Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part Three – Newsletters

Everybody hates junk mail. Our inboxes are flooded with marketing from every website we’ve ever given our email address to, and many others we haven’t. We delete most of these emails without ever opening them. So why on earth would we want to create a newsletter for our business?

Newsletters are:

  • a direct link between you and your audience
  • a way to build trust in your business
  • an opportunity to establish yourself as an expert
  • 100% owned by YOU

The purpose and importance of the newsletter is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of marketing for businesses. But building a mailing list is the single most powerful marketing tool you can use. Not only are newsletters more than 40% better at converting browsers into customers than social media, it is a tool that you actually own. If you’ve built your business through Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, you are vulnerable to changes in their policies and algorithms that directly affect your business’s visibility. Your newsletter belongs to you, 100%.

By now, you should know who your audience is, and you should be providing them with valuable content via social media and your website or blog. But your newsletter is where you are going to convert your followers into readers and customers.

If you’re wondering how to build a mailing list and what kind of content you need to put in your newsletters, this article will help you out!

Optimizing Your Platforms Part 3: Newsletters

How Do I Build a Newsletter Mailing List?

The hardest part of having a newsletter is convincing yourself to start it before you have anyone to send it to. But it’s important to get yourself set up before you start building your list so that when you do have a small list started, you aren’t fumbling around with back end stuff at the same time as you’re writing. So, even if you are not ready to start your mailing list, you should make an account with MailChimp, MailerLite, or ConvertKit or another newsletter delivery service. Familiarize yourself with their site and send yourself some practice emails.

Before you have a list you can:

  • Write a welcome letter that will be sent automatically to your subscribers once they sign up for your list
  • Set up a template for your emails so that your mailings have a consistent look
  • Set up a Newsletter Opt-In pop up for your website or blog (your newsletter service will walk you through how to do this, it’s easy!)
  • Brainstorm ideas for a freebie you can use to encourage newsletter sign ups: a short story or novella, a how-to manual, a discount coupon for your shop; there are lots of options!

Filtering In

Your platforms all work together to filter your most engaged and interested audience members toward your most personal and intimate communications.

  • Social media has a broad reach, but tends to have quick, surface engagement rather than deep connections
  • Website/Blog, usually a narrower reach, but audience is directly engaged in your content and committed to more than just a scroll and like
  • Newsletter, direct personal access to your most engaged and interested followers, near limitless potential for growth

Each step in this filtering process brings your ideal audience closer to you. Your newsletter is where you build trust and intimacy, establish yourself as an expert, and can make calls to action. This is where your followers are most likely to be converted into loyal fans and repeat customers.

What Should I Write About in My Newsletter?

Remember that your newsletter isn’t about you. It’s about your customer. How can you provide value to them?

Newsletters are never to be used for a hard sell. They are an opportunity for you to give your audience updates on your business, products, and services. However, these updates should be written more as a letter from and interesting and helpful friend than a sales pitch. Make use of your voice, your youness. Show your customers a side of you that they don’t get to see on social media on your blog.

Remember that intimacy has value. Sharing details about your work and life with your newsletter subscribers that they can’t get anywhere else is a way to build intimacy. They become a part of your inner circle, and you should treat them as such.

Your newsletter subscribers should the first people you tell about upcoming sales and shows and they should get exclusive deals that you don’t offer to anyone else. You should provide links to free/discounted content from other creative businesses like yours, so that every email has something for them, even if you don’t have something to sell them (yet).

There are lots of articles out there that give ideas for what to write in your newsletter. There’s no set formula to follow. In fact, if your readers sense that you’re using a formula they’re likely to unsubscribe. They don’t want cut and paste newsletter copy, they want you. You need to find a way to give them a little bit of yourself with every letter.

Your newsletter content will be deeper than your social media sound bytes and more personal than your blog posts. But they should still tie in to those key attributes/interests you’ve ascribed to your ideal customer. You are writing your newsletters for that one ideal reader out there, just like you are creating for them.

Newsletter Builders

If you have some kind of freebie to offer, building your newsletter will be much easier. There are many websites out there to help you. If you write a short story or novella, or a how-to or self-help e-book a site like BookFunnel can help you connect with other writers in your genre/topic so that you can team up to offer even more value you your subscribers. Other giveaways can be distributed through KingSumo or similar sites. These newsletter building sites are worth exploring well before you’re ready to start writing your newsletter, just to get a feel for how everything works together. You don’t have to have everything figured out yet to start!

Conclusion

I hope this series has helped you to see how all of your platforms can work together instead of competing with one another, how you can share and adapt content between platforms to save you time and stress, and how filtering in your audience is the key to growing your customer base.

If you need a refresher check out the Creative Business 101 posts on Optimizing Your Social Media and Optimizing Your Website/Blog.

If there is anything you would like me to explore in greater detail, please let me know in the comments! I’d love to brainstorm with you on making your creative content the best it can be. Thanks for reading!

Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part Two – Websites and Blogs

Websites are considered the cornerstone of a successful business. This is your virtual storefront, the first place you want people to find when they come looking for you.

But what do you put on your website? Should you have a blog? How do you leave a trail of digital cookie crumbs so that your ideal audience can find you in the deep, dark, forest of the Internet?

If you’ve read my last Creative Business 101 post, Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together, Part One: Social Media then you’re already on the right track.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at:

  • how to get the most out of your website,
  • why, YES, you should have a blog, and;
  • what kind of creative content is best for your website/blog.
Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part Two – Websites and Blogs

Websites

No matter what kind of creative product you produce, you should have a website. Your website is your “home base” where interested people are going to come to find out more about you and your work. It will take a little bit of work to set it up, but after that initial effort, website maintenance is pretty simple and straightforward.

Deciding what to put on your website in the first place can be more challenging. What does your website need?

Website Basics

The landing page of your website should have:

  • A description of you and your creative work
  • Your business contact info
  • Purchase Links: either your own store or the online stores where customers can purchase your work
  • Reading Links: to your own blogs, and any other places you’ve been published online

How you design your website will be largely dependent on the kind of creative work you produce. A graphic designer might want to have an interactive landing page that showcases their talents, a writer might want to display their latest release, an actor or model will want to have a professional headshot front and centre.

