This year, I discovered several influencers who rocked my world. Their advice changed everything from the fonts on my blog to my artistic career. They inspired me, guided me, educated me. While I’d been creating fictional works for years and mostly ignoring my online presence, I realized that 2018 was the year that had to change. These seven people, some writers, some marketers, helped me figure out everything from how to grow my readership to what to blog about to how to overcome my creative insecurities. They all charge for their services or books but all offer free information too. Here they are chronologically as I discovered them.
Austin Kleon is, as he says, ”a writer who draws.” He’s also an inspirational speaker, creative thinker, innovator, all-around brilliant person. He has a few books out but the most revealing is Show Your Work. It’s a brief easy manual for artists who hate self-promotion. Kleon’s main message is to let what inspires you be the foundation for what you share with the world, and therefore, promote. Most of the time that’s other artists’ work. By pulling back the curtain, you build relationships with your audience who, he believes, are naturally curious about how art is made. He has hundreds of other interesting thoughts like this on his blog, which he posts to daily, and in his books.
Anyone who’s ever googled how-to topics on blogging knows Rachel Thompson. She’s a one-woman dynamo of information. She has tons of book marketing articles on her website and does consultations. She focuses primarily on social media but I got a ton out of her book, The 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge. It walks readers through social media, blogging, author branding, SEO, and other topics writers needs to grow internet traffic and attract readers. I went through this book and did all of the suggestions. Completing those did increase my traffic and gave me more focus when it comes to blogging.
In addition to being a YA thriller author, Shaunta Grimes runs a Ninja Writers group and courses. She focuses on plotting and story development mostly. I joined her free Plotting Workshop, which is an eight-week course, and because I wanted to write a novel on my own schedule, I used the course worksheets. In those worksheets, Grimes offers practical questions, mostly based on The Writer’s Journey, that will spawn ideas. She also has a good Youtube video on how to make a plot board.
Last summer, I abandoned an older method I’d used for plotting and made a plot board. While I drafted my novel, I referred to the board again and again, tweaking as I went. I found it to be a simple, easy-to-use guide. In the end, I got so much out of this process that I can’t imagine not creating a plot board for every novel I write now. Obviously, I’m a planner, not a pantser.
In spring, I realized that even though I’d published short pieces in various journals and magazines, I needed a product to share with readers while I shopped my novels with agents and small presses. Thriller writer Nick Stephenson helped me figure out the best way to do that. His video series on creating a “book funnel” is excellent (and free). In his videos and ebook, he discusses how to create a reader magnet, or what marketing folks call a “loss leader,” the product you offer free in hopes of familiarizing people with your work. Though his language is kind of hyperbolic, he still offers a lot of useful information.
After watching Nick’s videos, I decided to make the short mystery I’d been writing about a plant whisperer my reader magnet. It was the first of a series (recommended) and it wasn’t my final, be-all end-all book that I’d been toiling over (The Forgetting Flower). So I followed a bunch of Nick’s advice and published it. I’m happy to say Song of the Tree Hollow has already had almost 400 downloads in a month! I didn’t expect that. (By the way, he hasn’t paid me to talk about this. He doesn’t even know I exist.)
This guy knows all things blogging. That’s his specialty. And like Rachel Thompson, he has a bazillion free articles on his blog, Problogger. They cover how to start a blog, creating content, making money, etc. In particular, I learned a lot from his article on growing community through your blog. He also produces a podcast, courses, job listings, and books. It’s hard not to do a deep dive on any topic. There’s a universe of information on this website. I honestly don’t know when Darren Rowse sleeps.
I’ll say upfront Leigh Shulman is my author coach. She’s also an organized, hardworking, down-to-earth person. I’d been thinking about hiring a coach for a while in 2018 and researched a bunch of people. I found some folks were either about as experienced as I was in the book world (meaning somewhat) or so experienced and well known that I wouldn’t be able to actually speak with the actual coach but one of their assistants. Leigh is right in between, experienced but accessible, and most importantly, super responsive.
