It’s been a while, but I previously posted a bit on how the voices in your head sometimes take over your story. Oh, wait, I just said what this entire post is about. Rats.Continue reading “Character Hijackery Part II”
I’m flashing my curtains at you – did you see it?
If you’ve read my novel Droppington Place, you’d know that flashing the curtains is how Penrose, the sawdust copy of an obscure 16th Century playwright, lures Byron into the world of Droppington Place. It’s a paper world, hidden from time, from which Byron and his middle school friends Hailey Shen and Kyle Rodriquez must escape before they, too, become paper.
If I may be blunt: it’s a pretty good book.Continue reading “The Droppington Franchise”
You’re a writer, you know how it goes. You published the book, and it just sits there, doing nothing except get annoying because…well, because nobody’s reading it.Continue reading “Death of Some Salesmen”
So, here we are at Year Five, the Year of Independence. This is the goal, the island to which we’ve charted our five year course, the one thing we’ve focused on and worked on and planned on.
So, like, what is year five?Continue reading “Five Years to Independence: Year Five – the Year of Independence”
If it looks like a duck, and floats like a duck, but doesn’t smell like a duck, is it a duck? Or is it a decoy? A fake duck? Perhaps a wannabe duck.
You’re a writer – you know how it goes. You pour your heart and soul into your work, you polish every single word, and then you launch it out into the world. But… how?
Once I was in a restaurant and the waitress asked me what I wanted. I told her I’d been thinking about the turkey sandwich, to which she replied “and what did you decide?”
I used to think that the difference between writers and folks who thought they’d like to take a stab at writing is that writers write. I still believe that to be true, but perhaps not as thoroughly true as I once thought.
Suppose you wrote your brains out, but shoved all your work into the furnace and sent it up in flames? If no one reads it, did it have meaning?
Obviously it did to you, but only to you. You’re a writer – you have a story to tell. If you don’t tell it, or if you tell it only to yourself, well, are you a writer?
It’s a long way to get to the point that we must publish. My books are at Smashwords – yes, that was a shameless plug, but it illustrates a point.
Once upon a time we would hawk our words to agents who would hawk our words to publishers who would bring our words to the world at large. In Shakespeare’s time, Will had to hawk his words to his publisher – there was no agent – and together they hawked his words to the world.
I’m thinking that Mr. Shakespeare’s paradigm has returned, now that the writer’s world has turned into a Wild West of Self Publishing.
I found this great website, run by Joanna Penn, called the Creative Penn. Her site is full of good ideas and great tools and is generally a lot of fun to wander about. While I don’t know Ms. Penn, and only recently discovered her site, I believe there is a lesson there for us all.
You, my writer friend, and I, unless we are to be mistaken for decoys, or wannabe ducks, must actively, and intensely, pursue the task of hawking our words to the world. It’s up to you and me.
Unless we do that, I believe that we are deceiving ourselves into thinking that we are somehow successful authors for having published ourselves. While that is truth, it an incomplete and rather shallow truth.
You, my friend, and I, must embrace the fact that if we do not actively market our work, we do not, in fact, smell like a duck.
#writersofinstagram #bookworm #bookstagram #writing #booklover
I have proof! It’s true! They are way smarter than I am!
See, I’d seen an ad during the Super Bowl, like, four times, for the McDonald’s Cheesy Bacon Fries, and each time I thought to myself “dang, that’s cool!”
Now, my darling, wonderful wife is out of town, and I find myself with a day off (please don’t tell my wife I did this – she’ll have the I-told-you-so of a lifetime, and I’ve already given her so, so many. It’s safe to post this, because she never reads my stuff. If you don’t tell her, we’re cool).
So, It’s a lovely day at the harbor here in Ventura, and there’s a McDonald’s just a few blocks away. I don’t feel all that hot from an abusive weekend in Las Vegas (being volleyball parents isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be), and, hey, I mean, it’s McDonald’s, right?
The first challenge is that the Cheesy Bacon Fries come in a box with a knife and spork. Uh oh, the gullet says. This could be danger. Then I crack open the box.
So, when we were in Montreal, we discovered a Canadian dish called poutine – fries, cheese curds, brown gravy, and meat, all piled onto a plate. It is heaven on a cold day.
Ronald’s version doesn’t have the brown gravy, but it’s the same thing.
The first taste is really great – man, warm salt and fat. Kind of bacony, a little bit potatoey, and a strong dose of cheesy. Even as I chew it, I’m thinking this is not a very good idea. Kinda of like eating the cake that’s been out on the counter for a couple of days. It might be okay. Might.