Less is more unless you are a professional website designer. Start simple and expand as you get more comfortable and as your needs grow. If your needs exceed the basic tools you get with your website provider, consider hiring someone to design it for you. Nothing is more frustrating for your (future) customer than a poorly designed website. You don’t want them to come looking for you and then turn right back around and walk out the virtual door because your storefront is a mess.

To Blog or Not to Blog…

It’s not really a question. The answer is, Yes! Start a blog!

What Is a Blog?

Blogging began as a kind of online, public journaling. In fact, many people still use it this way and that’s great. There are rich communities of casual bloggers on pretty much every platform out there. Like on other kinds of social media, bloggers follow and interact with one another, sharing their stories and experiences with the world.

The difference is, the blog is a long form communication. People who read blogs are prepared to spend some time with you. And this is what makes it an ideal form of communication for small business owners.

Types of Blogs

I’m going to draw some lines in the sand here and say there are three main types of blogs:

  • Personal Blogs: These are a series of journal-like articles about a person’s personal life experiences. They may include anecdotes, lessons, personal updates with pictures, and are usually written in a casual style.
  • Professional Blogs: These are themed blogs that provide a series of articles written to inform and entertain, on a particular subject. Food and travel blogs, book review blogs, parenting and lifestyle blogs, for example. Professional blogs are usually monetized via advertising and affiliate links. Professional Bloggers make their living by blogging.
  • Business Blogs: These blogs are designed to provide additional value to a business’s customers, beyond the product or service that they offer. These blog articles demonstrate the business owner’s expertise in their field, but usually are not selling anything directly.

Creative Business owners can draw from all three “types” of blog styles in order to build their online brand. If you are feeling resistant to the idea of starting your own blog, don’t worry. There are lots of ways to use blogging as a tool to enhance your creative business and transform followers into customers. We’ll find something that works for you.

Blogging for Creative Businesses

Business blogging is different from personal and professional blogging. While there is some cross-over–you can certainly entertain your readers with personal anecdotes and recommend products you love–the difference is in the purpose of the blog itself.

Your business blog should:

Your business blog should not:

  • Be too personal or unprofessional
  • Attempt to “sell” anything

The ultimate purpose of a blog for the creative business entrepreneur is to produce creative content that draws in your audience and makes them curious about your work.

How To Use Blogging to Build Your Audience

In the last post, Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part One – Social Media, we discussed how you can use your social media platforms, like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, to seek out and engage directly with your audience.

Your social media feeds should be a curated collection of bite-sized creative content that makes people want to “follow” you for more: Quotes you love, interesting photos, infographics, and strong captions. Each platform has a different feel, and you have to work with what works for you.

These little bits and pieces are the cookie crumbs you use to lure in future customers and get them to take the next step in building a relationship with you.

Social media moves quickly, so if something you post doesn’t get a lot of traction, that’s okay. Try again with something new tomorrow. When you DO find something that seems to click with your audience, you have a blog idea.

Think of your blog as a place to expand upon the ideas that your audience is interested in:

  • Ideas for Writers: books you love, either in reviews or top ten lists; artists, artwork, or music you use for inspiration; discussion of real-world topics that apply to your writing, or themes that you explore; character interviews, short stories, and trivia about your books; detailed posts about your writing process; progress updates
  • Ideas for Artists: local gallery reviews; behind the scenes in your studio; how-to articles for people who want to learn how to do what you do; a start-to-finish look at your artistic process; work and shows by other artists similar to you; an interview with one of your mentors; the story behind one of your favourite pieces

Once someone decides to visit your blog, they have already committed to spending a certain amount of time to learning about you and what you have to say. Use this moment to let your followers to get to know you in more depth than they get from your social media posts.

This is the next step in your relationship. Now you are starting to build intimacy. You blog is where you begin to convert followers into fans.

Filtering In

Each step in your platform is designed to filter in your ideal audience members. Many people who visit your social media feeds are just there for a quick like or comment and never take the relationship any further. That’s just fine. Keep interacting with them. Some people are slower to warm up than others.

People who visit your blog are naturally going to be more invested in you and your work. Open up about yourself and your process here. Show your work. Share the things you love and which your ideal audience will love too. The key is to be purposeful with what you share. You might really love true-crime documentaries but if you write sweet romance, the blog isn’t the right place to dig into this passion. A list of your favourite places to go on a first date, though, would be great!

Making Connections

Your blog and your social media accounts will work together. You can see which tidbits and cookie crumbs generate the most engagement and expand on those ideas on the blog. You can also share your blog posts on social media to create two way traffic.

Sharing your blog posts to social media gives more opportunities for others to like, share, and engage with your ideas. If you share your latest blog post to Facebook and one of your followers shares your post to their personal feed or a group, you automatically expand your reach. This allows more likeminded people to find your blog, and to become a part of your audience.

Remember that you can recycle content when you are too busy to write a new post. Use Instagram to highlight a past post that was really popular, just update the your smart link in your bio to put the featured link up top. You can repurpose popular Instagram posts into blog articles without having to do a deep dive into researching a totally new topic.

Optimizing your platforms and getting them working together is all about how to “work smarter not harder.” When your platforms are in sync it’s actually easier to keep all of them updated with fresh content than if you are trying to create unique content for each individual platform.

Next Steps

When people visit your blog, you can invite them in to the next stage of your business relationship: signing up for your mailing list.

The newsletter is where the real magic happens.

We’ll break it down in Part Three of the Platform Optimization series, next week!

Conclusion

I hope this helps clear up the purpose of blogging for creative business owners. Have you resisted blogging up until now? Or do you already have a blog? What have been your biggest successes and your biggest flops? What do you need help with?

Ask your questions below, and drop a link to your blog in the comments!

Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together – Part One: Social Media

Competition in the Creative Business world can be tough, so don’t make things harder by competing with yourself!

To run a successful business, most people will operate on multiple platforms in order to maximize exposure and attract a larger audience. This sounds great on paper, but without proper planning, all of these various platforms can end up competing against one another and causing your workload to grow exponentially with every platform you add!

