Author Marketing: What’s Different About You?

A marketing coach told me when I was a full-time lawyer that I ought to tell clients about my fiction writing. All of them met and dealt with skilled attorneys all the time, but a very small number of those attorneys also wrote books. What was different about me, he said, was what clients–and potential new clients–would remember.

He was right.

I've been thinking about how this same concept applies to marketing novels and non-fiction.

So Many Books

With millions of books on Amazon alone, and new authors releasing work every day, it takes more than a good book to stand out from the crowd.

I've been exploring advertising, but I don't think that alone is enough. Also, I want to connect in a more personal way with readers. Artificial Intelligence is advancing at a rapid rate. Soon AIs will be able to write tons of content. So a personal touch matters more than ever.

For all those reasons, I've been thinking about what's different about me and how it ties into my writing.

A Song In My Heart

I started playing guitar and signing when I was in junior high. My first paid job singing was at age sixteen at the Two Way Street Coffeehouse in Downers Grove. (It's still there.)

But I got away from playing music in my twenties for a few reasons. One was that I was working a regular job and writing novels on the side, and I only had so much time. Another was that I developed a repetitive stress injury in my hands and wrists. Faced with limited use of my hands, writing won out over guitar playing.

Since then I've played and sung now and then for fun but not professionally.

Writing What You Know

My music background comes into my fiction, though, and into my non-fiction.

The main character, Q.C. Davis, in my new suspense/mystery series is a lawyer, but she's also a singer in an a cappella group. In addition, I talk about singing in my upcoming book Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live a Calmer, Happier Life. Because when anxious thoughts grab hold of me in the middle of the night and won't let go I often sing a few bars of an upbeat song in my head to derail them.

So for my Q.C. Davis series, I recorded myself singing a cappella the song quoted at the beginning of the second book. It was fun to do, and my readers enjoyed hearing the song. It also allowed me to post about the book on Facebook and Twitter without doing an actual sales pitch.

For the Happiness and Anxiety book I'm planning to record myself playing and singing Keep On The Sunny Side, one of the songs I use to derail those anxious thoughts.

I've got some practicing to do before then, and my guitar desperately needs new strings, but I'm hoping to post the video within the next two weeks.

And there's another plus — guitar strings became a tax deductible expense.

What about you? What's different about you that you can have fun with, tie to your writing, and share with the world?

Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Author Marketing: Don’t Do What You Don’t Like

Most of us have a To Do list a mile long. And it almost always includes things that we don't like to do.

Maybe we used to like a particular task. Maybe we never did. Either way those items keep moving from one day to the next or one month to the next, always hanging out there, weighing on us because we’re not doing them.

I find this is particularly true when it comes to marketing.

Building Your Platform

Whatever kind of writer you are, though, and however you publish marketing is likely to be key to your career. A big part of that is building your author platform. (Jane Friedman defines your author platform as your “ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.”)

And so many tasks go into building a platform.

Here are just a few you might have tried or that might be on your list:

  • building and regularly updating an author website
  • interacting on social media
  • staying in direct touch with fans, potential fans, and readers
  • networking with other authors and professionals who might be able to help you and whom you might be able to help
  • book signings
  • other types of public speaking or personal appearances

In addition, a lot of writers still need to work another job or have multiple other responsibilities.

Shortening The List

When I’m feeling overwhelmed often my answer is to try to power through my list. Like it or not, if I decided a particular task is one most successful authors do I feel like I need to keep it on my list.

So it was with great relief when I heard Jim Kukral of the Sell More Books Show say this week that if you don't like something relating to marketing don't do it.

When I thought about it, that made a lot of sense.

If you don’t like something, it will probably take you more time to do than focusing on something that achieves the same purpose but that you enjoy. You’re also less likely to be effective, or come across as genuine, if you’re trying to engage with readers in a way that’s not fun for you.

Finally, what works for one author doesn’t necessarily work for someone else. So why push yourself to do that thing that you keep moving from one week to the next (or one month to the next) on your To Do list.

Changes And Social Media

What you enjoy or don’t can change.

As an example, when I first started using Twitter, I loved it. I was working 10 or so hours a day (sometimes including weekends) at my law practice. Twitter was a nice way to take a break for 5-10 minutes a few times each day.

I connected with other writers, shared blog posts I'd written, and found content that helped me in my writing and publishing journey. It reminded me that I was also a writer in addition to being a busy (and often super-stressed) lawyer. It’s how I first came across The Creative Penn, which is now my favorite podcast on publishing and writing.

I also met terrific people who made a huge difference in my career.

Women's fiction author Melissa Foster and I connected when I had only one book out, my first supernatural thriller, The Awakening, Book 1. Melissa included it in one of the first book launches she organized. We advertised that launch mainly through Twitter.

That experience was key to me learning more about how to present my e-books and introduced me to other authors that I still keep in touch with to this day.

I also met Shiromi Arserio. She later produced and narrated three of the audiobooks in my Awakening Series. We bonded over a shared love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We traded blog posts, proofread each other's manuscripts, and became friends. The last time she was in Chicago, I got to meet her in person.

Over the last year or two, though, scheduling tweets is one of those things that keeps moving from one To Do list to the next. I’m just not as excited about spending time there. While I still check in with people that I already know, it's been a long time since I met anyone new through Twitter. And there's so much content out there now that my issue is scaling back on what I read and listen to rather than searching for insights and information.

Finally, I see a lot more angry and frustrated tweets these days about politics. I’m all for people sharing their viewpoints, but Twitter no longer serves as an escape for me.

All this is not to say I’m abandoning Twitter.

But I decided to stop feeling guilty if I don’t go there a lot. I’ll post the articles from this page and other occasional updates. I’ll see what friends are tweeting. But otherwise I’ll probably let it go.

What Do You Enjoy?

Without particularly planning it I’ve found myself spending more time on Instagram.

I like it because it's very different from when doing the rest of the day. Rather than sitting in front of a laptop I use Instagram on my phone. Also, rather than writing more words, which I do the rest of the day, I'm looking at or taking photos. I really enjoy using that visual part of my brain.

Also, because I haven't been on Instagram that long and I'm pretty particular about who I follow everything I see there is something I find inspiring or encouraging or striking or peaceful. Or that makes me think in a new, interesting way.

Is it as good for marketing?

I’m not sure, but maybe that’s the point. I connected the most with readers and other authors on Twitter when I was enjoying it for what it was rather than saying to myself “time to market.” So I figure that’ll be the case for Instagram too.

Anyway, it’s fun.

Have you been struggling with something on your to do list? If so, can you let it go and do something else instead might serve the same purpose?

That’s all for today. Until next Friday—

L.M. Lilly

Writing Stronger Characters

A friend recently passed on a point screenwriter Tony Gilroy (the Jason Bourne series, among others) made. He said that a writer's understanding of human behavior caps the quality of that person's writing.

I agree.

But how do we better understand human behavior?

I've got a lot of ideas about that, too many for one article. For today, though, I'll stick with one – reading other people's life stories.

Types Of Life Stories

Overall, I read far more fiction than non-fiction. But when I'm first drafting a novel I like to read non-fiction and, particularly, people's life stories.

Life stories come in three basic varieties:

  • Biography
  • Autobiography
  • Memoir

Autobiography and Memoir are really subsets of Biography. Also, the lines between them can blur.

But for simplicity's sake I'll talk a little about each separately.

Biographies

A biography is a person's life story told by someone else.

Biographies are usually based on research and source materials such as interviews, letters, original manuscripts, books, newspaper articles, etc.

I like biographies specifically because the author draws from multiple sources. That means getting different points of view about the life story that's presented.

You might get a glimpse into how a daughter, a chief of staff, or a leader of a foreign state saw the President of the United States in a certain timeframe. Each of those people no doubt will interpret the president's behavior in different ways, attributing different motives to the action and having different reactions.

Also, a biographer often stands at a distance and places the subject's life in a broad context.

I like reading biographies of people I both agree and disagree with. After the 2008 U.S. Presidential campaign I read books about Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin.

Autobiographies

Typically told in first person, in an autobiography the author writes about her or his own life.

Unlike memoirs, which I'll talk about next, an autobiography is usually pretty wide ranging. It covers the author's real life to date. The author usually shapes the story in a creative way so it has a narrative, but the idea is to stay fairly true-to-life and include from childhood on.

If the author/subject is a public figure, I like comparing the long-term perspective of the autobiography to what the author said at the time in news reports or interviews. (Or if it's a contemporary figure, on social media.)

Memoirs

In contrast to autobiographies, memoirs typically are narrow in scope. Rather than trying to tell a complete life story, the author collects personal memories connected by a specific emotional experience or theme.

For example, last fall I read Educated.

The memoir traces a young woman's journey from being home schooled in a family that takes an isolated, survivalist approach to life to earning advanced degrees and choosing a vastly different life from the way she was raised.

A memoir's tone is often less formal than an autobiography. When I read one I usually feel I get a better sense of who the author is and how that person speaks and thinks. Memoir writers often employ a bit of poetic license, combining characters, using pseudonyms to protect others' privacy, and including dialogue as best as they can remember.

What crosses the line from fact to fiction often creates controversy.

Of the three forms, I find memoirs go deepest into the point of view of the author/subject. Maybe for that reason, memoirs feel more immediate than either biographies or autobiographies.

Putting It All Together

Here's why I feel reading people's life stories helps me create more well-rounded characters:

  • I love getting multiple takes on the same person.

That can come from multiple sources in a biography or from reading more than one book about the same person. It makes it easier for me to imagine the many different ways my characters will see one another.

  • All three forms help me understand the points of view of people whose circumstances are very different from my own.

That makes it easier to write three-dimensional characters whose circumstances differ from what I know based on my own life and the people I've personally met.

  • I like to shut my eyes and imagine stepping into the shoes of each character I write.

The more life stories I read, the easier it is for me to do that.

  • Memoirs in particular expand the different ways of speaking and writing that I'm exposed to.

I find that especially helpful when writing first-person narratives. Or writing dialogue that's unique to each character.

  • Memoirs and autobiographies challenge me to figure out how honest or accurate I feel the author is being.

That in turn pushes me to truly understand each of my characters. And to remember that a character's stated reason for doing something, even if the character truly believes it, might be very different from the real motive.

That's all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you'd like some help with creating characters you can download my Free Character Creation Tip Sheets.

 

 

Rewriting Our Lives For Happiness And Calm

Sometimes having a good imagination and being a good writer can increase anxiety. My own busy writer's brain tends to circle the same thoughts, ask a lot of What Ifs, and conjure worst-case scenarios.

But all that creativity can also help us become calmer and happier, which is the subject of a new non-fiction book I'm writing: Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life.

Below is an excerpt:

Using Questions Proactively

In the past when I felt anxious I looked around until I found what I thought was making me feel that way. I tried to think myself out of anxiety by asking these types of questions:

  • Why do I feel anxious?
  • What’s going wrong that’s causing these feelings?
  • What might happen today that I’m worried about?

Because it’s rare that life is perfect, there was always something that was a concern or might become one in the future. And sometimes significant things were happening that would cause anyone to feel anxious.

The problem with these questions is that if you ask them, consciously or unconsciously, you’ll likely spiral into greater anxiety. Similarly, if you’re apt to wake up feeling discouraged or in a depressed mood, these questions and their answers will likely sink you deeper into feelings of helplessness or hopelessness.

But what if instead you asked yourself:

  • What can I do this very moment to feel just a little calmer?
  • What can I do this very moment to feel just a little happier?

I included the phrases “this very moment” and “just a little” intentionally.

Those words stop my mind from pushing back and insisting that it’s impossible to be calm or happy given what I’m facing. Even in awful moments, such as after my parents’ deaths, I could almost always do something in the moment to feel just a little better.

Becoming Just A Little Calmer

When something you fear looms or you feel anxious regardless what’s happening around you try asking and answering those two questions.

To give an idea how this works I’ve listed common answers my mind gives me below.

  • Drinking a glass of water (especially first thing in the morning when I’m apt to be dehydrated)
  • Thinking of someone I care about and hoping that person will have a good day
  • Stretching (hands, wrists, shoulders, feet, any part of my body)
  • Reimagining a good moment from the day or week before
  • Writing things I’m grateful for
  • Reading a page of an encouraging book

Your answers will vary, I’m sure, from mine or from anyone else’s. But however you answer, the two questions about feeling better are likely to provoke answers of things you can do quickly. If you do them, you’ll likely feel a little calmer and happier than if you regularly ask and answer the first three questions in this article.

Sometimes you’ll find there really was nothing of concern and things are going pretty well.

You may have awakened unsettled, but the feeling was a holdover from a bad dream, a result of the chemicals that shift your body to wakefulness from sleep, or an ingrained and unconscious habit of scanning for trouble the moment you awaken (or throughout the day).

Regardless, once you feel a little better you can check in with yourself. See if there is any concern you need to address. In fact, if you make a practice of checking in it’ll reassure you that it’s fine to first get a bit calmer and then take care of whatever needs taking care of.

Happily, you’ll be more able to keep it in perspective and deal with it in a calmer frame of mind.

For example, let’s say you have a presentation that afternoon and you don’t feel fully prepared for it. Now that you’ve taken a few minutes to feel better you can decide when you can fit in preparing for that presentation. Even if you realize you have little time to prepare, you can ask yourself what’s the quickest thing that you can do to do the best job possible under the circumstances.

Intense anxiety, though, may require more than shifting your mindset….


That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about how reading biographies can help you write stronger characters

L.M. Lilly