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Writing For Your Life Today

How Do You Find Influencers?

How do you find influencers who can make a difference to you? Here are five tips to find the people who are having an impact in your field:

 

  1. Use BuzzSumo’s free influencer search tool. You can use keywords and find Twitter handles of accounts sharing similar keyword-related content. Filters let you sort results by reach, authority, influence, and engagement.
  2. Try Followerwonk, a free app on Rand Fishkin’s Moz site. This tool lets you search Twitter users based on keywords in their bios and sort results based on their number of followers and social authority.
  3. Twellow is a very useful site that can help you build your audience in several ways. It allows you to search influencers by industry and breaks down results based on location, subject matter, and profession. Another way to find possible influencers by location is to Google it. For example, searching for “mommy bloggers in Pittsburgh” would return lists of top bloggers in the area.
  4. Check out industry-related conferences and scan the speaker list. These are likely to be well-known and influential leaders in your field.
  5. Hashtag research can help you identify influencers with similar interests. Search for a topical hashtag (like #organicfood, #librarian, or #electricalengineer, for example) on Google, Twitter, and Instagram to find others interested in a topic. Dig a little deeper to look at how many followers they have, the engagement they get on their posts, and what kind of content they publish.

 

Once you’ve created a list of influencers, it’s time to start finding ways to connect with them. Don’t “pitch” influencers. Befriend them.

 

from “Known” by Mark Schaefer

 

 

True Faith…. Do You Have It!

– by Alfreda Branch Jones

 

Faith, one of the most talked about words all over the world!  Most people can quote the famous Hebrew 11: 1.  Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, like their address or birth date, yet when ask how do you know that you have “True Faith”, they began to tell you things like, well I love God, or I can’t see Jesus, but I trust Him!  However, neither of the two mentioned statements truly determines if one has “True Faith”!

 

So how do you really know for certain if you have “True Faith”?  Are there any sure-fire signs that can be witness by others or by one’s self?  Well, I am glad these questions have been asked, because the answer is yes!  First, I must say this, that “True Faith” is an ever-growing power and should be continuously prayed for on a regular basis, if not daily!  Try saying this “Lord please increase my Faith”, and sincerely mean it!

 

So here are a few tell-tell signs that you and others can be absolutely certain that one definitely has “True Faith”!  Our world appears to be totally out of control, and yet, you wake up happy, and looking forward to all seeing the beauty of the day unfold!  So, many are being killed, and you are not afraid to move about and enjoy life freely, because you have faith the God will shield and protect you!  Matter-of-fact, you have come to say things like, “I don’t have to worry about anything, because I had a talk with God and He promise to work everything out for the good of those who love Him, I am going to sleep!  2.  You began to quote statements like, I don’t care how things look right now, God can do anything, and nothing will make you change your mind!  3. You have become a witness for God, in the name of Jesus, that there is no failure in God, and everything is already alright!  4.  Even though death has knocked on your love one’s door, you can truly say, I know that God will see me through!  5.  You stop believing and come to know that according to God’s Will all shall manifest.  6.  Every single day you have joy and a smile on your face because you know what God can do!  7.  You have tried your faith and found out that it works, and nothing can make you doubt it!  8. True Faith has taught you how to consult God on all things!  9.  You at Peace regardless of what is going on!

 

Sure, I could go on and on, because “True Faith” is never ending!   I do hope that  what I have written, has also helped you determine if you have “True Faith”, or if the faith that you do have needs to be fine-tuned by seeking the word of God and developing you’re relationship with Him!

Flash Fiction 101

 

By S.D. Grimm

 

Fiction in a Flash

 

In the simplest terms, flash fiction is a story in 1,000 words or less. Yep. A whole story—any genre—in less than approximately four double- spaced pages.

 

You might wonder it it’s possible to write a story in under 1,000 words, and I’m here to tell you that it is. I’ve read flash fiction pieces in as little as six words before. If you think that’s tough, consider micro fiction, a story in under 500 words; or nano fiction, a story in under 100 words or less. But don’t be discouraged. Once you understand the basics of how to write flash fiction, I think you’ll want to try it out. Just be careful; writing flash fiction can be like eating potato chips—good luck stopping at just one.

 

No Flash in the Pan

 

Who doesn’t love a good story? Remember sitting around the campfire or at a slumber party and staying up late to listen to ghost stories? People love stories, and sometimes, they don’t want to read a huge novel or watch a two-hour movie. There is a whole audience out there of people who want to be able to read something on the go—on their mobile devices even.

 

There is an audience out there that is craving flash fiction.

 

Who can write flash fiction? You can!