In Creative Business 101 we have learned:

In the next three posts, we’re going to take all of this a step further. We have killed some self-doubt, identified our audience, and learned how to provide value to our audience with great creative content. Now, what do with do with it?

These optimization hack articles will tackle the following questions you might have about how to optimize your platforms to build a better creative business:

  • Where is the best place to put each type of content?
  • How do you get your platforms working together instead of competing for attention?
  • How do you use your platforms to draw in your “true fans” and build intimacy?

Are you ready?

We’re going to break this up into three sections:

  • Part One: Social Media
  • Part Two: Blogs
  • Part Three: Newsletters

If you don’t have all of these platform types up and running, don’t panic! This article will demonstrate the potential role each of these platforms plays in your ultimate goal to convert strangers into fans.

If all you have at the moment are your socials, that’s okay. That’s all we’re talking about today. I do want you to start thinking about how to grow your business, so be open to setting up a blog and newsletter in the future. I’ll be sharing why this particular trifecta of platforms is so powerful for creative business entrepreneurs.

Part One: Social Media

Social Media is one of the easiest ways to start interacting with your audience. Before you have a website, blog, or newsletter, chances are you’ve been hanging out on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or something similar. Social media is probably the best place to meet your audience, and begin to develop a personal relationship with them. Let’s take a look at what makes social media so powerful.

Social medias are:

  • informal and friendly
  • fast paced
  • community oriented
  • quick to update
  • easy to share

I won’t discuss individual platforms here, as the benefits of each essentially come down to the above stated list. Your preferred social media accounts (whether it’s one or all of them) can all be used in the same way. You want to use social media to provide great creative content AND to actively seek out and engage with your audience.

How to Use Engagement to Boost Your Social Media Following

While a website, blog, or newsletter can be a bit of a one-sided affair with you as the talking head, social media is all about the back and forth conversation. Social media naturally forms itself into tight-knit communities of likeminded people, whether that’s through Groups on Facebook, or tags on Instagram and Twitter, it is very easy to find people who are interested in the same things as you are interested in. And it’s easy to find people who are interested in the things you make.

Because you know your audience, you can use social media to engage directly with the people you know will love your work. Check out the feeds of accounts that catch your eye. Comment on their posts. Ask questions. Introduce yourself, not with a sales pitch, but with a few details about you that might connect with their interests. Have genuine conversations.

When you are interested in other people, they naturally become interested in you. Use this fact to your advantage by forging connections and friendships with potential audience members.

How to Use Creative Content to Build Followers

When you engage with social media users, they are likely going to come check out your feeds too. This is where your content is either going to draw them in or turn them away. You might have had a great conversation on someone else’s post, but if they come to your feed and see a disjointed collection of personal photos and memes, they’re probably not going to click that follow button.

The Best Creative Content for Social Media

Social media moves fast. You want bite sized information that people can read and react to quickly. An interesting image, a quippy caption, an engaging question, these are the things that people are drawn to on social feeds. If you can hook someone’s interest in the first line of text, many will stick around to read a longer caption, too. Experiment with what types of posts get the best conversations going and stick with this.

Beware of “like” traps. Some content inspires a quick scroll by and like, but nothing more. “Likes” are the least valuable kind of social media interaction. They are little more than a social proof that other people are interested in your post.

What you want is dialogue.

How Do I Use Social Media to Create Dialogue With My Audience?

If all you post are pretty pictures, or other people’s quotes, you are unlikely to get much actual interaction on your posts. Visual artists know this phenomenon well. Beautiful feeds full of artwork might get a lot of likes, but people tend not to comment. It’s pretty, but it’s not personal. You can’t build a relationship with scroll-by-“likers.” There has to be a story that bridges a connection between you and your audience.

How do you tell a story?

Have a Theme.

Theme’s are a kind of story. On a very visual platforms, like Instagram, it’s important that your feed have a cohesive visual look. You can achieve this by sticking to one filter, or using a particular colour scheme. This helps followers identify your posts quickly when they are scrolling through their own feeds. On less visual platforms, you can still have a theme in that your post cohesive content and use a consistent voice. Your theme is a story about you. People should be able to scroll through your posts and have a strong sense of who you are.

Show Your Face.

You are the narrator of your story. You don’t want an entire feed full of selfies, but you do need to show your face often enough that someone checking out your feed for the first time has an immediate idea of who you are. Chose pictures that show off your personality, whether that is serious and contemplative, or whimsical, or completely off the wall. Break up these snapshots with other content, but make sure that there are at least one or two photos of yourself displaying to browsers at any given time. When people see your content, you want them to picture you with it. You are the most important part of your story.

Micro-Blog.

Micro-blogging is like the flash fiction of the blogging world. Mini stories about you. You can treat your socials as a kind of micro-blog. Try new ideas here, test out what gets traction and what doesn’t, and then use that information as material for expansion on your blog or newsletter.

Posting a link to your latest blog post is a great way to optimize your platforms, but if you don’t engage your audience’s interest with a caption, they’re going to scroll right past your link without reading the headline. Engagement is key to converting followers into fans.

Whether you are sharing your own original content or you are sharing inspirational content from someone else, NEVER let it sit there without a caption. Connect it to a personal experience, ask a question of your audience, grab their attention. Share your story!

The Ultimate Goal of Social Media Accounts for the Creative Business Owner

If you only have social media and no other platforms your goals are these:

  1. Engage with potential audience members in their feeds.
  2. Create a feed that inspires engagement from casual browsers.
  3. Have an easily recognizable “look” to your content, which highlights who you are as a creator.

Discussion

I hope this breakdown of how best to use your social media platforms has helped you to understand how to get the most out of these indispensable creative business tools.

Do you have any other questions about social media use as a creative entrepreneur? Which ideas would you like to see me expand on in the future? What is your favourite social media platform for your business? Let me know in the comments!

Next Steps: The Blog

Ultimately, you want all of your social media posts to direct your audience back to your blog or website. Blogging is an extremely effective tool at the hands of any creative business owner. Next week, we’re going to talk about websites, and specifically the inarguable power of the blog.

