The Beautiful Formula

Donald Maass taught the first writing class I ever attended at a writer’s conference. It was an early iteration of his very popular “Writing the Breakout Novel” workshop he has since taught all over the country (and which he’ll be teaching this summer at the PNWA’s conference). As with all the classes I take, I remember only one nugget he shared that afternoon, though it was a good one: books succeed, ultimately, because of word of mouth.

That was true then, before the Internet and well before social media, and it is true now. I was reminded of this the other week when I woke up one morning to discover a rash of tweets that included my handle (@wdbk, if you’re curious). It turns out the blogger and digital media maven Jane Friedman had excerpted the first chapter of my new book Fearless Writing. Her readers seemed to like what she’d shared and were saying so in the Twitterverse. How exciting!

I had no idea why she had excerpted it, however, until my editor explained that they sent all their books to Jane in the hope she might mention one. This is what we call publicity. You publish a book and twiddle your thumbs and wonder, “What can I do to help that book?” Apparently my publisher had done something. I wondered what else they or I could do. It feels good to do things you like doing, after all. That’s why I write – because it feels good. There are other reasons, but that’s the first and most important reason.

It’s also the reason we tweet and talk about books we like: it feels good. It feels good to read something you like, and then it feels good to talk about it. Which is why the very best piece of publicity is the book itself. No review, platform, or book tour will ever supplant the influence the book has over its readers, and their desire to recommend it to others. After the book is written, those other actions we take, help, but it is important to remember that our first and most important job is to write a book we would love to read. No one would have tweeted that excerpt if they hadn’t felt good while they were reading it, and they wouldn’t have felt good reading it if I hadn’t felt good while I wrote it. That’s writing’s beautiful formula.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Fearless Marketing

I have a book coming out in a month (Fearless Writing, May 12, Writer’s Digest Books), and in preparation I’ve been doing a bit of marketing. I’ve been guest blogging on Writer’s Digest’s website, I’ve been talking about the book on my Author2Author podcast, I’ve updated my website, I’m running a Fearless Writing Workshop, I’ve been arranging bookstore appearances and interviews, I’ve tweeted about it, posted on Facebook about it, and generally mentioned it whenever I could.

This, I’m told, is what a writer is supposed to do. This is how you’re supposed to drive preorders and prepare the reading public for the event that is the publication your new book. I certainly want people to know my book exists, and I would love as many people as possible to preorder it – but that’s not actually why I do all this stuff. I do it because I loved writing the book. I loved where I had to go to within myself to write it. I loved thinking about fearlessness and unconditional love and our inherent creativity. To write the book, I had to dive deeply into all of this, and I loved it.

But I’m done writing it. I can still think about what it means to write fearlessly, and I do, but there is nothing like focusing on something with the intention sharing it with other people to deepen my understanding of it. Which is why I keep looking for ways to “market” it. What is called marketing, for me, is just another excuse to focus on this idea I value, so that other people might share in its value.

I have absolutely no idea what the results of all my marketing will be sales-wise. Commerce remains a mysterious engine to me. No one can make anyone buy anything. Fortunately, the true payoff is immediate: I’m focused on what interests me most. That’s really all I ever want. Yes, I want to make money and keep a roof over my head and all that, but really I just want to focus on what Interests me. This is what makes me happy, and when I’m happy it doesn’t matter if I’m writing or marketing or teaching or just sitting and thinking – when I’m happy I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Adventures in Marketing

I was twenty-two and had written a batch of poems in a brief creative dash. It had been years since I had finished so much as a short story, and the satisfaction of having something completed, even if it was only eight lines, was addictive. Plus most of my poems were like little monologues, and I loved the theater, so it was a happy discovery that I could marry these art forms.