 

As a flash fiction editor, I’m going to break down the fundamentals of what makes up “good” flash fiction for you and give you some tricks of the trade so you can write flash fiction.

 

Ten Components of Good Flash Fiction

 

  1. Structure

Just like any narrative, flash fiction needs a beginning, middle, and end.

A clear story goal, a.k.a. plot.

Well-developed hero and villain, whether it’s man vs man, man vs self, man vs nature, etc.

Setting

 

But unique to Flash Fiction:

 

You’re not going to have subplots. There just isn’t room in something so short. So focus on one plot and one main conflict. Conflict is the heart and soul of a story, and the main conflict needs to appear in a flash fiction piece pretty much immediately.

 

Another thing you don’t want to overdo are scene changes and pointof- view switches. It can be done, and I’ve seen it done successfully, but when editing and rewriting, ask yourself if the change is really necessary. Often it will just complicate the plot in ways that don’t enhance the story.

 

  1. Hook

In a novel, the opening hook is that first scene that draws the reader into a new world. Many times flash fiction will play out its entire story in one scene. So the hook here is the opening sentence. It should set the tone for the story as well as introduce your reader to your character and give an inkling of the main conflict (if it doesn’t delve right into the main conflict). I’ve heard it said that novelists have 250 words to hook a reader. In flash, that’s one quarter of a long story. Other stories might even be done already. You have to grab readers’ attention in the opening line and never let go. If a reader puts down your flash piece, it’s the death sentence.

 

  1. Tension

It’s that “what’s going to happen next” factor. Great storytellers create tension in every scene. When you write flash fiction, there needs to be tension in every sentence. Each sentence needs to move the story forward. Imagine if you can craft a story in which you have tension in every line. Think of how that will improve your writing.

 

  1. Tight Writing

Every word counts when you have so few. So here are a few tips for using words effectively: Backload sentences. This means putting an important, resonating, or strong word or phrase at the end of a sentence. So instead of saying, “She noticed the dagger in his hand,” try “He carried a dagger.” Use dynamic verbs. Tight writing forces you to rethink using those pesky verbs of being in exchange for something stronger, punchier. Instead of “broke” how about “shattered” or “snapped” or “crushed”? These different verbs each convey a more specific form of breakage that will make a reader’s mental image sharper.

 

Pick specific nouns. Instead of “car” try “Volvo” or “Mustang.” Or how about “Dachshund” in place of “dog”? Again, specific images are invoked. Use adjectives and adverbs in their most powerful form: sparingly. Instead of a huge, puffy, white cloud, pick one. Or pick something different: a cotton-ball cloud.

 

Watch those passive-aggressive-voice sentences. They often require more words. By using strong verbs in active sentences, you will keep your word count low and the reader moving through the story.

 

Beware, though. Tight writing doesn’t always mean you should choose the shortest possible sentences. Slipping into telling mode (instead of showing) for the sake of using less words isn’t going to make the story strong. And be careful that you don’t overload with adverbs for the sake of conciseness. You still have to SHOW your action, your emotion and your conflict. Flash isn’t about sacrificing good writing for fewer words. It’s an art all its own.

 

  1. Creative Title

I’ve said every word counts, which includes titles. They don’t count as part of your limited word count, but that doesn’t mean it’s a chance to get verbose. Pick something clever or that has a double meaning. Maybe the tile will be a red herring or give readers an extra tidbit about the story. Load your title with subtext whenever possible.

 

For example, I once wrote a flash piece titled Fearfully and Wonderfully. The theme of the story was about how everyone is different and beautiful in their own way. The plot was about the main character’s death and how afraid she was, but that she ended up not needed to be so afraid because she wasn’t alone—the person with her helped her find the beauty even in her passing. I thought the title played with both of those meanings. Another example is a story titled Mirror, Mirror. Since it was a take on a retelling of the famous Snow White tale, the title helped readers make that connection before they even started reading.

 

Those kinds of hints can ground readers in context, or help the story resonate after they read it and the title brings extra meaning.

 

  1. Setting

Every story needs a setting. It’s easy to think that with a limited word count, setting is a throw away, but it’s not. Readers need a sense of place and time and of who is in the room. Revert back to those deliberate nouns and pick and choose your adjectives carefully.

 

You can zero in on a specific part of the setting—like a vine crawling up a flagpole out of an abandoned playground’s crumbled asphalt. Those are specific details that give a broad sense of setting: abandoned, new life, or possibly something choking life from something else. Imagery in setting is so full of subtext. Use that to your advantage in flash fiction when you can. And make your setting a character. Not just a place card for your characters.

