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.