Daily Smatterings

Storytelling is a Crucial Brand Strategy in the Millennial Age


“Tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

Storytelling is key for reaching and connecting with customers. Great stories build relationships and win customers. A story must resonate emotionally, especially if a brand wants to reach the generation known as “millennials.” Traditional advertising, the old way of selling a product by talking about how great the product is, does not work well anymore. For millennials, it is important to them to feel a connection with a brand, if they are to become loyal followers of that brand. Further, it is especially important that the brand be transparent and authentic—just as you would expect your friends to be. But how does a brand reach an audience and make an authentic, emotional connection? The most effective way to do that is through storytelling.

What is storytelling?

Storytelling is a form of communication that is uniquely human and has been around for probably as long as humans have had the power of speech. Storytelling is the age-old way to transmit information and cultural values. Storytelling transmits cultural narratives from one person to another, one group to another, or one generation to another. In this way, storytelling is one of the most powerful and most important means of forming connections and bonds that we have at our disposal.

Is story form important?

There are many ways to write a story, but one form resonates powerfully with most of us. It was discovered at different times, by different people. Joseph Campbell, famous scholar of comparative mythology, discovered an underlying “universal” story form that cultures the world over use to express their cultural stories and myths (1). Campbell called it “The Hero’s Journey.”

At the beginning of the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist loses or is missing something that is key to his or her happiness. The protagonist then sets out on a quest to find or recover the missing thing and encounters an ever greater set of obstacles along the way. At the climax, the protagonist has a life-changing experience and either recovers what was lost or finds some magical item with which he or she returns to make life better for those they left at home.

The Hero’s Journey follows the classical Aristotelian story form which dictates simply that every story has a beginning, middle, and an end (2). Form was further defined by Gustav Freytag, who developed “Freytag’s Pyramid,” in the nineteenth century (3). He observed that dramatic narrative begins with an inciting incident in part one that sets the protagonist off on an adventure, continues with rising action in part two when the protagonist is running around trying to solve the problem from part one, and finally the climax, falling action, and resolution in part three, when the protagonist completes his or her quest and then continues on in what is their “new normal.” This is the story form with which we are most familiar and which just feels “right” to most of us.

How do we tell an effective story?

First, it has to follow the traditional story form. If it does not, it risks losing our attention or not even grabbing our attention in the first place. Second, it needs to keep our attention. The Hero’s Journey does this by subjecting the protagonist to an increasing amount of tension or conflict as the story progresses. Third, it needs to evoke an emotional response.

How storytelling gets to us.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have discovered the mechanisms by which an effective story produces an emotional response (4). Paul Zak and his team of neuroscientists performed a series of experiments during which they asked subjects to watch a movie about a child with cancer and recorded their brain activity and hormone levels. They discovered that the rising tension portion of the story made the subjects’ bodies produce stress hormones which in turn increased the subjects’ attention and focus.

In addition, they noted that once a story had the subjects hooked and maintained their attention for a specific amount of time, they began to empathize with the characters in the story. It has long been known that oxytocin, a natural hormone produced by the body, induces feelings of compassion and empathy and helps us become more aware of social cues. Oxytocin, the researchers found, was responsible for the subjects’ transportation into the protagonist’s view. Further, Zak’s team discovered that once they were able to trigger empathy in their subjects, the subjects were far more likely to make charitable donations after the experiment was over.

Why is storytelling so important to a brand trying to connect with millennials?

Millennials, the generation who began to come of age around the turn of the twenty-first century, born roughly between 1981 and 1997 (although some demographers claim the years 1977-2000 are more accurate start and end dates (5)), have now exceeded the number of living Baby Boomers, making up more than one-quarter of the population of the United States (5, 6). With a population currently aged 19 to 35 years, this is a very economically influential generation and a target demographic of interest to businesses. Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with technology always at their fingertips and being connected via multiple channels, all the time. Millennials are digital natives who spend more time than any other generation online, and online is where businesses must be to connect with them (7).

What do millennials want?

Whether online or offline, to millennials it’s all about relationships. Rainer and Rainer call the millennials, “the relational generation” (8). They seek healthy relationships at home, at work, and beyond, prizing social connections highly. When asked what was the most important thing in their lives, 61 percent said family, and 25 percent said friends. Fromm and Garton found that millennials have a greater number of connections on social media networks than did users from other generations, with 46 percent of millennials saying that they have over 200 friends on Facebook alone, versus 19 percent of users from other generations (9).

Cultivating a deep, meaningful connection with millennials is key to winning their loyalty in the long game, and storytelling is the way to do that. It’s especially important for a social good / cause-driven brand to succeed in making an emotional connection with their millennial buyers because, according to Millennial Marketing, “almost 50% of millennials would be more willing to make a purchase from a company if their purchase supports a cause” (5). According to Michael Brenner, head of strategy for NewsCred, the majority of millennials—a whopping 62 percent—feel that web content heightens their feeling of connection and loyalty to the brands they follow (10). In fact, 55 percent of millennials say that they are influenced by the content they find on websites and blogs (8). So we see that web content—in other words, storytelling—is the most important medium of connection between a brand and its millennial customers.

Why transparency, authenticity and honesty are important parts of your brand’s storytelling strategy.