 

  1. Character and POV

As I mentioned earlier, you need a clear hero and villain. Just like in other forms of storytelling, you need to make sure your characters aren’t boring, cookie-cutter, cardboard, people. Make them real. Breathe life into them.

 

In flash fiction, you want a small cast of characters. Large casts are warranted if you’re writing in a genre like epic fantasy. Not in flash. You don’t have time to introduce a huge cast and still have room for plot. After you’ve settled on your short list of characters, choose your POV carefully. You’ll probably only have one. Who will have the most to lose? The highest stakes? That’s your POV character. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box. I once wrote a piece in which the POV character was a snowflake.

 

  1. Backstory

Every story has backstory. But the thing about backstory is that it already happened and doesn’t need to be explained. Needed information should come out naturally in the story and only as the reader needs to know. You do not have time in your flash pieces to dump a bunch of BS (backstory, people!) at the beginning and then get on with your story. Flash forces you to weave in the things your reader needs to know organically.

 

  1. Emotional Investment

All great fiction connects with readers on an emotional level. That’s what they’re looking for. Flash is no exception. This is why you need to show and not tell those emotional experiences. For example, not: “Harry gritted his teeth in determination.” Instead, simply write: “Harry gritted his teeth.” The context will let me know why, and what emotion he’s feeling. Readers don’t want to be told how to feel. They want to feel it with the character. Sometimes naming an emotion has its place, but showing the emotions builds a better connection with the readers. The limited word count of a Flash Fiction piece makes emotional investment even more imperative.

 

  1. Twist

Unique to flash fiction is the twist ending. A lot of stories have a twist at the end, but it’s always a part of flash fiction. You’d think it would make the story predictable, and that’s where the fun of writing it comes in. The twist doesn’t always happen at the end, but it should be near the end. It makes the end satisfying and hard-striking. The whole story leads up to that moment, and it’s so perfectly set up and veiled at the same time. You’re pulling the blindfold off the reader, but having them nod and say, “Yes! I— Yes, this is exactly how it should have been! I should have seen it coming!”

 

from “Jot That Down; Encouraging Essays for New Writers” edited by A. L. Rogers

 

 

Stimulating Creativity

Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way offers a lot of good ideas for stimulating creativity. One of the most helpful for me is the artist’s date: once a week doing something for and with yourself that feeds your creative side. It should be fun, and it should be good for your creativity; beyond that there are no rules. I don’t always keep a weekly date, but I use the artist’s date as an excuse to make regular trips to downtown Chicago-a bus ride for me-and wander museums, galleries or offbeat shops that make me stop and experience others’ creativity. Sometimes I take myself to a movie matinee, or I shop for a book and then go to lunch. Sometimes I simply spend extra time reading what I really like, or I rent a movie that offers inspiration or information concerning the work I’m writing. For instance, the atmosphere created in Fried Green Tomatoes gives me a creative boost when I write fiction set in a rural locale. Sometimes my date involves a thermos of tea and a leisurely walk along the lakefront. Nature is good for my soul, and during the warmer months I make dates to spend time in nearby parks and beside lagoons.

 

– from “The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life” by Vinita Hampton Wright Loyola Press

 

 

The Basic Ingredient

Genuine, openhearted engagement—what Brenda Ueland calls “interestingness”—is the basic ingredient of a fruitful creative process. Because of this, stories are essentially egalitarian in nature, meaning that each and every one of us ordinary people who writes has the capacity to move a reader. Have you ever sat through a memorial service at which a grieving grandchild read a coarse but genuine rendering of the departed one’s life and set everyone weeping? Have you ever received a card that touched you so profoundly you saved it for years? When I taught seventh grade, my struggling students always floored me with their poetry; it was raw and real because they put their hearts into it and spoke the truth. They didn’t yet have the self-consciousness or ambitions that trip most of us up.

Talent and skill and craft and effort will all increase the effectiveness of our writing, but the essential ingredients for stirring a reader’s heart are available to everyone who loves writing: curiosity, dedication, and courage. Much of the work of learning to write effectively involves stripping away all that interferes with our natural inclinations to explore, and expanding our capacity to recognize and name the truth. 5

 

from “Living Revision” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

 

 

Be Proactive with Industry Leaders

“No matter what topic you want to be known for, you should be proactive with industry leaders,” Aaron said. “You need to mingle with other influencers who can help you along the way. The best approach is to leave your digital footprint everywhere. Do this by liking other people’s photos, commenting on blog posts, helping others out, retweeting, creating guest content on leading blogs, and participating in Twitter chats, to name a few ideas.”