So, about the crow. He flies up and takes station on the lamppost, right above my car. He looks at me with that look that crows have – inscrutable, but intriguing. He wants a fry. He’s scared away all the pigeons, and the seagulls haven’t spotted the McD bag yet.
I make sure he sees me waggle a bacon-encrusted cheesy fry out the window, and give it a toss onto the grass. He dives on it the second it’s down.
Now, seagulls are smart. Once, my daughter and I played fetch with one. We had found a golf ball on the beach, and tossed it into the sand down next to the waves. A gull swept down, scooped it up, and dropped in right in front of us. I threw the ball again, and the bird brought it right back. We played like this for maybe 15 throws, until he dropped the ball way out in the water and flew away. Huh. Game over.
But seagulls will eat just about anything. You can make them explode with Alka Seltzer tablets – but please, please don’t. I can’t think of a more awful way to die.
This crow however, perhaps ponders a more awful demise in eating the cheesy bacon fry. He holds it in his beak and stares at me with disdain, his black eye asking “how could you?” He hops onto the back of a bench, the fry firmly held in his beak, and looks thoughtfully out to sea.
The arrival of a flock of seagulls startles him, and he bolts out over the harbor in a stunning show of aerial mastery. He swings over me, the cheesy bacon fry wagging in his mouth, and then out over the water.
With every sign of intention and purpose, he drops the cheesy bacon fry into the bubbling waves, and off he goes.
What does this story have to do with writing books? Everything, my friend, everything and more.
If you , like me, publish your own work (my books are at Smashwords) there’s a huuuuuuuuge lesson here:
I bought the McDonald’s Cheesy Bacon Fries, knowing full well that it was just a box of salt, fat, and a strange orange semi-liquid cheese. No, I couldn’t eat them, because, well, ick. But I gave McD’s my money for the experience. It was all sizzle, and surely no steak.
It’s the sizzle. It has to be the sizzle – sizzle so alluring that it makes you buy a product you really know you shouldn’t have, just because, well, because there’s so much sizzle!
On the health side, I’ll fly with the crows.
But on the marketing side, I’ll take a page from McDonald’s!
Please don’t tell my wife.
Hashtags of sizzle:
#McDonald’s #authorsoninstagram #droppington place #marigolds end
If you’re just tuning in, this series of posts is about a self-improvement (ick, I hate that term) a self-developmental program that I’ve put myself through twice (yes, twice) which I call Five Years to Independence. If you follow the steps, yes it takes a long time, and no, no harm will come to you, and, in the end, you’ll feel better about your talents, and will find yourself accomplished in your field.
This plan works for you if you are not currently using your chosen talent to support yourself. If, for example, you are a fine painter, but you spend your days checking tax returns for a living, this plan is for you. I myself spent half of my life trapped in a succession of customer service positions before I figured this out.
Year One was all about not looking back, about honoring the road you’ve chosen so far in life. Although it hasn’t led you to success in using your talents, it has led you here.
And here is where we begin Year Two – The Year of Confidence.
Although this year is about self-confidence, it’s not the point. The point is that this year you express, believe, and totally embrace confidence in your talent. Whatever it is.
If you dance, this year you are a dancer. If you write, this year you are a writer. If you act… and so on and so forth.
This is the year in which you give yourself permission to be who you really are. You stop making excuses as to why you’re not that person: you be that person.
It takes a lot of courage to stop thinking of your talent as “well, you know, I dabble in watercolor,” and to instead refer to yourself as a painter. But that’s what this year is all about: courage.
One of the key parts of last year, the Year of No Regrets, was that, while you stopped kicking yourself for never having trusted your talent, you also worked in your art. You wrote, danced, sang, built a resume, even if only you saw it, which says Yes, I Am That Artist.
So, in fact, you are that artist. You write/dance/sing/act/paint. Whether anyone has seen it or not is immaterial. There is now artwork in the world, which you created. Artwork, by its very definition, is created by an artist. And that’s you.
Now, if you skipped the working part of the first year, it’s okay. Start working now. Now. Don’t put it off, or you’re wasting your time.
So, yes, that is who you are, but it does take some courage to admit it. You don’t have to go get new business cards. You need to tell your heart of hearts every single moment of every single day that you are a practicing artist. If you doubt yourself, look at the work you’ve accomplished.
