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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: non-traditional publishing

Welcome to NF Part 2. Yes, you are a special unique snowflake. There, I said it. You do have a unique background and perception that is unlike any other human on the planet. Today we will talk about how to use that to your advantage.

One of the largest stumbling blocks I see for all writers—NF and fiction alike—is that we all fear being a fraud. Fearing that we really have nothing special to offer the world, we try and reinvent the wheel. We try to write the story that has never been told, failing to appreciate that plot, in and of itself, is not unique. The “telling” is where stories become unique. The Hero’s Journey is just as popular today as it was back in ancient Greece. The difference is in the details.

NF writers often suffer from the same malaise. We feel we have to become experts like none other on subjects no one has heard about.  Yeah…um, no.

If you think about it, it is extremely rare (if not impossible) to come up with a totally unique idea. Inventors, engineers, scientists and even writers all must stand on the shoulders of others and use them as the source code for innovation. In fiction, we do not need to reinvent plot as humans understand it to tell a great story. In fact, that would likely be counterproductive. People need grounding in what they know. To prove my point, go flip through a sci-fi or fantasy novel. If the writer was being truly “authentic” the book wouldn’t be in English, but in some alien tongue. Of course, then no one would buy it because we aren’t aliens… well, most of us anyway. In fantasy novels, they drink from cups and fight with weapons that at least resemble some object we can mentally tether to our world/experience. Light saber.

Thus, if you really want to write non-fiction, you do not have to look for a subject that has never been discussed. Even as an armchair “expert” you have a unique perception that might have the potential to resonate with a large audience…so don’t sell yourself short. Your voice might be just what others will finally understand.

For instance, I failed Chemistry FOUR times. The teachers I had just confused me and didn’t speak “my language.” I finally got a teacher who taught Chemistry using a lot of analogies and suddenly it was like tumblers in a lock. Oh! I exclaimed. I’ve been making this too hard! I suddenly went from failing student to the top of the class. I ended up tutoring Chemistry to TCU football players in danger of failing. Not only did I tutor them, but I turned most of them into A and B students. Can you imagine how wonderful I felt being able to pass on that gift that had been given to me?

Did I have a degree in Chemistry? Not even close. I was a political science student. Did I have a unique perspective? Yes. I knew what it was like to feel like an idiot and like I was sitting in a room where everyone knew what was going on but me. I offered these athletes empathy, which was important. I also was more aware of areas that were likely giving them trouble, because I had been there. So I was more efficient at teaching because I knew what areas were going to be the largest obstacles.

My role as “social media expert” has been a similar experience.

Sometimes, what we will offer others has less to do with a degree or a certification, and more to do with what we uniquely bring to the table. You can become an expert on almost anything you set your mind to.  Maybe you never finished college or even high school. Nothing can stop you but you.

If you want to become an expert, here are some good ways.

1. Passion

Make sure the subject you choose is one you are truly passionate about. Don’t just pick something because you want to make money. That never works. But, if you are truly passionate about something, that will shine through. For example, if you love Civil War History, likely you will read books, watch movies, and surround yourself with all things Civil War. My father eeked through two years of junior college before dropping out, but he knew more about history than anyone I have ever met. How? He read all the time. Hundreds and hundreds of books.

So you think you have passion? Well, passion alone is not enough. Time to put that passion to work.

2. Blog

Start a blog. Blog weekly about your topic (Robert E. Lee, the Civil War, the Confederacy, etc.). A blog can help you grow a following of people who look to you to instruct them about your topic in a way that is interesting, informative and entertaining. Over time, you will eventually grow to being an expert. How? You can tangibly demonstrate that people want to read what you have to say.

3. Join Organizations

Are there organizations you could join to help support your resume? If you want to write about General Lee, then are there any historical societies, book clubs, reenactment organizations that you could participate in?

Joining organizations and even networking with people who love the same subject you do can open up a lot of doors to help you on your way to becoming an expert. I have been a Rotarian for almost 7 years. When I was in the early stages of becoming a social media expert, I gave talks to Rotary clubs to demystify social media. I gave presentations showing them how FB could help non-profit clubs communicate, recruit new members, etc. I joined all kinds of writing groups and did the same.