My mother’s friend Tina also loved poetry, so much so that she had started her own literary journal. Word trickled down to me that Tina would be hosting a poetry reading at the University of Rhode Island, and if I wanted to I could participate. I was quite nervous waiting my turn there in the classroom with all the other poets, but when the moment arrived, and I laid my poems on the lectern and started reading, it was just more theater, and it was great fun sharing these little pieces that had so pleased me with other people and seeing that these people seemed to be pleased as well.

A week after the poetry reading I got a call from Tina. What a success the reading had been! You were a hit, she said. The actor in me enjoyed that. I would do another poetry reading shortly thereafter and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first. Then I got another call from Tina. She wanted to publish some of my poems in the upcoming edition of her journal. Would that be okay? I said it most certainly would be okay. And that was how my work was published for the first time.

Here is what I knew back then: I knew that I loved to read certain poets, and that I loved to write poetry. I loved both the freedom poetry afforded me, as well as the economy it required, and I loved the energy of performing. What I did not know was that those poetry readings were my first adventures in marketing. My poems were published because I had found a means to expose my work to other people such that opportunities that had not previously been available were now available.

Except it didn’t feel like marketing because I wasn’t trying to sell anything, or get published, or get exposure. I wasn’t trying to get anything. I just wanted to share something that felt good to share. That is all “marketing” needs to be. In fact, to call it anything else is a lie. To call it anything else is to say that I do not love what I love, and that I do not believe the world will be better off with more of what I love in it – which, though I have spent many years doubting this is so, remains the only truth to which I can reliably return.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Creating Opportunities

You may have heard the expression, “create your own opportunities.” To me, this sort of tidy aphorism sometimes feels lovely in its can-doism, but dubious in its application. An opportunity is something that comes to you and upon which you act; how can you create something that comes to you? Here’s how.

A few years ago I was interviewed on The Back Porch Writer, a Blogtalk Radio show hosted Kori Miller. This opportunity came about after Kori wrote me to thank me for one of my recent episodes of Author2Author. After a friendly back-and-forth I mentioned I had a book out and would she like me to be a guest on her show. She said yes, and we scheduled our interview.

But that was not how I actually created this opportunity. I had actually created this opportunity, unbeknownst to me, about a year earlier. Kori began our interview by asking me what had motivated me to start Author2Author, and I explained about wanting to expand the format of my interviews and so on. Then Kori told me that she had stumbled on Author2Author one day, liked what she heard, and thought, “I want to do what he’s doing!” And so she started Back Porch Writer. This was how I “created my own opportunity.” I did what I loved and offered it to people through the means available to me, and acted in a timely fashion when that love was returned to me.

After hearing Kori’s story, I was reminded again of what I can do and what I can’t do. Madness waits for anyone certain he must build his every opportunity board-by-board. Creation is always a group effort, a fact I frequently ignore. I awake from uneasy dreams full of doubt and pessimism, the field of possibility an inscrutable and unfriendly bog. Oh, the misery of forgetting. To stand in loneliness, convinced I must make the world alone, while feeling an emptiness that is actually other people’s efforts and then calling myself incomplete.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Night I Learned to Enjoy Marketing

I had agreed to be a part of something called “Wine & Words.” This is a yearly event held at a lovely outdoor mall in Issaquah, Washington, where for a nominal fee, folks could taste offerings from various winemakers, each of whom had set up temporary shop in a different store. Oh, and these same people could also meet local authors, who had also set up shop in the various stores. I was one such local author, and it soon became clear to me that the event should have been called “WINE & words.” Free booze, it turns out, shines unnaturally bright in the mind of the average adult consumer.

The book I was promoting was called Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion. This is a collection of short inspirational essays and stories about writing and the creative process. It’s not a General Public kind of book. So I sat on my little stool beside my stack of books, watching a parade of friendly strangers shuffle past in a beeline for the winemaker’s table, and then turn and make a beeline for the door and more free wine.

I talked to one of the employees until there was nothing left for us to talk about. More people shuffled in and out. Sometimes they would glance my way curiously as they left in search of more wine. Finally, just to break the boredom, the next time a guy glanced my way, I said, “You like to write?”