If you are a performance artist, your road is both more difficult and more rewarding. A painter’s painting is a forever thing, but that moment when you catch the audience’s heart – that is fleeting. If you’ve ever done it, you feel it in your soul. For you to practice your art, you need to put yourself in front of an audience so you can pursue and perfect those moments. It’s harder, because you need to be cast in role – I recommend acting classes, either in workshops or for college credit, or both. Community Theater is always a very useful option. But it is so rewarding, because those little moments are such emotional highs. I know, spoken like a true actor. Funnily enough, I chose writing instead.
So, do you now what to do here in Year Two? Be it. Live it. Stop dreaming of it and become it.
So, here is my caveat about the Five Years to Independence: you have to define success. You don’t quite see my name on billboards, or find my novels at Barnes and Noble (yet).
Here’s how the plan has worked for me: I spent literally twenty-eight years in the customer service industry. Starting as a simple rep, I worked my way up through the ranks until I was a corporate director. When that company was sold, I moved on to become a partner in a service business, where my primary function was customer service. All the while, I dabbled in acting, in voice-over, in writing. The Great Recession crashed my business, and I found myself working part time at Bank of America helping people negotiate their failed mortgages.
It was then that I started this program, having built it as I went, and figured out who I really was, and what I wanted to be. I wrote my brains out in the Year of No Regrets, and sold my work for pennies to a number of online publishing sites. In that year, I became a writer.
In the next year, I decided to focus on a practical use for my writing, and learned how to be a technical writer. In the summer of that year, I got myself hired as a full time technical writer.
That, to me, is a huge success. I make my living, pay my bills, support my family, through my art as a writer. I no longer say that I dabble in writing – I do it every single day. It’s not prose or poetry, but it’s my art. And I love it.
To be sure, there’s much more to come – I have two novels, Droppington Place and Marigold’s End, that I’m marketing right now (for you marketers out there, did you notice how I slyly built two links right into this post? I know, I know, brilliance at it’s best).
The caveat, then, is that you must define your success. Getting to where you want to be requires mapping a road. Now that you are confident as an artist, you need to start thinking about where you can ply your trade.
That comes next, in the Year of Accomplishment!
Remember when you were a kid, and you had to do chin-ups at school? OMG, that was the worst thing ever! I always cheated and took a little jump up, so I always got a count of at least one. That second one was murder. And the third? Forget it. Same with push-ups. To this day, when I think of push-ups, I see the unmoving gym floor swim before my eyes…
Marketing is all about getting people to pay attention to you. You could make YouTube videos – tried that. You could make your own website – mine is right here: PhineasCaswell.com. You could make podcasts or something.
Whatever you do, you have to somehow drive traffic to it. That’s the key, the thing, the line over which you must cross to become the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling.
So, I’ve been posting oodles of posts about the famous pirate Blackbeard on my site (see the shameless marketing plug above). In particular, I’ve focused on his most notorious ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Beyond that cool name, there’s just not much information available about her, which I take as a personal challenge. Why?
Okay, sit down – you’re not gonna believe this. My next novel deeply involves Blackbeard. Whoa! Huh? Did not see that coming, right? Blackbeard was born in 1680. My character Phineas Caswell, hero of Marigold’s End, a Phineas Caswell Adventure, was born in 1694. Both were sailing around the Caribbean at the same time, 1706… See? Those gears are a’turnin’,right? Blackbeard was 26 – in command of privateers or something, right? And Phineas… well, I leave it to your imagination to link those guys together. Or, actually, to MY imagination…
Anyway, I just ran a Google search on the phrase Queen Anne’s Revenge. My website didn’t show up on the first page, or the third, or the seventh. I gave up on Page 15, certain that I’m just not out there in the world. In fact, my site would appear, if I could find it, after “great snacks for the kiddos” and “cool dog names.”
Just like in middle school, in gym class, it’s all a question of keeping one’s chin up. Someday. Someday I’ll cross some magical line and come up on the first page of a Google search. And then the angels will sing, and the heavens will open up, and somebody will click through, visit my site, and buy my books.
Or, I could win the Powerball. The odds seem to be about the same.
You’re a writer, you know how it is. You write your book. You push it to agents. Nobody wants to represent it because, well, maybe it’s not that good of a book. Maybe it IS good, but not marketable. That’s what Disney told me.
I had an agent tell me “you should publish this yourself.”
Did so. Well, published this book instead: Droppington Place. But then I sat down and rewrote the book in question, which I have yet to push out to the agently world. That book is this book: Marigold’s End.
Boom – did you see how I did that, there? You notice that here, in the top quarter of my post, I’ve already pitched two products. Boom. Huh? You, my friend, have already been marketed to. Zimzam, what was that? What did it take?