It is important to remember that for stories to be successful in creating emotional connections, they must be honest and authentic. In the same way that an individual would be authentic with a friend, a brand must strive for transparency and authenticity in order to win the loyalty of millennial customers (9).

In short, brands must use storytelling to connect with their customers on a human level.

Connecting emotionally through storytelling.

Connecting through storytelling requires telling a story that evokes an emotional response, enabling a deeper connection. That requires powerful story content. The most powerful stories are the ones in which the audience can put themselves in the place of the protagonist. In fact, a powerful brand strategy is to develop personas which represent members of the company’s specific target audience and make the persona the protagonist of the story. According to Felder, a persona is a hypothetical user or reader based upon real details gathered from the target audience (2). In making the protagonist just like your target audience, customers are more likely to be able to relate to and identify with the protagonist. In other words, make the customer the hero of the story, not your company (11). Telling a story that makes the customer the star and the company simply a supporting character is one of the most powerful strategies in content today (12).

Harness the power of visuals.

There are many ways to connect emotionally through storytelling and one of the most effective ways is through visual storytelling. Images can evoke other senses besides just the visual, as well as evoking emotional memories (13). Images can help humanize a business, images can surprise and delight your customers, and images can spark a sense of wonder. A recent social media campaign by the travel industry on New Zealand’s South Island has been successful in increasing travel to participating destinations simply by hiring social media influencers to share travel photos of their destinations (14). The campaign saw a 14 percent increase in visits to their island from overseas as a result. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, turns out to be true in this case and in many cases like it.

In conclusion.

Great stories build relationships and make people care. They bring us together and make us feel more connected to each other. They are memorable. According to the Indian proverb, “Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever” (2). Stories evoke emotion and action. And most of all, stories help people and communities form a bond by building a relationship of trust and care through transparency and authenticity. In the digital age, the best way for brands to reach the largest demographic of consumers—the generation known as millennials—is to use storytelling to make connections, build trust, and drive loyalty that will engender a long brand to customer relationship.

1. Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton: Princeton University Press; 21st edition, 1973. Print.
2. Felder, Lynda. Writing for the Web. Berkeley: New Riders, 2012. Print.
3. Hartley, George. Analyzing a story’s plot: Freytag’s Pyramid. Ohio University. n.d. Web. 2 Oct. 2016.
4. Zak, Paul J. “How Stories Change the Brain.” Greater Good. University of California, Berkeley, 17 Dec. 2013. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.
5. Fromm, Jeff et al. “Who Are Millennials?” MillennialMarketing.com. Millennial Marketing. n.d. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.
6. Fry, Richard. “Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation.” Pew Research Center, 25 Apr. 2016. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
7. “TNS Study Reveals Millennials Spend Nearly One Day Every Week On Their Phones.” Kantar TNS. 19 Nov 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
8. Rainer, Thom, and Rainer, Jess. The Millennials. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2011. Print.
9. Fromm, Jeff, and Garton, Christie. Marketing to Millenials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever. New York: AMACOM, 2013. Print.
10. Brenner, Michael. “Millennials Don’t Want Ads. They Want Stories.” Entrepreneur, 22 Oct. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.
11. James, Geoffrey. “Marketing 101: Make the Customer the Hero.” Inc., 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Oct. 2016.
12. Patel, Neil, and Puri, Ritika. “The Beginner’s Guide to Online Marketing: Chapter Three.” Quicksprout. n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
13. Rettner, Rachael. “Brain’s Link Between Sounds, Smells and Memory Revealed.” Live Science, 5 Aug. 2010. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.
14. McMahon, Shannon. “How Instagram Is Changing Travel.” Smarter Travel, 23 Jun. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

66 Days of Writing

Today I shared the final post in my Twitter series called 100 Days of Content (#100daysofcontent) where I tweeted a curated list of 100 articles on content marketing over the course of 100 days and now I am happy to announce the launch of my new series called 66 Days of Writing (#66daysofwriting).

Over the next 66 days I will share articles that will, I hope, help you get your creative juices flowing and hone your writing skills.

The articles that I have chosen will most likely appeal to you whether you are a full-time novelist or a business writer. Or a business writer by day and novelist by night, like I am.

Writers are in high demand because the internet, and thus the written word, has become the center of the business universe.

Remember the days when they said an English degree was worthless? Remember when they said you’d never get a job where you could put that English degree to work

It turns out “they” were wrong.

Now we all get to be writers.

Thanks to the internet (which, by the way, according to the forthcoming edition of the Associated Press’ AP Stylebook, no longer has to be capitalized) the world now runs on the written word. Writers are in high demand because the internet, and thus the written word, has become the center of the business universe.

Writing jobs abound and many of us who were formerly only writers at night, after our day jobs had finished, are now employed in positions where we put our writing skills to the test day in and day out.

In addition to the more traditional writing jobs such as journalist, technical writer, columnist, novelist, and ghost writer, an entirely new crop of writing jobs has opened up in business. Thanks to the online revolution, here are some of the new types of writing jobs that are in high demand:

  • Content Strategist
  • Content Marketer
  • Blogger
  • Copywriter
  • Digital Media Marketer
  • Social Media Strategist
  • Social Media Marketer
  • Web Content/Web Copy Writer
  • Brand Consultant/Branding Officer

There is a lot of crossover in some of these jobs, and small business owners or entrepreneurs may find themselves playing many or all of the above roles. Larger companies are creating new positions for writers all the time. I guarantee you that if you search any of these titles on an employment website, you will find positions being advertised.

