“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” ~Charles Dickens
Being the hero of your own life. Ever wonder about that?
What does that really mean for us “regular” people walking around just trying to get our to-do lists wrangled without melting down at the kitchen sink in front of the kids? Or striving to make a paycheck go the distance while being fully present and looking halfway decent, or even pretty sometimes, for our man who sees us mostly in the same clothes in the same house doing the same dishes at that same sink, year after year after year. If we’re so lucky. (Forgive me fellas; I know you like to look pretty for us, too:))
Is that heroic? I most definitely think (and hope) so. Of course, that’s not enough for many of us—starry-eyed hopefuls that we are—who drive out to the City of Angels or the Big Apple as young adults, hoping to be seen and heard or orbit around those who are. And, not just us. But people living in Toronto and Jacksonville and Bedfordshire and Ft. Lauderdale and Taos and Shanghai and White Plains and Anchorage and Paris, too. They ache to do something that really, really matters to lots of people, not just those in their near vicinity. They yearn to express themselves, to share what they know, to have widespread impact.
I know this because they show up at my door—women from across the globe. They arrive in taxis and rental cars and come dragging huge black suitcases that make us laugh in unison at the foot of my very steep stone stairs (holy shit, not another 60 pounder!), and blow their noses through tear-stained tissues about that ache, the soul-crushing intense desire in their hearts to write for a wider audience. That ache that made them book a flight and room with some chick they’ve never met with the prayer that doing so will tip the scales and catapult them into the realm of making their mark, leaving their legacy, becoming heroic. Preferably in public.
Their hope, or so they tell me, is that I can assist them in making meaning out of this fleeting experience called their one little life. (And, for heaven’s sake, while we’re being heroic, could you please, God, throw in some money, too? Because this living month-to-month shit can really hamper a gal’s ability to rock it.) I’ll stop here and clarify that even if you believe in reincarnation and have certainty there will be many opportunities to come back and “do” this one-little-life business over again, I think we can all agree that there’s only ONE shot at the magical particulars of the here and now, the specifics of which have never been before and will never be again. Which is sort of terrifying in and of itself and makes everything feel all that much more sacred, fragile, and urgent.
Urgency is a state I know well, having married a man I’d known only 8 weeks, given birth to my son sans painkillers after 36 freaking hours (pushing out part of my bladder—good times—but that’s a story for, well, never), and sat at the deathbed of both my parents in my thirties. Urgency is what they bring me, these women amped from too many years trying to figure out how to be publicly heroic on their own, laced with too much coffee downed in layovers in the airports it took to get to my door. Which means that, creating meaning and beauty and bigness in five days in my rental house in Carmel-by-the-Sea can take on a fevered pitch (especially so, when hoping to make money from these creative endeavors is added to the mix). I imagine nearby whales can pick up the intensity of it with their sonar. It’s subtle. But also loud. And it ought to be. I mean, time’s a ticking and it’s tempting to believe their dreams could quite possibly float out to sea, get caught in a riptide, and disappear forever. They worry about that. But they also worry that it could happen. Could really happen for them. Their story. Their message. Their journey. Big in the world. Living out loud.
If I’m not completely delusional, this might just be my year, they say to themselves. But I’ve got to hurry up. Figure this out. Get it out. Before someone else does. Before I lose steam or money or the ability. Or just don’t give a crap anymore. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.
And then, within minutes or a mere few hours, their shoulders fall, their faces glow, their laughter turns from manic to easy. In short, they relax. Deeply. In the profound realization that they’re okay. They’re on track. They’re on it. How can they be so sure? Because answers and ah-has bubble up from everyone and everywhere. Pieces fall into place and just feel right, whether they’re at the very start of their writing journey or have already published several titles. And, realizing that their sisters in words feel the same insomnia-inducing fears and see the same endless possibilities soothes. It’s all part of being an artist.
They recognize the beauty in the process. The gold if they just keep digging. That it really is true that the more you put into something, the more it feeds you. And doing anything in a panic, unless it’s running out of a burning building, usually doesn’t go so good. For example, I’m no longer wedded to that guy I married in 8 weeks, and nearly losing an organ—a valuable one at that—for those 36 hours delivered the best gift of my life. And those L O N G, agonizing, miserable days at my parent’s bedside hold some of the richest memories my sister and I will treasure for the rest of our lives.
Writers are heroes, each one of them. We all are. For believing in our message and aching to be part of what’s right about this world.
In this context, heroics aren’t about putting out forest fires or applying tourniquets to bomb victims abroad or at home (bless those angels!). This type of heroics boils down to trusting that creative ache even when you’re tired, even when you’re scared, even when there are so many apparently easier things to do. Because deep down you know that through gifting a piece of your soul, others will have access to your unique blueprint. Your map of what you’ve learned and earned, so not in haste. And that through you, they may feel lighter and breathe easier in their one little life.
So help you God.
- Standing in the bookstore, do you imagine your name + title on the shelf?
- Does the idea of landing a book deal scare + delight you like nothing else?
- Do you ever worry it might be too big of a goal, too intimidating, or too late?
As someone who used to think I could never do it, I get your fears. I get your overwhelm. It’s all so complicated. Or so I thought.
Fifteen years later, from where I now stand (having written & published lots of books, many of which have won awards, been embraced by the media, changed lives, and hit the bestseller lists), I see how simple it really is.
If you’re ready to share your bigger message with the world, we’ve got you covered! Let’s rock your book(s) together. We can’t wait!
