Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Websites: What Writers Need to Know

Writers are business people too! Infographic from SCORE

The internet offers incredible resources for building an audience and promoting your work. Without spending loads of time and money, you’d love to tap into those that best fit your skills and purposes. But with so many options—and so much confusing tech-speak—it’s hard to know where to start.

This week, I’m slated to teach a workshop on websites and electronic newsletters, two foundational strategies for every artist and writer. Whether you’re starting from scratch or looking to refresh your web presence, here are some of the tips and strategies for enhancing your web presence:

  • Evaluate: In terms of aesthetics, traffic, content, and investment of money and time, take a considered look at your current web presence and practices versus the presence and practices you desire.
  • Purpose: Whom do you most hope to reach? What outcomes would you most like to achieve? The answers to these questions should be the foundation of your web strategies.
  • Best Practices: Design your website and newsletter with users in mind. With regard to text and special effects, the “less is more” adage prevails. Choose a smart URL, link wisely, make sure you’ve got good mobile optimization, and attend to SEO and SERP concerns. Develop content that you can tap for multiple purposes. Make sure everything is clean, correct, and up-to-date.
  • Guard your investment: Don’t let a website or newsletter consume inordinate amounts of time and/or money. Secure your site against hackers. Avoid scams by never clicking through on links embedded in emails, even those that arrive via your website.
  • Evaluate: Don’t obsess over your analytics, but study them periodically to determine which web practices you should continue and which you should modify or cut.

Author of seventeen books published by six different presses, Deb Vanasse teaches on topics related to writing and publishing. She also edits and coaches writers of fiction and nonfiction. After thirty-six years in Alaska, she now lives on the north coast of Oregon between Astoria and Seaside.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Romancing the Book: What Writers Should Expect

Source: Digital Book World, Jan. 15, 2016

A comedian quipped that romance can be a lot like school—eager, bright-eyed anticipation succumbs to mundane and sometimes dissatisfying realities. Which is not to say that romance—or school—should be avoided, only that a person eventually needs to adjust her expectations.

A significant subset of the population, writers somehow are wooed into the intense and potentially frustrating enterprise of creating books. Seduced by the idea of how wonderful it must be to publish, they can end up shattered by the results.

Cling to your initial expectations, and in all likelihood you’ll be disappointed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just as you adjust to the realities of school and of marriage, you can adjust to the realities of publishing:

Book sales won’t make you rich: Don’t take my word for it—check out the results of the most recent author survey by Digital Book World. Of those who responded, traditionally published authors who earned an advance on their last book reported the highest net proceeds from the sales of that book: $5,000 to $10,000. Publishing through their own companies, indie authors saw the next highest median returns from their latest book: $500 - $1,000. Bumping bottom: solo authors, who reported median returns of $0 - $500 on their latest book.

Discoverability is difficult: Even when publishers invest big bucks, there’s no guarantee a book will be discovered. There’s a whole lot of noise out there, and shouting doesn’t mean you’ll be heard.

Effort is required: Writing may be joyful, but it’s not easy, especially if you intend to do it well.

Writers support one another: Though the competition for readers is fierce, writers are a supportive bunch. They’re also smart, and a lot of fun to hang out with.

For intrinsic rewards, writing is tough to beat: Analogies of romance and education again come to mind. Money aside, the rewards are beyond measure—new understandings of yourself and the world, deep satisfaction, contributions that endure.

Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored sixteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Her next book, Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold, comes out in April, 2016. She is also a staff writer for the IBPA Independent.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How Writers Improve

Writers are forever learning, which means we’ll forever be hitting plateaus.

Eventually, we get past them. We get better—not as quickly as we like, but we do improve. Here’s how:

Ganas: A term popularized among English speakers by math teacher Jaime Escalante, ganas is a desire so strong that giving up is out of the question. You get better because you want it, badly. You’re desperate—so desperate that, paradoxically, despair is out of the question.

Generosity: We get better when we’re generous with ourselves—and with others. Who says a journey must be fast—or easy? Who says progress must be linear? Who says we have to compare ourselves with anyone else? The fruit of generosity is patience.

Wholemindedness: Okay, that’s not really a word. But what I mean is this—when you feel stuck, it’s often because you’ve ceded too much to the analytical parts of your brain. Those parts of the brain are useful—really useful—but given too much control, they stifle the more intuitive parts, where insights and breakthroughs happen.

Openness: All around, we have teachers—books we love, authors we admire. As we’re open, as we pay attention, we learn from them, both by osmosis and by analysis.

Resilience: It’s my first spring in a place where the planting season begins in February, and I admit to being a bit plant-obsessed. But honestly, the most ordinary plant has a tremendous amount to teach us about resilience. The pretty green parts may be up top, but the real work happens below the surface, in the dirt, where roots reach and reach till they get what they’re after. Pruning (in reasoned amounts) only makes the plant stronger. And under stress, it blooms and blooms and blooms.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Five Habits for Writers to Avoid

“Much that is learned is bound to be bad habits. You’re always beginning again.” W.S. Merwin

We have this mistaken idea that bad habits are the result of some weakness, some character flaw. But our least helpful writing habits are more likely to result from things we’ve inadvertently learned. That means there’s this good news—once we’ve identified these learned behaviors for what they are, we can unlearn them.

Here, five habits we writers would do well to banish:

Comparing our progress with others: As writers, we’re each on our own journeys. None of us will move along exactly the same trajectory toward exactly the same end. So while it’s fine to be inspired by the success of other authors, it’s silly—and potentially demoralizing—to expect our successes to follow theirs. In truth, some of our most significant accomplishments happen on the page, in relation to our craft, and these may happen in ways that aren’t immediately acknowledged by anyone but ourselves.

Making excuses: You want to write, but you don’t have the time. Or you don’t know how to start. Or your kids keep interrupting. Writing doesn’t have to be your top priority, but should it really be your last? Alice Munro, one of the most brilliant authors of our era, wrote her early stories while her children were napping. Even if you can only write for ten minutes a day, that’s a start.

Getting in a rut: You keep at your work, but you sense it’s flatlining—characters languish, story lines run on and on, language sounds wooden. While persevering is admirable, it’s also helpful to do a reality check every now and then. If you’re in a rut, come at your project from another angle. Take a workshop. Get some coaching or editing advice. Study a craft book.

Sharing too soon: Agents and editors see this problem all the time—writers have a good concept, but it’s poorly executed. Or they have nice execution, but the concept’s not fully developed. In either case, the problem is the same—the work went out before it was ready. When you think you’re finished, wait. Days, weeks, even months. When you return to the project, you’ll see the flaws, and you’ll have new perspectives on how to correct them.

Losing touch with the joy: Beneath the hard work of what we do, there’s the joy of discovery, of creating beauty on the page, of engaging readers. If you find yourself losing touch with that joy, take a step back. Allow yourself to write something just for fun. It’s not the destination that matters so much as the journey.

For more on becoming the writer you hope to be, see Deb’s Write Your Best Book.