Why? Your website/blog is the next level of engagement with your followers. This is where you move past the “trigger finger” reactions and lightening fast comments of social media, and narrow your audience down to those who are more deeply engaged with your story.

These followers will browse your online store and linger over long-form articles because they are genuinely interested in you. Followers who make it to your website or blog are more invested in your work than those on social media.

You just leveled up.

Stay tuned for next week’s Creative Business 101: Optimization Hacks to Get Your Platforms Working Together–Part Two: The Blog

The Power of the Ugly Draft: How I Wrote a Novel in 22 Days

I just wrote 60K words in three weeks and no one is more surprised than me! We are 22 days into NaNoWriMo and this morning I typed “THE END” on the first draft of my third novel, Weirfall: The Timekeepers’ War Book 3.

Figuring out my process as a writer has taken years of fumbling and frustration. My first novel, The Timekeepers’ War took nearly ten years to get from concept to published manuscript. Not only is is the first book I have every published, it was the first book I ever wrote. There are not many authors who get to see their first novels published, and I am forever grateful to be one of them.

It wasn’t easy. My drafting process was painfully slow and I ended up having to cut 50K words from my first bloated over-written draft. I made a lot of mistakes. I am still making mistakes. And every time I make a mistake I learn something new.

So how did I go from writing one book in ten years to writing a book in less than a month? Here is what has worked for me:

  • Plan ahead
  • Study craft
  • Let go of perfectionism
  • Make time

Plan for Success

Whether or not you consider yourself a plotter, a pantser, or a something in between, having some kind of a plan is going to make your life easier.

I have always been a bit of a pantser. Drafting is like “flying by the seat of my pants.” One of the reasons my first book took so long from start to finish is that I didn’t really know what my story was about. I floated through plot ideas, exploring hundreds of possibilities, and struggling to connect the dots in a cohesive way.

Exploratory writing is great. Many people find a lot of joy in this process. But if you really want to finish a book, you will benefit from having a plan. It doesn’t have to be a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown with character backstories and 100K of world-building files cluttering up your desktop. At the very least, you should learn how to outline a novel.

I resisted planning and outlining for years before I finally read a book that made everything click. If you like to plan, you probably already have a favourite craft book. But for those of you who really don’t want to let go of the explosive creative joy of pantsering your way through a draft, I highly recommend K.M. Weiland’s Outlining Your Novel.

Weiland showed me how to put all my exploratory creative energy into the outlining process, so that the drafting process became faster and more organized. You won’t lose any of your creative mojo, I promise. You will save time and effort with a good plan.

Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland is a life saver!

Study Your Craft

Learning how to outline is a great segue into learning the basics of story structure. I have always been a great lover of story. I read a lot, and I read widely. I have a good instinctual sense for when stories feel “right.” Many writers are like this.

Somehow, for me, this did not translate into a strong working knowledge of story structure. How to properly structure a novel is something that I have had to learn. I spent hours re-structuring my first book after realizing that I’d gotten the pacing all wrong.

I re-wrote my second book three different times before I realized I had messed up the overall structure of the trilogy and was trying to jump too far ahead of myself with book two.

Studying writing craft can be intimidating. There are thousands of books and courses available that purport to teach you how to write “the right way.” I recommend avoiding all of the nitty gritty details of line editing at first. Don’t worry too much about show vs. tell or grammar or fillers and filters. First, you have to get the structure and the character arc in the right place.

I recommend Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, both of which use screenwriting techniques to help writers understand universal principles of story telling, using examples from popular culture that are accessible and easy to understand.

K.M. Weiland’s Structuring your Novel and Creating Character Arcs were indispensable next steps in my own craft study. I find Weiland’s work extremely well organized and easy to cross reference. Creating Character Arcs saved my bacon when I got off track drafting book three. I read each relevant chapter as I was drafting and used the character arc to drive me through my plot points when I felt I was wandering. I am confident that my third book will be my best yet, simply because I put character development front and centre.

With a better understanding of structure, a solid outline in place, and a stronger sense of Ghost’s character arc, writing Weirfall has been a dream in comparison to my struggles with the first two books.

Let Go of Perfectionism

If you want to be a great writer, you have to stop trying to be a good writer. Let go of perfectionism. Let yourself be messy and make mistakes. Write badly. Dump all of your ideas on the page, even if they sound stupid.

A badly written but complete first draft will make your revisions faster and easier. It seems counter intuitive, I know. But all those poorly written sentences–rife with cliches and repetition and placeholders for words you couldn’t think of–act as a memory trigger when you come back to your second draft work. If you have stuck to your outline and have a decent macro-structure in place, revisions will be a piece of cake.

You didn’t waste time getting the imagery perfect in the first draft, but you didn’t lost any of your wonderful ideas, either. Now that you have time to play with the language, you can decide which images to keep and perfect, and which are no longer necessary. You can replace your telling with showing where you want the reader to linger and you can cut the over-written filler where you need to speed things up.

The best part is, you can do this without shedding any tears as you “kill your darlings,” because you haven’t spent hours and hours perfecting and getting emotionally attached to beautiful sentences that simply don’t fit.

Once your structure is in place and your draft is complete, you can add to your craft knowledge with books like Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. There are hundreds of great craft books out there. Swain’s Techniques is my favourite, even if it’s a little old-fashioned, particularly for the genre fiction writer. He taught me about the evils of simultaneity and how it killed my pacing in book one. The way he breaks down sentence and scene structure completely changed they way I write.

But you can’t edit a blank page, as they say. And you have to let go of you perfectionism if you want to finish that draft.

Make Time to Write

One of the most common complaints I hear from other writers is that it is impossible to find time to write. There is this idea that you have to sit down at your computer and slave for 8-12 hours a day in order to finish a book in any kind of reasonable time.

This is a lie!

I wrote a 60K novel in 22 days writing for 2 hours a day.

Finding an “extra” two hours a day isn’t necessarily easy. I wake up at 4am every day in order to get my hours in before the rest of the house wakes up. Then, for the rest of the day I am home-schooling three kids, bookkeeping for our trucking company, writing blog posts, updating social media, and doing my business writing (aka the “real job”). I am in bed by 9:30pm every day.