Books, Blogs, and Your Bounty:
A Free Q&A Spreecast Event with
Linda Sivertsen & Danielle LaPorte
Monday March 18, 2013
12 noon PST / 3pm EST
We’ll be live on video for 60 minutes of laser answers to any questions you have. This is going to be a no holds barred, rapid jam session about what it really takes to finish (and sell!) the book waiting in your heart.
This is your time. As the big publishers continue to consolidate and downsize, we want you to know what they’re looking for and how to stand out. Traditional publishing is not going anywhere; it’s a multi-billion dollar industry and the majority of books are still sold in brick-and-mortar stores.
Every day somewhere between 5-50 book deals take place (including foreign rights). Every day the big publishers are signing authors. But there’s no doubt they’re becoming more discerning. We want you armed with all of the latest, greatest Intel to make you one of them.
Danielle and I created Your Big Beautiful Book Plan to break it down. Help you get your word out into the world, where it belongs… quickly. We’re all about ease, speed, and results here. And it’s working! People who have used this program have recently inked deals at Simon & Schuster, Random House, and Globe Pequot to name a few.
Danielle and I have given this all we’ve got. It’s the best program out there on making your book a REALITY already, and getting it to the masses. If this makes you smile and your heart race, trust that feeling and join us.
More on Danielle…
Danielle LaPorte is an outspoken creative visionary. She published The Fire Starter Sessions with Random House/Crown and has also had major success with self-publishing. She’s a former think tank exec and business strategist who can dish for days about branding and platform-raising.
Join Danielle and me for this live Spreecast event if you’re:
- Someone who loves to write (anywhere) and aches to help others through what you’ve lived through and know.
- Hoping to learn techniques for building the dreaded “platform” that don’t feel akin to going in for a root canal.
- Wanting to master the making of a pitch, even for self-publishing your work.
- Jonesin’ to craft the kind of proposal agents are praying for and editors rush to bid on…
- Dreaming of landing that great agent, who gets you to the best editors.
- Hoping for a format to keep you accountable, make it easy, and most of all fun… Isn’t that what this change-the-world business is all about?!
We’ve done this over and over, for ourselves and others. And we’ve helped hundreds of writers, info-product producers, + wisdom mavens devote themselves to DONE. We’re talking life’s work, in print and on-line. Decade-long dreams, on the shelf and on e-readers. We absolutely love this business. And you’re going to feel the love.
Bring your questions and your dreams. We’re at your service.
P.S. If you get a chance, leave me a comment and let me know you’re coming. I’ll love knowing you’re with us:)
Spread the word
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Too busy to get your book down? Thinking you’ve got to get organized first? Don’t kid yourself. Chances are the piles of crap in your office and those unfinished to-do lists will still be there by year’s end… in 2026!
Since it’s not gonna happen for you—being “ready” to sit down all zen-like and caught up and all (sorry to be so nego, I suppose it could happen, in an alternate dimension)—don’t you think it’s time to make magic happen anyway? Everyone who loves you knows your book’s long overdue and it’s time to make some serious headway or quit talking about it already (no, don’t quit… that’ll make you really grumpy and no good to anyone and that’s a really bad idea).
That’s why today’s your lucky day, seriously, because I’ve some time-tested rescue tools to make it easier and much faster for you to finish your book. Believe me when I say these babies have transformed my experience as a writer. Oh, that’s easy for her to say, you could be thinking. She’s a professional. She’s written bestsellers in twelve weeks. While that’s true, I’m happy to debunk any images of perfection you may have of us writers and admit that it’s often haphazard and discombobulated, our process. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve only written one book fully organized (my first one, before the word “deadline” started haunting my dreams).
Since then, my office has often looked more like the floor of the Stock Exchange on Black Friday than the serene place it once was. Plus, I’ve had to take crazy on the road with me, writing at the bedside of sickies at the hospital, from my car during a fire evacuation, at Starbucks when my Internet was out and I was so cold my teeth were chattering (what’s the deal with having to wear a parka in a coffee shop, anyway—to get you to buy more hot bevs?).
But not anymore. Life’s infinitely easier these days. (Full disclosure… the kid’s grown and my parents are dead, so my son no longer cries for “mama milk” and my mom and dad can’t die again, which is helpful, because that seriously sucked.) So, other than that, what’s my secret? What tricks have I got up my sleeve? Drumroll, please… My-Top-3-Writing-Shortcuts-For-Harried-Writers-To-Help-You-Get-Your-Book-Done-No-Matter-What-Crazy-Shit’s-Going-On-In-Or-Around-You tools…
And, by the way, I don’t get one penny (or even a corporate pat on the back) for endorsing any of these things. Just sharin’ the love + the gold (or a way for you to make the gold, which brings in more love).
Writing Shortcut Tool #1: Scrivener—this is a weird-sounding $45 writing program (for Macs + Windows) that will knock you out of your chair—and finally help you make sense of those racing thoughts in your crowded brain and jamming your files. Never again will you have to search endlessly for a chapter or note in a Word file or a research article or a PDF or a video or audio file you’ve misplaced or put somewhere on your totally chaotic desktop. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Word docs. Have about a zillion of them. But there’s a better way to find + organize stuff (and you can use this in conjunction with your Word docs!)
I first learned about Scrivener at one of my retreats and immediately saw the organizational benefits and fell hard. Love at first write. Since then, every time I show my retreat girls how I organize my book projects, the reaction is unanimous. It’s as close to orgasmic as anything we offer in Carmel… well, maybe except what Jennifer, my chef, has in her hot little hands when she carries in a tray of her crème brulee with burnt marshmallow topping.
Aside from that, the women have been known to scream when they see Scrivener in action. I’ve honestly had ladies download the software right there, start copying their files into the binder and cry to me, and to each other, saying it’s the single best thing that’s ever happened to their creativity. (Never mind that I’m standing right there thinking, Hey, but what about me? Ha.)
