Have you ever thought of joining a writing group?
Hang on – do you know what a writing group is? There are several different types:
- Writing groups – authors hanging out together and typing away
- Critique groups – examine each other’s writing for tone, style, clunky passages and moments of brilliance
- Commenting groups – for blogging, usually, where you read and comment on each other’s blogs
- Review groups – swap reviews on Amazon.com or other online reviewing sites
So, back to my original question: Have you ever thought of joining a writing group?
Here’s why you want to take a look at joining one or more groups:
Writing is a lonely business so it’s nice to get together with other people who are doing the same thing. It’s a lot like when I was in college and would head to a study room to work. I wasn’t studying the same subject in a group – like quizzing each other but rather working on my own stuff in a room of other people who were really focused. It always helped my concentration and focus.
These types of groups can quickly become a social event. Which is totally fine (and fun) UNLESS you’re really just there to work and everybody wants to chat. There’s also the challenge of hauling your materials to a location and hoping you have all your resources, research, and tools.
Writing groups usually accept any type of author. They might not be the best place to make connections for clients or referrals but you can also be inspired by sharing a table with a novelist, poet, or playwright! Remember that the purpose of the group is to write – not to network so be respectful of the rules of the group.
It’s always a great idea to have somebody read over your work! Critique groups might focus on the technical aspect of writing (spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.) but they usually are more of big-picture view looking at flow, rhythm, tone, plot, etc.
When you’re picking a critique group, it’s easy to fall into a group of writers who aren’t experienced. While I believe that everyone has something to offer, if you’re years down your writing training road, you might not get a lot out of a group filled with college students. Try to find a group with a mix of wanna-bes, trying to break ins, established authors, and career writers. Also look for a mix of ages – you’ll get a better perspective on your work. Also be wary of groups who ONLY tell you everything is wonderful – that doesn’t help you grow as an author.
For the past few weeks I’ve been hard at work on a new gift to give to people when they opt-in to my newsletter list. I’d say 90% of my subscribers join my list BECAUSE they wanted the gift; the *ahem* great content in the weekly newsletter is a bonus. The other 10% find my blog, read a great article and decide they want more articles delivered to their inbox every Tuesday. So an opt-in gift is CLEARLY a really important thing to create and create well!
When I first started with email marketing, back in 2003, it wasn’t really much of a requirement to offer a free gift to encourage people to sign up. Emailed newsletters were still a novelty. (And in some industries they still are!)
When I sat down to create my new gift, here’s the thought process I went through:
1. Who do I want to attract to my list?
My original opt-in gift was targeted to ANYONE who was interested in self-publishing. But over the course of a year since that gift was new, my target subscriber has been refined to be a coach, speaker, or author.
So when I created a NEW gift, I targeted it directly to who I wanted on my list.
When I’m first working with a new client, one of the questions that ALWAYS comes up is:
How long should my book be?
I get it, you want to write a book that has enough heft to it that people really think they are getting a lot of bang for their buck.
Let me ask you a different question, though:
Publishing a book and claiming the title “Published Author” instantly boosts your credibility as an expert in your field. It helps you get new clients and attract attention of people who’ve never looked at you before.
And when you publish that book, you should be sure to explain why you were already an expert BEFORE you wrote the book. This is where your “About the Author” page really needs to highlight your knowledge, training, and degrees.
But what do you do if you’re just getting started and don’t have a lot of history, credibility, expertise to put on your “About the Author” page?
Then call in a third-party expert!
I’m working on a pet project eBook; it’s something completely outside my field and is pretty much just something I wanted to write about.
And here’s the problem: I have ZERO credibility about this subject. Nothing. Nada. Zip. It’s a new subject matter and I have no history of writing or publishing in this genre.
Before I go any further, it’s not a genre that really NEEDS a boatload of credibility. Plenty of people write successful, helpful titles with no more knowledge than I have. (I’m not writing about finance or romance or legal stuff.) But it is in the health industry and other than being healthy, I really don’t have any creds to offer.
(FYI: This book is NOT about weight loss, exercise, vitamin, or diet plan.)
What I do have is a friend.
Who’s a PhD.
In the health industry.
Now HE has credibility, right? Even without telling you exactly what his degree is in (pharmacy) just by telling you he’s got his doctorate you already view him in higher respect for this health-related-topic than me.
And you should!
I asked him to write the foreword to my book.
This means that of all the other books in this niche, mine will stand out because I have a forward written by a person who can start his name with “Dr.” and end it with “PharmD” (his actual degree).
How did I get him to write this foreword for me?
It was super hard and took a lot of work and effort and was scary and…
I sent him a message and asked him.
- He asked for a bit more details about the book. (I was prepared with a rough draft to send him.)