Whether you are an early bird or a night owl, finding time at the beginning or end of your day is usually the easiest. Be sure to either go to bed earlier, or let yourself sleep later, so that you aren’t sacrificing sleep. If that’s not possible, perhaps you have to write on your lunch break. Whatever works for you, what is important is sticking to it.

Have a schedule. Sit down and write whether you “feel like it” or not. You are not waiting for inspiration, you are writing because you have a plan. You will learn to make your muse come to you. The more frequently you write, the easier it gets.

Last year, when I did NaNoWriMo it was my first “win.” I spent 3-4 hrs every day fighting against my internal editor to get the necessary 1667 words a day to hit 50K in November. That draft, after two months of revisions and edits, become Ghostlights: The Timekeepers’ War Book Two.

This year, I wrote 2-3K a day in a 2hr window without breaking a sweat. The early morning quite probably helped. More than anything, though, keeping a regular schedule helped my brain jump into productivity mode that much faster each day. In the end, I was flying through my words faster than I’ve ever written before.

So, That’s How I Wrote a 60K Novel in Three Weeks

Is it pretty? No. But it has potential to be. In another 20 days I will have Weirfall revised and ready for beta readers. I will have finished Book Three before Ghostlights is even released. This is the publishing schedule I could only dream of when I started this journey more than a decade ago.

There are novelists who blow my productivity out of the water. I aspire to release 6 books a year some day. After my success with outlining and ugly drafting last year, and recreating that success this year, I’m ready to commit to a more rigorous writing schedule.

Doubtless I have more mistakes to make and hurdles to drag myself over, but I’m ready to handle it.

Conclusion

What is your biggest hurdle in drafting and revising your work? Do you think any of these tips could help you take your process to the next level? Let me know in the comments!

Top 10 Bookish Gifts from Etsy Independent Sellers for the 2020 Holiday Season

Top 10 Bookish Gifts from Etsy Independent Sellers for the 2020 Holiday Season

The holiday season is fast approaching, and chances are there is a bookworm on your list that is proving troublesome to buy for. Yes, books are always a great gift idea. But it’s impossible to know what they’ve read and what they haven’t without spoiling the surprise.

Besides, most book lovers have a TBR pile that is longer than their expected life-span. New books can be a bitter sweet gift to receive for the overwhelmed reader.

So, what else do you get for the bookworm in your life?

I’ll be doing a short gift guide series for everyone who is doing their shopping online this year. And we’re going to start with independent sellers because a) we want to support as many creative business owners as we can, and b) hand-made gifts can take longer to ship!

Today, I’ve collected some of my favourite bookish gifts from independent sellers on Etsy to make your gift buying a little easier this year.

#1 Bookish Bracelet

“She is too fond of books and it has turned her brain.” Louisa May Alcott quote bracelet from Jezebel Charms

This delightful bracelet with a quote from Louisa May Alcott’s semi-autobiographical novel Work: A Story of Experience is something any book-loving ladies in your life will appreciate. While the scene in the story from which this quote has been pulled is actually quite tragic: Christie Devon falls asleep reading by candlelight, accidently sets fire to her attic room, and is subsequently fired by her cantankerous employers. Yet the forbidden nature of reading as a woman remains a thing to be embraced by modern readers. Check out Jezebel Charms Etsy shop for more bookish jewelry and other fun quotes!

#2 Book Dragon T-Shirt

“I’m a book dragon, not a worm.” T-shirt from Koala Tee Clothing

Perhaps the bookish person in your life is much too voracious a reader to consider themselves a mere bookworm. If you know a book dragon, check out this cool unisex t-shirt from Koala Tee Clothing!

#3a Personalized Leather Bookmark

This beautiful, personalized leather bookmark is available from Anise Leathers.

Unless your reader is a spine-cracking, dog-earring misfit, they probably love bookmarks. A personalized leather bookmark is a great gift idea for any classically minded bookworm. Anise Leathers has a wonderful selection to choose from!

#3b Personalized Wire Bookmark

A stunning personalized wire bookmark from By Kauri.

If leather is not your thing, but you still love the idea of a classic, personalized bookmark check out By Kauri. This shop has a gorgeous selection of wire bookmark creations–from names and quotes, to cute kitties and mermaids–to suit your bookworm’s personality.

#4 Bool-Lover’s Face Mask

How about a bookish face mask for the readers and teachers on your holiday list? This fun, fitted mask is from EmiberbShop on Etsy.

It’s the break-out fashion accessory we never saw coming! This 2020 Holiday Buying Guide would not be complete without a stylish book themed facemask. EmiberbShop on Etsy has many fun, fitted mask designs to choose from.

#5 Bookworm Art Print

This beautiful bookworm print by artist Jorey Hurley will be a great addition to any reading nook!

Readers always have a special place they like to read best of all. Maybe it’s their bedroom, or a cozy book nook, or even a personal library! Help your bookworm add a little dazzle to their reading space with this beautiful art print by Jorey Hurley, sure to brighten up any space!

#6 Handknit Wool Socks

Cozy handknit socks are a great gift for everyone on your list, not just the readers! These beauties are from Agnes Felt in Lithuania

Personally, I think there is no greater winter gift than handknit wool socks. Readers especially will appreciate the warmth of foot cozies to protect against the inevitable frozen toes caused by an epic read-in session. Bundle up your favourite reader with a good book and warm toes, and maybe you’ll see them again in the spring time! These lovely socks are from Lithuanian fiber artist, Agnes Felt.

#7 Reading Planner

A reading journal and planner for the dedicated book worm, from StellaBookishArt.

Serious bookworms know that the only way to tackle the TBR pile in earnest is to make a plan and stick to it. If you have a truly dedicated reader on your list this holiday season, consider getting them a reading journal in which they can plan their literary adventures and reflect upon their reading in one place. This beautiful design is from StellaBookishArt.

#8 Literary Candles

Do you know someone who loves candles and books? Why not buy a book-themed scented candle for that special person on your list? Wonderland is from BookishlyUK on Etsy.