“Kind of. I was thinking of starting a blog for my business.”

I picked up a copy of the book. “You might like this then.” I looked down at the book and thought about what I’d like to say. I hadn’t planned on selling the book. I’m not a salesman, after all; I’m a writer. But I did love this little book. Just looking again at its cover I was reminded how much I loved it and why I’d written it in the first place.

“See, every writer has the same challenge,” I said. “They have to face a blank page and decide what should go on it. Everyone’s page is equally blank. You have to have the confidence to know that what you want to share with the world is worth sharing. Everyone worries about this; everyone deals with doubt. Doesn’t matter who you are. So each of these little essays and stories is just to remind you that all you have to do is know what you love and let the rest take care of itself.”

I was getting up a good head of steam, which is to say I was enjoying talking about it. I was enjoying talking about it in precisely the same way I had enjoyed writing it. Which is why I was a little caught off guard when the guy interrupted me to say, “I’ll take a copy.”

And that was the moment I understood what people really mean when they talk about marketing. Up until that moment I thought I disdained it because up until that moment I had believed that marketing, and sales in general, was about either knowing what other people liked or somehow manipulating someone into liking what I’d written. I have no idea what other people like and I have no idea how to make anyone do anything.

But I do know what I like, and I do know why I wrote what I wrote – and that, it turns out, is all I need to know. Marketing is just another opportunity for writers to connect with what they love to write, so they might share what they love with other people. In this way the real difference between writing and marketing can be strangely negligible. It’s all communication, and the only way to reach another person is to get out of their heads and get into my own heart.

 

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Adventures in Marketing

I was twenty-two and had written a batch of poems in a brief creative dash. It had been years since I had finished so much as a short story, and the satisfaction of having something completed, even if it was only eight lines, was addictive. Plus most of my poems were like little monologues, and I loved the theater, so it was a happy discovery that I could marry these art forms.

My mother’s friend Tina also loved poetry, so much so that she had started her own literary journal. Word trickled down to me that Tina would be hosting a poetry reading at the University of Rhode Island, and if I wanted to I could read as well. I was quite nervous waiting my turn there in the classroom with all the other poets, but when the moment arrived, and I laid my poems on the lectern and started reading, it was just more theater, and it was great fun sharing these little pieces that had so pleased me with other people and seeing that these people seemed to be pleased as well.

A week after the poetry reading I got a call from Tina. What a success the reading had been! You were a hit, she said. The actor in me enjoyed that. I would do another poetry reading shortly thereafter and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first. Then I got another call from Tina. She wanted to publish some of my poems in the upcoming edition of her journal. Would that be okay? I said it most certainly would be okay. And that was how my work was published for the first time.

Here is what I knew back then: I knew that I loved to read certain poets, and that I loved to write poetry. I loved both the freedom poetry afforded me, as well as the economy it required, and I loved the energy of performing. What I did not know was that those poetry readings were my first adventures in marketing. My poems were published because I had found a means to expose my work to other people such that opportunities that had not previously been available were now available.

Except it didn’t feel like marketing because I wasn’t trying to sell anything, or get published, or get exposure. I wasn’t trying to get anything. I just wanted to share something that felt good to share. That is all “marketing” needs to be. In fact, to call it anything else is a lie. To call it anything else is to say that I do not love what I love, and that I do not believe the world will be better off with more of what I love in it – which, though I have spent many years doubting this is so, remains the only truth to which I can reliably return.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Lazy Writer’s Guide to Building a Platform

My agent was getting ready to submit the first non-fiction book I’d written, which meant we were busy cobbling together a book proposal. Fiction writers – which I had been before this – don’t bother with book proposals, so I was a bit skeptical of the whole process. Somehow I had to not only explain what the book was but also demonstrate that there was a market for it. Lacking a crystal ball, I didn’t understand how this was realistically possible.