- He said he wasn’t much of a writer. (I explained I needed 3-5 paragraphs showing why doing X is good for your health.)
- He asked for clarification about what I wanted. (Deadline was the end of two weeks. Please include your official title and how you want me to list your name.)
And then he said okay.
Now, here’s something to remember: I happened to have a friend who is a practicing pharmacist with a PhD in pharmacy and had the time to help me out. For free.
But what if I didn’t have a friend who would be the PERFECT credible person to write my foreword?
Six Degrees, Kim!
My mom is always shouting (I mean that literally) “Six Degrees, Kim!”
What she means is that it’s really easy to find somebody who can help you out if you just ask one question:
“Who do you know who knows ______?”
And that blank can be a specific person: “Who do you know who knows Suzanne Evans?” or it can be a skill set “Who do you know who knows how to read & write Italian?”
All you need to do is reach out to your network and ask the question: “Who do you know who knows ______?” (It’s important to mention that the question isn’t “Do YOU, friend, know how to do ABC?” The answer is usually no. If it was yes, you’d have asked them for help already!)
So, now you know how to FIND the person who can write your forward, how do you go about asking them for their endorsement?
I’d prepare these items in advance of your conversation:
- Book draft or proposal. (I’m writing a book about how doing X helps your health.)
- Exactly what you need. (3-5 paragraphs showing why doing X is good for your health.)
- When you need it by. (Deadline: May 15.)
When you are contacting the person you need to:
- Explain how you got their name. (Although hopefully your friend will have offered and introduction!)
- Thank them for their time.
- Outline your project.
- Ask if they’d be willing to write a short foreword.
- Share exactly what you’re looking for and when you need it by.
Here’s the key: this is a busy professional you’re talking to. You want to be clear and succinct and respectful of their time. You don’t need to send them the book draft (or book proposal) if they don’t request it.
In my experience, most people are more than happy to help you out. And they’ll do it for free.
But don’t forget your manners! Even if they say no, send a thank you card (go for the big bucks and MAIL a real, handwritten card!) If they say yes, send them the thank you card AND a copy of the book when you get it done.
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One of my least favorite tasks in writing fiction is naming my characters. I know, I know, it SHOULD be fun and easy and well, fun.
For me, it isn’t.
I either AGONIZE over a name and drive myself crazy or I flip open the phone book and chose the first name my finger lands on. I figure I can always change it later, right?
Well naming a character really is something to think about. Often times, without even meaning to, a character’s name will influence her character traits, personality, and the theme of the story.
I still hate naming characters.
Honestly, one of my go-to methods for naming a character is to ask my mom. I give her a snippet about the character, how I see him acting, what he looks like, and some basic framework of the story (sci-fi or romance, action or historic) and let her do her thing. After teaching for THIRTY YEARS she’s got a great name database in her head.
If you’re not so lucky, here are five websites to help you with names!
Social Security Administration: Popular Baby Names by Year
You can set the year of birth and get anywhere from the top 20 to the top 1,000 names in that year
Not only the top names by year, but also by region.
Remember the movie “Heathers”? Not just the trends of an individual name, but also about over-reaching trends.
Another resources for regional names.
Because sometimes knowing the name is time-frame appropriate just isn’t enough!
So when you’re picking your names here are my top five tips:
1. Make it easy to say, spell, and hear in your head!
The reader will be “hearing” your character’s name in their head and you don’t want him to struggle or get frustrated that he doesn’t know how to pronounce your main character’s name.
Want a Blockbuster example of this: Hermione. Back BEFORE all the Harry Potter movies, who really knew how to say this name? I kept getting herm-ony, rhymes with harmony.
Sci-fi and fantasy are FILLED with unpronounceable names. If you’re lucky the reader will just make something up and roll with it. If you’re not so lucky OR if you overwhelm the reader with too many unpronounceable names, she’ll put your book down.
2. Make your name believable for the character’s age, the time period, and nationality.
DO NOT name your 40-year-old, female protagonist in a 1920’s western Crystal!
Many of the resources I gave you above allow you to not only look for popular names but also by time period. As much as it can be a pain, you really do need to do your research. Somebody, somewhere will KNOW that the name Clayton didn’t come into vogue until 1980 and naming your 1880 protagonist Clayton is wrong.
(By the way, I made that up. I have no idea when boys were started named Clayton.)
And make sure that your ethnic name actually matches that ethnicity, nationality, or culture!
Now, that being said, you can modernize or Americanize any name but you may want to explain why you’re doing that. For example, I knew a Russian Jew named Greg. It didn’t fit, right? Well in public he was Greg; at home with his Russian immigrant parents, he was Grishka.