That’s Gorilla Marketing at its best.
Okay, so, contrary to the Gorilla Marketing tenet of “do no work,” I did a little bit of work, and now have something to show you: PhineasCaswell.com.
“Wha… what’s happening?” you exclaim, your mind a whirl of sudden marketing impact. Boom, two books, zimzam, a website, just like that. Whoa. Sit down, my friend, lest you explode or something.
All right, all seriousness aside, if you have a minute, click on the PhineasCaswell.com link – there it is again. Open it in a new window so that you don’t miss any of my glorious words here.
Why is this a big deal? Because, if you publish your own book, you are responsible for marketing it. You need a website to give yourself some bottom – make yourself available for your readers. And, unless you yourself are a web designer, this can be a challenge.
I gave up trying to be a web designer as well as a marketer, an author, a technical writer/illustrator, a videographer, all in addition to being a loving husband and father.
First was Open Element, which gives you free, open-source web design software, with templates that seem to be “responsive” – you know, works well on cell phones as well as desktops. But the software is so so so so so very hard to navigate, and the stuff it seems like you really need? Well, that’s in French, you see…
Next came, Serif, a British company that makes a terrific web design suite. It’s quite inexpensive, but not yet quite up to the challenge of responsive web design.
Then came Google Web Design, which worked for a minute, but I couldn’t figure out the language to navigate their templates… OMG, my website looked ghastly! Like a commercial for Google!
However, GoDaddy, who carries my hosting, has a nifty WordPress plug-in. As above, boom, zimzam, etc, now PhineasCaswell.com is a nice, responsive website, looking equally cool on desktops, tablets and phones (marketers take note: that was yet another link).
Brag about the site though I should, I’m passing on to you, my valued reader, that WordPress seems to be really good at making a responsive website. That means that you don’t have to be.
One little nasty surprise does seem to come with a WordPress plug-in: the SSL certificate. If you haven’t got one of these, your WordPress site actually scares viewers away with a big warning that your site is not safe. I paid $75 to get my certificate. If you don’t pay the $75, you appear to the world as a creepy underworld scum, out to steal passwords. Seems as if there’s a piratical side to fighting pirates that just might be worse…
But you, my marketing self-publishing writer friend, that’s the big news for you, should you be looking for an easy way to build a backend for your authorial effort.
To those who were paying attention, I dropped Phineas Caswell as my nom de plume, and have published both novels under my own name. Not such a big deal for you, but a whopper for me!
You run marathons for the joy of running, right? Surely it can’t be for the prize money. But you don’t devote your life to it, either. What do I do? Oh, I’m a marathon runner – oh, and I also work as a nuclear scientist, you know, during the week.
But, you’re a writer. You know how it goes. Writing is like breathing – like running. When it flows it’s golden, and when it doesn’t, you worry about getting it flowing. Writing is… everything.
But, everything else is everything, too. Somehow, some way, we all find a way to weasel in a little time to write – as I’m writing this, my daughter’s getting a cavity filled.
But, where running is glorious simply for the sake of running, writing doesn’t achieve its true glory until it’s been read. Until you transform someone’s thinking with your ideas, writing is just a mental exercise.
You know the difference between writers and wannabe writers, right? One does, while the other wishes he did. Writing tons of stuff and packing it away, never to be read, doesn’t do it, either. If no one reads your stuff, you’re not writing, just expressing.
So, what can the prize be? I am truly blessed to work as a professional videographer, writing and telling industrial stories. I am married to a terrific woman, have three successful, wonderful children, and live in a great house in a beach town. Hello?
For all that, my writer’s eye is still attracted to that shining bauble of intellectual immortality, that celestial club that includes Shakespeare and Hemingway, Milton, and, yes, Rowling. That club that persists far beyond the wash of generations.
Isn’t that why you write? Aren’t your ideas larger than your life? Don’t your characters extend beyond you?
If you impress somebody – change their mind, make them laugh, bring them an image they’d never seen – is that it? Are you done?
Or are you like a machine, an authorial savant, cranking and cranking out scenes and images, ad infinitum?
Is there a prize – a golden carrot of immortality? Does it show up one day in the mail? And, if you got it, could you stop writing?
These are the things that keep me up at night… well, that and seeking the flow… and making sure the mortgage is paid and the plumbing doesn’t leak and getting the dog’s teeth fixed and paying the taxes and that odd ticking when I turn the car and my son’s upcoming wedding and finding a good school for my daughter…
You’re a writer. You know how it goes.