4. Do A Lot of Stuff for Free

Yeah, this one can sting, but it is an excellent way to build a reputation when you are starting with nothing.  Write, speak, do anything you can to add to your c.v.

Going with the Civil War example. Contribute articles, web content, or even help the historical organizations put together a newsletter. Be their “go to” guy or gal.

In the beginning of my career, I offered to build MySpace pages for people, build blogs, write articles, teach classes, build platforms…all so I could have a list of success stories that established me as a person worth listening to.

And I did it all for free. I had to, at least in the beginning. How could I possibly charge? I didn’t have a degree or certification in technology. Heck, I didn’t have proof I knew what I was doing. Many times I didn’t know what I was doing, because I was LEARNING. But, the cool part was that I always offered to refund double what they were paying me :D.

FREE X 2=um, FREE

I say we can look at this one of two ways. One way is that we are giving stuff away for free. I, personally, like to look at it as an investment. I am investing my time and talents with the faith that it will pay off in the end. For me, it has. I paid my dues and now others are paying my fees.

Be grateful for all the grunt work you can get.

Eventually, your resume with have enough “stuff” that you will be able to charge money. When you think you’ve crossed that threshold, you can command a fee for your services/time. I recommend that you look at current Writer’s Market to see a list of standard rates.

Non-fiction can be a great source of income while you are working on that novel. You also never know how the experience might pay off down the road. I paid my way for years as a technical writer. I wrote instructions in software. Ack! At the time, I was so bummed that the paid writing was so far off what I longed to do. For those who don’t know, writing software instructions is akin to getting dental work while doing your taxes…every day. But, I grunted it through with a grateful heart, asking for all the work they were willing to send my way…even though every bit of work made my head hurt.

Yet, years later I would write a social media book so simple even my mother (who was afraid of the Internet) could build a platform. She now rules Facebook. Befriend her at your peril. But would I have written as good of a book had I not had all that experience breaking down highly technical concepts for the average Joe?

When I wrote, We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, did I understand every technical aspect of social media? No. Did I know every detail about Squidoo, You Tube, LinkdIn, Tumblr and Facebook? No (I still don’t). But I could take my unique experience of 1) being a technical writer and 2) failing…a lot and help a lot of people understand a very overwhelming subject. I could help them understand that one didn’t need to be on 40 platforms with pod-casts and vid-casts to build a worldwide platform. I have built a fan following that touches every continent using FB, Twitter and a blog.

Additionally, my background allowed me to peel away the fear factor to technology, just as I did years ago with football players failing Chemistry. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. I just had to apply my unique perspective and voice.

Use your uniqueness to your advantage. No one is just like you!

Get excited! There are plenty of topics out there just waiting for your singularly unique perspective. You might just be the one voice that helps others understand. I think I read ten books on novel structure and was still lost. Then I picked up James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure and it was a huge Ah ha! This book is not the ONLY book to ever talk about this subject, but it has helped a lot of people like me who were struggling.

Our culture is addicted to information and entertainment. This is the Age of the Writer. Embrace opportunities. You never know where they might lead.

What do you guys think? What are your opinions? Can you guys think of additional ways to reach that “expert” status? Something I missed?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, based off my best-selling book, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. This is the day I dedicate to help you guys rock it hard when it comes to social media. For the past month and a half, we have been discussing blogging. If you are new to the blog, I recommend going back and reading the previous lessons. It will save you a lot of time and heartbreak. I am going to assume all of you are clever enough to look to the sidebar to take you there ;). For the rest of you? It’s Fashion Week!

Today we are going to pose the question, “What makes a great blog?” To a degree I feel I am an authority, namely because I have made all the stupid mistakes so you don’t have to. After a lot of noodle-throwing (to see what would stick) and tar baby wrestling, a book, and 130 blog posts, I now feel confident to call myself an expert. This blog has been very successful and grown to have a worldwide following. I wasn’t always a good blogger and, in fact, when I look to some of my early blogs I just kind of want to start whistling and walk away.