If you haven’t already, check it out. (The photo here shows their cork board—so flippin’ cool—but there are so many other incredible features.) There’s a learning curve for sure. You’re not going to understand it in an hour, or maybe even a day. But watch the tutorials when you have time, download it, make copies of your precious Word docs and then cut and paste and start to play with them. It’s easy once you get the hang of it (or can see someone already using it) and will be worth taking the time to learn how to use this magical, magical program. Promise.
You’re welcome, my friend.
It’s Sunday and I’m sleepy after feasting on leftover Halloween candies Larry left on the counter while I was gone in Carmel. It’s no bueno to walk into your house after five hours in the car only to see 500 pieces of chocolate (100 for each hour) staring you in the famished face. Bad Larry. Very bad Larry.
I was too lazy this morning from last night’s binge to write today’s blog, but was also aching to share these tips. So, I did what I always do when I’m working on a deadline and the words are coming in fast ‘n furious and yet I can’t sit down at a computer: I whip out my phone and do something I can rally for (in this case walk Miss Merry, my toy poodle—who desperately needed to pee) while rambling into my phone and “writing” this blog at the same time. Mama loves to multitask, ya’ll.
A bit of an aside, and a word to the wise: once you’ve decided to start your book and you’re taking it seriously—maybe you’ve said a prayer about it, done a ritual where you’re asking God to help you get out of the way and/or clear your schedule, or you’ve committed to taking a half hour every morning to write or use your lunch hour at work—your unconscious sees that you mean business and inundates you with ideas that were never there before. That’s especially the case when you commit to a writing group or to show things to others.
Case in point: Mercedes. A professional surfer from Argentina who lives in Hawaii and coaches folks in creating Abundance, and joined us in Carmel last week. On Thursday morning, unbeknownst to us, she stopped working on her book to tell her peeps in her blog about how when she recently committed to write her book she was suddenly writing like a fiend, which brought her to Carmel on the heels of some unexpected magical happenings. In taking a stand for her art, she got snippets of ideas and full downloads often, and often at inopportune times. Isn’t that always the case? (She also got a random, last-minute shipment of free luggage and a jacket from her sponsor, Patagonia, something she hadn’t ordered, just perfect for the flight + fog of Carmel).
Here’s the cool thing about Voice memos. Mercedes, like the rest of us, has her phone with her most everywhere she goes (except, I imagine, on the big waves). She now knows that instead of thinking, “Oh, I’ll remember this and write it down later” (please no!) or, “That’s just a little thought, that’s no big idea,” she can trust the timing of those insights and get them down in the moment on her phone before they’re gone. She knows that she’s being inspired, no matter how small the thought, and that she’ll be able to string those little thoughts together later.
Once you start talking into your phone for a while, you’re going to find that you have a LOT of good, usable book material. Sure, you’ll discard some thoughts, but others will feel practically done from start to finish and you’ll amaze yourself with the quality and quantity of your output.
Then what? I’m still waiting for a voice recognition software I love. In the meantime, I either transcribe those snippets myself (like I did with my blog notes a few minutes ago) or have it transcribed somewhere fabulous (see point #3). Also, remember to synch your Voice Memos to your computer so you have another copy somewhere (I had the genius guy at Apple fix my settings so that mine automatically go into the cloud—don’t ask me how—so that they’re all on all of my devises). You can also email them to yourself if they’re not too long.
There are other voice recording programs too, some are easier than others to label/use. So do a little research and see what works best for you.
Writing Shortcut Tool #3: Transcription. I LOVE coming home from a trip where I’ve talked into my phone in the car, only to email those mp3 files over to Verbalink Transcription services to have their nimble typists bring my rambling words to life on the page. If I’ve got a big meeting coming up, I’ve been known to place a rush order and receive 10,000 words the next day. No kidding. I’ve used other great transcription services, but most can rarely deliver the next day. Verbalink is the best way I’ve found to keep up my momentum and ensure that those timely ideas aren’t forgotten or misplaced.
These folks are ethical and fast and inexpensive. I have them send me Word docs (that I then copy and paste into my Scrivener) that are remarkably typo free. I’m sure you can find less expensive transcribers if you send your files overseas, but I doubt you’ll ever find them free of errors. Besides, they’re located in Santa Monica, CA, and I like to support local + American businesses, so I prefer to keep it close to home.
Wow. Okay. Shaved a bunch of words off this post in an attempt to start keepin’ it shorter. Phew. Hope today’s tips help you as much as they’ve helped me. More where they came from. And, take a moment to leave me a comment and let me/us know any shortcuts you use.
Now it’s time for mama to ingest more caffeinated chocolate (with celery, of course). Or take a nap.
P.S. My thoughts + prayers are with our East Coast friends (including a few clients in negotiations with NY publishers—crossing all available digits). A few of those who were going to join us at my home in Lake Arrowhead this coming weekend have had to change their travel plans. I’m available to speak with anyone who’d like to join us and shortcut his or her process. (323) 769-5153
“Thank you for a whole new WOW! I had two big wows in the first two days in Carmel about my book, and then a million other ones.” ~Karen Misbach, novelist + lawyer, Richmond, VA
I just got through talking a client off the ledge. Let’s call her Jan. Researching comparable books for her proposal, she’d been reading the work of a current bestselling author—a woman for whom hundreds of people line up nationwide to attend her signings—and Jan was ready to jump.
“F this. I can’t compete,” she said. “The more I read, both her writing and my own, the madder and more discouraged I get.”
Here’s what I told her. Read this if you’ve ever felt paralyzed by comparison—which is, by the way, NORMAL!