I hired Leigh because I didn’t know how to spend my creative time. I wondered if I should be writing creatively or blogging or marketing. I felt overwhelmed and confused. I needed someone to just tell me what to focus on! Leigh helped me figure out that I was the best person to tell me. She uses a classic business model to do this, the OGSM (Objective, Goals, Strategies, Measurements), which helps a writer figure out what they are doing, why they are doing it, what they want to accomplish, and how to measure it. Her book, The Writer’s Roadmap, covers all of this in a nutshell.
In talking to Leigh about my career, I started researching articles about author branding. While Rachel Thompson and others offer excellent articles on this, I discovered Nancy Blanton’s gem of a book, Branding Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps has even more detailed information. Blanton is a historical fiction author who offers examples from her own branding work as examples. I found this to be enormously helpful as an author. It’s what sets this book apart from others. A lot of branding books are either business-focused or too general.
Through strategic questions and journaling exercises, she helps writers nail down exactly what their values are, what their mission is, how to create a tagline, even choose colors and fonts. I did all of the journaling exercises and truly discovered who I was as an artist and how I could articulate those values to the world. The best five bucks I spent all year.
Lastly, there are other experts whose wisdom I incorporated into my professional life in 2018 as well. But I knew about these people pre-2018, so I’ll just give them a shout out:
- Seth Godin, a marketing guru who breaks the old system and approaches marketing innovatively. His latest book is This Is Marketing.
- Joanna Penn, is a thriller writer, romance author, and a fount of knowledge of about self-publishing and marketing.
- Jane Friedman focuses on the ins and outs of the publishing industry, very very thoroughly.
If you are a creator, chances are you want folks to see your work. Creative people know what I’m talking about. (Of course, we’re all creative in some way.) Yes, we paint, we write, we knit, we make stuff because it pleases us, because it sends us into a zone where we lose track of time, but we ultimately want to share our creations with the world. We need to take on that dirty word “self-promotion.” But how do artists who are usually solitary souls engage in self-promotion?
Promoting Yourself Feels Weird
It’s difficult to shout out about yourself to the world. It feels weird. It feels false. I have felt this way many times as I promote my blog and my writing. I am not an outgoing salesperson. In fact, I do two of the most solitary jobs I can think of: writer and gardener. At the same time, what I produce entertains and educates people so I do want them to know about it. How to get the word out sincerely and without annoying people is the question.
I got the answer this winter when I discovered Austin Kleon’s book, Show Your Work. It’s a book that teaches people how to self-promote when they don’t want to self-promote. It’s a book about how to keep working in private while sharing what you’re doing with the world. Quietly, nicely, and most importantly, passionately. Kleon’s asks, What are your passions? Share them because people will respond to that passion. They may not be into everything you’re into, but they’ll be into some of the stuff you’re into. And those folks will pass the word on.
So Promote Your Work
In light of this, I’m embarking on a series of Show Your Work posts. I’ll write about what sends my heart soaring. The things I love. Kleon talks about the idea of a cabinet of curiosities. The cabinet that cultured people kept centuries ago to show off their interest in the world and intellectual curiosity. We all have a cabinet of curiosities, Kleon says. It’s the modern day bookcase. We usually keep our most favorite stuff in that cabinet. Our favorite books, boxes, knick knacks, travel souvenirs, whatever. When I looked at my bookcase, I was shocked at how right he was. There, in just scanning it, I thought of at least three posts I could do about the coolest stuff on there. My favorite gardening books, a favorite box I got from far away, little recyclable coasters I love. So much of me is in that bookcase.
Your Work Is Interesting
So without further ado, I’m sharing a photo of my favorite bookcase. It’s made of pine wood by a Seattle company called Ballard Bookcase that no longer exists. It sits beside two paintings I bought for their Parisian feel. One features a flower shop, the setting of my novel, The Forgetting Flower, and one of a bicycle, on which my protagonist rides around Paris. They warm my heart. What also warms me is the green chair beside the bookcase. This is where I write most days. It’s the brightest room in the house and right by windows that face the back garden. I love that chair and I love that room. The best of me is there. I work and dream there. I also drink tea there and snuggle with my kids and squeeze in when my cat Aleksy has taken it over.
Do you have a favorite bookcase in your home? Where is your favorite place to sit?