Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Confessions of a Web 2.0 Addict

I’m trying to remember how it all began. I think it started innocently, as these things usually do. I went to a St. Louis Publishers Association meeting, and Bob Baker, the speaker, was doing a presentation on something called “social networking.” It was intriguing but confusing. Even with the handout, I had no idea what he was talking about. “This is Web 2.0,” he said, if one can actually speak in italics. “If you’re an author, you must have a presence on the Web.”

I got the idea that a website is not enough to create that presence. Apparently, one also needs a blog, podcasts, a newsletter, an identity on Amazon, and memberships in such things as Facebook, LinkedIn, Yahoo, and Gather. I’m not much of a joiner. I was overwhelmed.

I don’t remember when I attended that presentation, but I know it was pre-twitter. Since then, I’ve come a long way, baby. I have two blogs, a newsletter, and lots of memberships. I started a group on LinkedIn; I have a page on Facebook where my daughter’s friends write on my wall; and Amazon is #1 on next year's marketing plan (podcasting is #2). But what really blows my mind is the amount of time I spend micro-blogging on twitter. You’d be surprised at how much you can say with only 140 characters. Well, maybe you wouldn’t, but I was.

You can probably tell that I’ve jumped feet first into Web 2.0, astonishing young and old alike with my computer prowess — young being my daughters, who think I've lost my mind, and old being my contemporaries, who agree. What nobody told me about blogging and tweeting and joining is that they are seductive and addictive.

They are not just a part of marketing; they are a way of life. All day long and into the night I hear twitter making bird sounds as it informs me there is a new tweet on my TweetDeck. My e-mail is full of the latest blogs on blogging and tweets about twittering. I am constantly updating my e-mail list and planning my next newsletter or blog post. I have printed out so much advice on how to do it all better; I could start my own recycling plant. Only as I write this do I realize how far gone I am.

I am truly addicted, and I have no idea how Web 2.0 addicts recover. Everything I read tells me to blog and twitter more, not less. I guess I’m lucky because I don’t send and receive tweets on my iPhone or Blackberry, only because I don’t own them. But it’s only a matter of time.

It is almost midnight on New Years Eve of 2008. I’d love to say I’m resolving to cut down in 2009, but I'm not sure I can. This is bad, very bad.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Demystifying My Marketing Plan


Every year I make resolutions (who doesn’t?), and every year I break them before the ink is dry (who doesn’t?). This year, I have one super resolution, which I do not intend to break. It is market, market, MARKET. Not that I haven’t been marketing like crazy in 2008, but it has been a somewhat undisciplined activity. Whatever looked like fun, I tried it. So, if you’ve read any of my blog posts in the past, you will know I’ve been all over the place.

Since I met my friend, workout partner, and marketing guru, Bobette Kyle, my fitness and marketing have improved tremendously. My organization skills, unfortunately, have not. So, I’m not only writing a new marketing plan, I’m also creating a marketing calendar. I have the calendar all set up and ready to fill in, but as usual, I want to do everything, right now.

At this point, Bobette reminds me about the differences among goals, strategies, and tactics. (That’s why she’s the marketing guru, after all.)

So, I go back to the drawing board. I start with my big picture goal — the WHAT I want to achieve this year. Then, I figure out strategies — the three or four ways in which I plan to achieve my goal, the HOW. Finally, the tactics are the very detailed (small H) “how and when" I am actually going to take a specific action.

Most people would probably write an outline. They would be more linear than I seem to be. I am creating a mind map — actually several mind maps. The big one shows my goal, strategies, and tactics. Then, there is a separate mind map for each strategy. Believe or not, there was a lot of thinking involved; but the right side of my brain is so happy to be creating mind maps on the computer, that the left side hardly notices how hard it is working.

This isn’t about making my marketing plan beautiful as much as making it doable. I guess I think visually, because the little boxes on the mind maps and the marketing calendar bring order to what was just a chaotic list a few hours ago.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's not fair!

This is a rant. Do not — I repeat — do not ever try to sue a client in small claims court. In my experience, it cannot be done. I have tried three times, and, as I sit here popping Excedrin, I am about to give up. But, before I do, let me keep you from making the same mistakes I’ve made.

Let's say you begin by going to your attorney for help in collecting money you have earned through hard work. After a few false starts, your attorney suggests that you to try small claims court. Of course, the very most you could be awarded is $3,000, no matter how much money your client owes you. But, you decide $3,000 is better than nothing.

Small claims court is supposed to work this way:
•You file a claim.
•The defendant is served.
•You both appear in court at the appointed day and time.
•Your case is heard.
•You win. and collect your money.

Now, here is reality:
•You go to the small claims court office in the county courthouse and file a claim. It takes a long time and requires a lot of information you probably don’t have, since you had no idea what was expected.
•You pay the filing fee. If you want the want the summons served by a human being (the sheriff) instead of the US mail, you pay an additional amount.
•On your court date, you show up as scheduled. Your defendant probably doesn’t.
•When your case is called, you are told the summons has not been served. The case is cancelled.
•You repeat the process, at least once, with the same results.

All the things that can go wrong:
•The sheriff does not find the defendant for any number of reasons. You track down his whereabouts and pay some more money to have him served again. The sheriff still doesn't find him.
•You are told you must go to court, even if the defendant has not been served. You do, wasting many hours.
•You are told you don’t have to show up if he is not served. You stop coming and get in trouble with the judge.
•You go to see the sheriff and are told by a switchboard operator, “Sorry. That’s the way we do things.”
•You ask for a supervisor, explain the whole matter again, and are told, “Sorry. That’s the way we do things.”
•You go back to the small claims administrator, who tells you to call the sheriff and ask about hiring a private process server.
•The sheriff’s office tells you that’s not their responsibility; you should call the small claims administrator.
•You finally hire a private process server. He does not find the defendant, either (often, after several attempts). The next day, the missing defendant is seen drinking in a neighborhood bar. But, by that time, you have fired the process server.

Alternative scenario:
•The defendant is served. He does show up in court. You win the case; and he disappears (there are several ways to do this), never to be seen again.

You have now poured quite a bit of money into a black hole called the legal system. Your client, who has decided not to pay you, is probably laughing his head off. You are tempted to jump up and down with your fists clenched, and yell (as you children did when they were going through the terrible twos), IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Remember what you used to say? "Life is not fair."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Knowing When to Say When

I never say no when someone asks me if I can take on a new project. After all, I’m marketing myself half to death so that clients will call or write or e-mail and ask me to ghostwrite, edit, or coach. Why would I say no? Well, one reason is that often, I simply don’t have time to tackle one more thing.

All of the above — ghostwriting, editing, or coaching — are time consuming; and time is finite. There are only so many productive hours in a day and, unfortunately, not all of them are spent doing things for which I will be paid. I can’t count how many times I’ve calculated the number of hours I have left for work after I sleep, eat, put myself together in the morning and take myself apart at night, work out, grocery shop, run errands, run my business, run my life, go to appointments (doctors and others), clean my house and do laundry, and read. Not many. I’ve tried to figure out what I could omit, and all I can think of is reading. But would life be worth living? I don’t think so.

Supposedly, we have 2,000 hours a year considered work time, but that’s a myth. Even people who work for a salary do not work 38 hours a week. They may be at some location for 38 hours, but they sure aren’t working all that time. They’re having coffee breaks and lunch, kibitzing with fellow workers at the proverbial water cooler, talking on the phone (not necessarily on business), reading the paper, staring into space, or just generally goofing off. I know this is true because I used to have such a job.

As I consider my workweek, I notice it includes nights and weekends and, even at that, I never seem caught up. As I flit from task to task, I am convinced I must be A.D.D. or just disorganized, but whichever it is, I frequently feel frenzied.

So, I have begun to rethink the never-say-no philosophy. For one thing, I can’t do everything; for another, I don’t even want to. There are subjects that turn me on and others for which I am totally unsuited. There are assignments that will pay for groceries and utilities for half a year, and some on which I will never come close to breaking even. There are people I fall in love with at hello and those who send up red flags that warn me to run, not walk, to the nearest exit.

The secret is what the secret always has been: when in doubt, tune in to the Jury of the Deep and heed the verdict. If there is really a good reason to accept the job, do it. Otherwise, politely refuse and get back to work. Could it be that simple? Well, yes. It could, and it is.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stop the Background Music

My father used to dislike the word “bored.” So, just to be contrary, I had my boyfriend paint a sign that said in huge, mock-typewriter letters, “I am bored.” Today, as I was going on and on about my latest project — a PowerPoint presentation — my sister remarked, “Well, at least you’ll never be bored.” I guess as long as there are new subjects to write and new ways to write about them, she is right. I won’t be.