Pretend I’m talking to you here. Because I am…
You’re an incredible writer. While your history and life lessons share some commonalities with others, your styles are different. You’re not in a competition with any one of them for anything.
I learned early on that there will always be someone prettier, smarter, more fit, and better than me in nearly every way. Yet, it’s the nearly that matters most. That’s the piece no one can do but you. Have faith in your nearly.
Über-talented people will shine their light for the world to see, and sometimes their brilliance will leave you feeling inept. Turd-like. A waste of wordy space.
Yet, someone out there makes them feel equally undeserving. I’ve interviewed enough celebs for books and magazine articles over the years to know that’s a fact. Trust me.
Personally, I’ve used moments of self-flogging comparisons as an excuse to cease working toward my dreams and goals, halting my progress. But not for long. Moving forward regardless is the only thing that brings any kind of lasting relief.
If you’ve read my past posts, you can probably guess the book that both inspires me and has on occasion made me want to give it all up to become a pea farmer in Peoria—Eat, Pray, Love. That’s not the book that’s currently slaying Jan (that one will go unnamed here). Interestingly, while I love the title she’s wrestling with, it doesn’t make me feel like a dullard. The author’s background and lifestyle are too foreign to my own to trigger fragile feelings.
But Liz Gilbert (my American Author Idol, the writer of the aforementioned EPL) and I share just enough commonality in this life to make it dangerous for me in a get-my-hopes-up kind of way. But the truth is: she’s better than me. Better at crafting memorable analogies, better at putting the fun in funny, and researching vast amounts of data to make it riveting + relevant. She’s far superior at bringing ancient history and classic literature to life. And, that’s just for starters. Liz appears to have traveled everywhere, and retained a somewhat encyclopedic understanding of each square foot of where she’s been. A homebody by nature, I hang onto her every-globe-trotting word from the safety of my comfy couch, and millions of readers do too. I prefer it that way. Why should I expend the energy and expense to fling myself about when she does it so well, her retelling of events so vivid and adventurous?
Why indeed. That’s the nature of good writing.
But does her mastery mean I should give up writing because my name’s Linda and not Liz? Do her enviable communication skills negate my own? Does the great value sandwiched between the covers of her books mean I have nothing of value to share in mine? Lastly, because she’s already written my favorite book, is there nothing left to say?
Jan could see that, and breathed a little easier.
Then, I drilled down deeper.
What if… because of the incredible success of Liz’s books, readers want more from independent, plucky, spiritual, female writers? What if her success actually clears more space for my own?
Could happen. After all, Liz can only write one book a year, if that. But people can read much faster than that. Now that their appetite’s been whetted, who’s going to serve up the next course? I’d forever regret not trying—even if it just turns out to be for myself, in a notebook, scribbled down at the edges of the day. In the end, the very act of getting it down will free me.
And what about this? If I’m willing to really believe in myself, what if…
… I’m actually better than my idol at something? I’ve been told that when I delve into painful topics, I’m more self-reflective, better able to unearth subconscious wounds. I don’t know if that’s true, and I don’t know that I’ll ever put that gritty work out into the world. But it’s a nice thought to entertain—that maybe, just maybe, I might have a talent my “mentor in words” might marvel at? None of us would know, though, if I up and quit because I was intimidated.
What matters is that I focus forward (now that I’m a horse owner, perhaps I’ll buy actual blinders to see if that helps) and continue going where I want to go. For no other reason than because it’s where I want to go. To stop myself because someone OUT there is better than me is unacceptable to me.
I hope it’s unacceptable to my client. I hope it’s unacceptable to you.
You’ve got all it takes to do YOU better than anyone.
Now go write for you, from you, as you.
You’ll find your audience.
P.S. If you’d like to add to this conversation, perhaps share your own experience, leave a comment here. I’d love to hear it!
*In case you need help building your platform, I’m about to share my rock-star resources and the team that’s helped me build a platform that until very recently, I’d only just dared to hope for. And, to see a video I’ve been working on for months—the thing I’m most excited about—click here (or see again at the end of this post). Now, about that platform suckage…
An agent I work with just got her 10th rejection for a memoir written by a friend of mine.
The rejections are glowing, the agent’s undeterred, and it’s no doubt just a matter of time before the “right” editor says a resounding YES.
“You’re in the gap,” I told her. “That limbo place where you can see where you’re headed, but it’s still just outside of your reach.”
“What should I be doing?” she asked.
“Work on building your platform.” Heavy sigh. No one likes this prescription. I know; I used to be chairman of the Complaint Committee. But diving in to further work on her brand and thus increase her platform (her fan base—people who will BUY her book when it’s released) will help take her mind off the wait. Make her feel proactive. And, if she were to garner more “fans” or “opt-ins” for the newsletter she hasn’t yet created or gain subscribers for the blog she only occasionally updates, potential publishers wouldn’t scoff at her efforts.
“All this is easy for you,” she said. “You’re website’s so professional, your marketing’s so smart. You have a team of people helping you. I don’t have the time, money, or team. I’m overwhelmed. In fact… I’m… um, well, totally intimidated by your online presence! It freaks me out.”
What the heck? Easy for me? I was stunned. Until I forced myself to hire a photographer last year, I hadn’t taken a new head shot in nearly a decade! (Flashbacks of my once crooked-toothed smile and zitty skin haunted.) I’d only just figured out my umbrella name (Book Mama) last year after trying all manner of weird, what-the-bleep former names because Sivertsen’s too hard to spell even for my friends—nope, there’s no “L” there. I’d only recently moved all of the info from my disjointed sites (with different names for my blog, tele-courses, retreats, books, and my editing/consulting) onto that hub. Before that, my “platform” seriously lacked cohesion. Is Linda an author? An interviewer? A ghostwriter? A journalist? An editor? An environmentalist? A retreat leader? A blogger? WTF?