Don’t make eye contact. Baby blogs not properly nurtured by humans go feral.

This week, we are going to address some superficial aspects of a blog that can make or break you from the beginning. Appearance matters. Yeah, we would all love to believe that we don’t judge books by their cover, but most of us do…all the time. We aren’t going to buy a house with the front door hanging off the hinges, a car the color of baby puke, or eat a gourmet dish that looks like something the cat coughed up. We don’t go on a blind date and see some guy across the room and go, “Kafka! Kafka! That seems like someone I could have intellectually stimulating conversations with.”

We are shallow! Blogs don’t get a pass on human nature. We are going to judge by appearance first.

So today, we are going to do a fashion makeover on your blog. Does you blog have bad breath? Her dress tucked in her panty hose? A bat in the cave? Appearances matter, and they matter when it comes to blogs. Let’s check out some top blog fashion faux pas.

  1. The Emo Blog?

The Emo Blog is dark, angry, moody and most often misunderstood. His black background mimics the color of his soul, and the red letters are like the self-inflicted slashes on his arms. Emo blog is just a bummer to hang out with.

The goth look is okay for teenagers who use their blog to catalogue teenage angst. If the purpose of your blog is to tell your friends about the time you dreamed you were Bella and Edward made you a vampire, then this background is fine. If you are over the age of 17, choose another background.

For the blogger trying to gain a following, tossing your readers’ corneas into a Digital Iron Maiden is not a good way to get on their good side. Black backgrounds with red letters might look killer, but they are murder on the eyes. Any dark color with lighter lettering is bad juju.

There is a popular WordPress background that is turquoise with pale yellow lettering. Every time I click to a blog with that background, I move on. My eyes get strained enough without me volunteering for thicker glasses.

Yes, I will grant that these Emo/Goth/Dark backgrounds look cool to us, but we already know what the words say (um…we wrote them). For a stranger, this will just make them hate you. It certainly won’t encourage them to hang out and read your previous posts.

Blogs need light backgrounds, dark letters, and, above all, be easy to read. I feel for the horror writers, but there are some gray urban decay backgrounds that will be just as creepy, and the upside is that readers will be more likely to hang out on your site. Overall, when you choose a background, go ask the friend you can trust to tell you your butt is fat to look at your blog.

2. The Poseur Blog

The Poseur Blog is the blog that just tries too hard to impress, and, in the end, just seems desperate and kind of sad. Italics, creative fonts, and too many flashy widgets are like two bottles of hair gel, a spray tan, an Ed Hardy shirt, and arms full of man bracelets. Sad, sad, sad.

Again, love your reader, love their eyes. If you must use a creative font, use it for the headers, but try to stay with standard fonts like New Times Roman or Callibri lest your blog be banished to the Jersey Shores.

Our content should be creative, not the presentation. When our blog has odd backgrounds with video, music and cursive font, that is the equivalent of sending a query letter written in pink on perfumed paper with stickers. Readers are judging us by what we write, not by the zillion flashy gizmos we learned how to insert into our page. Again, less is more.

3. The Invisible Man Blog

The Invisible Man Blog has less to do with the content and more to do with the author. Where is your name? Is it easy to spot, or is finding your name like a frustrating game of “Where’s Waldo?” Are you a blogger or in witness protection?

Our names need to be visible. If we are blogging and we are writers, then the blog needs to serve our careers. This is called “efficiency.” Blogging and writing are not two separate activities. Our blog needs to build our brand, which is always our name. I have read some really excellent blogs, but had no clue who wrote the darn thing.

You might be like me and you started the blog before you got a clue. No problem. Your name might not be in the URL, but it does need to be in the header. This is not the time to be shy. Write a blog you are proud to slap your name across…tastefully ;).

