoy turns and remarks, “What is this, the goddamn Middle Ages? It sounds like the Spanish Inquisition.”

Jay learned during the early days of his ordeal that a cancer patient is never promised a cure and sometimes the medicine or treatment seems worse than the disease. That’s why he continued to fall back on his training at West Point. Like a plebe suffering through hazing, he had two choices – quit or take it. With cancer it was the same choice, except that quitting meant dying. So you have to take it and fight it. You can fight it with tears or you can fight it with anger. But, you have to fight. To paraphrase Dylan Thomas, “You cannot go gentle into that good night.”

He remembered a surgeon by the name of Malone. He wanted to do surgery, the whole thing - a bag, a colostomy, and no guarantee of a cure. Malone was sitting at a desk in a loose gray fitting suit. Probably at least sixty. The office was immaculate. He didn’t even have one piece of paper on his desk. Malone could have been a travel agent or an insurance salesman. He barely said hello.

“So I’ve read your records. What’s the hesitation?”

“I was hoping there was another way, rather than the radical surgery,” Jay said.

“Look you have colon cancer. Do you want to live?” He continued. “You have no choices. Forget the radiation. Today is Thursday. Check into the hospital on Saturday, I’ll operate on you on Monday and you’ll be out in three weeks.”

Jay had heard it from the first doctor he saw when he got the initial diagnosis. If enough people told you that a white wall was black in color you had to start believing them. Maybe, Jay thought, I’m color blind.

“Yes, a bag with no cure,” Jay said. It wasn’t that the thought of his death scared him; it was the mere thought of massive surgery that totally frightened him. The thought that someone had to cut into his flesh and remove things was totally abhorrent to him.

“Life is a gamble,” Malone said. “There are no promises. I did a very similar operation that I’m proposing for you on another man. You should see him now. Walking up and down the steps, going back to work, even playing a round of golf. He’s fine.”

Jay started to say something, that he still felt confused, but suddenly Malone stood up and looked at his watch. “It’s late and I’m expecting a liver in a minute for a transplant. That’s it. Take it or leave it. Ok?”