Selling books is great; making an impression is even better

image By Ned Hickson

Two years ago tomorrow, I attended my first book fair as an author. Today, I’m going to share that experience in a post I’m calling:

Reasons to Hide Liquor Under Your Book Fair Table

Admittedly, it’s very exciting to walk into a room of 50 or so booths with publishers and authors offering their latest releases and services. And when you see your own booth tucked among them, with your book cover on display and a large photo of yourself hanging on the wall behind your table, you can’t help but pause and quietly think: I have arrived as an author and, judging by its size, my nose arrived about an hour before I did. My point is that book fairs are about taking the opportunity to become three-dimensional to readers and making a connection beyond the printed page; it’s about revealing yourself to people in ways that are spontaneous, real and unrehearsed, and giving them an experience they can take with them and talk about with others. This led to another realization almost simultaneously: Why is there no liquor at this thing?

This notion was underscored moments later, when a woman appearing to be in her mid-60s approached my booth and began telling me how much she loved my writing, almost to the point it was becoming a little embarrassing. “I NEVER miss your column!” she declared. “Really — If it wasn’t for your column, I doubt I would even subscribe to the Register-Guard!”

In my mind, I began pouring two fingers into a shot glass. Why?

“Um, I write for Siuslaw News,” I said with an awkward smile. “I think you’re talking about Bob Welch. He’s got a table right over there.”

“…Oh… I see.”

In that moment, if there had been an actual shot glass on the table, I’m pretty sure she would have taken it from me, chugged it, wiped her lips with one of my bookmarks and gone to see Bob Welch. Instead, she stood immobilized and looking for a gracious exit.

“OK, actually I am Bob Welch,” I said. “I killed Ned Hickson and have assumed his identity to expand my writing empire. If you don’t tell anyone, you can help yourself to one of my books over there.” I pointed to Welch’s booth, which was unmanned but stacked with copies of My Oregon, Pebble in the Water and others. “If anyone asks, tell them Bob sent you,” I said, and winked.

The woman who I came to know as Joan, smiled. “So… who did you say you write for again?”

Those words led to my first book sale of the day, and understanding the importance of meeting readers face-to-face, even if yours wasn’t the face they were looking for. During the course of six hours at my booth, I met lots of people who had no idea who I was, many of whom were drawn to my keen marketing strategy…

As you can imagine, the corners went very fast...

As you can imagine, the corners went very fast…

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Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi day! As a special bonus, you can celebrate at 3/14/15 9:26:53, for extra digits of pi.

Image from WikiMedia by Len Rizzi.

Image from WikiMedia by Len Rizzi.

Fresh Pi

It’s a small

holiday,

celebrated by those who

care about the

circumference

of a circle, but

the one for

next

year will be special!

Not just 3/14

but

3/14/15, a rare occurrence.

And I think

two

extra digits of that

endless number is

well

worth waiting for, as

is having a

slice

of sweet fresh pi.

Tips to jump-start your writing (unless you’re in Arkansas)

imageBy Ned Hickson

There’s nothing quite like staring at a blank page, knowing that with a few strokes of the keyboard you will transform a landscape devoid of life into a living, breathing thing of your own creation. There’s also nothing quite like finishing that fourth cup of coffee only to find that same blank page staring back at you.

Sure, you may have typed several sentences — or maybe even the same sentence several times — in hopes of gaining some kind of momentum to carry you over that first hump, but the cursor repeatedly stalls out in the same spot, leaving you with the same blank page after riding the “delete” button back to the beginning.

Hey, that’s why it’s called a “cursor.”

I’ll be honest. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the notion of writer’s “block,” which suggests some kind of blockage — such as a cheese wedge or too many butter biscuits — restricting movement through a hypothetical colon of creativity. Although there are some books in print that offer evidence to support at least part of the colon theory, I prefer to think of the writing process as cells in a battery; when they are fully charged, things start easily. But if the alternator belt slips too much or the terminals get corroded, you end up without enough juice to turn the engine. Because we are writers and not mechanics, and because that last sentence exhausted the full extent of my automotive knowledge, I will sum up my analogy with this: When your battery is low, you get a jump, right?

Writing is no different. Continue reading

Writing is a lot like weightlifting, except without the abs

image By Ned Hickson
It struck me this morning at the gym, while diligently pumping iron from a seated position at the smoothie bar, the number of similarities there are between reaching your fitness goals and writing goals, and how, in both cases, you will likely fail if you attempt too much too fast — especially if you’re trying to show off and accidentally flatulate while attempting a power lift. OK, now that the obligations required by my Gas-X sponsorship have been met, we can move on to how the same principles that make up a good fitness plan can be applied to achieving your writing goals. (Make sure to stop in next week, when Trojan will sponsor tips on expanding your readership.)

Just like many people who enter the gym for the first time and see the dozens of different torture devices designed to make you look weak and destroy your self esteem fitness apparatus that can sculpt your body into lean muscle capable of opening even the most stubborn mayonnaise jar, those entering the world of writing often find themselves being crushed under the weight of their own lofty goals by not building up literary muscle first. And by this I don’t mean technique, style or developing your writing voice. I’m talking specifically about easing into writing project(s) and commitment(s) in a way that strengthens your writing endurance so you can avoid “injuring” yourself creatively.

This isn’t to be confused with creatively injuring yourself, which I also know about. But that’s a whole other post…

In the same way a smart fitness plan is built on improvements through gradually adding weight in small increments, running for longer periods or monitoring and increasing resistance in measured amounts, writers need to follow the same example if they want to keep their disciplined writing commitment from turning into sloppy repetitions that can hurt their goals. Any gym instructor will tell you lifting a lot of weight too quickly, or without the proper control, is pointless and even dangerous.

Especially if I’m your spotter.

The key is to recognize your limitations and commit to lifting nothing beyond that until it’s time to add more.

How will you know when it’s time? When you realize you’re making the circuit without getting winded. In literary terms, the best measurement I can give you is this: When you find yourself easily beating your deadline(s) on a regular basis — whether self-imposed or established by an editor or agent — you’re probably ready to build more muscle.

Until then, keep working the circuit and maintaining those steady, controlled writing reps.

But please: Stay away from the gym if you’re gassy.

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(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

Do publishers really give a [Tweet] about a writer’s social media presence?

image By Ned Hickson

Welcome to this week’s writing tip, which is advice 50 Shades author E.L. James has called “My literary yardstick, which I’d like to break over someone’s…”

But enough accolades!

This week’s writing topic was actually suggested by talented writer, mom and blogger Michelle at MamaMickTerry, who asked:

Dear Mr. Hickson: Does having a blog help or hinder getting published?

She followed this up a short time later, after what I’m guessing was a glass or two of wine, with a more specific question:

Listen here, Neddy-O: Do you think publishers really give a [TWEET] about a writer’s social media presence? DO you? And hey, is it just me or does Thor’s hair need some de-tangler?

The short answer to Michelle’s question is that, while there are certainly arguments for and against the merits of the exposure one gets from traveling between worlds, most women wouldn’t care if Thor was bald. Ok, no woman really cares.

The long answer, as you might’ve guessed, is a little more complicated and actually has nothing to do with Thor’s choice of hair products. Though I realize that most women have stopped reading this post to Google Chris Hemsworth — Fine, all women — I still plan to answer Michelle’s question regarding the value of social media in the eyes of publishers who, coincidentally, almost never look like Thor.

On the surface, the advantages of establishing a blog and linking it to social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, MySpace and others seems pretty obvious. The bigger your presence in the cyberworld and the larger your following, the more likely your book will catch on and be embraced in the world that truly counts: The buying world.

For those who thought I was going to say the world of “Asgard,” I really need you to close that Chris Hemsworth window on your monitor.

Keep in mind that, particularly for a writer without a previous track record, a large online readership can get a publisher or agent to at least raise an eyebrow after reading a well-written query letter or email about your book. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to include direct links to your blog and other active social media sites at the end of your query, as well as a link to a sample chapter online. Unless specifically requested, don’t ever include an attachment with your emailed query; emails with attachments that actually make it past SPAM filters are routinely deleted. Even if you know the recipient is a female and you type “Thor” in the subject line.

While having a large online presence certainly doesn’t hurt, publishers also know that pushing the “like” or “follow” button is fast becoming a conditioned response which, more often than not, happens without a visitor even thinking about it. This obviously doesn’t includes anyone who visits THIS site, but you get the idea: Having 5,000 followers does not translate into 5,000 book sales.

However, there is another “plus” to building an online presence that tends to get overlooked but can be especially encouraging to an agent. Sure, having a large readership may or may not be a true reflection of the number of actual devoted readers you have, but the quality of your writing and regularity in which you post will speak for themselves. Notice I didn’t say “frequency” in which you post. An agent or publisher isn’t as interested in how often you publish as they are about your adherence to posting quality work on a regular basis.

My blog is an obvious exception to this rule.

I’d like to thank Michelle at MamaMickTerry for suggesting this week’s topic. I’d also like to thank Chris Hemsworth for giving me yet another reason to keep my gym membership.

imageNed Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

Writers who don’t talk to themselves scare me

image By Ned Hickson

Whether you’re a novelist, columnist, poet or Subway sandwich artist, talking to yourself during the creative process is important. Admittedly, I can only speak with some authority on the first three; that last example is mostly an observation based on the two Subways in our area. Regardless, at the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I think every good writer needs a certain level of multiple personality disorder with a dash of schizophrenia. That’s because, as a writer, you need to have the ability to do more than simply observe and notate things about people and situations; you have to be able to inhabit them in the same way that, say… Justin Beiber inhabits his role as a skinny caucasian gangster.

Except unlike Justin Beiber, you must be believable.

To do this, you have to be willing — and able — to step outside yourself and literally experience things as someone else in order to formulate reactions and dialogue that ring true. Even as a columnist, I have a few individuals who make appearances from time to time because they allow me to approach a subject more effectively than through simple narrative.

One of these individuals is Ima Knowitall, the “self-proclaimed best selling author” behind the novel, Fifty Shades of Time-Traveling Vampire Love.

Confession time: I’m not actually a 30-something, pessimistic female writer who wants so much to believe in her own fame that she constantly projects a facade of celebrity to the point of ludicrousness.

If you need a moment to fully process this realization, I understand. My wife was pretty shaken by my big reveal as well, once we took the leap from Match.com to meeting for the first time seven years ago…

Welcome back! (Coincidentally, the same words I used at the beginning of our second date.)

As I was saying, Ima Knowitall is an individual I turn to when I feel that exploring an idea is better suited — and more engaging for readers — if they feel like an active participant in the conversation. That’s where multiple personality disorder comes into play. Even if what you’re writing is an over-the-top character or situation, readers will be willing to suspend their disbelief as long as there is an element of truth. Screenwriters for sci-fi, horror and action movies constantly rely on this element to convince viewers to go along for the ride.

And that element is the believability of your characters.

In order to make an individual like Ima Knowitall work, three things need to happen:

1) What she says and does must stay true to her character
2) My reactions and responses to her as the “interviewer” must embellish, not contradict her
3) Anyone else we “interact with” must do the same

To pull that off, you have to engage your MPD in order to shift your points of view convincingly from one individual to the next. For novelists, this is the first step in graduating from linear plot-driven writing to richer, character-driven stories.

Or in the case of a humor columnist, the first step toward a life of alcohol abuse.

Which brings me to the effectiveness of talking to yourself. First, let me clarify this shouldn’t occur in a room full of strangers or, for example, while making someone’s Cold Cut Combo at Subway. But when utilized as a tool in the privacy of your own home or office — or even during your morning commute if you pretend to have a Bluetooth — actually verbalizing dialogue is the best way to hear if it rings true. Not only will it identify phrasing that would be too difficult for someone to say (Note: This does not apply to characters written by Aaron Sorkin), it can also be an integral part of “inhabiting” that individual in the same way an actor verbally explores a script to understand delivery and motivation.

My fellow journalists in the newsroom have become accustomed to my mumblings on deadline days. Even if I’m in the break room making a sandwich…

image Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. Visit his blog at Ned’s Blog)