 

from “Known” by Mark Schaefer

 

An Example of Influencer Marketing

 

Groove, a company that provides help desk software, is a perfect example of executing an influencer strategy with precision. They were a start-up company with literally no audience— and no time to build an audience—so they relied on borrowing the audiences of others. The result? 5,000 new blog subscribers in five weeks. Here’s how they did it:

 

  1. Build the influencer list. The company carefully considered which potential influencers connected to their target audience (web start-ups and small businesses) and which of those leaders would be able to get true value from their content and service. This is a critical step. Most influencers are deluged with spammy requests for their help, so doing careful research up front gives you the best shot at success.

 

  1. Forge relationships. Influencers may hold the keys to the audience kingdom, but simply making a cold pitch doesn’t work. Groove embarked on a plan to use the social networks to connect with them and move beyond the relational weak link. Their plan included tweets, blog comments, blog post shares, and emails. Here are other ways to engage with influencers:
  • Ask for a quote you’ll use in your article.
  • Re-tweet them consistently.
  • Provide them with a recommendation on LinkedIn.
  • Interview them for a video or podcast.
  • Ask them for feedback on an idea.
  • Link to something they wrote about (they will generally see this “pingback”).

 

  1. The Ask (part 1). By this time, the people from Groove were on the radar of their target influencers and it was time to make a move. But they didn’t ask for a favor. They asked for help—a subtle yet important difference. Most people have a hard time saying “no” to an honest request for help. This plea included a link to their site, a request for feedback, and emphasis on potential mutual benefits. Using this technique, Groove earned an 83 percent positive response rate from the influencers. “Help” is a more benign ask, and more importantly, it helped Groove start real back-and-forth conversations with industry experts.

 

  1. The Ask (part 2). Now that the company was ready to launch their blog, they needed a push from their new influencer friends. Since this group had been involved in providing feedback to the Groove team, they had a built-in stake in the company’s success. Groove sent these new advocates a link to the first blog post with a request for help promoting it.

 

  1. Results! Not only did most influencers promote the post, but almost all of them also commented on the new blog. This level of response provided proof to new visitors that the blog (and company) had traction. In 24 hours Groove had acquired 1,000 blog subscribers, and by following up with consistent, high-quality content, they attracted more than 5,000 subscribers and 535 trial sign-ups through five weeks of blogging efforts.

 

In this case, Groove methodically built relationships with influencers that led to measurable success. But there was another force at work here, too—the powerful, magnetic attraction of involving key audience members in your content creation and transmission.

 

– from “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer

 

Top Shelf Books

For those who are keeping score at home, these are the people who take up the most space on the top shelf in my hallway.

A Belgian priest named Louis Evely published a book in the sixties called That Man Is You, a book given to me to read as part of a discipleship class when I was in high school. Whatever influence Father Evely had on my spiritual journey, his most powerful influence on me came from the blank-verse style he used to write the book. I do not write in that form anymore, but the blank verse taught me how to take sentences and paragraphs apart, how to break them into separate pieces and see how they fit together to make writing that can be heard when someone reads the page.

Some of Frederick Buechner’s books are on the shelf. Now and Then, one of the deeply moving autobiographical books he has written, taught me a seminal truth. “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is,” he writes. “In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it.” For better or for worse, I have spent a lifetime doing that, and doing so on paper in the hope that others might come to listen to their lives as well.

Three by Annie Dillard—The Writing Life, An American Childhood, and Teaching a Stone to Talk—taught me to write as directly as I can, though I do not always live up to the challenge. She taught me to connect one story to the next until a whole comes forth.

Letters to a Young Poet is there, a tiny volume containing half the correspondence between the early-twentieth-century Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke and a poet-to-be. The latter kept the letters from the great man, not the other way round, and those letters later found their way into publication. Whenever I want to turn in my pen and my poetic license, I read Rilke’s letters, get a good night’s sleep, and get up in the morning and go back to scribbling.

John Le Carré and Graham Greene are two legendary British novelists. Many people know the former because of the fictional spymaster George Smiley, a character portrayed by Sir Alec Guinness on PBS. Mr. Greene’s work runs from crime to intrigue to war to satire. I started out reading both of these writers as “entertainments,” Mr. Greene’s term, and finally came to realize they were both teaching me to look for light in the midst of the darkness that seems all around us.

My journey in the direction of learning to pray eventually led me to Thomas Merton. I do not go anywhere without a copy of Thoughts in Solitude. Sometimes kindly picking me up when I am discouraged, sometimes gently reminding me that this work is not life and death, he always reminds me that I am only making sentences here. Not life and death by any stretch.

Darkness Visible, the slim book written by William Styron about his struggles with depression helped save my life. I first read it when I was in a psychiatric ward. I recommend the book to writers because so many of us struggle with this particular disease whether or not we know it, admit it, or deal with it. Styron helped me do all three. And with great power he taught me that if you are going to write a memoir, it is only right to tell the whole truth and nothing but.

Shelby Foote’s three-volume history of the Civil War began its life as an assignment to write a short popular history of the war. Over twenty years it became his life’s work and thousands of pages long. He takes an old story with an ending we already know and retells it so compellingly that we are deeply engaged in the story again. Not a bad model for anyone who writes about religion from time to time as I do, writing based on a Story most of my readers know by heart.

Doris Grumbach’s memoirs teach me to pay more attention to the daily in my life, attention to the seemingly inconsequential, attention to which things actually receive my time and my energy and my art.

The twenty-one novels Patrick O’Brian wrote about the Napoleonic War adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, caught my eye and ear a few years ago. About the fourth time through them, I realized that even though the Aubrey novels had been categorized as adventure, they were really books about a friendship between two men. I read them every year now. If I cannot learn to be a better writer, I hope to learn to be a better friend.

 

from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson

 

When to Self-Publish

 

Today’s guest article is from Chris Ferebee of The Christopher Ferebee Agency.

 

I’m often asked by both would be and published authors, if and when to consider self-publishing. For those unpublished, the question often comes from the desire to be published as quickly as possible and frustration with trying to break into the industry. Both are often asking because they’ve read of significant success coming to self-published authors and wondering whether they even need traditional publishers anymore. As a literary agent, I earn a living representing successful authors to commercial publishers, but I absolutely believe there is a place for self-publishing. However, whether successfully published or looking to publish for the first time, there a few considerations that apply across the board.

 

Audience 

Most publishers are looking more and more to the author to help sell their book. Publishers are having a harder time than ever successfully breaking out new authors. However, they can absolutely help amplify an existing audience. When you self-publish, there’s no amplification. You want to know how big your “platform” is? Self-publish. Self-publishing may be a shortcut to selling your content, but there is no shortcut to building a following and an audience for your work. Self-publishing will expose how successful you’ve been at this faster than anything else. 

 

Market 

When you publish with a commercial publisher, your book is generally available anywhere books are sold. When you self-publish, you are typically locked into a specific ecosystem. For example, to sell your book electronically through Amazon, you have to agree to exclusively sell your book on Amazon. Most people don’t consider that a big deal because Amazon controls 65% of the electronic book market. But only 19.5% of all books sold in the US are Amazon Kindle titles. In actuality, you’re tapping into a small segment of the overall book market. If you self-publish into a different ecosystem, you’re reaching an even smaller segment. All the more reason you need to have a robust following for your work to be successful.

 

Fulfillment 

A lot of authors will decide to sell their book directly from their own website to cut out the middle man and retain as much of their revenue as possible. But this means you’ll have to figure out how to deliver your book in the format your audience wants to read it in. Does you audience read on a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad? Do they know what specific file format each device uses and how to load that file onto their device once they’ve downloaded it from you? What if your audience wants your book in a physical format? Do you have the means of producing, warehousing and fufilling physical book sales? When you become a direct seller, you have to take all of these things into consideration.

 

In short, there’s no easy street to publishing, self or otherwise.  But if you decide to take the plunge, there can be significant benefits. For a published author, it offers you the ability to offer your audience something to tide them over between commercial releases. It can be an opportunity to generate revenue off of valuable content that makes sense for self-publishing, but that wouldn’t make sense for a commercial publisher to consider. It can allow you to bring a resource to market to capitalize on a trend significantly faster than most commercial publishers will be able to. It can be a valuable tool used to gain fans and followers and build your platform. For a self-published author, when done successfully it can help gain the attention of commercial publishers and prove that you do, in fact, have a loyal following willing to engage with your content. For anyone, it can be an opportunity to try your hand at content that doesn’t necessarily fit your “brand,” but allows you to introduce your audience to some of your other interests and creative endeavors.

 

As a few examples, here are some books my commercially published clients have released as self-published works for many of the reasons above: 

 

Charles Martin – River Road: A collection of short stories from Charles’ early writing days. 

Timothy Willard – Shine So Bright: A beautiful children’s Christmas story, successfully funded on Kickstarter and now available for sale. 

Margaret Feinberg – Live Loved: An adult coloring book encouraging scripture memorization, which has since been contracted and published by Bethany House. 

Rob Bell – Millones Cajones: A fun and surprising novel about a motivational speaker that suffers a crises of identity.

 

 

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