I’m not really a New Year’s resolution kind of person. I try to keep little resolutions throughout the year like exercising every day and not spending too much time on social media. But in reviewing my 2018 year, I realized I did have one resolution: to change my intention. It wasn’t anything big but, like a weird kind of magic, it changed my writing career.
A Year’s Journey
I started out 2018 realizing that though I was a writer, I didn’t have a book to offer readers, I didn’t have a product. I had enough short pieces published but those lived on other websites and in journals and anthologies. I also had a gardening blog but that was full of how-to articles. They didn’t feature the one thing I was aiming to share with the world: my ability to entertain.
So, I shifted into a new gear. I put my writing more front and center and myself truly out in the world. For years, I’d been quietly writing and editing and submitting to agents. But in 2018, I decided to publicly declare myself an author and publish a book, whether with a press or by myself. I created a plan and jumped into the game.
I spent the better part of spring writing Song of the Tree Hollow. By summer, I furloughed my gardening website and focused on creating a site that featured my writing. I researched branding and hired an author coach. I educated myself about marketing and created a strategy for growing my readership.
In fall, I edited Song of the Tree Hollow and published it with KDP. As I mentioned earlier, I priced it low, hoping to attract readers. I did giveaways and promotions. By mid-December, I had a healthy amount of downloads. Things were buzzing along. I was satisfied. I finally had a book to offer readers.
Then something happened that I didn’t expect. Throughout 2018, I’d continued querying my longer, more polished novel, The Forgetting Flower, to agents and small presses. All to rejection. But in November, I received an offer from a small press to publish it.
Intention or Hard Work?
It was such a surprise. I had the strangest feeling in my gut, as if as soon as I’d decided to truly reveal who I was and what I could do in the world, I received a response. What?!
I can’t prove that my 2018 intention of jumping into a more public game aided me in getting a book contract, but it made me happy to follow through on a plan. It was as if once I’d decided to truly go for it, with or without the universe’s help, the universe then helped! Weirdly magical.
Now, in early 2019, I have a new intention: to make The Forgetting Flower the highest quality and most successful novel it can be.
Do you feel rumblings to change your intentions? I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts as we go into 2019. Tell me in the comments below.
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.
Hey everyone, today’s inspirational quote comes from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven.” If you don’t know it, you may want to check it out. It’s creepy and musical and lovely, about how a young man, who, one night while sitting by the fire, hears a raven tapping at his door. When he opens the door and the bird flies in, the bird haunts him, reminding him of his lost love, Lenore. Through the repetition of the word “Nevermore,” the raven eventually drives the narrator mad. He’s tortured not only by his lost love but also by his own mortality.
In Part One of this series, I wrote about how my affection for trees and the idea of plants making vibrations inspired me to write Song of the Tree Hollow. Today I’ll address the other piece of the puzzle: the sudden experience of my cat dying and coming back to life.
Hey everyone, I’ve published a short novel called Song of the Tree Hollow. It’s a literary mystery about a young woman who discovers she has a magical touch with plants — and unfortunately, a dark family history. It was fun to write, and one of my warmer, quirkier stories. I thought I’d offer this post on the origins of it. The book is available on Kindle for 99 cents, free on Kindle Unlimited. Please check it out! Thanks.
Even though I grew up in a big Midwestern city, I’ve always been drawn to evergreen trees. When I was little and we traveled to northern Wisconsin to visit relatives, we’d drive through coniferous forests and as soon as the landscape changed from open prairie to enclosed greenery, I felt different, moodier and dreamy. It was as if I’d come home, disappearing into a natural wood that was grand and dark and dared you to enter. The trees were powerful and inspiring. I even found them more reassuring than people. They were my friends, albeit silent ones that lived far away from where I lived.
It’s no wonder that a decade or so later, I landed in the Pacific Northwest. Here, trees grow as tall as buildings and as wide as cars. Thanks to all of the rain and mild temperatures, conifers, mainly cedars, firs, and hemlocks, thrive and the result is spectacular. It’s why they call Seattle “The Emerald City” (even though we logged all of the trees over a century ago). But Seattleites still value trees and many homes feature a towering old tree, especially in the northern suburbs where I live. Regardless, it’s soothing to know you can drive to the mountains in a half-hour and lose yourself in a sea of green at any time of year, even in winter.
A Ravine of Mystery
It’s even more soothing for me because I can look out my back window and see a ravine of cedars and firs. The ravine, a slope of land that leads down to a creek, is part of our property. Occasionally, I wander through to check what smaller trees may have fallen in the last windstorm or how badly the ivy has spread.
A Hollow of Imagining
One day, I imagined what would happen if one of my large cedars had a hollow, how fun that would be for my kids. Hollows are dark and scary and mysterious. A dangerous animal might live there, a creepy goo might be on the inside walls, spider webs might slap you in the face, your hand might sink into mud. All aspects of the imagination light up.
Science Fiction Leads to Speculation
Meanwhile, last year my husband and I had watched the film, Arrival. Arrival is a speculative story about what would happen if aliens actually came to earth. We would most likely send our military to try and communicate with them, drawing on linguists and other experts in the private sector to help. Amy Adams plays such a linguist who learns to communicate with the aliens. The creatures look like a cross between upright squids and tree trunks with vertical roots. When they make noise, they rumble like a bomb. The sound vibrates through the viewer’s stomach. It was fantastic.
How Plants Speak
I knew that scientists had confirmed that some plants create acoustic vibrations in their cell walls and I imagined that that’s what enormous trees might sound like if they could speak. A low massive vibration, not too far removed from the aliens in Arrival. Then I wondered what if someone was born, through maybe a genetic mutation, who could feel and hear those vibrations? Hence, my protagonist was born.
Still, I didn’t have a story. Until my cat Maddie died – and came back to life. I’ll write about that in Part Two of my series on my novel, Song of the Tree Hollow, in the next few days. In the meantime, you can order the book here.