Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Writers write ... AND speak

“Writers don’t speak; they write.” I’ve actually said that, and I’m embarrassed to admit it. The context in which I said it had to do with voice activated software. When people have suggested that I talk a book instead of writing one I’ll admit I’ve gotten a bit testy. But in the broader sense, writers must speak, and if you don’t, you are missing a great marketing strategy.

Talking about your book in public forums is effective, personal, and persuasive. It also sells books. If you are one of the many people who fear public speaking or have no idea how to do it, I have eight suggestions. The first is to join a Toastmasters’ group. The other seven follow.

1. It’s all about the audience.
Do your homework. Find out all you can about the group. Every audience is different; there is no one size fits all. Ask yourself what this audience needs and how you can provide it. Even if you have given this presentation before, you can still tailor it to the needs of this particular group.

2. Think it through before you write a single word.
What is your message, the essential idea you want to get across? Write it down in a single sentence. Then, think about the three main points that will support that message. People can usually grasp and remember three ideas, but more than that tends to be confusing. Finally, jot down ideas for stories that will illustrate those points.

3. The opening grabs their attention; the closing gives them something to take away with them.
These are the two most important parts of any presentation. Think of a hot pink thread that begins at the opening, runs through the content, and ends up in a knot at the end. That thread ties your speech together. Write the opening and closing carefully, edit them until they are perfect, and then memorize them until they are as familiar as the Pledge of Allegiance.

4. Content is king.
You know before you begin what your message is going to be. Now, you have to become an expert on that topic. Research it, anticipate questions, and be prepared to answer them in your presentation and in the Q&A, if there is one. If you have thought about the stories you want to tell, this is the time to flesh them out. Look up what others have said, and sprinkle authoritative quotes throughout your talk. With today’s powerful search engines that is easier than it has ever been.

5. Delivery counts.
Your content may be great, but if it is badly presented, no one will ever know. Good delivery is built on self-confidence, comfort with your topic, and contagious energy. These things build on each other and are the result of practice, practice, practice. Do not think you can “wing it.” You can’t.

6. Organization matters.
The key to compelling content and confident delivery is how well organized your material is. Complicated organization may work in print, but it doesn’t in a speech. Keep it simple and straightforward—so simple, in fact, that the audience can almost see your outline as you speak. You don’t have to actually say, “Here is what the speech is about, point one, point two, point three, and here’s how it all ties together” for the audience to know where those headings would be.

7. Be real.
There are two kinds of presentations: performances and conversations. Performances are scripted, stylized, and acted. Conversations engage the audience. Performances make an impression; conversations create a connection. Here are two important questions: What is the purpose of your presentation, and what is your natural style? Do what comes naturally. Any audience can spot a phony, someone who is trying too hard, or a speaker who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Don’t be any of the above.

If these suggestions seem somewhat familiar, it’s probably because the same rules apply to good writing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Meet the Blogging Experts on Twitter

A few experts I follow and thought you might want to, as well.

Denise Wakeman

  • Business blogging & social marketing to help you get more online visibility & opportunities for you & your business. Sometimes tweet abt my running workouts.
  • Location: North Hollywood, United States
  • Web:
  • Twitter:

Penny Sansevieri

Bob Baker

  • Author, musician dedicated to showing indie artists how to get exposure, connect with fans, sell more music, and increase their incomes.
  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Web:
  • Twitter:


Russ Henneberry

  • Helping tiny business make mighty profits using a personal computer, a little imagination and a few well-placed dollars.
  • Location: Saint Louis
  • Web:
  • Twitter:


  • Head of content, editor, social media, marketing, great food, good wine, writer at
  • Location: Boston, Massachusetts
  • Web:
  • Twitter:

Guy Kawasaki

  • I am a firehose that answers the question: What's interesting? Co-founder of Alltop.
  • Location: VirginAmerica 2A
  • Web:
  • Twitter:


  • Just a guy who loves Social Media. Want to know what our company does: The 1st Rule of Fightclub: you don't talk about Fightclub
  • Location: Denver
  • Web:
  • Twitter:

Terri Z Solo

  • Solo entrepreneur, writer, soccer mom, wife, dog-lover, singer. I tweet about online marketing, resources I recommend, world peace and life in general.
  • Location: Cary, NC
  • Web:
  • Twitter:

Darren Rowse

Lisa Hanock Jasie


  • Every Dot Connects: communications, marketing, social media with flair. Wisdom that comes w/ age mixed w a youthful attitude of fun. Published writer.
  • Location: Austin, TX
  • Web:
  • Twitter:


  • The hottest Twitter news, Twitter tips and Twitter help. Plus, the best social media links around!
  • Location: Scotland / SF
  • Web:
  • Twitter:


  • Founder of Copyblogger.
  • Cofounder of DIY Themes, Teaching Sells, Lateral Action & two ornery kids.
  • Location: Dallas, TX
  • Web:
  • Twitter:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

(Not So) Secrets of a Great Website

After years of having what is known as a “billboard in the middle of the Sahara desert”—a website nobody ever saw—I finally did something right. I created a website that does what it’s supposed to do: inform, educate, help, and attract people. I certainly would never claim to have done this alone. I had a great deal of help on the technical and marketing side from an expert who brought me from dark ages into the 21st century.

Change takes place on the Internet faster than the speed of DSL, sound, or light. I am not technologically gifted, to say the least. Nothing about computers, the WWW, RSS, SEO, web design, blogging, podcasting, tweeting, getting around Amazon, or even writing on someone’s wall in FaceBook comes naturally to me. It is not intuitive; it is learned. Then, as soon as I learn something, it becomes obsolete; and I have to learn something newer, more sophisticated, and usually more complicated. It’s a daily battle, but a necessary one if I am to remain competitive in my field.

My website could certainly use improvement, I know. Yet, bells and whistles don’t seem to be the criteria Web surfers demand. The question is what is it that garners good ratings in the search engines; encourages casual visitors to click on links and read articles; e-mail with questions about book coaching, ghost writing, and editing; sign up for a newsletter; or add a book to their shopping carts.

Here are some of the lessons I have learned along the way. An effective website should do the following:

1. Have a clear, consistent theme.
Does your site have a single identifiable message? Will readers get it immediately or feel confused by too much variety? Web surfers have short attentions spans. If they are overwhelmed, they will move on.

2. Be easy to find.

Search engines find your site in many ways, but the most important is keywords. If you want Google or Yahoo to know you can help write or publish books, your site should be liberally sprinkled with keywords, or clues, that lead them right to you.

3. Be easy to get around once someone finds it.
Nothing is as frustrating as being lost in a sea of words and pictures and having no idea how to find the information you want. Your website should not be a scavenger hunt; it should be a transparent map that takes you directly to what you’re looking for.

4. Make sure your links work.
Almost as frustrating as being confused about content is, knowing exactly where you are and where you want to go, clicking on an obvious link, and finding there is no such page, or you ended up on the wrong one. Check your links often.

5. Convey your professionalism, trustworthiness, and credibility.
What does your website say about you? Of course, you would like it to shout out that you are good at what you do, you have experience and expertise, you are the expert the reader has been looking for. How do you do that without actually saying all those things? There is a rule in creative writing classes: show; don’t tell. Make that your mantra.

6. Establish a relationship with the reader.
Web 2.0 is all about relationships. It is no longer a one-way monologue; it is now a dialogue between you and your visitor. Your website is a way to say, “Hi, I’m __________. Let’s get to know each other. What interests you? How can I help? Let’s interact.”

7. Answer the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) question.
This should not be news to you: Your website is not about you; it is about your readers. What do they need and will they find it here? What is the benefit in terms of information, entertainment, enlightenment, or take-aways? Why should they hang around a while?

8. Add new features or update information frequently.
Think about yesterday’s newspaper. It may still have uses, but keeping you up to date on the latest news isn’t one of them. Things are happening in the world and in cyberspace. “Inquiring minds want to know.” So does Google, which thrives on new material.

9. Be packed with useful information.
The Web is the world’s biggest library, the encyclopedia of everything you could possibly want to know. When you stop to think about it, that’s pretty amazing. So, where do you and your little website fit into that enormous picture? You are a source of information someone is looking for. It’s up to you to provide as much as you can.

10. Give stuff away FREE.
Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Let it shine. Then, offer it to your reader. You will make a friend or at least a grateful Web surfer who will return. You cannot give away too much. You know more than you think you know. What good is it if you don’t share it?

11. Avoid being an obvious commercial for products or service.
Few things are more annoying than searching for information and finding, instead, one long ad for something to buy—a training program, a series of videos, books, tricks on how to increase traffic to your blog … you get the idea. These sites have lost sight of rules and 9. Be packed with useful information and 10. Give stuff away FREE.

I didn't learn these common sense rules early or easily. I read them; I heard them; I observed them on other people's websites; and, often, people gave them away for FREE. What a concept.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Write a Memoir that Sells

I went to a standing-room-only book signing last night. What made it such a wonderful experience was that the book was written by one of my oldest friends—Marianna Riley—and her collaborator, Robert Ellis. The book is Caring for Victor: a U.S. Army Nurse and Saddam Hussein. Ordinarily, this is not a book I would rush out to buy, but with Marianna’s name on the cover, it wasn’t even a question.

Robert Ellis was an army nurse who probably spent more time with Saddam Hussein than any other American. For eight months, Ellis was responsible for the care of the army’s captured Iraqi leaders, but especially for keeping its most valued prisoner, known as Victor, alive and healthy.

Theirs was a complicated relationship. They didn’t talk politics and, in fact, communicated very little at first because of the language barrier. Eventually, though, they found areas of commonality in their lives and forged a bond. In part because of his own background—growing up in the projects in St. Louis—Ellis was able to see the humanity in a man who was thought by many to be a dangerous dictator and a murderer.

Marianna Riley is a consummate pro. She’s been writing a long time for newspapers and magazines and then as an editor and reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I have been a fan for years and, in fact, have many of her early articles in my files. She has always had the ability to make a story leap off the page. So, it comes as no surprise that she was able to capture the essence of both of these men and the nuanced relationship they shared.

Caring for Victor is a memoir writing teachers should insist our students read. It’s right up there with The Liars Club, which is among of the best. The book was published by Reedy Press, a St. Louis company, which proves you don’t have to go to New York for find a good publisher. The publicity for Caring for Victor was amazing. The event was in the papers and on every local news channel. There were not enough chairs, barely enough room to stand, and the line to get our books signed snaked around the room.

During the Q&A at the end of the presentation, Marianna talked a little about the publishing process. I had to ask, “How important was the proposal in getting the book published?”

“The proposal was everything,” she answered. “It was so important. We had our outline, and that essentially became the book.”

Since this is my blog, I’m going to take the liberty of repeating that. “The proposal was everything. It was so important. We had our outline, and that essentially became the book.”

My case rests.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Life's Little Disappointments

There are many wonderful quotes about plans that don’t work out. My favorite is "The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley" by Robert Burns. (It was written in Scottish.) But I also like my mother’s bit of homespun wisdom: “Man plans; God laughs.” That about sums it up.

I’m waxing philosophical because, once again, due to forces way beyond my humble control, my class in Writing, Publishing, & Promoting Your Nonfiction Book” has been cancelled, just days before it was scheduled to begin. Apparently, the community college has spent the last couple of days informing eager teachers that too few students registered to make the classes worthwhile.

On one hand, that’s probably good news because it’s hard to adequately prepare for a class with no confirmation that it’s going to be held. Thus, I wasn’t as ready as I would have been under different circumstances.

On the other hand, it’s bad news because I have to tell the wonderful speakers I had booked that I don’t need them. My lineup was the best ever and I’m really disappointed.

I guess it’s both good and bad news because, when I counted up the number of remaining copies of my book, which I planned to give to every student, my stock was running dangerously low. So now, I am several hundred dollars poorer but fifty books richer because I had to order more from the printer.

I could continue to go back and forth with why it’s good news—I’m swamped and this will free up time for my projects, or bad news—teaching is the highlight of each season and I will truly miss it. But why give myself a headache over the vicissitudes of life?

This is merely further proof that everything in life is interconnected. Something happens somewhere (the economy tanks, for example), and many months later, the community college has to cancel classes. People who might have wanted to take those classes are disappointed; speakers who had probably begun to prepare are told to stop; class plans already in the works are shelved; teachers who had new things to say turn their attention to other things; and the community college, which is certainly in need of money, loses out on anticipated revenue.

But it is what it is, a saying I hear frequently and have really come to dislike. Somehow, it just lacks the poetry of "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.”

They just don’t write lines like that anymore.