Thursday, March 19, 2009

Teaching — The Icing on the Cake

Another class in Writing, Publishing, & Promoting Your Nonfiction Book ended last night. It was a six-week, 12-hour, non-credit course sponsored by the St. Louis Community College and held in a high school classroom. The class almost didn’t come together because enrollment in continuing ed classes across the community college system was way down. As it turned out, more people showed up on the first night than were originally signed up; and, as is also sadly typical, a few people dropped out. I never know why that happens; and, though it probably has much more to do with the students’ time constraints than the caliber of my teaching, one can never be sure about why they leave.

Those who remained were enthusiastic and involved. They shared their ideas and suggestions with each other, asked many questions of the speakers, took copious notes, and began to write their books. At the last class, they brought food, and we had a great “graduation party.” They were gracious and grateful for what they had learned. As always, that last class was bittersweet. As I said my goodbyes and packed up my materials and books, I was already feeling the familiar sense of loss. While it was festive and lively, and people seemed quite relaxed, I dread these endings.

Some of these students will simply disappear from life. Many of their books may never be written. A few, of course, will stay in touch, perhaps ask for my help, and take the process to its desired conclusion — a completed, published book. But if I go back over my class rosters for all the years I’ve been teaching this class, I will find those success stories to be rare.

People take this class for many reasons. Depending on their previous experience with non-credit courses, they are often surprised that I expect them not only to learn a process but also to actually begin to write their books. For some, that is just what they hoped for; for others, it’s far too big a commitment. What always surprises me is when people take the class and then take it again, determined this time to produce a book.

So, another class ends. I pack away the notebook and re-shelve the books I brought as samples of each week’s topics. And for several Wednesday nights, I will feel vaguely out of sync. Something is missing, I will think. And then I will remember what it is and hope my class will be offered in the summer or next fall.

Teaching fulfills me as nothing else does. How fortunate I am to be able to do it, even if only six weeks at a time.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So Much to Do, So Little Time

I’m convinced I have attention deficit disorder. It’s Wednesday morning. I’ve just bolted down a cup of coffee; set up my office in bed; updated my endless list of things to do; checked the headlines in The Huffington Post, which reminded me to read a little more of The Huffington Post’s Complete Guide To Blogging; stopped reading to check my e-mail; noticed that one e-mail included an article on 50 ways to promote your book, which I needed to forward to my writing class; and finally realized I had not finished anything except the coffee. At this point, I checked the time and jumped out of bed because my workout partner was waiting for me.

What’s wrong with this picture?

If I look back I may find I have hit upon this topic before because I frequently feel overwhelmed by the “must-do” tasks on my list. Here’s today’s list:
  • Pick up prescription; fill new prescription.
  • Grocery shop (at the very least get milk, half & half, and something for the party tonight).
  • Pick up slacks at the dressmaker.
  • Finish bookmarks, have them printed, laminated, and cut (in time, for tonight’s class)
  • Work on D_____’s book.
  • Call accountant about income tax return.
  • Fill out papers for lawsuit.
  • Confirm haircut appointment or Thursday.
  • Bank (deposit).
  • Fill out personal property tax form.
  • Research publishers for F_____.
  • Read K_____’s first chapter.
  • Check to see if Amazon fixed my list of published books.
  • Print out workbook for “Your Money or Your Life” class.
  • Do first assignment.
  • Answer e-mails; clean out e-mail in-box.
  • Record How to Write a Nonfiction Book webinar.
OK, these things don’t all have to be done today, but they do have to be done sometime in the near future. And it feels impossible. Thus, I flit from one task to another and stop in the middle to blog about it and take a photo of the office on my bed. When I mentioned this to my daughter, she observed that I am the only one she knows who can accomplish nothing and write a blog about accomplishing nothing (illustrated, no less).

This whole subject deserves further consideration. More to come … the next time I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Biz Basics for Writers

I just found some notes from a presentation I did a while ago for a group of aspiring writers. I shared the stage with my accountant, Jonathan Becker, CPA. The notes, taken in my particular brand of shorthand, are filled with great advice for owners of “creative” small businesses. That definitely includes freelance writers. The suggestions are still relevant, so I’m going to pass them along without embellishment.
  • Bill by the hour. Bill for every single hour you put into your business.
  • If a client isn’t willing to pay you for what you do, you probably don’t want that client anyway.
  • When you raise your rates, don’t grandfather your old clients. If you do, you will begin the resent them.
  • There’s a rule in accounting that every three years you should dump the bottom 20 percent of your client list.
  • When you figure your hourly rate make it three times your expected or hoped-for income. Add to that 40 percent for what it costs to run the business. Divide that figure by 2,080 hours (working hours in a year), and that is what your hourly rate should be.
  • Set up your books. Get help from your accountant if you need it.
  • Creative people need to know how to reconcile a checkbook.
  • Creative people should have a feel for what’s going on inside your business.
  • If you’ve been business for two or three years and are going nowhere, it may be time to look for a job.
How to set up your business entity:
  • Sole proprietor (on your own and doing business)
  • LLC (Limited Liability Corporation limits your personal and family exposure) Set up your LLC with an attorney, and register with the Missouri Dept. of Revenue.
  • Add umbrella protection to your homeowner’s policy.
Income tax:
  • Fifty percent of incomes goes to taxes.
  • Deduct anything that pertains to your business: Internet access, website, magazine subscriptions, supplies, equipment, consultants, accountants, attorneys, and so on.
  • Any items deducted reduce taxes by 50 percent.
  • Work with your accountant on what to deduct.
  • The IRS does very little auditing at the small business level.
  • Get on TV or radio to talk about what you know.
  • Follow up on every lead.
  • Return phone calls that day.
  • Respond to e-mails.
  • Identify your market. Network. Join groups.
Basic? Yes? Important to your financial success? Also yes.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Web Marketing 101: Online Newsletters

There are almost as many ways to stay connected to the cyber-world as there are people in it. OK, I’m exaggerating. But, in addition to those I’ve tried, there are certainly an equal number or more I have never even thought about. Or, if I have thought about them, I don’t know how to create them. Podcasts and PowerPoint presentations that actually show up on my website are two perfect examples. One thing I do know: if I want to market my website, I need a newsletter.

Everybody has an online newsletter, I’ve been told many, many times by many, many people. Not knowing how to create one is no excuse. Most of them are plain vanilla, no bells and whistles, text only. Of course, some of the simplest in form are also the most complex in content. And that’s what worried me. Where was I going to get all those facts and references and really great tips that seem to be the heart and soul of online newsletters? I could worry about how it should look after I figured out what it should say.

I went in search of examples of good online newsletters.

Scribe & Quill, a newsletter for writers, has changed a lot in recent years. It used to come monthly in two sections, with each section long and crammed full of material. For nine years, it has been primarily written, edited, and published by one person — a dynamo named Bev Walton Porter.

WebsiteMarketingPlan's newsletter, put out by my personal web guru, Bobette Kyle, is for people who are really serious about marketing their sites. It is full of tips, links, offers, plans, and articles. In short, it is a graduate course in website promotion.

The BuzzFactor is really for musicians, but it demonstrates how multifaceted Bob Baker is. He has a great website, blogs, numerous books and e-books, ezines, and a terrific presence on Amazon. At his Self-Publishing Book newsletter, Bob shares his abundant knowledge of the creative process and marketing with writers.

Hello, my name is e-zine is published by a one-man whirlwind — Scott Ginsberg — who has more energy than a room full of two year olds and more marketing ideas than a Madison Avenue ad agency. Scott writes in list form: 72 Ways to do this … 6 Ways to do that … 13 Types of … 10 Strategies to … and on and on. Personally, I think he’s a genius.

The BuildBookBuzz newsletter is fresh, informative, and practical. I stumbled on it when I read an article on one of the online sites, followed the link to Sandra Beckwith, e-mailed her and received a lovely reply, became an instant fan, and subscribed to her newsletter. Sometimes, you just meet someone smart and special when you let your fingers do the walking.

Author Marketing Experts, as it name suggests, is aimed at intrepid writers of books. Penny Sansevieri is one, as well as a speaker, blogger, article writer, and tweeter. Her newsletter is long, filled with information and advice, including details on how to target particular publications, and unadorned with graphics (at least, the version I receive). Text and nothing but text, but that text is always worth reading.

I read all these newsletters and others; I studied them; I admired them (or they wouldn’t be mentioned); and I came up with something completely different. It has a plain text version, but, really, it’s intended to mirror my website. Sometimes, it actually does that. I must admit that getting News & Views from Bobbi Linkemer to look the way I envisioned it was harder than learning how to podcast, or so it seemed.

Then, of course, there was the matter of what to write about. There, too, I took an offbeat approach. If News & Views looks intriguing and informative, and you think you might like to receive it once a month, hit this link and subscribe. In the meantime, I’ll start working on the next one.