Candles are one of the most inviting additions to the winter holiday home. There is something undeniably romantic about reading by candlelight, eye-strain and potential housefires notwithstanding. There are a million candles to choose from, and giving a candle as a gift can seem to be a bit of a last-minute “I didn’t know what else to get” kind of gift. But a literary themed candle based on your bookworm’s favourite book is both charming and thoughtful! BookishlyUK has many classic-themed bookish candles to choose from.

#9 Bookish Mugs

“Go Away, I’m reading” mug by Mirkwood Scribes.

Coffee or tea? No matter what your bookworm is drinking, it is guaranteed to taste better in a bookish mug. “Go away, I’m reading” mugs (and some more colourful varieties on the theme) are very popular amongst the booknerd crowd. Mirkwood Scribes has a variety of great mugs and other merch to choose from.

#10 Book Lamp

This wooden covered, folding book lamp would be a wonderful addition to any book nook! From Artesania Maderas

There is something delightful about a reading lamp disguised as a book. This beautiful, handmade lamp has a folding wooden cover and paper pages lit from within by an LED light. It would make a whimsical addition to any bedroom or book nook! This piece is from Spanish artisan Artesania Maderas.

Conclusion

I hope this guide has helped you to find some unique gift ideas for the readers on your list this year. If the particular pieces I’ve chosen don’t appeal to you or your bookworm, fear not! There are literally thousands of handmade bookish gifts available from independent sellers on Etsy.

Please consider buying your gifts from creative businesses this season. 2020 has been difficult for everyone. Buying a handmade gift is sure to please not only the recipient of your present, but is guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of an artist or artisan who may be struggling this year.

Do you have a favourite bookish item you think others would love? Let me know in the comments!

100 Ways to Die in Space – # 1 Going too Slowly

Good morning! Today I’m sharing a fun series from another writer friend of mine called “100 Ways to Die in Space.” These articles are great for readers and writers of the Sci-Fi genre and might just prove to be a jumping off point for a new story! Be sure to drop Simon a comment and let him know which way to die was your favourite. And make a suggestion for future posts!

Welcome to 100 Ways to Die in Space Hi there bloggies, welcome to a new and fun little feature – 100 ways to die in space. Taking inspiration from a …

100 Ways to Die in Space – # 1 Going too Slowly

Creative Business 101: The Best Way to Create Valuable Content and Build Your Audience

Creative Business 101: The Best Way to Create Valuable Content and Build Your Audience

Every creative entrepreneur wants a bigger, more engaged audience. We want more eyes on our content, more people sharing our stuff with their friends, and ultimately, more buyers for our work. But how to you go from knowing who your ideal audience is to actually building that audience for your platform?

It’s all about valuable content.

If you are new to this series, you can check out the other articles here:

The Best Way to Create Valuable Content and Build Your Audience

If you are reading this piece, you should already have answered the question “Who am I creating for?” and have a pretty good idea of who your target audience or ideal audience is. If not, make sure you read the last post for Tips on How to Identify Your Audience.

In this article we will discuss:

  • How to provide value to your target audience
  • How to take what you know about your ideal audience and apply that to ideas for creative content
  • How to target multi-genre or multi-interest audiences in a cohesive way

How To Provide Value to Your Audience

When you’re starting a creative business and brainstorming ideas for what to put in your newsletters, blogs, or social media posts, it can be very overwhelming. Many entrepreneurs put off building their platforms because of this. We know what we’re “supposed to” do. But when it comes to actually doing it, we draw a blank.

If you have been dragging your feet over taking those first steps to building your audience, I have a pretty good idea why.

You don’t have anything to say.

First of all, that’s a lie. But what if I told you that your content is not really about you, anyway. Your content is about the value you provide to your audience. In order to provide valuable content for your audience, you have to stop thinking about yourself and think about them.

Why are they interested in your work? What other interests might they have that connect to your work?

Valuable content can be entertaining, educational, inspirational, or motivational. You do not have to pull ideas out of thin air. You can do things that have been done before. Find inspiration in the articles and posts that you read and love, then figure out how to make that idea work for your audience.

Valuable content is all about your audience. It is something you curate with them in mind. You are the merely the glue that holds it interesting bits together.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
–Helen Keller

The Easiest Way to Create Content Catered to Your Audience

Don’t try to reinvent the wheel here. The internet has been around for a long time, and we have a pretty good idea of what kinds of articles we are drawn to when we have time to kill. And you don’t have to be some kind of super genius algorithm hacker to figure it out. Here are some easy ways to apply basic blogging techniques to your own creative content:

1. Lists

Have you ever read a Top Ten list? Lists are a great way to start producing creative content. You can make a list about anything that your audience might find interesting or entertaining. Anything, that is, that connects your audience to your work.

If you are a romance writer, you won’t probably want to post a list about the funniest ways to die. As entertaining as you might personally find this topic, it’s not about you. It’s about your audience. You want to drive the right kind of traffic to your platform.

Depending on the kind of romance you write, you could to a list of everything from romantic getaways and best valentine’s day gifts, to hilarious safe words and underrated sex toys. What would your audience like?

2. How-Tos

No matter who you are, there are some things that you are good at. Have you ever followed an online How-To type article? Did it work? Was it a terrible fail? Either way, you have material.

The How-To is a great way to bring your audience into your creative process, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Many people in your audience will be amateurs themselves, and targeting burgeoning creatives is a great way to build one leg of your platform.

If you are an artist, for example you can do an How-To for basic skills in your craft. Or you can share something that you’ve tried that didn’t work out with a “How-Not-To” twist. Or go all in on a fail and share “How to Ruin a Painting in 5 Easy Steps.”

3. Inspiration/Motivation

This is one of the most popular type of blog post, and you can spin it a number of different ways.

If you have recently overcome a challenge, share a personal anecdote and a favourite quote to let your audience know that you are in fact human. Motivational stories, even about seemingly insignificant moments, can really strike a chord with people. I shared an experience with teaching my children how to skate, and what that taught me about writing, and my followers loved it! Sharing our failures is a great way to connect with your audience.

You can also share quotes, passages, and images that have inspired your creative work. A science fiction writer might showcase futuristic landscapes by artists which have inspired them. This draws the right kind of people to your feed. If they like the artwork that inspired your novel, this will make them curious about your novel. See how it works?

The Possibilities are Endless!

If you are interested in exploring this topic more, I’d be happy to brainstorm more ideas with you. Let me know in the comments!

“All knowledge is connected to all knowledge. The fun is in making the connections.”
–Arthur C. Aufderheide

How to Target Multi-Genre or Multi-Interest Audiences in a Cohesive Way

I said earlier that you are the glue that holds your content together. You might write in different genres or paint in different styles or record many different types of music, but in the centre of it all is you.

I know I said it’s not about you. Just listen.

The content is still not about you. It’s about your audience. But the way it all comes together and becomes cohesive? That’s all you, baby. You are the part of the equation that will keep your audience with you instead of one of those other platforms (or as well as, we can share!)

When you’re trying to find ways to tie multiple genres of work together, potentially with separate audiences, connection is the key. You need to think of ways that you can connect your interests/ideas to each other.

An author/blogger friend of mine expressed frustration with how to express three seemingly unconnected aspects of her identity in one platform. She’s a writer, a make-up artist, and a cat lover.

Any of these could be its own platform, but if she focuses on them each individually it all falls apart. She either has three separate platforms to grow, which would need separate accounts, and be completely overwhelming. Or she ends up with a random collection of make-up videos, writing updates, and cute kitty pics that looks more like a personal account than a business.

You may have many interests that inform your work, and as different as they are, you are the glue that holds them together. There is something about each of them that you connect with, and your connection is what will connect your audience.

Here were some of my suggestions to her:

  • Do a mood board for your current book (writing or reading) and do a post it with a make-up tutorial using the same colour scheme
  • Do a cosplay of your favourite literary character
  • Dress your cat as literary character (or attempt to dress your cat and take video of the calamity)
  • Share a picture of your cat along with a cat-themed passage from a favourite novel (there are so many books with cats in them!) or a quote from a writer about cats
  • Share a quote from a writer about beauty, identity, or strength, and share it with a look that makes you feel the same way

This technique works for multi-genre writers as well. How can you connect readers from one genre to readers from another and target them in the same post?

  • Share two of your favourite characters, from different genres, and compare and contrast their personalities
  • Compare one of your characters to a character from a different genre
  • Ask your followers a “Would you rather…” with a question from two different genres
  • Compare and contrast mood boards
  • Chose a theme and relate it to books from different genres

The ways to connect our work to our audience and our audience to us. Look for inspiration in the posts and articles that you like to read and brainstorm ways that you can do something similar in your own words.

Discussion

How are you feeling? Do you have a better idea of how knowing your audience helps you create valuable content and build your platform? What topics would you like to see next?

Upcoming articles will address:

  • How to Synchronize Your Platforms
  • How to Turn Your Platform into a Brand
  • How to Convert Followers into Customers
  • and more!

If there is anything else you want to know, please ask! Thank you for joining me in Creative Business 101. Happy creating!

Indie Feature Friday: BROKEN THINGS by A.L. Garcia

Welcome to another installation of my Indie Feature Friday series! Today I’ve got something a little different for you. I usually review SF&F books on this blog, but I’m going to shake things up with a memoir. Today, I bring you <a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08G8X3M4Y/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B08G8X3M4Y&linkCode=as2&tag=scjensen03-20&linkId=c41f01caf092f8cb485db3363830bf24">Broken Things</a>""Broken Things by A.L. Garcia.

Indie Book Review with Sarah Does Sci-Fi

A.L. Garcia is a poet I discovered on Instagram, and she is US Veteran and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Garcia is using her platform to spread awareness of a pervasive issue which society prefers to ignore, and also to bring hope and inspiration for other survivors and to encourage them to tell their own stories.

This is a novella length memoir, but you may want to take your time with it. <a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08G8X3M4Y/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B08G8X3M4Y&linkCode=as2&tag=scjensen03-20&linkId=c41f01caf092f8cb485db3363830bf24">Broken Things</a>""Broken Things is an emotionally difficult read about a subject that makes most people shut down and tune out because it’s so awful to think about. It’s not something you want to read, but something which is important to read anyway–if you can–in order to better understand the problem and hopefully to help future children.

Broken Things by A.L. Garcia

<a href="http://<a target="_blank" href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08G8X3M4Y/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B08G8X3M4Y&linkCode=as2&tag=scjensen03-20&linkId=c41f01caf092f8cb485db3363830bf24">Broken Things</a>""Broken Things by A.L. Garcia is a gut-wrenching story about surviving childhood sexual abuse. I read a wide variety of both fiction and non-fiction, and it has been a very long time since I’ve read anything that has upset and shaken me as much as this book.

As a parent of young children, it is particularly hard to read because Garcia’s story really highlights the way children are let down by the people they should be able to trust more than anyone. Garcia suffered physical, emotional, and sexual abuse at the hands of her father while her mother turned a blind eye. It’s heartbreaking to imagine, and the ripples such trauma has across the life of a child doesn’t end when they escape their abuser or become an adult.

While parts of Broken Things are very raw and unfiltered and painful to read, her story is not one of hopelessness. Garcia’s simple, straight-forward prose is filled with little flashes of beautiful imagery and joyful memories, too. An early love of literature informs much of Garcia’s understanding of the world in her younger years, and moments of quiet reflection on her circumstances add depth to her experience beyond the pain of abuse.

Most powerfully, Garcia’s story is a direct naming and calling out of her father, who is still alive and possibly still abusing children. He has never faced charges or served jailtime, and Garcia has reason to believe she is not the only one who has suffered at his hands.

If you are hesitant to read this book, I completely understand. I only braved it after speaking with Garcia and understanding her mission to spread awareness about this issues. Having read it now, I can say I am glad that I did. It ends on a note of hope, leaving off where Garcia and her siblings manage to escape their broken home. Finishing this book feels like a weight being lifted of one’s shoulders as we see Alma grabbing her future and setting herself free.

Alma is an absolutely wonderful writer, friend, and supporter. She encourages other survivors to contact her, to share the burden of their experiences, and to find their own paths to healing. Even if you can’t bring yourself to read Broken Things, I ask that you please share this review in the hopes that other survivors might find it and reach out for support.

Discussion

I won’t be posting a formal review for this book as I can’t really get the emotional distance from the work to critique it. As an “own story” memoir, I don’t think critique is the point of the reading experience, though it is exceptionally well written and powerful.

What is the most powerful memoir you’ve ever read?

Indie Publishers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror (Part One) —

Good morning, my fellow word nerds! Today I’m sharing a fantastic list of Indie Publishers from the Conquer Books blog. This list is perfect for anyone starting to plan their holiday shopping who wants to support indie writers and publishers (I hope that’s all of you!) or for writers who are looking for places to submit their weird and wonderful speculative fiction. Enjoy!

With this list of indie press publishers, we offer resources for finding debut authors, ground breaking genre benders, and treasure troves of stories.

Indie Publishers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror (Part One) —

10 Quotes About Humanity to Inspire the Science Fiction Writer

One of the things I love best about Science Fiction is the scale of thematic elements that we get to explore. This is true for creators and consumers of SF art. Of course, the best SF still tackles tangible “real life” conflicts. Some of the most common themes in literature are equally represented in Science Fiction:

  • Coming of Age
  • Courage and Perseverance
  • Love
  • Revenge
  • Good vs Evil
  • Redemption

However, the scale of these conflicts is often scaled up in Sci-Fi to encompass the world beyond human experience. What does it mean to fall in love with a machine? Is humanity ultimately good or evil? Will the planet seek revenge for the things we’ve done to it? Is there any way that humanity can redeem itself?

So I’ve collected some quotes about humanity that might inspire your next creative work. Enjoy!

#1 Educated Monsters

The more humans learn, it seems, the more monstrous we become. Tribal societies of the past were often brutal and difficult, but humans have survived by their capacity to form strong bonds and work together within our communities. It seems that the more we learn, the more we become distanced from one another. What is it about knowledge that twists our humanity? What does the future look like for our knowledge seeking species?

#2 Control Freaks

Humans love to feel in control: of themselves, of their environments, of their destinies. But the more we try to control, the more things seem to get away from us. This quote encompasses two great thematic questions from SF works. What happens when we lose control? and How do we continue in the face of our own destruction, when our enemy is our own hubris?

#3 The Human Race

People love to have an Other. The people who represent, to us, everything that we are not: human/animal, black/white, rich/poor, scientific/religious, liberal/conservative. We like to draw lines between ourselves and feel superior in our perceived “normalcy.” But what happens when the Other is bigger than we are? An alien species, perhaps. Or sentient beings of our own creation. What happens if we have to band together against a threat against our very humanity? Can people abolish the lines drawn in the sand between us in order to save our species? Or will we fragment and be defeated by imaginary divisions?

#4 We’re Fucked

Perhaps the ultimate hubris of humanity is thinking we have any say in what goes on here at all? The planet has been around for billions of years, seen the rise and fall of species far more long-lived than ours. We like to think we’re pretty important, “saving” the whales, “saving” the planet. Arguably, the best way for humans to save anything is to disappear. Blink! Like the tiny inconsequential specks of space dust we really are.

#5 The Comparison Trap

We still have a lot to learn about being human. As far as we know, there are no other species out there that are quite like us. The more we learn about other creatures, the more special we seem to become (in our own eyes, at least). The human brain is the most complex computing organ/machine there is, and even we don’t understand exactly how we work. But this won’t always be the case (hubris again!) will it? What happens when we create an intelligence beyond ourselves, and bigger than ourselves? What will we be taught about our perilous superiority then?

#5 Compassionate Intelligence

Okay, okay. It’s not all doom and gloom. We are the ones attempting to create an artificial intelligence, so we must have some say in how it turns out. Right? What if, from the very beginning, we teach this AI compassion and kindness? How might compassionate computers, robots, and eventually sentients change the world? Hopefully they don’t decide the most compassionate outcome for earth is to eliminate humanity… Better double check that coding.

#7 Human Together

Being human is kind of a team sport. As communal animals, the entire makeup of our brains becomes a bit off-kilter when we’re left to our own devices. This is why the dangers of distancing ourselves from others, and from our humanity, are such poignant themes in literature. Without a “you” who am “I?” What does pure isolation do to a person? Can I be human if I’m the only one left? Or am I just another animal, waiting to die upon an ancient and indifferent space rock?

#8 Human Computers

If AI is an extension of human intelligence, are sentient robots Humanity v.2.0? Will we cause our own extinction by forcing human evolution and effectively rendering the Mother Species redundant and obsolete? For centuries now, scientists have been accused of playing God. What happens when we really do create new life? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein offers up one suggestion, which has been explored repeatedly in SF media. But what if, like Victor Frankenstein, humans are the true monsters and our creations choose to slay us rather than worship us? Humanity is dead, long live Humanity.

#9 Idealist Humans

Like the idea of compassionate AI, it is nice to wonder about less bleak eventualities on the human timeline. Perhaps scientists have a breakthrough on empathy research, causing people around the globe to truly feel one another’s pain? Octavia E. Butler explores this idea in The Parable of the Sower and… well, lets just say it’s not easy to be a chemically induced empath. She does pose in important question, though. If everyone were forced to literally feel the pain of those around them, how would society change? What are some other ways that humanity might rise above its petty concerns with religion, race, and nationality? Maybe there is hope for us beyond the alien invasion scenario in #3.

#10 No Hard Feelings

Back track to #4 again, and we’re fucked. Unless humanity addresses it’s destructive tendencies, there isn’t really any way for the development of self-teaching AI to end other than in our own demise. Even we know we’re pretty bad for production in the big picture. Is there any way around being offed by our own robot babies? What redeeming feature does humanity have that no other creature can recreate? There’s an argument for creativity, I think. There’s an argument for mythology as a way to communicate with people (and possibly other species) that we don’t know. Will it be enough to save us? You tell me…

Discussion

What is your favourite book that discusses the potential and limitations of humanity in the future? Have you ever addressed these themes in your own work? Have any of these quotes inspired your next project? Let me know in the comments!

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out 10 Gardening Quotes to Inspire the Sci-Fi Writer as well!