4. The Gypsy Blog

The Gypsy Blog has long flowing…everything. Long sentences, long paragraphs, long blogs. Loooooooong. The Gypsy Blog is so carefree that it forgot to care…at all. I know there is a lot of debate how long blogs should be. Personally, I don’t care. If a blogger is keeping me engaged and entertained, word count is the last thing I am paying attention to.

The trick with length is to make the paragraphs smaller. Break a long blog into digestible bites. As long as you are writing in a way that engages the reader, likely she won’t notice if you run long. Trust me, a 500 word blog that is all one paragraph will get skipped before a 1200 word engaging blog with lots of breaks.

Next week we are going to discuss some more ways to make your blog connect to readers and grow faster than you ever imagined. In the meantime, do you guys have any pet peeves? Notice some Blog Fashion Faux Pas? Surely I didn’t get to all of them. What are some things you like to see in blogs? What turns you off?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

Give yourself the gift of success so you can ROCK 2011. My best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.

Mash Up of Awesomeness

The Writer’s Toolkit: The Alpha and Omega of Your Novel by NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer

What’s In a (Pen) Name? by Peter St-Clair. Awesome post about how to keep up with more than one identity.

How Should Writers Use Social Media? With Purpose by Dan Blank

3 Topics for Writers To Avoid on Social Networks by Jill Kemerer

10 Creative Ways to Break Writer’s Block Fast by Fred White

5 Ways to Develop Consistency in Writing and Blogging and The Snowball Effect of Social Media by Author Jody Hedlund (yes, I am a Jody fan)

Saying I’m a Writer–The 6 Stages of Responses from Others by Roni Loren

How to be a Mom/Dad and Still Be a Writer by Suzan Isik

How to Write a Press Release for Your Book  by Alexis Grant

When is a Story Worth Writing? Part One by Jami Gold

Can Self-Publishing Lead to a Traditional Publishing Contract? (really interesting article) by Joel Friedlander

Hey Writerface: Don’t Be a Dick but Still Have Opinions and From Bile to Buttercream; How a Writer Makes Use of Rejection by the brilliant Chuck Wendig

I also highly, highly recommend Chuck’s book of short stories Irregular Creatures. If you love his blog, you will TOTALLY dig the stories and you can’t beat the price to be THAT entertained.

How Authors Move their Own Merchandise via The Wall Street Journal (Joanne Kaufman). One more reason EVERY writer needs a copy of my book…just sayin’.

A really inspiring post by Piper Bayard Unemployment: Aka The Road

Get Your Geek On With…

Manon Eileen’s A Test–Introversion and Extroversion

What is a Cult, Exactly? by Peter Saint-Clair

Welcome to the first installment of Twitter Tuesday. In the spirit of Twitter, this blog will be short and sweet and to the point. There is a lot of bad advice floating around when it comes to how to use Twitter. Is it because these “experts” are wrong? No, but they may not be giving advice that’s good for authors. The tips offered here are all based off my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. If our goal is to build an author platform in the thousands to tens of thousands, then we will have to approach Twitter differently than a faceless corporation or even the regular person who does not possess a goal of becoming a brand. This blog will help you rule the Twitterverse without devolving into a spam bot.

This Week’s Fail Whale–Unfollowing People for Inactivity

I have recently read some blogs where writers talked about unfollowing people for inactivity. I never unfollow anyone unless they are:

1. Abusive

2. Inappropriate

3. A bot.

Why? Because we never know why that person is being inactive. They could have had their computer crash, gotten married, deployed or been temporarily thrust into witness protection to hide from an evil twin who has ties to the mob. We don’t know! Thing is, they aren’t taking up any room, so why cull the herd? The Six Degrees of Separation is our friend. We could inadverdently unfollow the person who might have made that critical difference in our career. Play it smart and leave it be.

This Week’s Twitter Tip–Download TweetDeck

Regular Twitter is fine for the regular user who is only keeping up with a handful of people. TweetDeck makes it possible not only to follow thousands of people, but also genuinely interact….and it keeps you from wanting to slam your head in a door repeatedly (which is always a plus). Yes, there are other similar applications, but TweetDeck is my favorite and the example I use in my book.

Tweet ya later!