I fall into bed at night, or rather escape into it, just to stop working. Not that all those words on my computer screen are necessarily work related. Many of them are just busy-ness that pass for work but are really play. If I billed for every hour I sit there, hunched over my keyboard until my muscles scream, I would be a wealthy woman. The question is what do I actually write?

Well, there are e-mails; blog posts; “tweets” and postings to various other social networking sites; responses to comments on my blogs or website; articles for online article sites; other marketing-related “stuff”; replies to requests for information on coaching, editing, and ghostwriting; plans and handouts for teaching; some volunteer efforts; and notes to go with mailing labels for my books. Of course, none of that includes anything to do with my other life (what other life?). If there is time left over, I do actual work.

There is something amiss here. Once upon a time in another life, my husband walked in the front door of our apartment and was bowled over by a blaring stereo. “Bobbi,” he remarked (at the top of his lungs), “don’t you think the background music is a little too loud?” Well, yes, it was, and it is. All the things I spend prime time on (did I mention addictive reading?), added together, comprise the background music of my life. And they are taking a considerable chunk out of my waking hours.

Of course, they are not all a waste of time. One must market, and many of those activities are part of marketing. But many are not. If I can design something, even if it’s totally unnecessary, I’ll spend hours designing it. I will play on Photoshop. I will illustrate things that could well remain un-illustrated. You get the idea.

This begs the question: Why? I’ve been pondering the answer all evening, and I think I have figured it out. If I don’t keep my fingers and mind occupied every single moment, I’m afraid I’ll be bored.

I wonder if I should send this to my sister, who is unlikely to stumble on it if I don’t. But, first I have to proof it; then, I have to find some clip art to illustrate it; then, I have to post it on my blog; then, I have to send it. Whoops!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Invisible Blog?

I’ve been blogging my little heart out for quite a while now and wonder if the blogging world even knows I’m here. How do I get noticed? How do I get on the blogosphere map? When I was first doing research, if I had a question, I went to the library. But in this brave new world, when I have a question, I Google it. So I Googled “how to get your blog noticed” and struck gold. Here are some of the many suggestions for experts out there:

From 13 Tips to Get Your Blog Noticed
at JohnTP.com blogging & online money making tips

JohnTP lives in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) and has a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology (BSc IT) in India. He has been a full-time blogger since November 2005 and currently receives over 9,000 unique visitors daily and 15,000 page views. Also check out DigitGeek, his blog on hardware reviews and tutorials.

  1. Place a link to your blog in your signature, so that any posts to Forums, Outgoing Emails, etc, will promote your blog.
  2. SubmitExpress.com will submit your blog free to the top 20 Search engines.
  3. Submit your good articles to EzineArticles.com.

From Branding 101: How to Promote Your Blog Like the Big Guys Do
by Leo Babauta of Write to Done

Leo Babauta created Write to Done as a way to share some of what he has learned the craft and the art of writing. A life-long writer, he blogs about journalism, blog writing, freelance writing, fiction, non-fiction, getting a book deal, the business of writing, the habit of writing. And so on.

  1. First, figure out who your target audience is. Who are you trying to help with your blog? Who do you want to attract? It’s good to have a clear picture of exactly who these people are …
  2. Next, figure out what desires you’re going to be tapping into. Every reader goes to a blog for a reason — some desire they have that the blog will potentially fulfill.
  3. Then figure out what message you’re going to send to them that will tap into specific desires. This is key: every blog sends an unstated message to the reader.

From How to Get Your Blog Noticed Quickly and Widely
by Gregory White on EzineArticles.com

Greg White, Internet Marketer, Author, Consultant, and Project Manager has been running successful web projects since 2001. His sites and blogs cover Blog Marketing Tactics, Internet Marketing Tactics, and a variety of 'Niche' topics, in addition to starting and marketing profitable web project.

  1. Sign up for a free account at BlogExplosion.com and register your blog there: http://www.blogexplosion.com/
  2. Submit your blog to all of the directories listed at http://www.rss-feeds-directory.com/blog_lists.html
  3. Sign up for a "My Yahoo" at http://my.yahoo.com/ and attach your blog to your own "My Yahoo" account. This will get your blog included in Yahoo very quickly. This is worth the effort to stop what you're doing right and do it, since Yahoo has a PR 9.

From Amazing Blogging Skills
By Axel g

Axel g was born and raised in Sweden. He is a meditator, who was ordained as a junior Buddhist monk in Thailand in 1993. His meditation practice has also taken him to Japan, Malaysia, the UK, and Sweden; and he has lived in numerous monasteries around the world. Axel now works full time in the field of personal development.

  1. Write about topics that really interest your readers. Focus on providing information that your readers want and do your very best to help them along the way.
  2. Freely share what you know, that's one important key to successful blogging and offer your readers useful information. If you have genuine knowledge about the topic you're writing about, share everything you know about it with your readers and they will love you for it. As a pro, you should also be able to explain things in simple language.
  3. Web surfers love blogs with character. Relax and show your readers who you really are! This way you will also quite naturally establish a personal relation with your readership.
Think about the words, World Wide Web. It truly is, and, if you doubt it, consider the bloggers who contributed these 12 great ideas.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Message to "Anonymous"


I received a comment on my blog post, "Questions Writers Ask,"and feel that it deserves a considered reply. I know I've published this somewhere in the past, but it's worth repeating. Its original title was WRITE!

Everyone is a writer. That includes you, whether you know it or not. If you’ve never pulled out a piece of paper or pulled up a blank screen on your computer and just rambled, you may not know it. If you do write, but your audience is limited to your hard drive or desk drawer, it’s time to reach out and touch a real reader. And, if you know you’re a writer but you feel stuck, this is the time to move to the next level.

W: Wake up! Most of us sleepwalk through life and miss out on what’s happening all around us, on ideas and inspiration, on challenges and opportunities, even on our own experiences. Write! Writers write. If you’re not writing, you’ll never know if you can. You’ll never share your words with others. You’ll never know what you’re capable of achieving.

R: Reach for the next level, whatever it is. If you’ve never tried it, do it now. If you haven’t tested your talent, take your work out of the desk drawer and find an audience. If you’ve never pushed yourself or gone out on a limb, this is the time to take that chance. Risk writing, risk feeling inadequate, risk rejection, risk success.

I: Ignite your passion for something, anything, as long as it moves you. Then involve yourself completely in whatever it is: subject, style, story, or specific area. Identify your niche. Do you want to be a poet, a novelist, a commentator, or a journalist? Are you wild about sports, science, or spirituality? That’s the seed of a career. Plant it, and watch it grow.

T: Try everything — every kind of writing, every possible subject and field,every genre. Take a course, join a writers’ group, go to lectures, read the best writers, keep a journal, enter a contest, write a query letter, submit a short story, a poem, or an article. Test your talent, test your limits, test your courage. Being a writer is all about tests, but then so is being a human being.

E: Explore life, explore your own feelings and thoughts, other people’s feelings and thoughts, things you’ve never done before, things you do without even noticing. Start noticing. Experience life. Get excited. Get involved. Immerse yourself in every activity. Writers feel. Allow yourself to feel; then put your feelings on paper.

Dear Anonymous, Go for it!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Suffering from Burnout? Here's what to do.

The word burnout was not even in my vocabulary when I first started writing. I knew that I would never tire of it, never want to do anything else, never stop. I wrote at every opportunity; and most of those were after work, after the dinner dishes were done, after the dog had been walked, and after the kids were finally in bed. Looking back, I don’t know how I did it, except that I was young and obsessed. I ran on adrenaline and addiction to writing, I suppose. All I wanted in life was to write full time.

Fast forward to 2001. I have now been living my dream for 40 years, either as an employee or as a freelancer, which I have done my whole career. In the beginning, I freelanced while I worked at an unrelated job; in the middle, I did it in addition to being an employed writer; and, for the past 20 years, I have done it full time. And, yes, I must admit that I have been worn out, exhausted, and burned out more than a few times over the years.

Here is what I have learned that may be of help to you when you see BURNOUT in neon on your computer screen:

Never say never. This advice applies to everything in life. It is the one word that is guaranteed to trip you up because we never (whoops) know what life is going to throw at us or how we will feel when we must deal with the unexpected.

Admit it. You’re tired. You’re sick of what you're doing. You hate your editor/client. You’re uninspired. You have writer’s block. You wish you were a carpenter. You want to scream. The point is, don’t deny it, and fight your way through it. Stop, and be aware of what’s going on inside of you. The body never lies, and, if it’s turning into pretzel knots, there is a reason.

Don’t panic. When you feel yourself burning out, getting tired, writing mechanically, or feeling too blocked to write at all — and you will — take a break. (Oh, but I can’t; I have a deadline!) Yes, I know, but whatever you’re doing or not doing isn’t working. So, stop and take a walk, a nap, a movie, a meal, or a vacation. Read a book, veg out in front of the TV, put on your favorite CD, wash the floor, fix your car, do yoga or tai chi or karate. Do anything but write.