3. Nicknames make the story go.
My full name is Kimberly; I go by Kim. But my dad calls me Munch (short for Munchkin), my grandfather calls me Changa and all through high school, my mom called me Kimber. My grandma calls me Vicki-Rosie-Kim as she goes through my aunt’s name, my mom’s name and finally lands on me.
NOBODY calls me Kimmy. It makes me mad.
Except of course for ONE uncle. It’s okay when he does it.
It’s normal for your characters to have more than one name depending on WHO is addressing them. Just make sure it’s crystal-clear to your READER who everybody is.
And, like the example above, a nickname can say a lot about how a character sees herself, how others see her and what makes her crazy.
A variation on a nickname is a term of endearment like honey or baby. No lover ALWAYS addresses his partner by her full name. Ever.
4. Avoid names that sound the same or all start with the same letter.
One summer in high school I taught swim lessons to a family of five that ALL had names starting with K: Kirby, Kelvin, Krista, Kelsey, and Kermit. (I kid you not!) If that’s annoying and hard to keep your head around in real life, it’s doubly so in fiction when the character is just words on a page.
Also avoid too many similarities like Jimmy and Timmy; Jack and John; Kathy and Christine.
A cast of rhyming names is also out: Jerry, Terry, Kerry, Larry.
Avoid ones that sound similar: Gerald and Gerard; Bob and Rob; Christy and Crystal.
And if you can, also vary the number of syllables in a name. Too many David, Edward, Kelly, Patrick, etc. won’t immediately stand out to the reader as all having two syllables but it will grate on the reader and they probably won’t know why it bothers them.
5. Don’t marry the name.
Soooo you think you have the perfect name, do you? Then you are telling a friend, beta reader, the local barista, your mom about the character and they say,
“Oh, I read a book or movie [insert similar plot line] that had a character named that!”
Our subconscious works in mysterious ways and sometimes it serves up the perfect character name. But with a little more research you realize that the REASON it’s perfect is because it’s already been used.
Here’s an example from a very early (high school!) fantasy story I wrote. I named my bad guy Oomadon. Only to be informed by my widely read friend that Ommadon was the name of the wizard in movie playing that past weekend. (Same name, slightly different spelling.)
I changed the name to Oobadion thinking I was dodging a bullet.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized the names were just too similar and scrapped the character’s name altogether. Throughout the draft I just called him O and went back to rename him later.
And if you REALLY hate naming your character, you can buy a gig on Fiverr.com for somebody to do it for you!
I know we’re all looking for ways to keep our blog content updated regularly. Regularly updated information keeps readers coming back, shows the world that you still exist, increases search engine visibility, and of course, can provide content for books later on. But the ongoing question is always HOW do I create all that content?
A great way to keep your blog fresh is to post content that is relevant to your industry RIGHT NOW. Here are five ways where you can be sure that you’re “in the loop” for what’s big in your industry right now.
1. Google Alerts
Set up a Google alert for a keyword in your industry and have it deliver the content once per day. My trick here is to tell Google to give me EVERYTHING from every source it can; not just what Google deems “important”. This gives me insight into what is happening globally, in local markets, and far beyond the blockbuster news stories.
A word of caution here: your alert will ONLY be as good as your keyword! My keyword of “publishing” returns me TONS of results every day but only a small portion of the results are relevant. After a few weeks of scanning the articles, I was able to narrow and refine my alert’s keyword.
2. Troll Facebook
Now, before you tell me “But Kim, all my people hang out on LinkedIn” (or Twitter or Google+ or WHATEVER) just trust me on this one! Because I can pretty much guarantee that your competition or the biggest player in your industry has a presence on Facebook. So scan that fanpage regularly for what are they posting about what is happening in your industry. Then, you can follow the news back to its source to get the full scoop or do some digging about contradictory positions.
It’s okay to let somebody else do some of the research for you! Plus, they’ll also be sorting for what’s important and letting the fluff go by. Just be careful that you’re not just copying somebody else’s media strategy or opinion about what is breaking news!
3. Subscribe To Industry Magazines
Online or offline, your industry will have a few key magazines. The real gold here isn’t always in the current editions but in the archives. As a subscriber, often you can access older issues for free or low cost. What you’ll see after a while is a pattern to when they’re timing their articles. So when you start to see that pattern of “They always have an article about THISandTHAT in March” then you know that this is a seasonal topic that you can research ahead of time and be ready to jump on board.
By the way, any regularly published industry “publication” will work. In addition to subscribing to two writing magazines, I also get three email newsletters about writing and publishing. Authors aren’t super big into podcasts since we like written words but if we were, I’d listen to the podcasts as well.
4. Get On Press Release Lists
Specifically the press releases for the key players in your industry. For my outdoor recreation business, I’m on the press release list for the local National Forest. For publishing, I read the press releases from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Instead of waiting for the story to break in a huge publication and then cover it later, I get the information at nearly the same time the biggest news outlets do.
Here’s the ninja move though:
Instead of JUST posting the press release to your blog (which can be okay) you can insert your expert opinion about what the update MEANS. For example, my article Why Traditional Publishing Isn’t Fair is based off an article I found but I didn’t just republish the article. I gave my expert opinion about what it means to us as independent authors.
5. Create The News
I know a ton of business owners who regularly submit press releases to their local papers or to distribution services but who NEVER post the content directly on their website! Or if they do, it’s buried under a Media tab. If you’re the one doing something newsworthy in your industry, toot your own horn and tell people about it.
Remember that the style and format for a press release is far different than a blog article! You can either post the press release directly into a blog article or you can take the same news and repackage it to fit the style and tone of your blog.
A word of caution about tips 1 – 4: be sure that you are fully vetting any source materials you use. You don’t want to perpetuate bad information or run the risk of looking like you didn’t do your due diligence to make sure that the facts are accurate.
It can take a lot of time to sort through the news. Even if you don’t end up using the information on your blog, it’s never wasted time because it helps you have a “big picture” look at your industry.
A few weeks ago I got asked just HOW I organize the thoughts in my business journals so they were accessible and easy to find later.
Here’s the sneaky answer: I don’t. I hate to admit it but I can honestly say I’ve never really thought about it before. Usually, they’re one-step up from just musings. Or like the project I’m working on now; I’m jotting down full sections of writing that will later be typed into Word. I probably won’t need to go back to the journal once it’s typed up.
But there are times when I look back at a journal and realize that what I’m struggling with NOW was something I had solved, or even just started thinking about, weeks ago. So while I don’t organize my journals, I will now!
I got these steps from a business mentor of mine, Rodney Rich, in just a quick conversation we had last weekend. So huge shout out to Rodney: THANKS!
(But the caveat on this system, I haven’t tried it yet. I’ll give it a whirl and get back to you!)
- Leave at least 5 pages at the front of the journal blank. If you’ve already filled them in, this will work at the back as well.
- Number all your pages. (I recommend a lower corner. At least make sure it’s the same spot on every page!)
- Grab a package of stickies and a blank sheet of paper. On the paper, write down letters A – G on the left hand side. These are going to be your categories. Assign a category to each letter. Examples are Marketing, Client Mindset, Project A, Project B, etc.
- Go through the journal and put the corresponding lettered sticky every time the theme comes up in the journal.
- In the first few pages, you’ll transfer over your letter codes and the category name. Then, using the stickies you put on the pages, you’ll write down the page numbers of where you can find notes about that topic.
Some topics will be common across ALL journals (like marketing) and others may be more project-central and then only appear in one or two journals.
After years of keeping business journals, I know from experience that there will be repeating themes in ALL your journals. Marketing for sure, but also internal topics that you deal with all the time. I’m recommending that you ALWAYS assign these topics to the same letter.
On your computer, you can create a master index where you’ll generally index things like:
Client Mindset (B)
Blog Ideas (C)
Book Ideas (D)
Website Updates (E)
Notes from XYZ Event (F)
Video Marketing Project (G)
Telesummit Plan (H)
Client Mindset (B)
Blog Ideas (C)
Book Ideas (D)
Website Updates (E)
Book Launch (F)
Now, you can completely take this to the next level and create the index file on your computer so you might have notes like:
Notebook 1: 5-7; 12, 15, 26, 31
Notebook 2: 56-71, 83, 100-103
Notebook 1: 7-12, 33, 47-49
Notebook 2: 1-13; 57
Then, you can run a search in the file for every time you reference marketing. You can also break it down farther into more specific TYPES of marketing like video launches vs Facebook promotion ideas.
Don’t get me wrong, this will be a pretty big undertaking. I would recommend starting with your current journal and then working backwards. There will (probably) come a point when the notes and thoughts you’ve jotted down are just too old to be relevant to your business now.
And I fully recommend that you DON’T try to index the journal as you go along. If I was worried about making my notes and thoughts fit into my main categories, I know it would severely limit my creativity and thought process.
For this business, I really only have only filled two dedicated journals so I’ll be going back and working through the indexing process. I’m also planning on cross-referencing this to the course books I’ve received at some awesome conferences lately.
I take all my notes AT the conference in their provided course book but then I find that the ideas I’m implementing I write about a lot in my journal. So I’ll be adding the cross reference from course book to journal into my system as well.
Now remember, I JUST learned about this system this past weekend. I’ll be implementing it over the next few weeks and I’ll get back to you. In the meantime: