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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: how to become a successful author

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

What do you want? How badly do you want it? What are you willing to sacrifice? These are the questions we must ask not once, but daily. There is no success without the GRIND.

Or perhaps, the G.R.I.N.D.

Give

Every day we have something to give that will keep propelling us forward. I love, love, love the movie Rocky. This is among my favorite quotes:

The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. ~Rocky Balboa

Life does hit hard. I’ve been there more times than I can count.

Some of you know I was a high school drop out twice. I had the chance to simply get a GED but I chose to go back and finish even though I was embarrassingly older than my peers (19 in a class of 14 year-olds).

I worked hard at a community college until I won a full Air Force scholarship to become a doctor. Before I could enjoy that? I fell in an ice storm and broke my back.

My free ride was over. I took a job in a tiny mall store that sold motivational material. At the time, I couldn’t walk without a cane and while my coworkers spent the slow times chatting with friends on the phone, I read every single book in that store over and over and over.

knew physically I was a mess, but I also appreciated that this was a meantime. It was the span of suck before my breakthrough. What could I do for my will? For my mind? How could I keep my spirit healthy while my body mended?

Life hits and worse, it will sucker punch you. We may not always be able to do the big stuff, but we can keep pressing with the small stuff because greatness is not a singular moment. Rather, greatness is the cumulation of a lot of hidden moments that have no glory.

We give our best because our energy is seed. We plant our dreams and faith in the world and in others and trust that eventually it will bear fruit and eventually give back.

If I don’t have enough or something? I give it. That is a huge reason for this blog. Today, I need encouragement, so I am giving it. Want more love? Give it. Want more skill? Help others hone theirs. Want more passion? Give it.

Life is an echo.

Relentless

Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….
Moments before Kristen gets her tail kicked….

You want to do anything remarkable? Learn to be relentless. I heard someone once say that the richest place on earth is a graveyard because we cannot imagine what we’ve lost; the dreams, inventions, ideas that people took to their graves because they were afraid of failure.

One of the reasons I’ve always been such a pit bull is that my father was an extraordinarily talented man. Probably far more talented then I ever was. But he died penniless and working for $8 an hour in a bicycle shop. Why? Because the second anything got hard or gave pushback, he folded. For all we know, we lost one of the greatest writers of the 20th century because his fear was bigger than his faith.

One of the greatest lessons I have learned is that the harder life is pushing back? The better. Usually that is a sign we are doing something right.

Look back at your own life and I will guarantee you’ll see those times. You had a goal, a plan, and were actually seeing forward momentum then?

The AC in your house died, the car broke down, the kids got sick, the family decided to all go crazy simultaneously. You went from being ON FIRE to putting out nothing but grassfires.

Truth is, that’s a good sign. Keep pressing.

Invest

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons
Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Invest in yourself. Talent is natural but it isn’t anything all that remarkable. Talent is nothing if it isn’t paired with skill. Skill is only something we can earn with blood and sweat and pain. We can’t earn skill on the sidelines, only on the mats. Hammering on our will, our mind, our craft day after day after day.

Skill only comes with failure.

Skill only comes with getting back up knowing we could fail again. Skill only comes when we appreciate that if we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting. Skill eventually rises out of the ashes of our failures because we have made all the wrong moves and so we begin to recognize the right ones.

Skill comes from reaching out to those who are better, wiser and asking for help. Skill comes from humility. Read craft books, take classes, ask questions then do it again and again and again.

No

No is one of the most powerful words in human language.

We must learn to say NO. We have to say it to ourselves. Right now I am training for my blue belt in Jiu Jitsu. After being sick so long my cardio is less than stellar so I am cycling in the mornings. Trust me, it ain’t easy being a chubby girl on a bike … which is why I am glad it is dark 😀 .

When the alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. and I want to sleep? NO. When I want to stop at 5 miles instead of 15? NO.

When I’d rather putter around the house and clean than edit or write my blog or research? NO.

I tell myself that I have a choice. No to now or no to later. I must give up what I want now for what I want most.

Learn to say no to toxic people. They will always have more drama they want us to fix. Learn to say no to the small leaks deflating your energy. Quit expecting average people to help you accomplish the extraordinary.

Conversely? Don’t take NO.

Back when I was in sales, my managers could not get over how good I was at cold calling. Most salespeople loathe cold calling with the power of a thousand suns because it is 99% rejection. Why was I successful? Because when they said “No” I heard… “Not yet.”

A lot of you are attending conferences. You might be pitching agents or sending out query letters. Expect rejection. Rejection isn’t always bad. Rejection isn’t NO. It is “Not YET.”

Go back and fix what you can. Move forward. Invest in your skill and then ask again. And again. If they won’t budge and you’re ready? Go around. Find your YES.

My book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World was with a major NYC agent for over a year. New York was unwilling to publish a book about social media even though my book didn’t rely on technology. I wrote it in such a way that it would always be relevant, and so didn’t have the typically short shelf life of this type of book.

I didn’t wait for them to change their minds, I published it anyway.

Aut inveniam viam aut faciam. We will find a way or we will make one. ~Hannibal

Dare

I hate those scams on late night TV that promise vast riches with no risk. That’s bunk. Our rewards exist in direct proportion to our risk. Risk big win big. Risk small and…yeah.

When we risk big, we can lose big. But we can also learn big. If we never fall from that kind of height, how can we learn to roll out of it? Dare daily. Dare to do something different, something meaningful. Nothing miraculous ever happened in the comfort zone.

When we dare to push ourselves outside of what we believe is possible, we discover talents we never knew existed. Yes, invest in your future but remember that today, THIS day, is the only one that matters. Because THIS day adds up. The only question is…

How are you going to use it?

Do you find yourself making excuses? Heck, I do. Do you find yourself spread too thinly “helping” others who are unwilling to help themselves? Are you afraid of failing? Do you feel selfish going after your dreams? Do you find yourself “waiting” on others? Does success seem unreachable? What dreams or goals have you attained that you never thought possible? What did you do? Sacrifice?

I love hearing from you!

Quick Announcement: Due to popular demand, THIS SATURDAY I am rerunning my Hooking the Reader—Your First Five Pages at the end of the month and I am doing something different. Gold Level includes me looking (and shredding your first five) but I have added in some higher levels and will look at up to 20 pages. This can be really useful if you’re stuck. I can help you diagnose the problems. It’s also a great deal if you have to submit to an agent and want to make your work the best it can be.

Again, I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JULY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less). 

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 9.58.49 AM

Social media doesn’t work. Blogging doesn’t sell books. We’ll have to put out massive amounts of time and effort for no pay-off. We’ll have to learn HTML and how to manipulate algorithms to succeed and this is all for nothing. If we blog, we must write Pulitzer-quality content, but don’t bother. No one will read it, anyway.

Social media and blogging are the most soul-sucking, life-draining tasks we’ll ever have to do as authors. Quit while you can. If you aren’t already a mega-best-selling author, no one will care about you, your work or your blog.

Feel inspired?

Unless off the grid traveling, I’m always engaged with social media. I keep my “finger” on the pulse of what’s happening in my platform. Over the weekend, a Twitter follower shared an article and asked me for my thoughts.

I won’t even bother linking to the article because my goal here isn’t to put anyone down. The author of the article clearly felt overwhelmed, exhausted and disillusioned and that’s par for the course in what we do.

I can appreciate how dreadful the writer who wrote this post must feel. In fact, I never wanted to be a social media expert. I wanted to write novels. But, early on, when attending conferences and reading blogs from experts, I could see where their advice was headed.

While these experts meant well and truly wanted to help, I believed their approach was more likely to turn writers into cutters than to sell truckloads of books. I knew social media would be the ultimate game-changer, so I put aside my fiction and set a new course.

Are They Wrong?

We can debate right and wrong all we want. I feel there are likely people who use algorithms, automation, promotion, contests, newsletters and technology and are very successful at it. But this isn’t a One Size Fits All World. There are millions of people who believe in living a vegan lifestyle and actively try to convert me.

Granted, I’ve never met a veggie I didn’t love, but the simple fact is I have so many food allergies this diet would kill me. I’m not particularly a meat-eater (Psst, Don’t tell the other Texans.) But, with horrible allergies to gluten, soy, legumes and most nuts? Going vegan is an option that would make me ill, weak, and leave me malnourished.

Does this mean all the vegans of the world are wrong? Well, that’s really not what we are here to discuss. It’s an anecdote to make my point.

Here’s another while we’re here.

In college, I had friend who had the same go-to-diet every time she gained weight. Stop eating, start smoking and drink lots of Dr. Pepper. Granted, it was tempting in those years to do The Marlboro-Dr. Pepper Diet, myself. I struggled with my weight despite many, many hours at the gym and eating healthy (I didn’t realize I was allergic to gluten and dairy and that’s why I remained “fluffy.”)

It was gut-wrenching to see her svelte and thin while I wore stretchy pants. But, deep down, I knew The Marlboro-Dr. Pepper Diet was flawed. It worked short-term, but I knew it would have long-term, devastating consequences.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Zoetnet
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Zoetnet

This is how I feel about social media. WANA is a balanced approach to social media that works with the strengths of a writer. I imagine most of you aren’t doing this “writing thing” until your dream job in high-pressure sales comes along. But WANA is not The Marlboro-Dr. Pepper Diet. You might not see big results for a long time, but your platform will be fun, healthy, and stable.

Thinking Long-Term

Recently, I’ve started the P90X program (I started it once before then gave myself EPIC tendonitis pushing a crappy mower and working in the yard). I had to stop and do yoga for about a year to allow my joints to heal enough to try again. Due to my food allergies, I already have a fabulous diet. In fact, when I went to the doctor a year ago at a Size 16 and 180 pounds, I brought my food journal and exercise journal for the previous six months.

The doctor was floored. Unless I was lying or had something hormonal going on (Thyroid?) someone with this lifestyle should NOT have been 5’3″ and 180 pounds.

I was working out, no alcohol, no sugar, GF, dairy-free, non-GMO, organic, no soy, good carbs and yet I was FIFTY pounds overweight. They did an extensive blood panel and I was textbook perfect health—aside from having three @$$es when I should have only had one. The doctors were puzzled  and so was I.

Knowing my history with food allergies, I cut out eggs and my weight began to drop. Then stopped. And there was another thing that disturbed me. I’ve always been someone who easily put on muscle, but I had no tone. NO muscle. Sure I was in a Size 6-8, but I was soft despite being active.

So, I revisited the P90X and, before starting, I calculated how many calories their plan wanted me to ingest.

2400 CALORIES? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND??????

But, I figured I’d done it my way long enough, why not try? For me, the biggest challenge has been the eating. What I’m eating is the same, just A LOT MORE and MUCH MORE FREQUENTLY. I’ve had my mind screaming, You’re eating too much! You’re going to be back at a Size 16! 

But, I tried it…and have lost roughly a pound a day. Also, I felt these lumps after a few days. OMG. Tumors? No, MUSCLES. I’m finally getting definition in my arms, shoulders and back.

And sure, 2400 calories is easy if we are eating garbage. But try getting 2400 calories of green veggies, lean protein, and limited complex carbs. Last night, I made my final chicken breast and kale and it was so hard to eat, because I’ve been in a bad habit of not eating enough.

But what do I want? Do I want to keep wearing a Medieval Torture Device (Spanx) to keep my tummy tucked in and back-fat smoothed down? Do I want to keep hiding my beefy arms under cardigans? Do I want to keep relying on caffeine for energy? No. So, in my mind, Suck it up, Buttercup.

Our bodies and our platforms reflect what we feed them and how often. Starvation and junk yield weak and ill. Thus, we always should ask, “What am I feeding my writing/platform?”

THIS?
THIS?
Or THIS?
Or THIS?

At first, it might not be easy. Just like clean-eating, it might take time for the digital “taste-buds” to catch up (and even crave) the wholesome stuff over the empty junk. This is a process.

Our Author Platform is a Living Thing

WANA platforms are designed to be organic and grow as you grow. They don’t rely on algorithms, automation or technology. They are immune to fads and work on any social site we choose. How?

Platforms cannot grow and thrive long-term on empty-calories automation and algorithms. We must be present and vested. There needs to be a human behind the tweets and posts. People sense automation and they either ignore it or resent it.

And sure, filling out a bunch of automation ahead of time seems easier, but it’s the digital equivalent of The Marlboro-Dr. Pepper Diet. Short-term we might feel spiffy, but later? BLURGH.

Once the short-term wears off, we’re left exhausted, worn out, angry, grumpy and eventually will fail to see results at all.

Want Your Blog to Grow? FEED IT FREQUENTLY

When P90X tells me to eat every 2-3 hours, it’s a hassle. I won’t lie. I’ve never been a breakfast-eater, probably because most breakfast foods were poison for so long (eggs, dairy, wheat). When I started this, I literally had to force myself to eat when I wasn’t hungry.

Good thing, though, is that P90X isn’t asking me to sit down to a seven-course meal 6 times a day. It can be three ounces of chicken and a cup of veggies, an apple, a protein bar, a handful of almonds. Small, meaningful meals regularly and consistently for long-term results.

The same can be said of blogging. In my book, I teach how to blog in a way that is very easy and will connect to readers. In fact, it can take as little as 15 minutes a day. Why? I’m not asking you to serve up an article worthy of The New York Times. I’m asking for the digital handful of almonds.

The same goes for any platform. We can tweet a handful of times a day, five days a week and that’s plenty. We can post two or three times a day during the week on Facebook. That’s plenty. Will we see earth-shattering results Week One? Likely not. But good choices over time accumulate into major results.

I love you guys and I sincerely want for you to succeed. Whether we like it or not, social media is our lifeline. It’s been one of the single largest factors for more authors earning money off their work. Thus, if we need this platform for long-term success, we need to feed it good stuff regularly for long-term health and fitness.

Writer Up—No One Can Do This FOR Us

Just like I can’t outsource my health and my body, we can’t outsource our platform. Promotional companies and PR firms simply no longer have the power they used to in a world ruled by Media Gate Keepers who stemmed information flow. Are they valuable? Sure, but we have to do the building first. They can’t do it for us.

I’d love to pay some gym bunny to do my workout for me. Can I pay her do the squats, crunches, stairs and burpees and magically my whittle my butt down to something bikini-worthy? Would that not be COOL? No work on my part, just fork out money and wait for RESULTS.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way at the gym or on-line.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.
Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Crossfit.

We need to Writer Up and show up. And to continue the analogy, I wish I looked as awesome as those folks on my P90X DVDs. Sadly, I probably resemble a chain-smoking Water Buffalo with a hangover. I can’t do all the reps. I have to take it easy in places to avoid flaring up my tendonitis. Some moves? I can’t even use weights. It is a sad…sad……..sad sight.

It may be pitiful, but it isn’t permanent ;).

I don’t have to do all the reps and all the moves. I merely have to show up. So much of social media is simply showing up. That simple. But simple isn’t always easy. My early blogs were just as ugly as these early workouts. But, I kept showing up and it made me faster, leaner and stronger. Success in anything? We can’t pay for it or wait for it we must work for it.

Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.
Original image courtesy of Flickr Creatinve Commons, courtesy of Ali Samieivafa.

There are NO Short-Cuts to ANY PLACE Worth Going

I’d love to come up with a “Social Media Shake-Weight.” You know, some goofy “fast-results” system I could sell for BIG cash. Unfortunately, I have a conscience and vested interest in your success as writers and as people. I can’t hand you a fancy algorithm or Guaranteed 20 Step Plan to be a NYTBSA. 

Why?

Because I know many of you possess the talent to take you over the moon, but it will be character that will keep you there. I’m not in the bottle-rocket business. I want to ignite stars that burn for generations.

Social media is more than selling books, it’s learning to forge relationships, be positive even when the world is caving in, showing up when you want to stay in bed, doing the work when no one notices any results and thinks we are fools. Social media, blogging and writing teach us patience, tenacity, flexibility, self-discipline and to keep pressing for what we say we want.

It would be easy to be a writer if all we had to do was finish a book and then hand cash to a promo team to make us zillionaires. But that isn’t reality. This business is tough. It weeds out the weak, the self-centered, the impatient, the undisciplined and those who are writing for the wrong reasons or who complain, whine and are unwilling to sacrifice. Yet, on the positive side, social media, blogging and writing rewards the faithful, the diligent, the committed, the humble, the giving and the kind.

In the end? We are not alone. Yes, we need a platform, but no one said you had to do it by yourself. That’s what WANA is all about.

What are your thoughts? Do you get overwhelmed? Do you think you need to do a lot of EVERYTHING and it’s leaving you burned out? Have you learned to be faithful with baby steps? I know I am still working on that. Do you feel pressured? Like nothing you do matters? Or, have you come to that place where you’re willing to Writer Up?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less)

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World

March’s WINNER—Christina Delusions of Humor

Please e-mail me your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD document to kristen at wan a intl dot com. Or a synopsis (750 words MAX) or a query letter (250 words). Congratulations!

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Zechariah Judy
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Zechariah Judy

Life has many irrefutable truths. One? We get out of life what we put into it. We will get out of our writing what we invest. We cannot expect large returns from a social media platform if we rely on robots (automation) and connect randomly and half-heartedly. Social media is about relationships and being fair-weather friends has limited effectiveness.

Sure, there are flukes, people who run face-first into blind luck. But, one thing I’ve learned is the harder (and smarter) I work, the “luckier” I get ;).

When we take hold of a dream, we are assigned a sort of spiritual plot of land. Depending on the dream will depend on the plot. If we want to grow fresh peaches for our family, we don’t need a thousand acres. But, if we wish to make a living as a peach grower? We’ll have much more land and work ahead.

Same with writing. If our goal is to publish a memoir to hand down to our children, this is a different “plot” than if we desire to be a NY Times best-selling authors.

Some land is more fertile than others. If we grew up as children of famous authors, surrounded by other successful writers, then we have a reasonable head start. We “inherited” a grove and aren’t starting from scratch. Most of us are not so fortunate, so we need to start preparing our “land” early.

The Early Years

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Rene Schweitzke

This is when we get our land and realize there are a ton of weeds, crappy soil and a zillion dead trees and trunks that need to be removed. There might even be some junk cars, scrap metal and old toilets that need to be hauled away. We need to form new habits. We need education, training and practice. We need to learn about branding and start building our platform.

When I left paper sales and decided to become a writer, I needed to learn the craft. I had bad habits. I put myself last on the list because writing wasn’t a “real job.” The early years is a lot of clearing away insecurity, fear, and even laziness. We learn to write even when we don’t “feel” like it and come to understand that simply showing up is a bigger deal than most people realize.

Sowing

This is when we start planting. We’ve cleared the fields and added missing nutrients to the soil. We put our butts in the seat and blogged even if the only comments we get are from the BuyCalvinKleinCheap sites:

“I so lick you’re blog. It changed my bruther’s life and bookmarking now.”

Blogging trains us to keep a professional pace. It trains us to show up and not be too dependent on others. Sure, it’s fun blogging now that I get 95 comments, but there were years I blogged to the ether. I didn’t do it for others. I did it for ME, to train me.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jim Evans
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jim Evans

Blogging is also the most resilient form of social media and one of the best investments of time when it comes to ROI (return on investment). No search engine will direct people to your witty tweet or clever Facebook post. Search engines WILL, however, start sending readers to your blog (if done properly). Also blogs can be harvested for books and promotion (and if you want to know how, my new book gives a step-by-step plan).

Sowing also involves research, plotting, writing, finishing then revising the book.

The Silent Years

After we’ve planted a lot of good stuff, it’s easy to get discouraged. We don’t plant a peach pit and a week later have a ten-foot-tall tree raining yummy peaches all over the ground. In fact, for a loooooong time, it will look like nothing is happening. It’s because that peach pit is germinating and putting down deep roots before much appears above the surface where we can see results.

We need deep roots to make it in this business, because high-winds and storms don’t stop because we want to write books (as I talked about in yesterday’s post). Did you know that the root system of any tree needs to be as wide if not wider than the span of the branches? What is below (unseen) must match (or even outmatch) what is above, or the tree will fall over and die with the first bad storm.

The Silent Years can be brutal and this is why most writers don’t make it. This is when we suffer a lot of angst. When people ask us what we do and we say we’re writers, we get replies like, “No, I meant what is your real job” or “Really? Where can I buy your book?” We must learn to brush off any insecurity and criticism and simply appreciate we’re growing, preparing for greater things ahead.

This is tough in a world addicted to instant gratification and an over-reliance on luck. Too many people want fruits with no roots (thanks, Joyce Meyer).

Reaping

If we keep pressing and don’t dig up our seeds to check if they really are growing (which is highly tempting), eventually we can reap what we’ve sown. Ah, but here is the catch. Back to my peach example. After a long wait and tender, patient care, we get a tree. YAY! Eventually, we see little tiny fruits popping out. AWESOME.

Not so fast.

The smart grower plucks off all the tiny green peaches. OH NO! Why? So the tree will bear more fruit and better fruit. For us? This could mean writing two or three bad books before we get a winner. It could mean multiple revisions. But, to gain more, we have to sacrifice.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Slgckgc
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Slgckgc

Harvest and Maintenance

In the beginning, we have a lot of back-breaking work. But, if we are patient and consistent we can finally reach a maintenance phase. Once the grove of peach trees is producing, we keep fertilizing, tending, and harvesting.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kathleen Dagostino
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kathleen Dagostino

An author platform is the same. In the beginning, we need to build traction. Yet, there will come a time when we can back off. We need to let the soil rest. We need to cycle in other crops. We need margin in life or we lose that creativity and passion that started us on our path to begin with.

Two Mistakes Writers Make

One writer wants everything instantly. This writer wants a thriving platform and big books sales too early, and maybe resorts to shortcuts. They spray chemicals on green immature peaches (blogs/books) and try to pass off bitter, tasteless content to consumers. Or they just jump into the market too soon.

The other writer overworks the grove and production eventually suffers.

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Stoere Schrijfster.

I’ve been guilty of both mistakes. When I wrote my first social media book, I failed to build a platform ahead of time. My first royalty check was dismal and made me cry for three days. I needed to dig in and keep cultivating.

Now? I need more margin. I’m cutting this blog back to two days a week. I’d rather give you guys two fabulous blogs and more books, classes, WANACons and consulting.

Right now, I’m blogging because I love it. It’s fun. But there are better ways I can serve you and help you learn and grow. We can get so in a habit of doing something, we fail to see when we can (and need to) stop overworking.

And this is a tricky blog to write, because I want to tell you there are times for the back-breaking-put-all-you-have-into-it-work. There are no shortcuts and this isn’t offering excuses. The marketplace is glutted with books and without a platform, our odds of success are better with scratch-off tickets. But I also want to impart on you, that there is also a time to back away. We need balance to maintain. I will still be working my tail off, just in different areas ;).

So what about you guys? Are you guilty of living too much with your accelerator pressed to the floorboard? Do you struggle with knowing where and what to let go of? Do you put everyone and everything ahead of yourself and your writing and it’s making your “creative field” suffer?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of November, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Also, for all your author brand and social media needs, I hope you will check out my new best-selling book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

I will announce October’s winner next week.

I’m offering my First Five Pages Class November 14th 8-9:30. The first five pages of any novel are the most critical and I will teach you how to hook hard and early and also how to spot bigger problems in your novel.

I’m also offering my Antagonist Class. The antagonist is the beating heart of the story. If you can’t seem to finish a book or a book isn’t selling or is getting rejected, this class can help tremendously. There are also upgrades where I work with you one-on-one to repair or even create your plot.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jeremy Schultz
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Jeremy Schultz

Our culture has been infected with a disease of distortion, what I’m calling “End-of-the-Rainbow-Thinking.” We can all be guilty of this. We see the mega-best-selling-indie, the New York Times best-selling author, the successful small business, the guy with the big house or the family who lives debt-free and we scope-lock on the end result as if this “success” POOF! erupted from the ether.

Reality television superstars, fluke mega-advances for first-time authors, and lottery-winners only reinforce this Get-Successful-Quick-With-No-Effort-On-Our-Part mindset.

The Kardashian Konundrum

A couple days ago, I was checking out at the grocery store and there is an entire issue of a magazine devoted to Kim Kardashian. Why? What has she contributed other than fodder for the gossip mill? Yet, these are the role models that, whether we like it or not, can infect how we view ourselves, our goals and what we seek to accomplish.

We must be mindful to separate junk food “entertainment” from reality.

America in particular has transformed from a culture that once valued hard work and apprenticeship, to one that elevates the ego, the individual, the “self-made”. Yet, serendipity aside, those who’ve experienced authentic success didn’t uncover some pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

They worked and they worked hard. They worked harder, failed and learned to work smarter.

Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of dfbphotos
Original image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of dfbphotos

Value the Apprenticeship

Before the Industrial Revolution, skilled labor was very different and had been for centuries. One began studying as an Apprentice under a Master, then, upon reaching a certain benchmark, graduated to Journeyman. After years of skilled practice, a Journeyman might eventually reach the level of Master.

These days, we all have this mistaken notion that we are natural “Masters” on Day One. I can’t speak for any of you, but I know I was this way. I didn’t need craft classes *snort*. I knew how to write a novel. I made all As in English, duh. My biggest concern with my first novel was all the agents who would be fighting over it.

You can laugh at me. I do.

Mastery Myopia

But why I want to bring this up is that, if we believe we should be Masters from the get-go, we risk being less open to feedback, and even potential mentors. Growth is stifled and our gift suffers. We can get discouraged when we haven’t reached a certain benchmark because we are completely unaware that the benchmark was utterly unrealistic to begin with.

For instance, I opened WANA International a year and a half ago. I was a baby CEO. I had people on my team who up and quit because, after six weeks of being “open” we weren’t bazillionaires taking the world by storm. If I hadn’t had my tail end handed to me on a platter by my experiences as a writer, I would have probably bailed, too.

Setbacks are normal. Stalling is normal. Failure is a good thing.

Failure keeps us humble and often opens up better or more efficient ways of doing things. Humility and a realistic perspective liberates us to ask for help, to be open to being teachable. Failures emancipate us from the responsibility of having to “know everything.”

It’s Okay to Be Growing

A year-and-a-half later? I am still growing. I am no longer a Baby CEO. I’m a Toddler CEO well on my way to being fully potty-trained :D. But last week, I was being particularly hard on myself and I stopped. WHY? I’m still relatively NEW.

This isn’t permission to be lax, foolish, lazy, but it is permission to remember I’m learning. I’m learning by doing and sometimes FAILING. I’m reading stacks of business books penned by those who did this “business thing” better (books that make me want to hurl myself into traffic, btw).

When we aren’t grounded in the reality of what it takes to be successful, we’re vulnerable to barbs from the outside world, because, remember…many of them have fantastical thinking, too.

How many people have you met who have a “great idea” for a super-duper-successful story? They believe the only thing separating them from JK Rowling is writing a book. Many outsiders have a similar belief that command of our native tongue naturally qualifies us to be rockstar best-selling authors.

It’s one of the largest causes for the push-back we experience as authors. If our first time to bat book isn’t a home-run runaway best-seller then we’re “failures.”

Again, End-of-the-Rainbow-Thinking.

The Callouses Behind the Curtain

Most of the world sees only the “finished project” or the “outcome of a dream.” It’s the Ooooooh, ahhhhhhh sparkly stuff they see.

What they DON’T see are all the small steps, calloused hands, and hardened resolve led to that place. They aren’t conscious that any success (financial, personal, professional) is merely the final product, a cumulation of tiny “right decisions” and a series of tough lessons from “wrong decisions.”

They see the beautiful “house” not rebar, concrete, pipes, sheetrock, bricks, nails, blood, and smashed thumbs.

People don’t see when we choose to write instead of going to the mall. They don’t see us up until two in the morning to make a deadline even when we KNOW the toddler will be awake in four hours. They don’t see the rejections, the missteps, the @$$chewings because we made a bad choice. Outsiders don’t see the tens of thousands of words cut away, unusable, the hours and creative blood they represent.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Kenny Louie

Outsiders don’t see the sacrifice and they won’t appreciate the sacrifice because they weren’t willing to sacrifice, themselves. If they’ve never been through the fire, how can they see it or even value it?

In a world of $100,000 millionaires and instant-credit, the outside world has forgotten. And we can’t control how they think, but we can control how WE think. Every time you choose to write instead of watching TV, count it a victory. Every time you write when you don’t feel like it or research something that is tedious but important, VICTORY!

Every time you stick to the novel you are revising instead of flittering off to a newer “shinier” idea? You’re one step closer to being the professional you’re destined to become. So, lighten up.

Allow room to grow, to fail, to get up and work harder and smarter. You’ll get there. Likely the world will hail you an “instant success” and then you can wink my way because we know better ;).

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced push-back because you weren’t an instant Stephen King or JK Rowling? Are friends and family some of your toughest adversaries? Are you your worst critic? Do you need to learn to give yourself grace? Hey, I did and still do.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

WANACon now has Day One and Day Two for sale separately so you can choose if you only can fit part of the conference. Just a note: A LOT of major authors sacrificed time for no or little pay to pay it forward and offer an affordable and easily accessible conference for those who need one and WANA is extremely grateful to have them.

WANACon, the writing conference of the future is COMING! We start with PajamaCon the evening of October 3rd and then October 4th and 5th we have some of the biggest names in publishing coming RIGHT TO YOU–including the LEGEND Les Edgerton. 

Get PajamaCon and BOTH DAYS OF THE CONFERENCE for $149 and all recordings for anything you miss or need to hear again. Sign up today, because seats are limited. REGISTER HERE.

For those who are total newbies, I am running a Writer’s Guide to Social Media Class TONIGHT for $39 5-7 EST (NYC time). Use WANA15 for 15% off. We will cover the major platforms, what they do, and which ones might be right for you and your brand.

I am also holding ACHOO!! The Writer’s Guide to Going Viral 5-6:30 EST (NYC time). This class is $49 and, again, use WANA15 for 15% off. Not all content is created equal. This class helps you understand how to understand how search engines work, how to gain favor, and how to create content that will give you traction. Feel like you are blogging to the ether? This class can help.

Image via Flikr Creative Commons Hakan Dalstrom
Image via Flikr Creative Commons Hakan Dalstrom

A couple weeks ago, I taught at the DFW conference and someone mentioned this post I wrote a long time ago. For the benefit of those who’ve not yet read it…or those of you who’ve slept since then, I figured I’d modify it to make it current. I hope this helps ease the angst you might have about how hard it is to become a success.

What Are the Odds….Really?

I didn’t even consider becoming a writer until 1999 after my father passed away suddenly. Funny how death can make us take a hard look at life, right? Anyway, I recall feeling soooo overwhelmed. I mean my odds of even getting published were about as good as winning the lottery. And the odds of becoming a best-selling author? Well, mathematically speaking, I had a slightly greater chance of being mauled by a black bear and polar bear on the same day.

It was all I could do not to give up before I began.

But, after almost 14 years doing this “writer thing,” I have a new perspective. Often it feels like we are the victims of fate, at the mercy of the universe, when actually it is pretty shocking how much of our own destiny we control. The good news is that if we can get in a habit of making good choices, it is staggering how certain habits can tip the odds of success in our favor.

Time to take a REAL look at our odds of success. Just so you know, this is highly unscientific, but I still think it will paint a pretty accurate picture. I will show you a bit of my own journey.

The 5% Rule

It has been statistically demonstrated that only 5% of any population is capable of sustained change. Thus, with that in mind…

When we start out wanting to write, we are up against presumably millions of other people who want the same dream. We very literally have better odds of being elected to Congress than hitting the NY Times best-selling list. But I think that statement is biased and doesn’t take into account the choices we make.

As I just said, in the beginning, we are up against presumably millions of others who desire to write. Yes, millions. It is estimated that over ¾ of Americans say that they would one day like to write a book. That’s a LOT of people. Ah, but how many do? How many decide to look beyond that day job? How many dare to take that next step?

Statistically? 5%

So only 5% of the millions of people who desire to write will ever even take the notion seriously. This brings us to the hundreds of thousands. But of the hundreds of thousands, how many who start writing a book will actually FINISH a book? How many will be able to take their dream seriously enough to lay boundaries for friends and family and hold themselves to a self-imposed deadline?

Statistically? 5%

Okay, well now we are down to the tens of thousands. Looking a bit better. But, finishing a book isn’t all that is required. We have to be able to write a book that is publishable and meets industry/reader standards. When I first started writing, I thought that everyone who attended a writing critique group would be published. I mean they were saying they wanted to be best-selling authors.

But did they?

Or, were they more in love with the idea of being a best-selling author than actually doing whatever it took to succeed? I would love to say that I was a doer and not a talker, but I don’t want to get hit by lightning. There were a number of years that I grew very comfortable with being in a writing group as a writer…but not necessarily a professional writer.

I was still querying the same book that had been rejected time and time and time again.  I wrote when I felt inspired and didn’t approach my craft like a professional. I was, at best, a hobbyist and, at worst, hopelessly delusional.

I didn’t need craft books *snort* I spoke English, so I knew how to write. Geesh! *rolls eyes*

I was a member of two writing groups, and had grown very fond of this “writer life.” We hung out at I-Hop and drank lots of coffee. We’d all chat about what we’d do with our millions once we were bigger than Dan Brown. We talked about new ideas for books that never seemed to get written. Or if we ever did sit to write one of these ideas, we would get about 30,000 words in and then hit a wall.

Hmmm…and I thought that idea had so much promise.

Yet, after four years hearing the same talk from the same people shopping the same novels, I had a rude awakening. Maybe I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew. Maybe being a copy writer and technical writer and editor didn’t automatically make me a novel-writing genius. Maybe I needed to take this dream of being a best-selling writer a tad more seriously and not rely on bluster, BS and glitter. Maybe I needed to read craft books and scrape up enough money to go to a conference.

So, of the tens of thousands of writers who write a novel, how many read craft books and get serious enough to take classes and attend conferences?

You guys are good….5%

And of those who attend a conference (and want to traditionally publish), who are asked to send in page requests, how many follow through?

Likely, 5%

How many will land an agent right away?

5%

And of all of those authors rejected, how many writers, determined to impress, are willing to GUT their novel and wage wholesale slaughter on entire villages of Little Darlings? How many are willing to put that first novel in a drawer, learn from the experience and move forward with a new book…which they FINISH?

5%

And of the writers who land an agent or are brave enough to go indie or self-publish, how many of them get dead-serious about building a large social media platform?

Again? Probably 5%.

And of those writers who are published and doing social media, how many of them are effectively branding their names so their name alone will become a bankable asset (versus taking the easy way and spamming everyone in sight)?

5%

Of those who self-publish, how many will keep writing more books and better books until they hit a tipping point for success? (versus beating marketing one book to death)

5%

Of writers who self-publish, how many will invest in professional editing and cover art?

5%

Thus, when we really put this dream under some scrutiny, it is shocking to see all the different legs we control.

We control:

Taking the Decision Seriously

Writing the Book

Editing the Book

Finishing the Book

Learning the Craft

Networking

Following Through

Not Giving Up in the Face of Rejection

Writing Books

Writing More Books

Yes, Writing Even MORE Books

Doing Everything in Our Power to Lay a Foundation for a Successful Career

I am not saying that finishing a book is easy. None of this is easy.

This job is a lot of hard work and sacrifice, which is exactly why most people will never be genuine competition. When we start out and see all the millions of other writers I think we are in danger of giving up or getting overwhelmed. Actually, if we focus on the decisions we control, our odds improve drastically.

This job is like one giant funnel. Toss in a few million people with a dream and only a handful will shake out at the end. Is it because fortune smiled on them? A few, yes. But, for most, the harder they worked, the “luckier” they got. They stuck it out and made the tough choices.

In the Sahara there is a particularly long stretch of desert that is completely flat. There are no distinguishing landmarks and it is very easy to get lost. To combat the problem, the French Foreign Legion placed large black oil drums every mile so that travelers could find their way across this massive expanse of wasteland one oil drum at a time.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

 

Want to be a successful author?

Take it one oil drum at a time.

What are some oil drums you now see ahead? Does your journey to author success seem easier now? What makes you feel overwhelmed? What inspires you?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of May, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of May I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!