Know that it will pass. You are still a writer, a good writer, in fact. You haven’t lost your skill or your love of the craft. It’s probably premature to throw up you hands in defeat and job hunt. Be a Taoist: go with the flow. You don’t beat yourself to death when you have the flu. Why do it when you are suffering from temporary malaise? Chalk it up to a passing phase, and get on with your life.

Think it through. If it’s serious, if it’s continuous, if it’s painful, and it won’t go away, you may have to do more than go to a movie or roller-blading. You may have to examine what is going on and whether it is indeed time to move on to something else. My guess is, that given time, you’ll find some way to refresh your mind and your creativity. But if that doesn't happen, you have a right to switch gears and find another outlet for your talents. You did not sign a life-long contract to be a freelance writer. If it’s time to do something else, go for it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Social Networking for Novices


Somewhere on one of my earlier marketing plans, I had a goal (or a strategy or a tactic — can’t remember which) of getting my name out there in cyberspace through social networking. I had help with the marketing plan but absolutely no clue what I was getting into with social networking. “Well, you know,” my marketing guru explained. "It’s sites like FaceBook and MySpace and Yahoo 360.” I really didn’t know, but I think I nodded anyway.

So, off I went to all these strange sites, where I filled out forms and invented passwords and created long, detailed, personal profiles. One the early ones I found was Gather, which was fun. I met a lot of nice people and posted book reviews and photos. I loved Gather until the powers that be changed it completely. I never figured out why they would take something that worked and break it; maybe it was part of their business plan.

MySpace was still pretty much for kids, so I skipped it. I did sign up for FaceBook, but never really got the hang of writing on people’s walls. On Yahoo 360, I started a blog, which is now languishing, since I have “The Writing Life” on my own website. Someone invited me to join LinkedIn, which I have found to be one of the best sites for making professional contacts. And. lately, I have learned to Twitter.

For my generation, I would have to say, Twittering is as strange and mysterious as text messaging in undecipherable code. It has its own version of Twitter terminology, which I printed out, and LOL (laughed out loud), it was so goofy.

Try translating this:
UR Tweet wos GR8, but I wld rather do V2V w/ U. RU up 4 that? If so, I’ll ttyl. FYI, 2nite is good 4me. TIA, BL

For the uninitiated, it means:
Your tweet (short, 140 character instant message or mini-blog post) was great, but I would rather do voice-to-voice (talk on the phone) with you. Are you up for that? If so, I’ll talk to you later. For your information, tonight is good for me. Thanks in advance, Bobbi Linkemer

People “follow” me, and I follow them on Twitter. It gets a little overwhelming, especially when I can’t remember exactly who they are or why I started following them in the first place. Their little messages — some of which are stream-of-consciousness accounts of every move they make — pop up on my TwitterDeck (downloads the tweets into different categories), always with links to someone else’s Twitter page/site/whatever.

In addition to just plain Twitter, there are TwitterPacks (a Wiki that lists Twitter members by category, geography, etc.); TwitterFeed.com (connects my blogs to Twitter and tweets them automatically); Twellow.com (where you find people to follow); myvidoop.com (where I signed up for TwitterFeed); TwitterBuzz (quick tips for business tweets); Tweeple (people who tweet, or is it twitter, from LinkedIn); and tinyurl.com (which I haven’t figured out yet).

I know I could easily make social networking (especially Twittering) my life’s work if I don’t get a handle on it immediately. I know that because it would appear that others are making it theirs. I can picture them, staring bleary-eyed into their computers, cell phones, Blackberries, and other tiny screens, texting, twittering, e-mailing, and slowly going blind and bonkers. It’s not a pretty picture.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What do writing coaches do?


I don’t know what makes people search for certain kinds of help on the Internet, but it would seem that book coaching is a pretty popular topic. I get a lot of inquiries about coaching, probably because I’m near the top of Google’s site under that heading. If you doubt that such positioning helps, let me assure you that it’s like magic.

What’s interesting is that people search for a book coach, find my website, and then e-mail me to ask what services I offer. I suppose that is because every writing coach is different. I have one colleague who is very scientific about her process. She does certain things in a certain order and doesn’t waste any time. I admire her technique, but, quite honestly, it doesn’t work for me. There simply is no one-size-fits-all in my approach to coaching.

In fact, my method can only be described as customized because it is based entirely on what each client wants or needs from me. Every potential author who contacts me is at a different stage in the planning, writing, publishing, or promotional stages of a book. Some have no idea what to do and need guidance from start to finish. Others have written a book and suddenly ask themselves, what do I do now? Those people need an editor more than a coach. A few discover, after they begin, that the whole process is overwhelming and what they really want is someone else to write their book for them. They need a ghostwriter. And then there are writers at increments in between the ones I’ve just described.

That first conversation with a potential client is a two-way interview. The client wants to know what I can do for him, and I want to know what he needs. Usually, I ask these questions:

• What is your book about?
• What is your purpose for writing it?
• Where are you in the process?
• Have you written an outline?
• Have you written the book or any part of it?
• Have you written a book proposal?
• What kind of help are you looking for?

On the other hand, the client may ask me:
• What exactly do you do?
• How does this process work?
• How much do you charge?
• How long does it usually take?
• Can I send you what I’ve written so far?

These conversations vary in length and detail. Both of us are trying to get information but also to determine if we can relate to each other. I want to know if this person is serious about the project and looking for the right partner or just surfing the Web to pass the time. He wants to know if I am interested, experienced, and trustworthy. We are engaged in a dance of strangers, each of whom has an agenda.

The client usually wants me to read what he has written; I want him to have a better idea of what coaches do. He offers to send a sample; I promise to send links to articles. We agree to talk again. I follow through and follow up at least once. Occasionally, this dance becomes a working partnership, but not always. Establishing trust and rapport, conveying information, and deciding whether to commit to spending hundreds of dollars is a lot to ask of a single conversation. It usually takes more chat to create that bond.

That’s why when people ask me, “What do writing coaches do?” it takes more than 500 words to provide a coherent answer.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

It Takes a (Virtual) Team

In my dream of being a freelance writer, I could picture myself conducting interesting interviews, attending stimulating meetings, and sitting alone at my computer for many hours, doing what I love most. That was as far as my dream went. If I ever gave a thought to how I would manage finances, client relationships, or the myriad details of operating a one-person business, I don’t remember those things being part of my fantasy.

I confess that I made the same mistake many creative people make: I believed that if I could earn a living as a writer working for someone else, I could do the same thing working for myself. It’s a flawed concept in that writers and artists and people who bake the best cookies in the world may be masters of our respective crafts, but that is only one-third of the equation.

If I had taken courses in how to run a small business, I might have learned that earlier, but, alas, I did not. I just plunged in and began without having any idea of what I was doing. At first, I was very lucky, landing great corporate clients an earning nice fees. It was a heady experience, proving that I had made the right decision.

It is 20 years later (amazing!), and here is what I have learned, with the help of a dog-eared little book called The E Myth Revisited by Michael E. Berger. The E myth is exactly what I believed when I began: if I could do something well, I could run a business doing it. I was, and am, what Berger calls a “technician” — not too glamorous a label. To be a successful businessperson, I also had to be a manager (to run the business) and an entrepreneur (to dream big dreams and grow the business). In other words, every one-woman band really has to be a three-woman band. If I’m not strong in all three roles (and who is?), I must hire people who are. Right. At those times when I was barely scraping by, hiring two other people wasn’t a very realistic idea.

Fortunately, one learns or one perishes. Some years are better than others; some things are more fun to learn than others. I will never like accounting or collecting money. On the other hand, I have grown to love marketing, especially Internet marketing. I have continued to expand the other two sides of my virtual team because I know that, while I’m busy turning out prose, someone has to let the world know I’m here, buy stamps, send out invoices, file the endless reams of paper I generate, and dream those big dreams.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Questions Aspiring Authors Ask

Thanks to the magic of search engines, people from all over the place are finding their way to my website and browsing among its pages. I’ve tried to keep the site is full of information about how to write a nonfiction book and the services I provide to help aspiring authors. If they are intrigued, they e-mail or call and ask questions. Although every person who wants to write a book is unique, many of their questions touch on the same themes. Here are some of the most common.

I’ve had an unbelievable life, and I think my story could really help people. I want to write it, but I don’t know where to begin.

I would urge you begin by writing a proposal, which forces you to think through every aspect of your book before you actually write it. Here is an overview of the components of a good proposal. No matter how you hope to publish your book, thinking it through on the front end is the most important step in the process. After you do, the actual writing step will make much more sense to you.