I rarely knew where to send prospective clients. “You really need to put all of your services into one place,” a few honest ones couldn’t help but blurt out.
“Yeah, I know. Thanks,” I’d stammer.
(Not to get too far afield, but in case you’re impressed I had all those sites… my first web guy was a family friend who helped out of the goodness of his heart. Telling a Good Samaritan like this that you want change after change is agonizing. The second was a cheaper than cheap college kid who couldn’t spell ball or fart. It took me longer to tell him how to fix a post than it took me to write them in the first place. The third built a beautiful site for a book release, but cost me well over $25,000. No complaints, except the behind-the-scenes tech stuff was beyond my intelligence level and I never did update a single line on my own.)
This relatively new friend had NO idea how I’d wrestled with trying to figure out how to put myself “out there” as a work-for-hire writer + midwife of other people’s stories. She didn’t know about my expensive divorce, or that I was (and am) single handedly putting my son through film school. In that context, she would have understood why paying for bananas and tampons took precedence over finding and hiring “my team.” Team? Are you kidding me? When you’re rebuilding a life in shambles (as any good dumpee knows), your team, if you’re lucky, consists of a crisis therapist and a gym membership.
I’d borrowed money to hire the most bright, sunny assistant (Natalie) to help me expand and get me through the darkest times (miss her… she’s out conquering the film world now, making a documentary to save lives). But even with her massive help, the divorce stress + my ridiculous dating debacles ate up great chunks of our precious time and brainpower, and we struggled to learn online marketing by our overwhelmed little selves. Yes, I’d written a couple of New York Times bestsellers (and helped clients get 6- and even 7-figure book deals) with people who had LARGE platforms. But when it came to my own, my secret motto was: “Platform building SUCKS.”
But then it all started to gel. My meager attempts to communicate with my small “list” (people who’d signed up for my WordPress publishing tips newsletter—maybe you?), started to bring my work to a larger audience, who then bought my products (passive income) and came to my retreats. Those clients—once strangers from the web—became friends + sisters and are now part of my wide extended family whom I can’t imagine living without.
Who knew a “platform” on the Internet could help foster such goodness? A lot of people, apparently. That’s why this topic never goes away.
It seems that the branding I’d done in fits and starts eventually allowed me to hit an effortless kind of stride that has made every aspect of my life easier, giving me back the most precious thing I’d long since given up—my time. Time to sleep at a sane hour each night and read books for pleasure, not just research. Time to take long hikes with my man and our dogs, ride our horses every day, golf, travel, hang out with our grown kids without looking at the clock, and write nearly whenever the spirit moves me (this is a big one for a once harried ghostwriter).
My motto today? “Platform building sucks… until it doesn’t. (aka: shit takes time.) Then it’s positively dreamy, as the above examples reveal.
“Nothing happens, and then nothing happens, and then everything happens.” ~Fay Weldon
So, what did I do? And, who helped me? (Yes, you can hire them to get this platform-building momentum happening in your own career.)
A few humble recommendations that have worked for me…
Photos: Your web presence starts with a great photo so people can see your essence and feel safe working with you. I adore LA-based photographer Michael Higgins (who shot my old and new pics). He’s fun as hell, talented, honest, a bargain, and eye candy too. (What? You don’t want to be bored on your shoot, do you?)
Social proof: While my first sites were nothing to tell the media about, I generated biz by posting testimonials as soon as I had them. Social proof is powerful—people want evidence that your work WORKS. I recommend doing work for free or at wildly reduced rates with the promise that people will give you blurbs if they love your services. A win-win. Soon you won’t have to give anything away.
Domain names: Buy your own name and book title, if you can get them. If the latter’s not available, try adding “thebook” to the end. That’s how my son and I were able to use the name Generation Green (already taken), as in, www.GenerationGreentheBook.com (the only site I didn’t fold into BookMama). I buy my domains for around $12 through GoDaddy.
Website: Whether or not you can afford help with your site, I recommend building it through WordPress. It’s so easy to update that a little kid could do it. I know plenty of folks who make their little kids do it (just kidding)… I mean… built their WordPress site from the ground up, without prior tech knowledge. I update mine regularly.
Video production + SEO (search engine optimization): By summer of last year, I’d been filling my Carmel writing retreats for some time. In a flash of PR moxie, I made a short video about them with my iPhone and posted it on my retreat site. For a nominal investment, I hired Kathy McDevitt (an Emmy-Award-winning producer with CNN) to go behind the scenes and work her magic with tags and key words to help the video rise in the Google search rankings. Soon, my retreats were on page #1 of Google and people were finding me from around the world (as an example, I had a delightful chat yesterday with an Irish woman who called me from her home in Dubai—wow!). Google is your friend. Getting on the first page or two in your genre, especially a crowded one like writing retreats, is platform-building gold.
My publishing tips blog continued bringing in more subscribers, as did PR from a few successful books I’d co-authored. Everything was feeding into everything else. But I still needed an “umbrella name”—a main hub for all things Linda. For years I’d longed to work on my branding, but wasn’t inspired to until I could figure out that dang umbrella name—something people could spell and I’d be happy with for a long time.
Growth anyone?: That’s when Danielle LaPorte called about launching a digital writing course with me. Danielle has a way of forcing you to play in a bigger sand box, thus, finding a name became URGENT. How I came up with BookMama (and secured the domain) is a tale in and of itself, which I’ll share in my next post.
Web design: Once I’d decided on my new name, Danielle referred me to her rock-star site builder, Paul Jarvis of www.twothirty.com. Paul and I mapped out everything I wanted, and while he simultaneously built our “Your Big Beautiful Book Plan” site (the digital writing course Danielle and I were creating), he masterfully made BookMama come to life in a matter of weeks. I’d never had such an effortless technological experience, and kissed the ground over this pattern changer.
Launch time: By then, Danielle and I had finished writing Your Big Beautiful Book Plan, and HER design team became my team (oh, happy day!). They took our words and put them into a design that upped the elegance factor ten fold. Mara Lubell at www.works-progress.com did our stylin’ book design & cover art. Alexandra Franzen worksmithed just the right copy when our brains had turned to mush. Angie Wheeler, Danielle’s Head of Everything, oversaw the entire project (and yet somehow found the time to load my WordPress site with images and teach me how to update it so I didn’t have to read the directions or watch YouTube videos). Jeff Phillips edited our audio clips, while Cassie Oswald & Hillary Weiss transcribed hours of audio. (Hillary also proofed, wordsmithed, and updated images to BookMama in the 11th hour, just as we were about to hit LIVE on both sites.)
Email marketing: Angie had moved my list over to MailChimp, where she also set up a new newsletter that I could send out anytime on my own, and she and Paul connected my old blog posts to my new WordPress site. Phew.
Video marketing: The very talented Madeline Ell took the video I’d shot with RuffHouse Entertainment here in LA, plus the video she’d shot of Danielle in Vancouver and edited them to create our Your Big Beautiful Book Plan video.
Heat: Once the BookMama and Big Beautiful sites were live, I soon got an email from my favorite hotel in Carmel, The Vagabond’s House Bed and Breakfast Inn, wanting to recommend my retreats on their website, just because. I smiled, knowing this famous artist haven for nearly 100 years, in one of the most revered artist communities in the world, wouldn’t have considered endorsing me had I not updated my look. (Build it and they will come? Yep.)
Still, one last issue bugged. “You really need a more professional video about your retreats.” I’d heard this several times. “The one you made on your phone looks sweet, but…” The subtext was “cheap.”
Retreat videos: I’d seen rave reviews for Caroline Harrison’s work. A former BBC producer/cinematographer, Caroline’s mini-documentaries are like nothing I’ve seen in video marketing. I longed for one of Carmel, if nothing else to have as a keepsake for what has become one of the most treasured experiences of my life.
Caroline took 36 hours of film at this years’ April retreat, and somehow whittled it down to less than 7 minutes (+ a few short testimonial videos). It’s taken me a while to get the vids posted (remember, shit takes time!!!), in part because of things I learned I “should” do first. (Who knew that creating a YouTube channel helps with SEO? Ugh!) Thankfully, Annika Martins—marketing consultant and tech know-how gal Friday—rallied to create that for me. She then had the brilliant idea to gather a bunch of tweetables—dear God, does it ever end?—from my blogs to send out bi-weekly as soon as I want to schedule them. With any luck, I might remember to follow up with her on that.
Today, right now… I’m giddiest about the mini-doc Carmel video we created + Q&A vids that delve deeper into the specifics. I’m humbled by the gorgeous testimonial videos several past participants made. After all this w-a-i-t-i-n-g, I can’t wait to share it all with you here. If you want to comment on the videos or share them with your friends, click here or paste this link: http://bit.ly/NeiOHH. If you’ve been to a retreat, I’d love to know if we’ve captured the magic we experienced together, and for those who haven’t come, please share how the videos inspire your own creative expansion.
Mostly, I share these videos with the prayer that what you see in them—the fulfillment of my platform-building dreams (from suckage to serious satisfaction)—validates for you that your life and work are truly a work of art. Something of great value to share with the world.
P.S. Thanks to my platform, all 7 retreats I’ve done this year have completely sold out. I’ve only got 3 spots left until next year. If you think you’d like to join us Sept. 24-28, or Oct. 29-Nov. 2nd, fill out the registration form here and we’ll schedule a phone chat to talk about securing your spot… and delivering your book baby, already! Yay!
I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a book a runaway international bestseller. I get asked about this all the time. “What does it take?” “How do people do it?” “What’s the secret formula?” While it’s no secret that those of us who write do so with the hope, intent, and burning desire to get read (+ simultaneously get a whole lot off our chests and out of our heads), what’s perhaps less discussed is that we write to share, connect, and heal. And hopefully in multiple languages.
So, since we’re all dreamin’ + husslin’ to make it happen, I thought I’d lay down some of my latest thoughts on creating/manifesting YOUR runaway hit. Let’s take one of my fave writers and do a little case study, shall we?
Welcome, Liz Gilbert, author of… I’m embarrassed even to say the title because you’ve already heard it a zillion times… Eat, Pray, Love. Whether you love Liz or not (I don’t get how you couldn’t), she’s KICKS serious publishing you know what. To date, she’s spent something like 200 weeks on the New York Times bestseller’s list (that’s almost FOUR years, people!), not to mention Julia Roberts played her in a film by the same name. Impressive.
Plus, she’s just good people. I’ve met her several times, and can attest.
But her merits aren’t actually my point. How Liz’s biggest book to date can radically help you have international sales aplenty is my point.
A little backstory:
This daughter of a Christmas tree farmer is an author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist, and memoirist. Nine years before the release of EPL, she penned a terrific article for GQ about her stint as a bartender at Coyote Ugly, an eastside bar. You may have seen the resulting film. I was tempted to bleach my hair and take up drinking (and dancing atop bars in short shorts and cowboy boots), with the hope that doing so would suddenly make me feel hot and ballsy like those femme fatale barkeeps. Since my scalp burns within 5 feet of hair dye and I fall asleep after one drink, I instead decided to become the proud owner of Dandy, a young and decidedly ballsy brown and white painted horse with attitude. I ride him every day. (In thick jeans and a bulky helmet, but still.)
Back on point. Yes! Our girl Liz has chops, and publishing cred in spades. Her words go down so smooth that she makes it all look ridiculously easy, like downing Kahlua and cream. You can’t imagine how many people have sat in my office and said, “I read that book and thought, ‘I can do that. So, that’s why I’m here. To do that.’” Gulp.
But Eat, Pray, Love wasn’t an immediate massive sensation. While it did hit the US bestseller list for two weeks, sales dropped to below the top 10, where it sold around 1,000 copies a week for about a year before the paperback sales suddenly hit a tipping point and went ballistic. Liz was 40 years old. “I’m really happy that it happened after my nervous breakdown, not before it,” she has said, grateful she wasn’t in her twenties.
Here’s how I suggest using her book to influence you and YOUR writing. Hang tough if you don’t have a copy in front of you; I’m enclosing a little cheat sheet to make it easy.
Take a few minutes to STUDY the glowing testimonials below from the pages of her book to see why and how she’s moving critics, the media, other authors, and readers worldwide to RAVE and buy multiple copies (I bought 22 one Christmas, I kid you not). See for yourself, through their words, what the buzz is all about… specifically.
As you read between the lines, compare, and let it sink in, ask yourself: What do I want people to say about my work? If you keep the end in mind (as Danielle LaPorte and I advise to do in Your Big Beautiful Book Plan), you’re on the right track to write your own success story. And, even if you’re not writing a memoir, I suggest reading on to see how these examples can be used for any genre.
First up, let’s look at a review of EPL from The New Yorker:
“… after a protracted divorce, she embarked on a yearlong trip of recovery, with three main stops: Rome, for pleasure (mostly gustatory, with a special emphasis on gelato); an ashram outside of Mumbai, for spiritual searching; and Bali, for “balancing.” These destinations are all on the beaten track, but Gilbert’s exuberance and her self-deprecating humor enliven the proceedings: recalling the first time she attempted to speak directly to God, she says, “It was all I could do to stop myself from saying, ‘I’ve always been a big fan of your work.’”
Notice the words I’ve put in bold… Exuberance and self-deprecating humor. I found references to these traits again and again. For example:
“… Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance that is close to irresistible.” ~The New York Times Book Review
“… This insightful, funny account of her travels reads like a mix of Susan Orlean and Frances Mayes.” ~Entertainment Weekly
“… She is an irresistible people magnet, an inveterate explorer, a marvelous storyteller, a vicious wit often at her own expense.” ~Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Reviewers also loved the richness of detail, the exotic, sexiness of her storytelling, and the infusion of God + self-love, as you’ll see in the next five quotes:
“…Sustaining a chatty, conspiratorial tone, Gilbert fully engages readers in the year’s cultural and emotional tapestry—conveying rapture with infectious brio, recalling anguish with touching candor—as she details her exotic tableau with history, anecdote and impression.” ~Publisher’s Weekly
“… As Gilbert switches from gelato to kundalini Shakti to herbal cures Balinese-style, she ponders the many paths to divinity, the true nature of happiness, and the boon of good-hearted, sexy love. Gilbert’s sensuous and audacious spiritual odyssey is as deeply pleasurable as it is enlightening.” ~ Donna Seaman, Booklist
“This is a wonderful book, brilliant and personal, rich in spiritual insight.” ~Anne Lamott
“A meditation on love in its many forms—love of food, language, humanity, God, and most meaningful for Gilbert, love of self.” ~Los Angeles Times
“Readable and funny… She’s a gutsy gal, this Liz, flaunting her psychic wounds and her search for faith in a pop-culture world.” ~The Washington Post
Last, but not least, readers just plain found EPL entertaining:
“Gilbert’s prose is fueled by a mix of intelligence, wit and colloquial exuberance
that is close to irresistible.” ~The New York Times Book Review
“An engaging, intelligent, and highly entertaining memoir.” ~Time
“Be advised that the supremely entertaining Eat, Pray, Love—a mid-thirties memoir by the endlessly talented Elizabeth Gilbert—is not just for the ladies, fellas.” ~GQ
“Compulsively readable.” ~Elle
“Engrossing and captivating.” ~Marie Claire
Which brings me back to you:
What do you want your readers to think, and more importantly FEEL when reading your work? Do you want them to fall in love with your story through your intelligent wit and eye for minute detail? What about drawing them in through your whacky characters with all-too human frailties and challenges to overcome, or your deep sense of the earth and her creatures. You’ve got a style all your own, and it’s just as unique (and special) as your fingerprint.
Whether it’s your suspenseful sense of timing and rhythm, your raw vulnerability, your salacious scenarios, or knowledge of all things artistic and historical—maybe even all of the above—use what’s uniquely yours.
Start with the end in mind, and see where it takes you. And, let’s start a conversation (by leaving a comment below) about what you want readers to say about your writing in the near future. I’d also love to hear any inspirational testimonials you find in one of your favorite books!
I think I’m going to have to change the name of this blog from “Pub Tip Tuesday” to “Pub Tip Every Third Tuesday.” Sheesh! It’s consistent with all the other change in my life right now. I just changed my address (moved in with my boyfriend over the last three weeks), changed my “no more animals” rule and got a Tazmanian devil puppy (in the midst of moving, storing and/or selling everything I own—a brilliant idea), and changed my political party (just kidding—although said big-business boyfriend, who takes Los Angeles’ trash and turns it into alternative energy, thinks that’s hilarious and would love to see the drama of me trying to do just that).
Okay, about that move—I sure hope you haven’t been holding your breath waiting on the interview I told you about a few weeks ago, the one of my client Chrisanna Northrup revealing how she figured out how to align with some of the biggest media giants in the world, virtually guaranteeing she’ll sell hundreds of thousands, if not millions of books, because it’s lost.
“Lost” isn’t really the right word, actually. More like but buried. Under a mountain of boxes in my man’s garage. My plan right now (as I write this from the car on my way to a high school graduation in Arizona) is to unpack after our upcoming May 30th Carmel retreat. Good Lord, please don’t hold your breath on that one either because I’m hatching this plan in the car… on the way to the graduation… in other words, somewhere other than my desk, which, by the way, is also somewhere in his garage.
That’s a long way of saying that while the details of my life are blenderized at the moment, I’m enormously happy settling in with the man of my dreams. We’re headed to his daughter’s graduation, in fact, and my son, whom she calls her “brother,” albeit an irritating one, is asleep with one of our dogs in the back seat. What could be better than that?
Many of you have become clients and friends over the months I’ve been blogging here, and I hope you’ll stick with me a few more weeks for my life to reorganize. I miss writing about publishing, and I miss getting your feedback. In the meantime, I thought I’d give you a link to a blog post from last year that’s still near and dear to my heart. In it, I wrote about a past move, where the idea of EXPANDING into bigger shoes (and a bigger home) brought up a lot for me. (I’m happy to say that this move was seamless.) Many people told me they resonated with the piece, so perhaps you’ll find it a fun reminder. For those of you who have joined our writing community since last year’s post, I hope you enjoy the ramble.
It’s been nearly a year since I wrote this, and it’s funny to see that I closed the post saying that I was twitching to get a bigger garage—one that might be big enough for a “golf cart.” (I’d always wanted to learn the game, but had never had time.) Be careful what you wish for. For our first Christmas together this past year, my man gave me a bag of clubs and a golf membership. We may not have a cart in our garage, but there are about 100 of them waiting for us anytime down the street at the club.
Here’s to expansion, love, and organization! And here’s to you and your expansion.
We still have a spot for next week’s Carmel writing retreat. Come play with us!
Writers who dream of being published someday often mistakenly believe they have to do it in their 20s. Wrong. I did it with Lives Charmed in my 30s. And, for many authors, that was young.
In this week’s Pub Tip, we’re going to explore first-time authors who were in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.
Audrey Niffenegger, first published at age 40
Artist. Professor. Writer.
Forty-eight-year-old Audrey Niffenegger does it all. She was born in Michigan and raised in Chicago, where she currently resides. Her passions include making prints, paintings, drawings and comics, teaching, and writing.
Audrey made her big debut when she was forty years old. In 2003, thanks to independent publisher, MacAdam/Cage, The Time Traveler’s Wife was a success – an international best-selling novel, and a movie adaptation.
A.S. Byatt, age 54
Novelist. Poet. Writer.
Englishwoman, Dame Antonia Susan Duffy (also known as A.S. Byatt), will be celebrating her 75th birthday in August. Possession was her first published, Booker Prize-winning novel.
According to Ted Gioia, “Possession has this same multi-layered resonance, but Byatt never gets caught up in the flashiness of her textual juggling, and every move she makes contributes to a holistic effect.”
She is a realist and it shows in her work. Her life clearly exemplifies that perseverance pays off.
Marilynne Robinson, age 65
Essayist. Novelist. Teacher.
American Author Marilynne Robinson was born in 1947. While attending graduate school in 1981, she wrote her first award-winning, Pulitzer Prize nominated novel, Housekeeping.
Since then, her career has soared. The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop is where she currently teaches and shares her passion for writing.
Marilynne is known today as an admirable novelist. She never gave up, followed her dreams, and because of her diligence, education, and hard work, we’re talking about her now.
José Saramago, age 73
Journalist. Playwright. Writer.
Portuguese novelist José Saramago (born in 1922) lived his life to the fullest and did what he loved most. He wrote… and wrote… and wrote.
In 1947 his first novel, Country of Sin was published. Fame didn’t find him until he was in his 50s. Later, his legendary novel, Blindness was published in 1995.
Angela Rosati, age 80
Eighty-one-year-old Angela Rosati is a New York native, raised in Astoria. When she wasn’t working on her father’s dairy, she was enjoying entertainment at a Broadway show, or an opera.
According to Angela, she “worked hard and read a lot.” That must explain why she was able to publish her first book later in life… when she was EIGHTY years old! Amazing.
The plot in her first paperback book, WANTED: HUSBAND (published by Moongypsy Press), is steamy and sweet, taking place in the1950s.
Helen Hoover Santymeyer, age 90
Being a 90-year-old first-time author sounds too good to be true, right? Well, believe it or not, it IS true.
Helen Hoover Santymeyer wrote an American classic, the #1 New York Times bestseller – And Ladies of the Club. Her life began in 1895 and ended in 1986.
Helen is living proof that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Anything…
It really is never too late to publish your book. NEVER…
And, it’s never too late to appreciate someone you adore. As many of you know, my dear friend and assistant for the past 2.5 years—Natalie Kottke—started an exciting new job this week as a political documentarian. She and I are practicing our Skype skills so we can pretend to be in the same place at the same time, even though we’re far across town. I know you join me in wishing our Naters all the success in the world. I’ll be sure and keep you abreast of her good news!
Have a great week, everyone! Until next time,