Which is great news for those of us who cannot—or who have chosen not to—pursue a full-time career as a novelist.

The 66 Days of Writing posts are curated to appeal to writers of all types and I bet that you will find something in these articles that resonates with you.

The five Ws:

    What: Articles about writing
    Who: List curated by me; some articles are from my blog, some are other people’s articles
    When: Every day at about 7:00 a.m., PDT, for the next 66 days
    Where: Twitter as #66daysofwriting and bonus inspirational posts on Instagram (follow me: live.write.bliss or just search the hashtag #66daysofwriting)
    Why: To help writers of all sorts rekindle their love for their craft, inspire them, and help them to hone their writing skills
    (But Why 66 Days?: It takes an average of 66 days of consistent effort to make a habit stick, and we all want writing to be a strong habit. Right?)

I hope you enjoy the next 66 days! Please follow me on Twitter at @AnnisaTangreen and watch the hashtag #66daysofwriting every morning for the next post on writing.

I want to hear from you!

Have any great tips for writers? Leave a comment below to start a conversation about this post. Happy writing!


Important New Google Best Practices for Product Bloggers

If you’re a blogger who receives free stuff in return for reviews (book bloggers, I’m looking at you, too), you need to listen up.

Google has just released some new best practices that you’ll want to know and follow ASAP.

This morning, Google released “Best practices for bloggers reviewing free products they receive from companies” on their Webmaster Central Blog.

The two most important takeaways you should know are:

    1. Bloggers must disclose that they are reviewing the product in exchange for a gift of that product. Simply put, tell your readers that your content is being sponsored by the company that gave you the product. Best practice is to put the disclosure at or near the top of your post because we all know that many readers will not read all the way to the bottom.

    2. Bloggers should use the “nofollow” tag on any links they put in the post that take readers to the sponsoring company’s website, social media links, online store, company’s app, etc.

They also want you to “create compelling, unique content”, but that’s what serious bloggers are already trying to do, right?

What’s a nofollow tag, anyway?

Nofollow tags are html tags that you add to the code surrounding the link, telling search providers not to follow those links and not to count them in the ranking for the linked page. The nofollow tag is a way to keep pages from “gaming” the search engine ranking system (i.e. buying influence to move them up in the results).

You want to provide your readers good content about products, but you really don’t want to appear as if you’re helping a company game the system. Trust me.

So how do you place nofollow tags on your links?

How to add a nofollow tag depends upon what content management system (CMS) you’re using. In some it will be as simple as a checkbox.
In most CMSs, including some of the most popular like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, you will be working with a tinyMCE text editor. Follow these simple steps:

    1. Open up your blog post in your text editor and switch to the visual editor (where you can see your html code).

    2. Find the line of code for your link, then add rel=“nofollow” inside your < a > code for the link. What order you put it in doesn’t really matter that much, but here’s an example:

    < a href= “http://www.example.com/” rel= “nofollow”> Link text </a >

    3. Save your changes.

That’s it. Simple, huh?

For further reading about nofollow tags, see:

Google: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/96569?hl=en
WordPress: https://codex.wordpress.org/Nofollow
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nofollow

I want to hear from you!

Have any great tips for using nofollow tags? Leave a comment below.

Follow me on Twitter for more useful tips on blogging and SEO.


Tweet More Effectively For Your Business: 3 Valuable Tips


Put your phone down or the bird gets hurt!

Seriously, now that I have your attention: Chances are if you’re using Twitter as a business tool, you’re using it incorrectly.

Read on for my tips and tricks for using Twitter to build relationships, get your tweets read, and draw visitors to your website by increasing clickthrough rates.

1. Build Relationships

You wouldn’t stand on a street corner yelling “BUY MY PRODUCT” at the top of your lungs, would you? If you’re tweeting nothing but product ads (whether you’re selling books or dream vacations to Iceland), that is in effect what you’re doing. And you’ll scare people away in droves.

Instead, you want to build relationships with your followers by offering them something of value. In fact, that’s what content marketing is all about.

Be relevant.

Tweet things that are relevant to your followers’ interests without asking them to buy anything. It’s as simple as that. Every once in a while it’s okay to throw in a product offer, especially if it’s on sale, but don’t do it too frequently. I would say no more than 5 to 10% of your overall tweets.

Build trust.

By offering valuable, authoritative content in your tweets and only occasionally mentioning your products, you’ll gradually gain your followers’ trust. And isn’t trust the basis of relationships, if you get right down to it?

2. Get Your Content Read

So how do you get your content read—and read widely?

Write a catchy tweet.

First think in terms of writing catchy tweets. Just as the journalist must write a catchy headline to get the first line of her article read, you need to write a catchy tweet in order to get your reader to click through for more. If you want to think of your tweets as headlines, here’s a great tool from Co-Schedule to help you write stronger headlines that will get more attention.

Write a proper tweet.

While there is no set formula for composing a tweet, it’s best to avoid certain practices that will put off readers, like including multiple links and too many hashtags. What follows is a rough guideline for tweeting. Like I said, there’s no set formula. You may want to experiment a little until you find something that works for you and gets clicks, then stick with it.

Include some of the most essential elements. For starters, you should write some text. Not too short, not too long. Then ideally you’ll add a shortened link (Use bit.ly or another link shortening app. Social media management tools like Hootsuite and Buffer will also shorten links for you.). After that, use a couple of hashtags that pertain to your tweet. Also, statistics say that tweets that include an image get more engagement, so don’t be afraid to use images if you have them.

Use relevant hashtags.

You may be asking yourself, “How am I supposed to do that?” Well, a quick and easy way to figure out the best hashtags to use for your business is to look at the leaders in your field—the influencers—and see what are the most frequent hashtags they’re using. Here are two helpful posts from Twitter Counter and Convince & Convert with some other great ideas for hashtag research.

Tweet at the right time.

It’s important to tweet when a good number of your followers are on Twitter so your tweets get maximum visibility. I use the Twitter analysis tool, Tweriod, to determine exactly when that will be. It’s easy as pie.

Head on over there, click on “sign up with Twitter”, let it log into your account to get the data, and, voilà! The free analysis will show you when the peak times are for your followers on weekends or Sundays only, weekdays or Mondays only, and every day of the week, combined. It will also show you hourly graphs and graphs of when you get the most @replies. All in all, Tweriod is a Twitter tool I can’t do without.

3. Increase Your Clickthroughs

So you’ve done all of that, now how do you get more clickthroughs to your website?

Well, to start off with, if you’ve written a catchy headline-style tweet with a link and hashtags, and posted it at the right time of day, you have a much better chance of follower engagement than if you’ve just scheduled ten posts saying “buy my product” at random times of the day.

Tweet a short headline.

According to this study done for Content Marketing Institute by Outbrain, titles (or headlines) with exactly eight words performed 21% better than the average tweet in clickthroughs.

Ask a question.

According to the same study, titles ending with a question mark had a higher clickthrough rate than those ending with exclamation points or periods.

Use a call to action (CTA).

If you ask your followers to do something, chances are, they’ll do it. Historically speaking, calls to action have been some of the best marketing tools ever. Not sure what kind of calls to action to use in tweets? Here’s a great post from Twitter that gives you several examples of what they say are the “most effective calls to action on twitter.”

Use a conversational tone.

This goes back to the trust issue, see above. If you come across as stiff and stilted, your followers are going to think you’re trying to sell them something. Use language that’s easy to relate to. Use short words. Use words that appeal to emotion.

Spread your tweets out.

Remember Tweriod? Go check those graphs again and find the peaks during the day where most of your followers are active. Use a Twitter scheduling tool like Hootsuite or Buffer to send your carefully crafted tweets out at those peak times.

Please don’t just schedule all your tweets to go out at the same time. Your followers will think you’re spamming them.

Place your link correctly.

And finally, here’s one you can try that surprised even me.

Put your link about 25% of the way into your tweet. I know, it sounds really weird, but this guy says it works.

Remember, you’re not just marketing to your customers, you’re developing relationships with your followers. It takes time and effort, good relationships don’t just happen overnight.

I want to hear from you!

Have any great tips for using Twitter for business? Leave a comment below.

Follow me on Twitter for more useful tips on using social media for your business.


100 Days of Content

Here it is, January first again.

Since it’s the beginning of a new year I thought I would start it off right by making a goal. It’s not a lofty goal, but it is a goal, nonetheless. And yet, we all know what those New Year’s goals are good for—breaking! Don’t worry, I’m not going to do that!

This goal is a rather easy one to keep. My goal is to deliver you a curated list of great articles—a veritable reference library—all about content and content marketing. One hundred of them, in fact.

So from January 1 through April 9, 2016, I will be tweeting a link to one article on content per day. Just watch my Twitter account every morning for the hashtag #100daysofcontent and enjoy some of the best content on content that I could find.

You see, I’m really excited about content marketing and I think you should be, too. Whether you’re an author trying to promote her books or a travel service trying to promote vacations to Norway, chances are you are already doing content marketing. These days, content is queen!

Maybe you’re asking yourself, “what is content marketing, anyway?” It’s simple. Content marketing is providing free content to your audience that will be valuable to them in order to convince them to be your customers and buy whatever it is that you’re selling.

Content is any information that your customers can put to use. It could be an article, a press release, a song or podcast, images such as photos or illustrations, a video, a webinar, a newsletter, an ebook, an infographic, a slide show, a spreadsheet… You get the picture.

To give credit where credit is due, the real geniuses over at Copyblogger put these excellent articles together for us.

I hope you enjoy the next 100 days! Please follow me on Twitter at @AnnisaTangreen and watch the hashtag #100daysofcontent every morning for the next post on content.

Here is the first article, in case you haven’t followed me on Twitter yet:

Behind Every Successful Indie Author is a Great Team

What does being an indie author really mean? Does it mean that you, the writer, do every single thing in the process of publishing your book all alone, by yourself, without any help? On the contrary. Make no bones about it, it takes a team to self-publish an indie work and achieve success.

What Should Your Team Consist Of?

Let me break it down:

  • Writer (that’s YOU)
  • Developmental Editor
  • Beta readers
  • Cover artist
  • Copy Editor/Line Editor
  • Proofreader
  • Formatter
  • Street Team

(You will also need an accountant, because admit it, self-publishing is a business, although I won’t get into that in this post.)

Why Do You Need a Team?

To keep you from publishing amateurish writing that will not sell and that will further deepen the slush pile of indie publishing, thus keeping other authors’ works from being discovered and selling, as well.

Wait a minute–let me state that more positively: To help you make your work the best version of itself that it can be. To make your work stand out from the crowd of less-polished books. To help you sell more books. Getting the picture?

What’s a Slush Pile?

In traditional publishing a slush pile is exactly where you don’t want your manuscript to end up—buried beneath hundreds—even thousands—of other hopeful submissions waiting for an editor to find it. In self-publishing, it’s the thousands of terrible-to-mediocre-to-decent-to-absolutely-great self-published books that are also out there for readers to wade through.

You don’t want to be buried under there, either. Especially if your book is just mediocre.

At publishing houses, editors and their assistants have to wade through slush piles—-that’s their job. Readers, however, do not want to wade through slush piles of poorly written books filled with grammatical errors and typos. Unfortunately, that is exactly the position they are being put into in today’s era of self-publishing.

Your book needs to stand out from the crowd.

What Does Having a Team Do for You?

Well, first of all, if you are a newbie—excuse me, a writer just starting out on the road to authorship—or if you’re just venturing into a particular genre for the first time, you may need a writing coach or a developmental editor. Believe me, not everyone starts out an Ernest Hemingway or a Neil Gaiman or a Nora Roberts. Even they needed a lot of time, practice, and guidance to hone their techniques.

Beta readers are extremely well-suited for finding those areas that need a bit of fine-tuning or even a bit of an overhaul, patches where your story just doesn’t seem to flow or to make sense, places where you stray off the plot. They’re also really great at letting you know what worked.

Your copy editors and/or line editors help you check facts, grammar, pace, consistency, and spelling, among other things

The proofreader is the final member of the team to polish your story. Proofreaders are the last line of defense before you put your story out to the world. Proofreaders catch grammar or spelling issues that your other editors did not. A good proofreader can often times make the difference between a bad review and a good review.

So, you’ve enlisted the help of a developmental editor, beta-readers, a copy editor, and a proofreader. Are you ready to hit “publish”? No! Don’t forget about the visual appeal of your book! For that, you will need the services of a cover designer and a book formatter. A book formatter will make the inside of your book visually pleasing and easy to read. A cover designer makes your book attractive to potential readers.

If your cover is not professionally designed (or at least designed to professional standards), it will not help your book sales and it might even hurt your book sales. You know the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, I’m telling you—people DO judge books by their covers!

Your book cover is the first thing your prospective reader sees and it plays a big role in their decision-making process. Our brains process imagery faster than text, you can thank millions of years of evolution for that. If your cover is emotionally appealing, matches the expectations readers have for the genre, and has attractive, well-chosen typography, it can be the deciding factor in whether they buy your book or not. Even if your book otherwise has great reviews.

Your cover conveys a lot of information about your book. Enlisting the services of a professional, experienced cover designer can help you make sure it’s conveying the right information.

Finally, we come to the super-important, but sometimes overlooked, members of the indie author team: your street team.

What’s a street team? A street team is a group of people who actively work with you to spread the word about your book. That’s it. Plain and simple. A street team could consist of family and friends who talk about your book to their other friends and family, who post your book links on their Facebook pages or blogs, or tweet about your book, or suggest your book to book clubs or libraries. You get the picture. A street team could also consist of fans of your other books, who follow you avidly and count down the days until your next book hits the shelves.

Simply put, a street team consists of your biggest advocates (mom? dad? bff?) and your biggest fans, who will “hit the streets” for you to promote your work. This is one of the most effective ways to promote your book. I mean, just think about it, when was the last time that you picked up a book that someone else suggested to you? Word of mouth works.

Putting It All Together

The takeaway message here is that successful indie authors do not (typically) achieve success all on their own.

Not only must you put in the work of writing a good book, but you must also enlist others to help you polish that book to really make it shine and stand out among the millions of other traditionally published and self-published books out there, and then enlist the aid of people to help in promotion to increase its discoverability.

I want to hear from you!

Are you an indie author going it alone? Are you an indie author who works with a team? Tell me your experiences!

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17 Easy Ways To Be A More Productive Writer

write notebook

Writers write. That’s what they do, but should it be all they do? If you’re a writer and you’re experiencing writer’s block, burnout, or just feeling like your writing is suffering of late, this list might be just what you need to get back in the groove and be a more productive writer.

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You

  1. Get enough sleep. We hear this time and time again because—you guessed it—it’s one of the very most important things you can do for yourself. If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, trying to juggle a 40-hour-per-week job, a family, a home, a social life and writing, chances are you’re not letting yourself get enough rest. Make sleep a priority, starting tonight, and see if you start feeling better, more energetic, and more able to live life.
  2. Get enough exercise. Our literary habits, both as writers and as readers, work against our health in many ways. Being sedentary cuts down on the amount of blood and oxygen that your brain receives, leading to sluggish thinking and lower creativity. Want to think clearly? Get up and move for at least 30 minutes every day and your writing will thank you for it.
  3. Give yourself permission to daydream. Seriously. Where else do those creative ideas come from? “Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”
    ― Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 5: A Game of You
  4. Socialize. Yes, I mean it. Get out in the Real World and interact with people. It’s amazing how much creativity good conversation and social interaction can spark.
  5. Eat properly. Yes, I’m pointing at that jumbo-sized bag of Skittles I see on your desk there. Unhealthy eating wreaks havoc on your blood sugar levels, causing irritability and an inability to concentrate. Not to mention all those food dyes in that pack of Skittles! Yuck! Did you know that yellow and red dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/05/22/artificial-food-dyes.aspx), among a whole host of other things, including cancer? You’ll be far better off eating a healthy balanced diet with plenty of high-quality protein, fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, as well as healthy fats such as that found in coconut oil, nuts, and butter from pastured cows. A healthy diet will give you the ability to concentrate and sustain your energy for the long periods of time you need it while writing.
  6. Drink in moderation or not at all. But wait a minute! Hemingway was a lush and a prolific writer, wasn’t he? Actually…no. I can’t vouch for the lush part, but I can tell you that Hemingway’s average word count per day was about 650 words, according to this interview he gave in The Paris Review in 1954 (http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway). I don’t know about you, but on a good day I can type about 650 words in 30 minutes. I know this because I write in short bursts, called “sprints”, of 30-minute increments. So, modern technology and all arguments about typewriters versus computers aside, I think Hemingway’s daily word count was maybe a teeny bit on the low side. Nothing that I would call “prolific” at all. And, again, let’s talk about being able to concentrate and being able to think clearly, two of the most important abilities of a writer. Excessive alcohol consumption just plain gets in the way of that.
  7. Take a vacation from writing once in a while. Everyone can get burned out if they work too hard for too long. Most writers I know—yours truly included—occasionally hit a wall and just can’t write no matter what they do. Often that is because we’ve been pushing ourselves too hard and just plain need a break. I think of it as running a rechargeable battery all the way down. The device stops working so you take the battery out, put it in the charger, and leave it there until it’s fully charged again before you take it back out and put it in the device. What happens if you never fully let the battery charge? You will eventually ruin the battery and it won’t be able to hold a charge at all.
  8. Read. A lot. Whether it’s a book on craft or the latest New York Times fiction bestseller, reading a lot will help improve your writing and give you plenty of juice in your writing batteries.
  9. Bake a cake. Or do other things that also stimulate your creativity, such as listening to music, painting (whether it’s a room or a canvas), drawing, or gardening. Or whatever else it is that you do to be creative. It’s all coming from the same creative center within you. When you stimulate that well of creativity, lots of great things can happen.
  10. Make the time to write. Don’t let it be your last priority, that thing you squeeze in whenever everything else is done. If it’s important to you, you need to let everyone else in your life know it’s a priority.
  11. Take the time to write. Claim it. Take it. It’s yours. Don’t let others commitments steamroll over your writing time.
  12. Never stop learning. Whether it’s about craft or about the daily habits (pun intended) of nuns in 16th century France, knowledge is the bedrock and the fuel of writing.
  13. Pursue a non-writing-related passion. Whether it’s traveling or cooking, blacksmithing or dog shows, get into something. Get really into it. More fuel for writing, right?
  14. Give yourself permission to write badly. You heard me right. Just do it. Sometimes writers get so caught up in the idea that they have to write everything perfectly in the first draft that they become paralyzed by their internal editors.
  15. Make writing a ritual. Set up your writing space as your own little personal temple that nobody else is allowed to mess with or bother you in. When you go into your writing temple, make sure that all you do there is write. Make it like your bedtime ritual, you know, the little set of things you do that sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to go to sleep, like brushing your teeth, washing your face, etc. If you can’t write without a big glass of iced tea and a bag of peanuts at your elbow, make sure you have those things. Ritual is very important to our brains. It signals it to perform or behave in a certain way.
  16. Turn off the distractions. If you find yourself getting distracted by social media, turn off your wi-fi when you sit down to write. Make your research and writing time separate if you find that whenever you sit down at the computer you get sidetracked by news articles or shopping or social media. You set boundaries for your kids—no TV until their homework is done, right?—why not set boundaries for yourself during your writing time?
  17. Work at your own pace. Don’t try to measure up to others, or to what you think others are doing. Sure, there are writers out there who crank out books at mind-boggling rates, publishing four to six “novels” a year. Some of these writers are good writers, I admit. But most writers who churn out content at such speeds are either not good writers, and/or have a paid staff of editors who can polish and finish their work to make it publishable. You don’t need to be them. Be who you are because no one else can be, as Neil Gaiman said (or something to that effect). Write at your own pace. Rewrite your first draft. Polish your work the best you can. Send it to an editor who will help you polish it more. Then, and only then, when it’s the best work you can do, let it go out into the world. Let it go. And move on to the next thing.

Books on Craft – Writing the Breakout Novel


Why I suggested Writing the Breakout Novel to my writing group.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass was written in the year 2000, when the number of titles published by traditional publishers per year was much lower than now. The author states in chapter one that over 55,000 titles were published the previous year (1999).

Fifty-five thousand? Boy how times have changed! That doesn’t seem like much to us today.

Indeed, the book industry has seen explosive growth over the past fifteen years. Para Publishing, in their report, “Book Industry Statistics“, cites an article by R.R. Bowker in Publishers Weekly in 2003 as reporting that the total number of titles published in the U.S. 2002 was 150,000.

In 2013, the total number of ISBNs for U.S. self-publishers that year, in print and ebooks combined, was 458,564. Total print books were 302,622, total ebooks were 155,942.

The total production of print books by traditional publishers in the U.S. in 2013 was 304,912 (Source: Bowker’s Self-Publishing Report 2013).

Of course, we’ve all probably seen Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings Report in which he breaks down the percentage of book sales from all publishing types (indie, small or medium publisher, Amazon, Big Five, uncategorized single-author publisher). When I first read it, I was amazed to see that traditionally published books only accounted for about 42% of daily unit sales of genre fiction ebooks.

So what does all that data have to do with writing a “breakout novel”?

The single most important fact we can get from this data is that there are over three quarters of a million new books going out onto the U.S. market alone every year as of right now; and, almost as important, traditionally published books account for a little less than half of those books sold. That means that we indie genre fiction authors have some pretty steep competition! If you’re following the math, it means that we have fourteen times the competition that authors had in the year 1999. Nowadays, not only do we have to compete with traditionally published titles, which have been somewhat “vetted” by agents and editors who supposedly weed out the bad books, but we also have to rise above the mishmosh indie pub slush-pile in order to be discovered by readers.

Bottom line–we need to write very good stories in order to get noticed.

How do we do that? We hone our craft. We write deeper, stronger, and more memorable novels, to paraphrase Maass. We deepen characters, add layers to plot, add conflict to every page, and intensify our themes. This book gives us a guide as to how to do that. No matter how much success we achieve in the end, I think this book will help us learn to craft even better stories.

And there’s the off-chance that it may actually help us write “breakout” stories. I’m willing to take a chance on that.

I liked this particular book for a few reasons.

First, its author is a literary agent with two and a half decades of experience in the book publishing industry at time of writing. He has been personally involved in the development of many books which otherwise would have been mediocre at best, but went on to attain “breakout” status. He knows what works, what qualities are necessary in order to make a book stand out from the crowd.

Second, I liked his straightforward writing style. He is informational and engaging. His examples are relevant and clearly illustrate his point.

Third, I liked his exercises. I believe they have been selected for their immediate usefulness to a writer. I also feel that they are useful to writers of all skill and experience levels, and immediately applicable and implementable.

Do I feel that the entire book is valuable? The answer to that is  “yes, maybe.” The first chapter was written in 2000 and is completely outdated. In fact, some of his predictions about the future of the publishing industry were patently wrong and are highly laughable now, 15 years after publication. Yet even that chapter is instructive to us from the standpoint of giving us information about the elitist attitudes of traditional publishing. Know thy enemy, so to speak.

I highly recommend Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass and I am happy to be reading it in a workshop group. I am confident that all writers can gain something useful from reading it and grow their craft as a result.

Connecting With Influencers – Part 5 of How to Build a Solid Writer’s Platform

How to Build a Solid Writer’s Platform, From the Ground Up – Part Five

This is the fifth part of a series on building a writer’s platform.

Spheres of influence

spheres of influence

Connecting With Influencers

Going back to my first post in this series, “What Nobody Told Me About Building a Writer’s Platform,” let’s talk a little bit more about the modern “connection economy.” It’s really just an updated version of the old branding economy, if you really think about it.

You make connections and build cooperative relationships with those connections based upon a set of values that, all put together, represent a “brand.” Traditionally, those connections came by presenting a brand image that was appealing to the target demographic.

Within the target demographic the most desirable brand connection was someone who influenced and lead their peers. These people are known as “Influencers.”

I’ll explain it this way: Say you are a shoe company that focuses on teenagers. The best way to reach your target audience is to market your shoes to the most influential teens first, then they, in turn, simply by wearing your shoes, market to the rest of the teenage crowd around them. Very shortly, the entire school wants to wear your shoes. If you can reach the early adopters, the coolest, most influential people in your demographic, those connections are more valuable to you than the average connection by an order of magnitude.

In today’s connection economy, it’s exactly the same. If you want to have a high value network, hand-select the people that you want to follow you, and then make them want to follow you. Let them know how, by following you, by making a cooperative connection with you, they become more followable.

Why connect with Influencers?

Influencers are people who have made some sort of a name for themselves in a certain sphere of influence. These are the people who have tens or even hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, a huge Facebook following, and scads of people subscribing to and reading their blogs…you get my point. People listen to what they say. Not only do they have many connections in their network, but their connections trust them.

If you can make a cooperative connection with an influencer in your sphere of interest you can potentially reach all of their followers with your message.

Maybe you can’t connect with Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself), J. K. Rowling (@jk_rowling), or Stephen King (@StephenKing) when you’re first starting out, but there are still plenty of Influencers out there who are available to the lowly beginner like you or me. These are the types of people who will derive the most benefit by having their names spread around.

How do you make cooperative connections with Influencers?

There are several ways you can make meaningful connections with Influencers.

  1. Invite them to do a guest blog post on your blog. This creates more connection opportunities for them via more links and more website traffic.
  2. Invite them to take over for an hour at a Facebook event. Many influencers love to connect directly with their audiences, and this is one great way for them to do so, and to make new contacts, as well.
  3. Quote them and link to one of their blog posts from your own. This increases their web traffic in a directly measurable way (through trackbacks) and spreads their influence to people who may not have heard of them before.
  4. Mention them in tweets and blog posts. They love to get their names out there, and most Influencers regularly monitor their mentions. They will notice who’s doing their PR work (you)!

Just remember, thinking in terms of what you can give to others is a great way to build real, lasting cooperative connections. (Click to tweet.)

What is one way that you have connected with influential people? Have any great ideas to share? Share them in a comment!

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Understanding the Personal Brand – Part 4 of How to Build a Solid Writer’s Platform

How to Build a Solid Writer’s Platform, From the Ground Up – Part Four

This is the fourth part of a series on building a writer’s platform



Personal note: I have been absolutely *up to my eyeballs* busy with work and life lately, so I haven’t had the proper time to devote to this post until recently. And this was a post that I really needed to devote time to planning and thinking about. I hope it paid off. I hope it helps you better understand how to consciously craft your own personal brand!

Understanding the Personal Brand

For today’s post, I interviewed SEO professional, Daniel Westcott, to help me understand what branding is and how it can be consciously crafted.

Daniel has served as a VP of Branding, a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) guru, and an advertising account manager, as well as being a writer, poet, and incredibly talented operatic tenor.

When it comes to branding, no one else I know understands it better than Daniel. I’m really glad he agreed to help me with this post.

AT: Inevitably, when you hear talk about “building your platform,” you hear about building your personal brand. Chances are most people don’t immediately understand what that means. I know I didn’t. I thought, “Personal brand? I’m not a company, how is it even possible for me to have a brand, let alone build one?” Could you explain to me and to my readers what is a personal brand? Is it something you acquire? Something you go to school to learn? Something you get from your parents?

DW: It is all of those things and yet none of those things.

Everybody has a brand already, whether you know it or not, and whether you like it or not. The question is, is it worth anything to you? Does it help you or hinder you?

First, let me try to explain what a brand is.There is not just one brand, there are actually two: an external brand and an internal brand.

Your external brand is how the world sees you.

Your internal brand is who you really are.

The best way to change your external brand is to figure out how you want the world to perceive you and then change your internal brand to match that.

AT: This certainly sounds like something that applies to companies, but does it also apply to people?

DW: This is true of companies, and it is also true of individuals.

Most people think of a brand as a company’s logo and maybe the company’s look, but that’s wrong. The brand is that emotional attraction or repulsion that you get when you look at the image. The image is merely the symbol that represents the brand.

This emotional response is strengthened by each additional interaction that your audience has with you.

It is essential for the internal brand to focus on who your external brand says you are.

If you want to be “Brand X,” then you must do the things that say you are Brand X. For instance, if you want your external brand to be “the go-getter,” then you must do the things that say you are a go-getter. If you repeatedly show up late to work, fail to complete your assignments on time, fail to contribute positively to brainstorming sessions, etc., your internal brand is showing you’re anything but a go-getter!

A brand is an abstract notion that evokes the way the perceiver feels about you.

AT: What contributes to the formation of that notion?

DW: For an individual, it’s just about everything. From the clothes you wear, the car you drive, to whether you dress in business attire or casual shorts and t-shirts, those are the first impressions by which you are judged. Those quick judgments become the first superficial brand impressions that you make upon an audience.

In a digital world, this includes profile pictures and other digital visual impressions that replace the normal, in-person social cues.

Once the first impression is made the real work begins. Over time your internal brand (the real you) will color the external brand you have been carefully crafting. When I’m talking to companies, I often ask the brand manager if they would invite their brand home for dinner; for an individual it’s when the target audience really starts to know you that your brand becomes strong. This notion, this emotional response, is strengthened by each additional interaction that your audience has with you.

So here, in the digital world, the things that you do, the regularity with which you write or post or tweet, really make the big long term difference. “I liked you on day one and now I know you as a friend, ally”—or, “I hate you and I read everything you write”—your brand can be what you make it; and it will be what you make it, regardless of how intentional you are in its crafting.

AT: What are some tips for consciously crafting a personal brand?

Think about and decide what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach.

DW: I can’t stress enough how important it is to think about and to decide what you want to accomplish and who you want to reach. Obviously, if you are thinking about marketing yourself, it’s useful to consider the depth of the connection you would like to make.

Once you have decided what you want to do, take a good look at yourself and see if you can find personal habits that do not resonate with what you wish to achieve. If you can get rid of those things that you do that are in conflict with who you want to be, you will not only be a happier, more successful person, but also you will be a stronger, more successful brand capable of achieving deeper and longer lasting bonds with your target audience.

Get rid of those things that you do that are in conflict with who you want to be.

AT: Couldn’t it be perceived as inauthentic to consciously craft your personal brand?

DW: It’s possible, of course, to be inauthentic in anything—but every morning you probably spend time selecting clothes for the day, getting dressed, brushing your hair and doing a dozen other things which you do to craft others’ impressions of you throughout the day. These things can give you confidence, and that also affects the way you comport yourself, which in turn influences your brand.

AT: Daniel, thank you very much for talking with me about the personal brand. I have learned a lot, and I hope my readers have, too!

DW: Thank you for having me.


If you have learned something about branding that we didn’t mention here, please leave a comment!

I would love to hear from you!

Stay tuned for the next post in the series, Connecting With Influencers.

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