I’ve been working on a book for five years. It’s just about finished. How do I get it published?

If the writing is complete and you have not already worked with an editor, that is the first thing you should do. There are two types of editors: one takes the macro view and other a micro view. Content editors look at the big picture, writing style, structure, and flow of ideas, language, and accuracy. Copy editors check for grammar, punctuation, and typos. They catch mistakes you and everyone else have missed. After your book is edited, you have a choice of publishing options, ranging from do-it-yourself to having a big, New York publisher’s name on your book jacket.

I’m a professional speaker/trainer/consultant/marketer, and my clients are asking if I have a book. I know my subject inside and out, but I’m not a writer. What exactly does a ghostwriter do?

You are the expert in your subject matter. A ghostwriter is an expert at learning your subject, understanding what you want to communicate, and translating your message into well-written language. Before you enter into a partnership with a ghostwriter, here is what you should know.

I have enough research to write five books but it’s totally disorganized. I can’t find anything on my computer and my dining room looks like a recycling center. Can you help me bring order to chaos?

You can’t write a book if you are totally disorganized. Getting your act together has two parts: (1) setting up a filing system so that you can put your hands on anything, any time you want to; and (2) saving your files so that you never lose a word you have written. If you do the first before you begin and the second as you go along, you’ll achieve the order you need to go forward.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Guest blog post from a very funny writer


I want to share a post from on of my favorite blogs, The Life of Wryly, but only after the caveat that all comments about me are to be ignored. I'm terribly flattered, but I think Mrs. Wryly got a bit carried away. That said, here are her thoughts about our great writers' group.

"It’s about time that I write about my writer’s group. Really, that’s being a little possessive, as it’s actually “our” writer’s group. We are the writers from Bobbi’s “How to Write a Non-Fiction Book” class, which was offered through our community college system in the spring semester this year.

"Initially reading the class description in the non-credit course catalog, I was so excited! I couldn’t wait until the day that registration opened so I could call and recite my credit card number over the phone to secure my spot in the class. One of the requirements was that enrollees had to have a book concept. No problem; I would bluff my way through that. Anything to feel like a writer, to be with other writers, to have a reason to write, even to say the word “write.” It all felt so right.

"At the first class we met our instructor, Bobbi, a petite dynamo of a writer who is extremely talented and well-respected in her craft. She claims to be 70 years of age, but if that’s true, then 70 is the new 50, which conveniently makes her my age. Bobbi is very supportive and nurturing of fledgling writers. She didn’t even laugh (in front of the class) when I fumbled for a book concept and came up with “Diet of 49,” which was going to be a journal of my weight loss success from puffing and panting on the treadmill, and pushing away desserts toward my 50th birthday.

"The other writers (love that word!) had such important things to write about, like bi-polarism, estuaries, the circle of life, being a Holocaust survivor, how to research your home’s history, helping others through your life’s mistakes, faith, and more. And there was my fluffy, vain topic in the middle of all that: “Uhh, I want to write about working toward my goal of losing 13 pounds before my 50th birthday.” Something just didn’t seem right about that.

"My fellow writers’ material could be in literary magazines; mine would be more appropriate for a supermarket tabloid. “Menopausal Woman Born with Three Appetites Loses Weight the Old-Fashioned Way: Diet & Exercise.” YAWN!!!

"From Bobbi’s class, we writers learned how much work is involved to organize a book, to write a book proposal, to potentially market a book, and to make scores of decisions regarding how the book will ultimately be produced. We also learned how exasperated she could get at our procrastinations. Bobbi expects books from all of us!!! To this day!!! What are you waiting for? Today could be the first day of your life as a published writer! Do you know how incredible that would feel???

"Bobbi’s next book will be 12,124 Excuses Not to Write: Some Fiction, Some Non, as told to her by her Non-Fiction Book Writers’ class.

"When the course was over, all books were still in process. Super-Kind Techno Jan, who had already set us up on the Internet for communications, insisted that we meet for support and critique, seconded by All-Around-Woman-of-the-Millennium Lynn, who offered her centrally located home. Always-Did-Her-Homework Kim the Wit, Lynn’s Awesome Daughter Mary with the Interesting Life and Job, and I rounded out the forum, along with No-Excuses Spunky Bobbi. There were others in the class and some have made guest appearances, and some we haven’t seen. We speak often of our former fellow writers nostalgically.

"We refused to let go of the class because it might push us back into the abyss of non-writing. That’s not acceptable. There are books to be written. Today! What are we waiting for?

"My writer’s group is like a new warm ‘n’ fuzzy pashmina cuddled around my neck, encircling it with encouragement, and resting partially on my back to keep the words flowing.

"I love each writer in my writer’s group, and I love the word: writer."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Podcasting Lessons

Every time I think I’m getting proficient on the computer, I run into something that absolutely stumps me. So it is with podcasting, which is beginning to drive me absolutely crazy.

I probably wouldn't have undertaken it at all if I hadn’t bought a new Mac and signed up for the $99 offer of a lifetime — Apple’s one-to-one training program. Along with individual training sessions, I received a little box of tiny manuals on topics to cover. After the Mac genius solved all my software problems; got my mail program to work; and taught me iPhoto, iPod, and iChat, it was time for Garage Band.

Garage band is mostly about making music, but it has other functions, as well. One of them is recording audio or video podcasts. Now that I’m blog savvy, I decided it was time to enter the world of podcasting.

Let me say out the outset that I am not Garage Band-literate or intuitive. It’s pretty much a mystery to me, despite four of one-to-one sessions on the subject and a book that a third grader could understand. After many false starts, I have managed to record one so far, but the second one isn’t going too well. In fact, I’ve recorded it five or six times and thrown it in the trash every time. While I know there are ways to split the recording, rerecord corrections, get rid of the mistakes, and drop in the new material, I can’t seem to do any of those things.

Frustration doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings on this subject. I want to scream and throw the microphone across the room (yes, of course, I bought a microphone). But wait. Let’s think this through. Since the late eighties, when I got my first computer — an Osborne — I have learned three different word processing programs, Excel, Photoshop, Quark Xpress and InDesign, several versions of Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat, two website design programs, time and billing, and mind-mapping. I’ve designed my own website, set up my blog, and become a fixture on on-line article sites.

In short, I am no cyber-slouch … except for this one elusive, little skill. I don’t understand it, and neither do my one-to-one trainers. But failure is not an option here, so back I go this week to revisit what we did last week. I wonder if five sessions on podcasting are some sort of a record.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The best laid plans …

It’s September — one of my favorite months. September is the start of so many things, including school. In recent years I’ve discovered how much I love teaching, which is somewhat ironic. Fifty years ago, when I walked into my first classroom, I was ready to run for my life. What had I been thinking, majoring in elementary education? I didn’t belong there, staring at 20 little eight-year-olds and trying to keep them from swinging from the chandeliers. That year was an endurance contest; I survived, but barely.

Traumatized, I didn’t walk into a classroom again for decades. When I finally did it was my love of the subject matter and the conviction that I could actually teach it that broke the barrier. I was teaching writing to adults, adults who were eager to learn, eager to write.

For the last five or six years I’ve been sharing what I know about how to write, publish, and promote a nonfiction book. I wrote a workbook, which keeps getting fatter with each edition, and used it as a text in several different continuing education programs in St. Louis. With each class I hope I become a better teacher. The classes are never the same. The students are different; their subject matter is unique; the dynamics of the group change every time,

I throw my heart into these little six-week sessions, and my money as well, trying to devise the perfect way to provide helpful handouts that don’t break the community college’s budget. I am often able to line up terrific speakers who are experts in their respective fields. At the last session we always have a party, and the students (by now, budding authors) often stay together to form writing groups. Of all the things I do, teaching has become my passion.

I am ready for my next class, which is supposed to start Monday. But something is amiss. Apparently, enrollment at the all three campuses of the community college is down — way down. No one knows precisely why. Perhaps it’s the price of gas or the upcoming election, though how an election that is two months away could influence whether people sign up for night school is beyond me. More likely it is the belt tightening brought on by a sagging economy. Whatever the reason, my class, which often has to be closed when registration hits the maximum, has barely made the minimum.

I received a call yesterday informing me that, though there are only six people in the class, the school is willing to go ahead with it. “It’s up to you,” the caller said. I struggled with what to do for about it for a minute before I reluctantly cancelled. Classes always shrink for a variety of reasons, starting out with 15 and usually ending up with 12 committed students. I taught a class with six people a few years ago and watched it dwindle in size from six to two. Miraculously, we persevered through the six weeks and beyond. The two writers came to class every week and actually wrote their books. One illustrated hers, and the other is waiting to hear from a publisher.

Still, it was not an ideal situation. One of the strengths of these classes is the rapport and support that develops among the students. To establish that rapport you need critical mass, strange as that seems,

I’m disappointed, and the few people I know who e-mailed me to tell me they were taking the class are probably disappointed, as well. Perhaps they will sign up for the next session in chilly February. In light of what is going on in the country and the world right now, a cancelled class is a small thing. But for most of us, it is the small things that compose our lives: habits, routines, aspirations, plans.

But as Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” My cancelled class is just one more example of the that piece of wisdom.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Time Flies


I just received a catalog from a company that is trying to sell me stickers to put on my written business correspondence. My first thought when I saw the envelope was I hardly do any written business correspondence anymore, so I certainly don’t need stickers. My second thought was why are they sending me stickers? I haven’t bought anything from them in years.

The sample stickers said “Bobbi Linkemer & Co. Celebrates 20th Anniversary.” Twenty years? Can that be true? It is true, I realize, or it will be on January 1, 2009. My third thought was something like time flies when you’re having fun.

I wasn’t aware as the years passed that they were flying. At times, I could have sworn they were not even moving. But they have definitely elapsed, and I had a handful of totally useless, shiny stickers in various shapes and sizes to attest to that fact.

What had I been doing for 20 years? Well, surviving for one thing. The financial ups and downs were often as unsettling as a roller coaster ride. Some years were in the clouds; others barely kept from crashing into the ground. And there was no predicting what was coming next.

Reinventing myself took a lot of my time. I had so many identities over two decades, sometimes, I didn’t recognize myself. Every time I felt I had a handle on what clients wanted, they wanted something completely different. It’s called market demand, and a freelance writer had better meet it or perish. Perishing was not an option.

Wearing all the hats — technician, entrepreneur, and manager, in the words of David Gerber in The E-Myth Revisited – occupied all of my time. The problem is that few of us are good at all three; and, if you can’t do it, you have to hire someone who can, which brings us back to the roller coaster metaphor.

This is a pretty superficial assessment of my two decades as an independent writer, but I have four more months to contemplate what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I would do if I could do it all over again. In the meantime I’m designing an online sticker-style icon that says “Bobbi Linkemer & Co. Celebrates 20th Anniversary.” Then I’m going to plan the party.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Words to Write By

The summer is over … or practically over, anyway. A minute ago it was Memorial Day; suddenly, I’m staring Labor Day in the face (I still haven’t bought a barbeque grill!), and what do I have to show for it besides a tan and an improved flutter kick?

But I’m not being fair. Since my life is measured by statistics — my rankings on Google and Yahoo, marketing strategies that pay off, and number of words written, articles published, and books sold — I have accomplished quite a bit. This has been a summer of writing. In fact, I don’t seem to be able to stop.

It is hard to explain this obsession to people who think they can’t write, would rather die than write, or know they can write but hate doing it. As I tried to think of something profound to say, I decided to seek some help from noted writers past and present. Here are some observations that really resonated.


“If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write.” Hugh Prather

"There is no perfect time to write. There's only now." Barbara Kingsolver

"A great deal of talent is lost to the world for want of a little courage." Sydney Smith

“There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it's like drilling rock.” Ernest Hemingway

"Writing itself is an act of faith.” EB White

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage — as long as you edit brilliantly.” C. J. Cherryhr

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it's the only way you can do anything good.” William Faulkner

“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say.” Sharon O'Brien

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster.” Isaac Asimov

"The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes." Agatha Christie

"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." Arthur Polotnik

May you be as inspired as I am by these words.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Fifth Edition: Five Times Tougher Than the First


The good news is that my little book, How to Write a Nonfiction Book: From Concept to Completion in 6 Months, is selling on Amazon and my website. The other day I counted my remaining copies and realized it is time to start thinking about the next edition. That’s about all it took; I haven’t thought about anything else since then. The seed was planted.

So, I packed up my new MacBook and went off to my latest dog-sitting gig, full of ideas for what I might add to the content. It seems the longer I teach, the more I realize how much I have to learn. The article sites I contribute to are goldmines of information, new perspectives, and advice on how to get from your first book-thought to your first book-signing. I read other people’s wisdom and find myself newly inspired. There is so much to share with aspiring authors who buy my book or sit in my classes.

Every time I revise what was once a pretty thin eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch workbook that focused primarily on how to write a book proposal, I add more to the other key aspects of writing, publishing, and promoting a nonfiction book. There are so many good books and so many experts, it’s a bit intimidating to publish what I want to say. Yes, it’s true; even veteran writers feel that way!

The first questions I ask myself are what do authors want to know? What are my students, clients, and book buyers asking me, and have I answered their questions in this book? I look for gaps in the text, and I find them. Why do I have to write a proposal? Do I need an agent? How do I find one? What should I send to a publisher? What is involved in writing a memoir? What’s the difference between POD publishing and self-publishing? And on and on.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a member of my writers’ group with her query letter to a publisher attached. “What do you think?” she wanted to know. “Let me get my thoughts together,” I wrote back and immediately set off on a research and writing journey that culminated in an article, as well as a new section for my book. This was undoubtedly much more than she ever wanted to know; but, when I tried to answer her question, I realized I didn’t really know enough about book query letters to do so.

The first edition of my little book was easy as pie to write; the second a little more difficult; and so on. It has taken me five editions to realize that the best way to learn about your subject is to write about it. I am dedicating this book — if I ever finish it — to my writers group, students, clients, and book buyers. Thank you all for continuing to ask questions I can’t answer without some serious thought.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Wonder of Writing Groups

When I teach classes in how to write a nonfiction book, I always stress the importance of having a good support system. Here’s how I describe it in my book:

“No matter which book you’re working on — your first or twenty-first — you need to feel that others are in your corner and rooting for you. Not only do you need faith in your subject, you need others to have faith in you. ‘I’ll get by with a little help from my friends,’ is a line from my favorite Beatles’ song. No one goes it alone, especially when you undertake a project of this magnitude. Support comes in many forms and from many sources — family, professionals, fellow writers, and, especially, your friends.”

The best support, in my opinion, comes from fellow writers who contribute empathy, enthusiasm, and encouragement to your efforts. I’ve heard the rumor that other writers are competitive and can't be trusted, but I don’t believe it. Furthermore, I’ve never experienced that kind of competition in 40 years of writing.

When I first started freelancing full time I felt completely isolated. I had no one to talk to, to bounce ideas off of, or to ask for feedback. So, I formed a writers’ group. It began with six freelancers and grew to 100 in time. What we sacrificed in intimacy we more than made up in support.

Five or six years ago a good friend of mine assembled a few writers who wanted to write but lacked the time or discipline to actually do it. She named the group Write Now! There were three of us in the beginning, and our purpose was just to write. No reading out loud, no critique or criticism. We all wrote different things: one person journaled; one wrote poetry; and I worked on a book on writing which I dedicated to the group. While it has had its ups and downs, miraculously, Write Now! is still together.

I’m in a new writing group now, which is made up of authors from previous classes who took what we euphemistically refer to as the "graduate program." When it ended, they wanted to stay together, and generous soul offered her home for monthly meetings. I was invited to attend but was hesitant. I didn’t want to continue to fill the teaching role, which sometimes happens after a class, but I needn’t have worried. This is a phenomenal, egalitarian bunch of women of all ages, backgrounds, and perspectives. They no longer needed a teacher; they needed what I needed: a support system.


I wish I could clone them and make sure every writer has such a group. The best I can do is encourage anyone who reads this to create your own. Set it up any way you want to accomplish any goals you choose. That's part of the wonder. Writing groups evolve organically to meet the needs of those who belong. Pretty amazing, huh?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Rethinking the Business Model

I have been in business for close to 20 years, and I must admit that for most of that time I have led with my heart instead of my head. I often give away the company store, so to speak — advice, information, time. All of that equates to money, money I never see because I don’t bill for it.

I trust people. I believe they are sincere and well intentioned. When they ask me what a project will cost I tend to underestimate and over deliver. It’s the perfectionist gene I guess. Everything I do must be the absolute best it can be. I never seem to figure that into my estimates.

I am never prepared for the instances when clients simply don’t pay. In fact, I am blown away when it happens. I have actually taken people to small claims court, only to discover that, even if I win the case, there is no enforcement of the verdict. Sometimes, the client is so illusive that the process server can’t find him. (The next day of course he is seen at Starbucks having a grand old time)

Teaching at the community colleges is not a get-rich-quick scheme, either. They pay $20 an hour — a teaching hour. That does not include preparation, materials above and beyond what the school will copy, gifts or meals for speakers who generously donate their time and talent, custom-made bookmarks, and parties at the end of each session. Money is obviously not the motivation for teaching.

I have friends who are sharp business people — right brained, practical, cautious. I promise myself that I will become more hard nosed and tough. Then, someone calls (who knows a friend or found me on Google or is on my website that very minute), and I cave in, forgetting all my promises. I answer their questions, share my knowledge, and get cauliflower ear from holding the phone. When I hang up I wonder if there is some deep psychological reason beneath my inability to say, “You know, the clock is running” or “This is what I charge for consulting.”

It may be as simple as having a mission, which, in my case, is to help writers write. On the other hand, many successful people have a mission and still manage to charge people for their expertise. Generosity is a lovely trait; being foolish is not. I think it was Einstein who said "If you keep doing what you've always done, you're going to keep getting the same result." (If he didn't say it, he should have.)

I think it's time to do things differently and see what the new result might be.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

10 steps from obscurity to #3 on Google (under “book writing coach”)

I’ve heard it said that having a website no one knows exists is like having a billboard in the middle of the Sahara dessert. I believe it. I’ve had a website almost as long as I’ve been in business, and it was the world’s most expensive (and confusing) online brochure. Now, it generates viable leads every week. It didn’t happen overnight. It took time, advice from experts, lots of learning, and, most of all, doing.

1. It began at an SLPA meeting at which a marketing expert named Bobette Kyle knocked my socks off with her presentation. She offered the audience a free marketing workbook and 30 minutes of consulting time. I signed up. Her first suggestion was to redesign my website to reflect my new goals.

2. I’ll spare you the details of starting over from scratch. It was a series of false starts and frustrations. In the end, I bought DreamWeaver and did it myself. Of course, there were so many things I didn’t have a clue about, such as how to do, like making buttons for my navigation bar or settin up a template. Basic stiff.

3. I hired Pat Weaver, a computer wizard from the Webster school district. She became my fixer and teacher. If I wanted to learn DreamWeaver, she was the best.

4. Finally, I went back to Bobette for a brainstorming session on marketing planning — an essential step! I had to have a marketing plan, and it really wasn’t all that mysterious to write one when a marketing exert was asking all the right questions, and all I had to do was think through the answers.

5. My overall goal was to build my business as a ghostwriter, book-writing coach, and editor. One strategy was to expand my online presence. Tactic #1 was to write and submit articles in my area of expertise to online marketing sites. So, that’s what I did. I wrote them; Bobette submitted them to about 30 online sites, including EzineArticles.com, the gold standard. At the bottom of each was a little blurb explaining what I do and how to contact me. At this point, there are close to 60 articles, which are also on my website in two formats: web pages and PDFs.

6. In the meantime, I kept adding to and improving my site. I did the design and writing; Bobette did her magic behind the scenes. The key was obtaining quality inbound links from authority Websites, like relevant directories or topical Websites. This helps search engines find and list my site and potential clients find me. A novice could do that, I suppose, but it’s so worth it to pay a consultant who knows what she’s doing. I started showing up on search engines, and potential authors started contacting me. To me, that was a miracle.

7. Tactic #2 was to join social networking sites like Gather, LinkedIn, FaceBook, and Eons, among others. That took a lot of time; and, truthfully, it is my weakest link. Networking sites can become so addictive and time-consuming that I forget to work. Obviously, I still have a lot to learn about that aspect of Web 2.0.

8. There has to be a way to encourage people to e-mail and then capture their addresses when they do. And, even more important, then, I have to give them something free — information, reports, eBooks, anything that will benefit the reader and compel them to make contact. So, we set up a way to do that on my home page. The e-mail addresses go to EzineDirector, which automatically sends out the eBook I offer. It will also send out a regular newsletter and do all kinds of other things, automatically, if I set them up.

9. I struggled with the idea of doing a newsletter. I feel that a newsletter should be full of news and other helpful messages. Doing the requisite research is a big job, so I finally decided to send one only when I have something worthwhile to announce or share.

10. I don’t know what took me so long, but, eventually, I discovered blogging; and I love it. I set up my blog on BlogSpot, which is free, easy, and basic. I keep discovering new things I can do and adding them to my blog. My topic, of course, is writing; but, unlike articles, I find blogging gives me more flexibility. It is personal, so I can reflect on a whole range of writing-related topics that don’t fit in the article format.

Those are the basics. In between the numbers are all the things I have done wrong while learning to do them right, and, believe me, there have been many. There is so much to learn and so much to do, it could consume most of my day. But, when you are a writer who sells services as well as words, that is your full-time job. Marketing is how you get to do it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Business of Blogging

Since I’ve launched my blog I’ve become very interested in this subject. I want to know, of course, if I’m doing is correctly, but instantly discovered that everyone seems to have has a different idea of what “correctly” means.

First of all, people blog for many reasons — to keep a kind of diary of events as they unfold; to reflect on various topics of interest the blogger; to support a position, political or otherwise; to serve the needs of the blog’s readers; to display one’s creative abilities; to market a brand or a product; and to entertain, educate, or enlighten. I’m sure I have barely scratched the surface.

Second, there are the many ways blogs are designed. Some are plain vanilla — no frills, just text —which encourages the reader to concentrate on the words. At the other extreme, are beautifully designed, truly artful blog/websites that are a pleasure to look at, as well as read, like Riehl Life, my friend Janet’s blog. Some are so busy, you don’t know where to look; others are cleverly but simply designed. Mine, I think, is somewhere in the middle. It’s really simple because that’s all blogspot allowed me to do in terms of design, or at least it’s all I have been able to figure out so far.

So, I’ve been reading about blogs and discovering there is a lot to learn! Last month the SLPA had a speaker on blogs. His name was David Strom. Here are a few points he made that I found very helpful:

1.Social networking is about creating conversations.
2.Keep your blog entries simple and searchable.
3.You are a source of content for other blogs, as well as your own.
4.Think about your target audience.
5.Solicit stories and comments from readers.
6.Digg.com will drive traffic to your site.

Julie Hood of the OrganizedWriter.com generously sent me a link to WellnessCoach.com with a series of articles by Erica Ross-Krieger on “What should I blog about?” If these articles are excerpts from a book, I want to read the book. Here are a couple of gems:

• Go back to basics. What do your readers want to know? Do keyword research with the word tracker keyword tool to see how they are looking for that phrase. Create a post with a commonly used keyword phrase in the title and in the post.

• Comment on current news in your topic area and add your own spin to it.

Here are three tips are from an article on that same website by Alexandria K. Brown, the Ezine Queen. She lists 11 quick (and good) content ideas for your e-zine, website (or blog).

1. Jot down 8 questions your clients have asked you in the past, and answer each in a short article (or post).
2. Think of three areas in which you’d like your clients to think of you as a resource. Now develop content in those areas
3. Recommend books and resources you use and offer full reviews on them.

In 7 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Online Marketing Presence by Bobette Kyle, one great suggestion is to “Identify 10 Bloggers in Your Category. Then send them your product as a gift. The idea is to expose your product to influencers in your category by giving them an opportunity to try it free. If they like it, they may give it a mention in their blogs. Note that this is a subtle online marketing technique. The idea is NOT to advertise to them, ask a favor of them, or ask them to blog about the product. Choosing to mention (or not mention) your product should be solely up to them. You can find and read blogs by searching blogging directories such as technorati.com.”

When I started The Writing Life I thought I would just muse about my favorite subject, but obviously, musing is only a small part of the package. One has to muse with purpose. My purpose is pretty clear to me — to help writers write — but there is much I have to learn about how best to achieve it.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I love my students!

They are amazing. They sign up for a continuing education course at a community college and have no idea until they get there what they’ve gotten themselves into. I try to tell them the very first night. Actually, I’ve started telling them in advance by e-mail, but I don’t think they really understand until I start assigning homework.

After all, the class is called “Writing Publishing and Promoting Your Nonfiction Book.” Surely one thinks they are going to do all that in only six weeks (one night a week) without homework. But they are such good sports. Sometimes, they even take the class a second time or sign up for the “graduate” program for those who have been through the basics at least once.

They do everything I ask: come up with a single sentence starting with “My book is about …”; write a proposal, which they really fight tooth and nail; organize their yet-to-be-written books on the computer; sort through a gazillion handouts without hyperventilating; construct a viable outline; and write chapter summaries.

And if they are amazing, their topics are even more so. In my last group, which was actually the "graduate program," here’s what they were writing about:

o Surviving loss, cancer, stroke, 12 children, and more and still smiling
o Making all the mistakes one can make in life, yet marrying prince charming, and living happily ever after
o Living and prevailing with bipolar disorder
o Keeping your aging, dying parents at home until the end of their lives
o The spiritual lessons learned at every pivotal stage of life
o Researching the history of your heritage home one agonizing step at a time (See Connecting Links: My House History.)
o The memoir of a “hidden child” of the Holocaust
o The importance of estuaries and how we must preserve them
o Getting fit by 50 (starting at 49)

There will be book signings! Stay tuned for further announcements.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What to do first, what to do next

More than anything, I want to work. I love what I do and always have. In fact, I am addicted to it. It’s like chocolate or, in my case, strawberry shortcake (my other addiction).

“Do you have time for a project?” someone asks, and I automatically reply, “absolutely.” “I am writing a book and need some help,” appears in an e-mail and, without a moment’s hesitation, I respond, “What kind of help do you need? Why don’t you give me a call?” The phone rings with a request for an editor. If the caller says, “I’m looking at your website right now,” I’m a goner.

Lately, my website and little videos on YouTube seem to have hit the charts, and people are actually finding me. It’s a heady feeling to be needed — so heady that I tend to forget time and energy are finite. When it runs out, and I fall off the chair, I'm pretty much good for nothing. Nonetheless, I find it difficult to say, “No” or “Not at this time” or anything that might make the other person think I don’t want the work or can't handle the work or don’t have time for the work.

I mentioned this to my Web marketing guru, who seems to work 24/7, and asked her how she does it. “Priorities,” she said. “You have to set priorities!” I looked it up.

priority |prīˈôrətē|
noun ( pl. -ties)
• a thing that is regarded as more important than another : housework didn't figure high on her list of priorities.

I am taking her advice very seriously. As soon as I finish this post, I’m going to empty the dishwasher, fold the laundry, clean off my desk, water the plants, and set some priorities.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Technology Overload

We have a saying in our family: The one who dies with the most toys wins. Until recently, I didn’t even think I was a competitor; now, I’m sure I’m going to win.

It started with the new external hard drive, which I had to have because it spoke two languages: Mac and PC. Then, there was the ergonomic keyboard for the PC, since my fingers seem incapable of negotiating a standard laptop keyboard. And, of course, I had to have a universal wireless mouse of my own, despite the fact that there were mice in every drawer of every desk in two states.

The entire time I was in Florida, every time I made or received a phone call on my cell phone, I had to go outside to talk because my phone didn’t seem to like the house, especially the kitchen. My earpiece wouldn’t work at all, so I wore out my left ear smashing the phone up against it. Leslie finally took pity on me and gave me her old cell phone, but then she had to take me to the Sprint store to switch my phone number and contact list. I was happy as a clam, but what did I know? Apparently, a truly modern cell phone user is half naked without a Bluetooth permanently attached to his or her ear. Need I say more?

By now, three quarters of the world knows the saga of my new laptop. Really, it seemed perfect until I realized how incomplete I felt not being able to send e-mail or access the Internet while sitting in bed, which is about five feet away from my desk. “Why do you need wireless when you live in a closet?” Terry asked. My condo may be small, but it is not a closet. Besides, no one really needs wireless. It’s like diamonds. People have been known to live all their lives without diamonds. But the question is, are they really happy?

Such reasoning immediately sent me to Best Buy to inquire about a wireless modem. The inquiry led to the purchase, which led to the attempted installation, which led to the frustration, which led a totally unintelligible conversation with someone in India. I don’t know what he said, but it doesn’t matter because I am connected and can access the Internet from every room. What more could I possibly want, except maybe to figure out why I still can’t send and e-mail from any room?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

And the winner is ... Mac, of course

After a two-and-a-half-week struggle with a borrowed PC, I did what I should have done at the outset: I bought a Mac laptop. It looked like an impulse purchase, but it really wasn’t. I had checked out every model at the Apple store in Jacksonville, typed on the key boards, peered at monitors, researched software to determine how much hard drive space I would need, compared prices, and chosen my color scheme. I was ready.

Before I even finished unpacking, I drove to the mall and plunked down my credit card. My teacher’s discount didn't amount to much, but I got a free printer/scanner/copier and an iPod that holds 2,000 songs. What more could a committed Mac lover need, except perhaps software? And that was where the trouble started.

In order to install my software (which I own legally, complete with licenses and serial numbers), I would need to do a “migration,” which involved bringing in my desktop computer and hooking it up to the new laptop. In retrospect, that would have been the best course of action; but I was tired, the desktop Mac was awkward to carry, and the whole process seemed like too much trouble. I wanted a simpler solution. What I got instead were four trips to the Apple store, hours of waiting around while the techs tried various other approaches, and a rapidly deteriorating disposition.

In the end, of course, they prevailed. And, when I say they, I mean an entire team of Mac experts who would not give up until they solved this knotty problem. They were so genuinely happy when they handed me my new, fully functioning MacBook, the whole event felt like a party.

Mac owners are fanatics, I know. We simply don’t understand why anyone would own anything else. From our very first one (mine was the little box model), we are forever hooked. We extol its virtues to anyone who will listen. Can you imagine anyone waxing poetic about his Dell or Gateway? I can’t.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Mac-PC Wars

Going on a trip, when you’re a Mac person who doesn’t own a laptop, is anything but easy. In fact, it is a saga.

I could have bought a Mac laptop, which I desperately craved, but it would have cost roughly $2,000 ($800 more than my desktop) if I wanted any memory at all or even one bell or whistle.

I could have rented a Mac laptop, which seemed like a great idea (it wasn’t mine). My daughter, Leslie, was only too happy to find a Mac rental website for me, the easy part of an otherwise arduous process. After I finally researched and entered all the essential information, I learned that it would cost me $225 a week, times two-and-a-half weeks for this option.

I could have brought my external hard drive and plugged it into Leslie’s laptop. That was supposed to work, but it turned out this particular model of LaCie hard drive wasn’t compatible with a PC. Then, in a fit of rebellion, it even refused to recognize my Mac. So, off I went to my computer guru in a panic. Mike performed his usual magic, making the hard drive compatible with anything I might connect it to; but, somewhere between his office and mine, the LaCie committed suicide.

I could have run out and bought a new one or figured out if it were really dead or just pretending. Back to my guru, who diagnosed the problem and informed me it wasn’t dead (just sick) and all I needed was a new case (long explanation). He bought the case, reinstalled and reconfigured the drive, and made sure it worked. I transferred all my files to the shiny new box. Problem solved.

Then, of course, there was the matter of the teeny-weeny keyboard on a laptop, which I can’t negotiate because of arthritis. To buy or borrow an ergonomic keyboard that works with a PC? That was the question. (My ergonomic keyboard is only Mac compatible. What a surprise.) Leslie offered to buy one, but my friend Bobette insisted that I borrow hers. Another question resolved, though it did take up a lot of room in the suitcase.

A very small issue popped up regarding a PC-compatible mouse. It didn’t occur to me to ask if anyone had an extra one; I just went out and bought a little wireless number. Then, it turned out everyone had one.

When I arrived at Leslie’s, it took five seconds to determine that her laptop didn’t have enough USB ports to handle the keyboard, external hard drive, and wireless mouse. And I had forgotten to pack my little USB extensions, never thinking I would need them. My son in law, Allen, came to the rescue and offered his computer, which is relatively new and replete with USB ports. The only problem was a lack of electrical outlets and surge protector. A little desk moving solved the first part; I went out and bought a surge protector to handle the second.

At last, I was set to go. I felt relieved; everyone else seemed a little frazzled by what it took to make all this happen. Leslie and Allen when off on their long-awaited anniversary trip, and I prepared to work. I had already figured out how to access e-mail, voice mail, and the Web. I had all my passwords with me (farsighted person that I am) but, unfortunately could not open my e-mail address book. A frantic call to Terry (my other daughter) sent her scurrying to my office to send me the addresses. It took a while. Terry is a PC gal and had some difficulty finding her way around my Mac.

When I think about all this ridiculous effort and confusion, I can only conclude that serving the customer has never been a priority for either Microsoft or Apple. If it had been, they wouldn’t have made communication so frustrating and difficult!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Taking a Time Out


We interrupt this writer’s life to accept the mother-of-the-year award for flying to Florida to dog sit, while my daughter and son in law celebrate their anniversary cruising around Europe. You must understand that this is not your ordinary dog who could spend a week in a pet hotel or have the neighbor’s kids drop by to feed him and walk him twice a day,. This is my daughter’s child and, thus, my grandchild.

So, here I am, rambling around a huge house (any house would be huge compared to my 900-square-foot closet of a condo), swimming laps in a gorgeous pool (with fountain), and lounging on the custom-built patio amid a paradise of tropical plants, butterfly gardens, and soothing chimes.

In between all that swimming and lounging, my duties consist of making sure Milo (the love of our lives) has food, water, treats, ample petting, and scheduled walks around the big circle (complete with plastic bags – a new experience for me).

Milo is a cross between a sheltie and a corgi – fluffy, low to the ground, and lovable. He has soulful eyes and a constantly wagging tale. Milo does not bark, but he does make his desires apparent through a series of facial expressions (no kidding), body postures, and unmistakable displays of excitement – all of which I struggle to interpret.

Since I have not yet mastered the art of just “hanging out” and must work, I brought enough electronics with me to set up my own Radio Shack. This took some creativity on my part, because I am a Mac person and most of the rest of the world is not. Configuring my external hard drive; a borrowed two-foot-long, ergonomic keyboard; and my son in law’s PC is a story in itself. If anyone ever tells you Windows is just like OS X (Mac talk for operating system), don’t believe it.

In any event, I am prepared for any eventuality. I can get into my website-based e-mail; I can charge my cell phone; I can retrieve messages from my office voice mail. What can’t I do? One little thing: retrieve my e-mail address book! This is a serious oversight, but I have a contingency plan. It depends only on the good will of my other daughter, who is still in St. Louis, though nowhere near my office nor Mac proficient. (She used to be, and I will never understand why she went over to the dark side!)

I’ve only been here four days, trying desperately to relax. So far, I have reorganized my daughter’s closet, done two loads of laundry, swum laps, finished a book and gotten half way through a second, and worked for umpteen hours on a client project. It would seem that taking a “vacation” is harder than I thought it would be. But I have another week to figure out how it’s done.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Everyone is a Writer

You are a writer, whether you know it or not.

§ If you’ve never pulled up a blank screen up on your computer and just rambled, you may not know it. If that’s the case, believe it or not, the writer in you is ready to emerge.

§ If you know you can write, but your audience is limited to your hard drive or desk drawer, this is your chance to reach out and touch a real reader.

§ And, if you get paid for writing, but you feel stuck, now is the time to get unstuck, take a risk, and move to the next level.

The key is simply to WRITE!

W is for Write!
If you’re not writing, you’ll never test your talent or your potential ... you’ll never know how good you could be ... and one will ever read your words Say it out loud, or write it down. “I am a writer!” Remember, the intention gives birth to the act.

R is for take a risk.
Being a writer is risky business, benign, as it may seem. It takes a lot of courage to put your work out there for others to read and judge.

I is for ignite your passion.
Whatever you’re wild about is your passion. Passion is a spark that refuses to be extinguished.

T is for try everything.
— every kind of writing, every possible subject, every experience. If it’s new to you, so much the better. Try a new genre every week.

E is for experience life.
What does that mean to you? It means wake up! Stop sleepwalking, and open your eyes. As a writer, you can’t afford to miss what’s going on around you or inside you. You have to pay attention to everything.

My challenge to you is this:
Take some time every day to view the world attentively, to be completely aware of what is going on in your internal and external universes.

For one minute or one hour a day, totally and completely experience life.

To write is exhilarating, liberating, creative, cathartic, and calming. It will amaze you and stretch you. It will put you in touch with aspects of yourself you never knew existed and ideas and insights you never dreamed were there for the taking.

I hope you will take three ideas away with you today.

1. Everyone is a writer, and now you know that very much includes you.
2. Wherever you are in your writer’s life, this is the moment to risk moving to the next level.
3. The tools to help you make that move are embodied in this powerful little word:

W is for write.
R is for risk
I is for ignite your passion
T is for try everything
E is for experience life

These are the keys to the Writing Life!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Finding My Calling

I never really planned to teach. After my disastrous experience with a third grade class in Urbana, Illinois, I vowed I would never step into a classroom again.

Then, many years later, I decided I wanted to develop a seminar on how to write a book. I planned and organized and made a beautiful Power Point presentation. The only problem was I had no idea what I was doing.

So, I enlisted the help of two professional speakers who wanted to become authors. Our deal was I would help them plan and write their books if they would give me feedback. Eventually, they did write books, though not the ones they originally planned; and I did get lots of feedback.

That was the beginning of putting together a class, instead of a seminar. I started teaching a noncredit course for the St. Louis Community College in the Spring of 2004. I had pages and pages of notes, very little confidence, and a packed classroom. It was frightening but exhilarating. I remember all of the students and their topics, but doubt that anyone actually wrote anything.

Nonetheless, I was hooked. The more I taught, the more I loved teaching and the more I improved both my skills and the class. I wrote a workbook, which is now in its fourth edition. The community college offered a follow up course for my previous students. We called it the graduate program.

Teaching is the most satisfying thing I've ever done. I tell my students I will fall in love with their ideas long before they do, and it's true. When those ideas don't turn into books, I feel a real sense of loss. When they do, I am so proud. Many of my students become close friends.

Sometimes, it takes years to find one's true calling. When it happens, it is magical. I am so lucky to have found mine.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Long Road to Now

Writing has been a 40-year journey so far, and I'm still amazed at all the places I've visited along the way. Every time I thought I knew where I was headed, I'd come upon a fork in the road and go off in some totally unexpected direction.

My first published article was a humor piece about handball; my most recent, a book on writing. In between, there has been an alphabet soup of written projects, from annual reports to websites — enough to fill 18 three-ring binders and a shelf full of published books..

When I began, all I wanted was to be a serious (as opposed to humorous) feature writer. That was my only plan; but, as the saying goes, "Man plans, and God laughs." My career must have been the source of endless mirth, because, no sooner had I become somewhat competent at one kind of writing, when I had to learn something completely new and mysterious. I must admit, often I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into my new responsibilities, scared and unable to see how they fit into my plan.

In the early years, there seemed no rhyme or reason to the paths I took. Suddenly, I was an editor; then a corporate communicator; then a marketer; and, for a few years, even a sales rep. (I knew I had lost my way in that job.) I learned to read contact sheets, then to take the photos. I stumbled into design and layout for newsletters and brochures. With great trepidation, I wrote my first little book, and then another.

It took years to see any kind of pattern to my travels. It wasn't until I became a fully independent writer in 1989 that one began to emerge. Everything I had ever done, no matter how inconsequential, became a skill I needed as an entrepreneur. It all came together like a perfect map, guiding me toward my ultimate destination: exactly where I am right now.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Shadow Stories

What do writers do with their published work? Do they carefully bind it into portfolios and stack it reverently on their bookshelves? Do they file it away in cabinets or plastic file boxes until it takes over half their houses? Or do they simply pitch it into the recycling bin and go on to the next assignment? I think the answer has a lot to do with how much they are identified with their work, Personally, I am pretty much defined by mine.

It should come as no surprise that I have kept every article and book I've ever written, in all of the above places: portfolios, bookshelves, and plastic file boxes. Over the years, I’ve done my best to consolidate, organize, and even purge: but I still have a lot of printed material.

When I leave this planet, what are my children going to do with a collection of 40 or 50 or 60 years of accumulated words? I have no idea, really. They can throw it out if they like. I wouldn’t mind at all. After all, I am not a famous writer, and what I’ve written has not changed the world in any way I know of. So, why keep it?

Perhaps I keep it because it is tangible proof of what I have done with my life … that I haven’t just been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. Or maybe it is all an extension of me in some way I don’t completely understand. And there is another reason. Behind every story, I’ve written there is another story, a shadow story, so to speak. It is a story of what happened while I was researching or writing, of the real people behind the carefully phrased quotes, and of what I learned or experienced that never made it into print.

It's funny; sometimes, I can’t remember what I did yesterday. Yet, I can clearly recall every one of those shadow stories behind the ones that made it into magazines and books. Perhaps it’s time to bring them into the light.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Getting Around the WWW

Cyberspace Isn't for sissies. There is more to it than having an Internet browser on your desktop or knowing how to open an attachment on your e-mail.

According to Wikipedia, The Internet is a "network of networks" that consists of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and government network. Together, they carry information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, file transfer, and the interlinked web pages and other resources of the World Wide Web.

For the novice, the WWW is downright mind-boggling and, for the rest of us, depending on our technological sophistication, it can still be pretty confusing. Every time I think I understand something, I find ten more things I didn't even know existed.

Here's where I stand at the moment: I have a multi-page, somewhat interactive website. I have a store with a shopping cart that calculates tax and shipping and accepts payments from PayPal. I have a presence on Gather, Yahoo, FaceBook, Eons, EzineArticles.com, and more than a dozen other online article sites. I have a blog, a gazillion website bookmarks, and an e-mail address book, neatly divided into groups. I can capture the e-mail addresses of people who sign up for my free eBook and automatically send it off to them by return e-mail.

Here's what I don't do very well, if at all: I don't know how many hits I get on various pages of my site. I don't understand Google Analytics. I'm not great with key words, search engines, or directories. I don't take full advantage of all my social networking sites or my blog. I'm not fluent in techno-speak or HTML.

On the other hand, I do have a phenomenal Web guru who fixes my mistakes and guides me through the website marketing maze. Everyone needs a Bobette Kyle!