“You talk about your platform,” my agent explained. “Those are the first people who will buy the book.”

“My platform?”

“You know: Author magazine, the blog, the interviews, Author2Author, your teaching. Your platform.”

“That stuff? I don’t know if that’s a platform.”

“I deal with platforms and promotion all the time. It’s a good platform.”

“Really?”

“Yes!”

I took her word for it. Until then, I did not think I had a platform, because I had heard that an author must build a platform. Building something seemed like a lot of work. I like doing stuff, but I don’t like work. Doing stuff becomes work when I don’t want to do what has to be done. So I guess I’m lazy in that way, but it’s all right because I still get a lot of stuff done – like all the things that comprise my supposed platform. I built that platform by just doing what I wanted to do.

Just doing what I want to do is a defining preference I share with many of the writers I know. It’s a practical one too, because to write a book or a story or a poem or an essay is a discipline of asking myself over and over again, “What is most interesting to me right now?” My writing is never so alive and original and, yes, salable, as when I am hot on the trail of what interests me most. I cannot manufacture this interest; it is either present and I follow it, or it is not and I don’t.

I can’t simply turn off this practical laziness when I leave my desk, either. It has brought me too much happiness. Actually, it has brought me all my happiness. Which is why a little rebellion always stirs in my heart whenever I hear some well-intentioned expert tell me what I have to do to have success in this very competitive business. All I ever have to do is follow my curiosity. It is the only thing that has had led me anywhere I want to be.

So if you are like me, and you love to write but you are a little lazy, and you have heard that you need a platform, and you think you don’t know how build one, don’t worry. Writing has already taught you everything you need to know about building platforms. I go could go on about blogs and websites and mailing lists, but all of that is useless until you are curious. Without your curiosity – which doesn’t care about hits, or likes, or retweets, or sales – nothing you start will be finished. You will rebel, and feel bad because you haven’t done what needs to be done, and maybe even tell yourself that you aren’t getting anywhere.

And so you go back to writing, and eventually you finish something, and you wonder, “How could I share this other people?” And you find that question interesting, which is to say you are curious, and now you are on your way.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Your Greatest Resource

I sometimes work with students or clients who’ve published independently and want to know how to market their novel or memoir. I rarely have the sort of answers these writers are looking for at the ready, and so I was glad when I stumbled on this post from author and blogger Molly Greene: Book Promotions That Work. If you’ve just published something, and you’re wondering what you should do next, this is a short but handy list.

It’s a good place to start, and a lot of writers need a good place to start because a lot of writers have exactly zero interest in marketing. Most writers just want to write. As well they should. Even with the good days and bad days, writing is mostly good. It feels good to sink into that dream. It feels good to forget about your day and your job and your bills and follow the stream of a story. It feels good to stop worrying what other people think about this or that and only wonder what you think of this and that.

And it feels good to listen to your imagination and intuition. They come up with such interesting ideas, ideas you would never have come up with bumping around your day, grousing about the government or your in-laws. How reassuring, when you go deep into that dream called a story and the imagination and intuition take over; how nice to know you don’t have to come up with every little idea by yourself.

Which is why, I when I teach marketing, I don’t start with lists, even good one’s like Molly’s. I don’t want any author to lose track of their greatest resource. This resource is not on any website or in any class or any writing magazine or writing book. It can be found exactly where the stories you are marketing were found, and it is always waiting there with another great idea.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Carried Forward

Perhaps you have heard that authors, particularly newer authors, are increasingly responsible for their own promotion. Some writers have embraced this more than others. Some writers love playing the game of social media, love the book giveaways, the shotgun communication of Twitter, the visual immediacy of Tumblr. Some writers love to blog, and look upon an author website as a work of art. These writers would in all likelihood be tweeting, posting, tumbling, and blogging whether they had a book to promote or not.

Some writers do not love any of this, but they do it anyway. They dutifully acquire as many Twitter and Facebook followers as they can, and they remember occasionally to post a blog on their website. These writers have no idea if what they’re doing is having any effect whatsoever, but as long as they are chopping some promotional wood every day, they can rest easier at night, believing their efforts have staved off the creeping threat of obscurity.

And then there are those authors who hate the whole promotion business. The very act of promoting their book depresses them. They would rather just write books and let someone else try to sell them. They sometimes make themselves attend a Market Your Book Now! workshop at a writers’ conference, only to leave more depressed and hopeless than ever, because the workshop leader no doubt reminded them that if they did not embrace self-promotion, their writing career would be dead in the water.

No matter which category you fall into, your writing career need never be dead in the water. The water, after all, is your best friend. The creative stream you entered to write your story, that current that carried you from beginning to end, that brought you ideas you hadn’t predicted, that sent your characters in surprising directions: that stream is still flowing, whether you are writing or not. It doesn’t know how to turn off. The only question is whether you will swim against it, or flow with it.

Writers who hate promotion do not see promotion as a creative act. These writers are highly attuned to the experience of swimming against that current, and they know to avoid it. For many of those writers, writing is the one place they consistently don’t swim against the current. Unfortunately, the publishing world seems to be telling them they must swim against it. And so now, it turns out, to succeed at this thing they love, they must, as always, do this thing they hate.

When in doubt, remember the book you wrote. Remember, above all, how much you love it. You wouldn’t have written it if you didn’t love it. I know you’re grumpy about it sometimes, but that’s only because you think you’re not sure how many copies you must sell to prove that story is worthy of the love you already feel for it. So remember how much you loved writing it, and then ask the book, which you love, “How can I best share you?”

If you ask the question honestly, you will find yourself back in the same stream in which the book was written. It’s possible the stream will say, “Do nothing.” In which case, do nothing. It might also say write a blog, or tweet like you’ve never tweeted before, or give a reading. I don’t know what it will say, anymore than I know what you should write next. But I do know that stream is there for you, that it never ceases to flow, and that its job and pleasure is to carry you forward where life is interesting again.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Adventures in Marketing

I was twenty-two and had written a batch of poems in a brief creative dash. It had been years since I had finished so much as a short story, and the satisfaction of having something completed, even if it was only eight lines, was addictive. Plus most were like little monologues, and I loved the theater, so it was a happy discovery that I could marry these art forms.

My mother’s friend Tina also loved poetry, so much so that she had started her own literary journal. Word trickled down to me that Tina would be hosting a poetry reading at the University of Rhode Island, and if I wanted to I could read as well. I was quite nervous waiting my turn there in the classroom with all the other poets, but when the moment arrived, and I laid my poems on the lectern and started reading, it was just more theater, and it was great fun sharing these little pieces that had so pleased me with other people and seeing that these people seemed to be pleased as well.

A week after the poetry reading I got a call from Tina. What a success the reading had been! You were a hit, she said. The actor in me enjoyed that. I would do another poetry reading shortly thereafter and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first. Then I got another call from Tina. She wanted to publish some of my poems in the upcoming edition of her journal. Would that be okay? I said it most certainly would be okay. And that was how my work was published for the first time.

Here is what I knew back then: I knew that I loved to read certain poets, and that I loved to write poetry. I loved both the freedom poetry afforded me, as well as the economy it required, and I loved the energy of performing. What I did not know was that those poetry readings were my first adventures in marketing. My poems were published because I had found a means to expose my work to other people such that opportunities that had not previously been available were now available.

Except it didn’t feel like marketing because I wasn’t trying to sell anything, or get published, or get exposure. I wasn’t trying to get anything. I just wanted to share something that felt good to share. That is all “marketing” needs to be. In fact, to call it anything else is a lie. To call it anything else is to say that I do not love what I love, and that I do not believe the world will be better off with more of what I love in it – which, though I have spent many years doubting this is so, remains the only truth to which I can reliably return.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter