Learning from the Late Greats: Henry David Thoreau edition

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This morning marks the fourth installation and therefore the fourth author in my ‘late greats’ series.  I’ve already examined the lives of Johannes Gutenberg (b. ca 1390), Jane Austen (b. 1775), and Alexandre Dumas (b. 1824), with a specific eye for the ways in which these authors do or do not conform to the archetype of the self-published author, and an ear for lessons they have to teach us in the current world of self-publishing. 

This week, I want to examine someone a little more … controversial.  A lot of names get thrown around in the self-publishing world as antecedents for us to look up to, glittering stars on the horizon that prove it can be done, it will be done, and thou shalt do it too—but often, it seems as though we play a little too fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to provide a sense of solidarity and affirmation.  (And indeed, the knowledge that one’s favorite author or authors have gone through the same struggles can be a powerful incentive to carry on.)  You might not, then, be surprised to find out that the case of Henry David Thoreau (b. 1817) has provoked claims that he is both the prototypical self-published author—and that he is no such thing at all, but rather an incredibly mainstream example of the traditionally published author.

Thoreau, circa 1856

Unfortunately, we’re unlikely to clear up the matter, even with all of the facts in hand.  Thoreau’s earliest publications were comprised of a motley mess of short pieces, of which some were published (anonymously) in respected print journals and some were (sort-of?) self-published in Dial, a local Concordian Transcendentalist journal with only two editors, of which he was one.  For the majority of his life, he was known mostly for his impassioned speech in defense of the violent abolitionist John Brown—and for his equally impassioned delivery of “Slavery in Massechusetts” at a rally in Framingham.  He then published a whole clutch of articles and essays and books around the same time, of which he self-financed at least one (A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers).  But the waters are muddied when it comes to public lectures and rally speeches: where do they fit on the Traditional vs. Self-Published spectrum?  We may never have a definitive answer to that question.

At the site of Walden Pond (courtesy of Wikipedia)

So if the waters are muddied, what can we learn from Thoreau?  I have two primary takeaways from the Thoreauvian saga, both of which I hope embody the spirit of his work as much as the fact:

1) Optimism is a discipline, not a fragile state to be moved through and discarded.  “There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world,” wrote Thoreau in his conclusion to Walden, “and yet we tolerate incredible dulness.”  His primary interest—or rather the locus of this particular chapter—was political in nature, but what element of life isn’t?  (In some small way, at least.)  And yet for Thoreau, admitting the nature of politics and even our stagnant investment in politics was not a cause for ultimate despair.  Invoking his own amazement, he writes also that “We do not believe that a tide rises and falls behind every man which can float the British Empire like a chip, if he should ever harbor it in his mind.”  The implication being, of course, that such a tide does indeed rise and fall—in you.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t quite resist such a potent call to arms! 

To be clear, Thoreau didn’t equate optimism with naïveté or ignorance.  It was a virtue to be cultivated, as a mental and physical and even spiritual posture.  He wasn’t a success by worldly standards, particularly as a writer, and he knew it.  But instead of succumbing to a broken system with its equally broken standards of success, he chose to reframe and redefine both system and standard.  He operated on the assumption that humanity is a force of nature, and that we therefore have the agency to invest our choices with meaning.  That sounds about right to me.

2) We must write what we feel compelled to write.  Thoreau didn’t believe in catering to trends, or to any external systemic expectations.  This isn’t to say he endorsed opposing every element of the system simply to oppose it; but he did believe in acting according to individual conscience (“…I am as desirous of being a good neighbor as I am of being a bad subject…”), in questioning everything (and I mean everything), and in seeking out a richly textured life. 

Our interests may indeed align with those that have reached critical mass at the popular level—which currently includes Young Adult literature, dystopias, romance, and a number of other genres—or they may not.  We must allow ourselves the opportunity to color in and outside of the lines—and live in fervent belief that we define the framework of our own success (as self-published authors, among other things).  This is Thoreau’s legacy, as muddled of a self-publishing icon as he may be: writing is not a game of comparison, in which we win or lose.

Thoreau’s fusty vocabulary and complex argumentative structure might prove a barrier to a modern reader of Walden, but it has routinely defied the odds and repeatedly surged in popularity.  This is a book that hasn’t been out of print since 1862, the year of Thoreau’s death.  (It was originally published in 1854.)  Still, he rattles off a few zingers that leave me breathless.  I’m going to close today’s blog in his words—and in what I think makes for a resounding metaphor for rejecting any institution—including, perhaps, the institution of traditional publication?—that has lost touch with its participants:

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.  I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.  The hospitality was as cold as the ices.  I thought that there was no need of ice to freeze them.  They talked to me of the age of the wine and the fame of the vintage; but I thought of an older, a newer, and purer wine, of a more glorious vintage, which they had not got, and could not buy.  The style, the hosue and grounds and ‘entertainment’ pass for nothing with me.  I called on the king, but he made me wait in his hall, and conducted like a man incapacitated for hospitality.  There was a man in my neighborhood who lived in a hollow tree.  His manners were truly regal.  I should have done better had I called on him.”

* NOTE: all quotations sourced from The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. I (2008 edition).

 

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions for this new series, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

 

Learning from the Late Greats: Alexandre Dumas edition

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Alexandre Dumas is the comeback king of French literature, the popular novelist who dared his detractors to make his race an issue and survived the bloodbath of Napoleon’s rise to power and outlasted his own reputation for profligacy and womanizing.  Celebrated from the moment his first play was brought into the public (at the tender age of twenty-seven) until he died (aged sixty-eight), and perhaps even more so today (with more than 200 feature films adapted from his works), Dumas stands in for the epitome of success, or what we perceive as success, when it comes to self-published writing.

Dumas began with the stage, and his early profitability as a playwright left him financially settled enough to write full-time.  And when he began to write full-time, he slipped directly into writing novels and nonfiction, most notably his travelogues and his posthumously published Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine (released in 1873).  Many of his works were produced and published in an oddball or nontraditional fashion.  But this is all old news.  What you may not know––what I didn’t know until I dug into my Norton anthologies this last week––is how absolutely fierce this fellow was.

Alexander Dumas [père] (1802-1870) / Alexandre Dumas

Take the (possibly apocryphal) story in which he faced down the condescension of a particularly loathsome aristocrat by owning his heritage: “My father was a mulatto,” he said, “my grandfather a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey.  You see, sir, that my family starts where yours ends.”*  He was also keen to own the fact that his mother was a humble innkeeper’s daughter.  Given his rampant popularity among the elite, not just in France but in Belgium and Russia and Italy (where he sheltered from the threat of Napoleon’s displeasure), we must assume that his readers were willing to transcend a few of their (misguided) proprieties in order to lose themselves in the worlds embodied within his works.  That is, they got past and over all the fiddly bits, and the politics––and ultimately, got over themselves—because they were transported by truly superior craftsmanship.

You may have guessed my takeaway points for the week already:

1) Own it.  Bring it.  Fight for your place in the sun.  Too often we writers surrender to the fear of our own inadequacies, and our voices are lost in the general clamor of a hundred thousand thousand other writers and media content producers out there.  But know this: you have a right to be heard, and not just that—you have something to say that is worth hearing.  And sometimes, what you have to say might be countercultural, as was Dumas’ witty repartee with his aristocratic detractors.  Other times, you might have something to say that’s a little less like a firebrand and a little more like a spring-fed creek or a salty splash of ocean spray.  All of it is beautiful.  All of it needs to be said, and needs to be heard.  Your ideas live in conversation with the ideas of others, and if you seek to start or enter these conversations with unapologetic grace and authenticity, then the world will be enriched.

2) Flee to Belgium when you need to.  Or rather: know when to retreat.  Dumas’ removal from France was motivated by something more powerful than just a simple need to kick back and re-establish healthy boundaries––Bonaparte had a nasty habit of killing off people who were a little too honest about his doings—but I think it goes without saying that Dumas picked his time well.  He rode out imperial disfavor and was able to return to Paris some six years before his death.  His sense of timing was always impeccable, and not just in his travels; he knew when to take up a new project, and when to let a long-lasting one go.  So: the plays.  So: the novels.  So: the independent newspaper (appropriately name L’Indipendente) he founded and ran during his Italian exile.**  Whether you’re looking to dodge a dictator or simply take a few deep breaths to figure out who you are again, value and protect your means of retreat.  I encourage you to think of ‘retreat’ not just as a hypothetical or abstract term, but as a concrete time and place.  (I will not write or take phone calls or read emails or chip away at my work-work on Saturday afternoons, for example.  Saturday afternoons are for me and for one particular little park near my home.)  There’s been a resurgence in popular respect for introversion (see Susan Cain’s Quiet for a far more excellent and thorough discourse), but even the most outgoing and energetic extrovert needs the security of a physical as well as emotional retreat.

Last week I looked to Jane Austen for a few pointers.  The week before, I delivered a few tidbits of wisdom in the vein of Johannes Gutenberg.  Now Dumas has had a moment to shine.  But what about next week?  Stick around for the penultimate author in my series of late great self-publishing entrepreneurs!

 

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions for this new series, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015 as I blog my way into better acquaintance with these legendary figures of self-publishing!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

 

*It is also worth noting, I think, that Dumas’ father, Thomas-Alexandre, must have been truly a figure of interest quite apart from his famous son (and famous grandson, since one of Dumas’ sons also became a rather popular novelist).  Thomas-Alexandre was born a slave, and became the first man of Afro-Antilles origin to become a general in the French army, and the first man of color to reach the rank of general-in-chief when he served as such in the Pyrenees.  He was taken prisoner for two years, and died of cancer.  All of his exploits were his own doing; he achieved all of them long after breaking with his father, the marquis Alexandre-Antoine Davy de la Pailleterie.

**I must beg ignorance when it comes to Dumas’ numerous love-affairs; I have no idea if his astute professional boundaries had private parallels.

Learning from the Late Greats: Jane Austen edition

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Wait a second, did I just drop (arguably) literature’s greatest name into this conversation? 

Why yes, yes I did.

Here’s a fact: Jane Austen was self-published, too.  Not only that, but she chose to self-publish after repeated attempts––and failures––to break into the book market the traditional way.  Now, before I get started praising the genius of this oft-before-praised titan (with her wit and her two inches of ivory), I should note that “traditional” publishing methods were somewhat more loosely defined in her day and era than they are today; unlike its modern incarnation, the Regency route didn’t include the literary agent or agency.  In fact, there were simply fewer people involved in the publication of a book then, period.  Authors in Austen’s time brokered their own deals directly with their publishers, often bypassing editors, marketers, early readers, and/or the other such ancillary folk who make up the traditional author’s team in 2015. 

Austen, circa 1810-1815

On the one hand, knowing that Austen wrote and published in a different world from ours may make it easier to dismiss the decisions she made as irrelevant to the modern self-published author.  On the other hand, the world in which she wrote and published was in some ways more hostile to the new or nontraditional author than ours is, so the fact that she succeeded––that she persisted until she succeeded––should be cause for encouragement to her fellow-strugglers.

Every one of Austen’s works has a unique publication story.  Of the four books published during her lifetime, three were self-published, or approximated self-publication.  Her first novel, Northanger Abbey, didn’t see daylight until after her death in 1817, when it was published together with Persuasion, her last finished novel.  The only works she did see were Sense and Sensibility (nontraditional: her brother Henry and her sister-in-law the Comtesse Eliza de Feuillide paid Thomas Egerton to publish, retaining copyright), Pride and Prejudice (traditional: purchased outright by Egerton, including copyright), Mansfield Park (nontraditional: Austen herself paid to publish), and Emma (nontraditional: published at her own expense).

Jane Austen’s decision to self-publish Sense and Sensibility (albeit with the financial backing of close family) is perhaps the most understandable of her decisions: as a woman and author with limited social and literary capital to trade on (at that point), she couldn’t hope to receive generous offers from publishers.  Sense and Sensibility‘s success guaranteed that her chances would improve with her next book.  But once she’d tasted even better success with Pride and Prejudice, she’d seen inside the system, and she knew she could do better––that she could get a better return on her investment of time and energy than the 110 pounds Egerton paid her for Lizzie and Darcy.  And thus the return to self-publication, more profitably managed this time, and in the case of Emma, with a royal seal of approval.

So, what are the takeaways from Jane Austen’s story?  I have two.

1) Adapt as you go. Jane Austen changed her strategy with each book published, and the dual release of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion would have followed yet another path.  And if Jane Austen can do it, then you certainly can.  The moral of the story isn’t that you should alter your publication method with each book (which could prove exhausting and unprofitable), but to shape each publication path to the market forces, your readership, and your own needs.  (This requires staying in touch with your readers and the market, of course, and that can be another job in and of itself.  So: balance.  See last week’s post, point #2.)

2) Use what you have.  Austen had family.  An interested and loving father, who wrote a (rejected) query letter on her behalf for Northanger Abbey, years before she was actually published, and who fostered her early attempts with a receptive fireside tradition.  An energetic and knowledgable brother, who spent many hours in close consultation with both Austen and her publishers in order to see her novels come to print.  A wealthy sister-in-law who was also a believer.  This much was providential.  (Her persistence and dedication was self-taught, and practiced.)  You may or may not have a support system as providentially put together as hers, but no matter what, don’t be afraid to utilize your network.  It’s not mercenary to know of your possibilities and to ask others to get on board.  No matter how you choose to move forward, by means of traditional or self-publication, your book will only succeed as a team effort between you, your network, the staff of a publishing or self-publishing company, and your readers.

Jane Austen’s story might seem equal parts inspiration and a daunting mark to live up to, but she’s also one of the great lynchpins to the whole story of publishing, traditional or otherwise.  While Austen lived, the “novel” was still what the word itself implies.  Sure, humanity had been writing lengthy works for centuries, even millennia prior to her birth.  But the English novel, that thick and weighty tome of imaginative and fictive impulses blending the real world with something new––that arose somewhat less than a century before Austen died.  The fact that the publishing industry went one way (“traditional”) in the years following rather than another (“nontraditional”) doesn’t mean that the seeds for a self-driven, self-realized, self-published authorship weren’t planted there at the very beginning.  We have a heritage!  A pedigreed heritage.

Check back next week as I examine a third legend of Ye Olde Selfe-Publishing Impulse.  Will it be Charles Dickens, e.e. cummings, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, or Virginia Woolf?  I’m going to leave you in suspense.

** NOTE: All information drawn from Deirdre la Faye’s collection, Jane Austen’s Letters.

 

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions for this new series, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015 as I blog my way into better acquaintance with these legendary figures of self-publishing!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Learning from the Late Greats: Johannes Gutenberg edition

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There’s no better moment to dabble in time-travel than at the start of a new year; our sense of reality is skewed, anyway, by a solid season of interrupted work schedules, an exoticized diet, and upbeat television specials featuring exuberantly optimistic actors and singers.  Why not take the holiday nostalgia one step further by actually crossing an event horizon and stepping into 1439?

 

Consider the setting: Established by the Romans as a military outpost in 12 B.C.E., Strasbourg in the Fifteenth Century had a long and rich history of latinic and germanic occupations, as the remnants of the Roman empire duked it out with the Alemanni, Huns, and Franks.  It had a history, too, of internal conflict, with the citizens outmaneuvering their bishop and winning the status of an Imperial Free City in 1262, courtesy of King Philip of Swabia.  Within a century the city had been wracked by revolution, the bubonic plague, and exceptionally brutal pogroms, in which Strasbourg’s entire Jewish population was either burnt to death or forcibly expelled from the city.  The year of the pogroms is also the year in which Gutenberg is reported to have begun building his printing press––1439––and one has to wonder if there isn’t something more than coincidence at work here.

 

William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen. Published in 'The Graphic' in 1877; now in the Public Domain.

William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen. Published in ‘The Graphic’ in 1877; now in the Public Domain.

 

“Okay––” I hear you saying.  “Okay, so Gutenberg did some cool things, reinventing existing technologies in a frenzy of progress, like some Steve Jobs of medieval France.  But what does that have to do with self publishing, promotion, and me?”

 

Quite a lot, actually.

 

While we don’t know a lot about Gutenberg––including, for example, how he felt about the pogroms and expulsions and social constructs of his day, and even the exact year he was born––we do know rather a great deal about his legacy.  His celebrated press was in full operation by 1452, less than 13 years after its conception, which is actually quite impressive given the materials he had to work with and his somewhat unpredictable financial situation (he was eventually bankrupted in a court case by his sponsor, the wealthy Johann Fust).  And in a time when books were still for the most part produced over the course of painstaking months of fine brushwork by dedicated monks, he put more printed materials into the hands of more readers than any westerner before him.  He was the definition of the foolhardy entrepreneur, borrowing money, racking up mammoth debts, quitting Strasbourg in disgrace, and setting up shop elsewhere, repeatedly.

 

He may have been born into a different time and a different world, but we intrepid few (the self-publishing few) can still learn two very important things from this early icon of self-publishing:

 

1) Use the tools at hand, and use them well, but don’t become shackled to any existing paradigm.  Gutenberg didn’t invent the printing press, as much as westerners like to think so.  That honor goes to Bi Sheng in 11th Century China, or perhaps even an earlier inventor of cluster of inventors of whom we know nothing.  What Gutenberg did that was so impressive is that he seized on the tools available to him––newly minted methods for punchcutting, matricing, and so on––and repackaged them in such a way as to make them efficient and therefore affordable enough to outdistance his competition––the monks––in both speed and quantity.  He didn’t invent the wheel, but he did put a motor on it and send it speeding into the next century.  He knew when to let go, too, and answer to no other voice but his own vision for publication.

 

2) Pay attention to the market; listen to both your readers’ needs and those of your own practical enterprise.  Gutenberg didn’t just print the sacred texts for which he is famous.  In fact, the bible-printing business drove him into the ground––or underground––and he lost so much money that even his astute early decision to print more lucrative materials (latin grammars, indulgences, pamphlets, and a dictionary) was not enough to keep him (even remotely) afloat.  Listen to your readers, and pay attention.  We live in a day and age where it’s feasible to customize your approach to the market, whether in terms of the format or formats you use to reach the most readers with the most net profit, or in terms of the kinds of events, interviews, and other promotional efforts you coordinate to spread the word.  You don’t have to be the victim of your own art, as Gutenberg was; you can stick to your vision and reinvent yourself, all at the same time.

 

Johannes Gutenberg’s story is equal parts inspiration and cautionary tale, but there’s so much more to him than I can sum up here.  It’s only fitting that one of the world’s largest, oldest, and most comprehensive volunteer-driven digital enterprises is called Project Gutenberg, and is dedicated to the distribution of free ebooks.  Next week, I’ll examine another titan of Ye Olde Selfe-Publishing Impulse.  Will it be Jane Austen for her efforts with Sense and Sensibility, or Ezra Pound, or Emily Dickinson, or Virginia Woolf?  Check back next week to find out who!

 

If you have any comments, reflections, or suggestions for this new series, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015 as I blog my way into better acquaintance with these legendary figures of self-publishing!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

12 New Year’s Resolutions for the 12 Days of Christmas (part II)

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Well, today marks my last blog of 2014, so it’s only fitting that I finish my list of New Year’s resolutions with both a bang and a whimper—or rather, with a mixed list of strategies that require me to take initiative and steer clear of some of my past faux pas!

I resolve to …

#6: Read more.

Yes, yes, I know it’s a bit trite to say that “good writers are good readers,” but there is some truth to the matter (as there often is, with trite statements).  I have let my reading lapse a smidgen this year, for a variety of reasons, and as a direct consequence I find my ability to verbalize my own ideas is suffering.  In general, I find that a deficit in input results in a deficit of output, and for me that translates to: “No reading, no imagination.”  I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but I for one resolve that this year I will reestablish my reading routines, and reintroduce my mind to the minds of others through the written word.  (Or, more written words.)  As with many things, I’ll try to remember to practice the “quality over quantity” adage.  It’s more important to have an enriching rather than a time-intensive experience!

#7: Try a new format.

There are so many formats in which we can publish these days that the list can grow overwhelming—hard cover editions, paperback editions, Kindle editions, Nook editions, e-book editions, .pdf files, audio book editions, and et cetera—and like many authors, I tend to channel most of my energy into work within my comfort zone.  This year, I resolve to try a new format for a book that I haven’t tried before.  I haven’t quite decided which of these formats I will choose and for which piece, but I promise you (and you can hold me to this!) that I won’t allow myself to get stuck in the “research” stage for so long that I neglect to actually produce a new product.  Perhaps you’d like to join me?  Let’s jump into 2015 by making it easier than ever for readers to access our work!

#8: Make more inspiration boards.

Ever heard of an inspiration board?  Essentially, it’s the practice of putting together a visual display of objects, quotes, and other things that create a focused touchstone for your writing.  For example, an author who’s writing a book set in the corn fields of Nebraska might put together an inspiration board that has some pictures of corn fields in various lighting, a couple of quotations about the hardships and rewards of farming, and maybe a song or two that really captures the desired mood or atmosphere of the piece.  In this day and age, it’s really easy to make inspiration boards.  You can actually put one together physically (see this excellent blog post by the Procrastinating Writer), or you can take advantage of tools like Pinterest (see this equally excellent blog post by Melissa Donovan over at Writing Forward).  Personally, I enjoy using my hands to put something together in the real world, but the interactivity of digital forms can be really great, too. This year, I resolve to play around more with this idea of the inspiration board.

#9: Build a community. 

I’ve already resolved to be more ambitious with my social media presence (see #6 on last week’s list!).  Much of a self-published author’s success lies in his or her relationship with readers, and in establishing a community of people who are just as invested in consuming good writing as the author is in generating it.  Over and beyond just creating more social media platforms to reach more social media users, this year, I resolve to build and broaden my community of readers by reaching them where they are at and giving them what they need.  By keeping my various blog posts about creating a social media platform in mind [here, here, and here], I will tweak my digital presence and refine my physical outreach to meet my readers’ needs, rather than just satisfy my own vision of this idea of ‘presence.’  To do so, I will first need to understand that community, perhaps through polls and surveys, and perhaps through a more effective use of Google Analytics.  It is my hope that understanding will lead to outreach will lead to genuine and authentic connection to my readership.

#10: Write more. 

I know we say this every year, but I really mean it!  This has been a year of major changes for me, as I’m sure it has been for many of you, my readers.  Changes in my family, my work, my health, and so on.  When you consider the fact that we’re social creatures, any change in my network comes rippling back to me, so that a new addition to an in-law’s family or a friend’s vacation plans can become a distraction—for me!  A large part of buckling down to do the thing I love is, I’ve discovered, narrowing my focus and eliminating distractions.  And the self-published author can’t afford to let writing lapse.  I can’t exactly stop change from happening, and I definitely don’t want my family to stop expanding or my friends to stop going on vacation, but I can take initiative in establishing healthy emotional boundaries that keep these changes from becoming calamities.  This year, I resolve to make writing as much of a habit as eating a healthy breakfast (another practice I need to improve upon, I’m afraid).  Whether it’s fifteen minutes or eight hours a day, I will get some words out of my head and onto the page!

#11: Celebrate success.

Because writing and self-publishing is my job, not just a hobby, I sometimes fail to celebrate the successes I’ve already achieved.  Perhaps you’re this way, too, in that it’s hard to justify taking a moment away from the stacks and stacks of to-dos in order to take pride in what has already been done.  But that’s not a rewarding way to live, as we all know well!  So, this year, I resolve to celebrate each and every success, as I check items off of my list of resolutions, or bring other goals through to execution.  You and I both love to celebrate other peoples’ successes, so taking a few minutes to practice joy over our own shouldn’t seem like such an outlandish notion.

#12: Take action. 

I find this perhaps the most important resolution of all, given my own predilection for procrastination in making good on resolutions in years past.  I hereby pledge not to let this list sit here just as a list, but rather to turn it into a tangible action plan for the coming year—not a list of obligations, mind you, that weigh on my conscience if I fail, but as a coda of potential ideas to launch me into 2015 in the best possible shape.  Carpe diem?  After all, as a self-published author, I understand that while I have to work hard to make what I love to do a success, I want to remain in love with what I do.  And that’s always the hardest part, isn’t it?  If I fall out of love with writing and self-publishing, well … I don’t want to allow even the seed of that thought to germinate in my mind.  And so, I will think of this list as inspiration, rather than obligation—inspiration that I can make good on, by decisive action.

 

And so we begin a new year, with hope, and an eye for progress.  I am so lucky to have had you all as readers, and I look forward to another year in partnership with you!  If you have any resolutions or ideas that didn’t make my list, I’d love to hear them.  Drop me a line in the comments box, and watch this space on Wednesdays in 2015 as I blog my way through some of these resolutions!

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

12 New Year’s Resolutions for the 12 Days of Christmas (part I)

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I know it’s a bit early to be setting my New Year’s resolutions in stone, so I’ll consider this post something softer than stone, more easily reshaped, but still very much real and solid and tangible––perhaps something like the digital version of putty or artists’ plaster, which will slowly resolve itself into fact. 

My real reason for getting started early is twofold: I want to give myself the time to really think through the list, and I want to give you the time to put some of my resolutions to your own good use as 2015 rolls in.  And so, with no further ado:

I resolve to …

#1:  Host a new kind of marketing event. 

I must admit, I’m fairly predictable when it comes to planning marketing events––I know what I’m good at, and what I’m comfortable doing, and that pretty much boils down to short readings and Q&As at local libraries.  In 2015, I resolve to try something new, or rather, to plan and attempt to execute at least one event that isn’t a reading or a Q&A session at a local library.  You’ll note I used the hazy word attempt just now.  I think it’s important to put together a plan and to make a few phone calls, but not to shackle myself to an impossible agenda.  If, for example, my (very-beginning-stages) notion to put together a bi-weekly podcast proves an enormous drain on my time and energy, then I may need to reevaluate in a few months.

#2:  Attend a new kind of marketing event. 

If I’m predictable about the kinds of events I host, then I’m even more predictable when it comes to the events I attend.  This last year, I’ve been a regular on the book-signing and book-reading circuits, but these are not the only events out there.  I need to diversify what I do so that I can become both a more well-informed reader and a more effective marketer myself!  In 2015, I resolve to attend at least one webinar, book festival, or other marketing event that is a little outside of my comfort zone.  Even if I have to travel a couple of hours to make it, or rearrange my work schedule for a few days, I intend to make this resolution a priority.

#3:  Learn some new code. 

I know a little HTML, but I’ve been out of the coding game for a spell.  It’s time to dive back in, particularly with an eye for coding––whether HTML, CSS, Java, or some other programming language––that can boost my digital footprint.  In 2015, I resolve to read at least one book on the subject, or attend a class, or otherwise broaden my understanding of at least one of these codes.

#4:  Try out a new digital device or software application. 

There are any number of apps out there which I can download to my iPad or e-reader which can help me keep track of my ongoing efforts at self-promotion––and many which can actually help me improve.  In 2015, I resolve to research, discover, and incorporate at least one new digital device, program, or app into my life, with a specific intention to boost my marketing efforts.  This resolution may actually pose a good challenge, since I have little to no idea of where to start.  There are so many possibilities!  The real trouble is narrowing the options down to just … one.

#5:  Launch a new round of SEO campaigns. 

I’ve written extensively about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) before.  Now it’s time for me to practice what I preach!  In 2015, I resolve to put into effect a rigorous and updated SEO program to boost web traffic to my websites.  I’ve dabbled in a great many of the strategies out there at one time or another, but with little accountability and thoroughness.  This time around, I want to be more organized about my SEO efforts––and more regular.  It’s not enough to apply some of the techniques some of the time––I need to apply most of the techniques on a regular basis, or else it’s all just wasted effort.  Readers respect reliability!

#6:  Establish ambitious goals and healthy boundaries for my social media presence. 

Just as I’ve casually speed-dated most of the SEO stratagems out there without committing to any one plan, I’ve felt my way around all or almost all of the major social media platforms––Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Blogger, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and many others––without putting into effect any rigorous plan of action.  I’ll post a picture to Instagram one day and forget about it for a few weeks, then write ten tweets in quick succession, only to let my twitter handle lapse for months on end.  In 2015, I’ll put together a calendar, and a schedule, to better handle my social media accounts.  I pledge to dismantle the accounts I don’t actively use or am failing to use effectively, and pour my time and energy into the outlets that do effective work for my self-promotion.  I pledge, too, to make a habit of timing my posts, so that readers know when they can expect to see something new show up on one of my websites. 

… and you’ll have to stick around until next Wednesday for the other six.  In part because I’ve reached my word limit for the week, and in part because I want my final six resolutions to be even better than my first six!

Can it really be––almost––2015?  It’s hard to believe, sometimes, that this entire industry has been born and made, and remade, and evolved into endless permutations––all within my lifetime.  All within living memory.  The printing press has been around since the 1300s, but since then the process of making and selling books has never seen such a rapid and total transformation as it has within the last twenty years, and perhaps even the last decade.  Digital publication and distribution, e-readers, self-publishing, collaborative writing forums, viral marketing—we live in an exciting time that shows no signs of slowing down.  I, for one, hope to match the broad spectrum of these changes with a few, specific, targeted evolutions of my own.  I’m going to start small, here, in the new year.  In 2015.  I hope you’ll join me!

If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

Christmas is Here Again | On Holidays and Happy Chaos (Part III)

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I have good news and bad news, and it’s the same news.  Should I ever face a film-worth scenario in which I have to choose, I will always choose to hear the good news first, so here it is:  Today is the 17th of December, which means Christmas is fast closing in––and I mean fast.  Christmas brings plenty of delectable morsels into our lives, as well as gifts and gift-giving, and––if we’re lucky––a blissful trip up and down memory lane with the people we love most in this world.  But here’s the bad news: Christmas is fast closing in.  You read that correctly!  As I mentioned, the good and bad news end up bearing more than a close kinship to each other. 

But how can Christmas ever be bad news?  Perhaps I’m overstating the fact, but here’s the truth of the matter: Christmas is crunch time for self-published authors, especially those hoping to launch successful holiday specials.  The holiday season is when authors are, along with the majority of small business owners, most likely to recoup or finish recouping their operational expenses for the year.  Maybe an author turned to a hybrid self-publishing company to design, print, bind, or help market her book.  Maybe an author burned a couple of tanks full of petrol in order to host his book signings, readings, and luncheons.  Whatever the case may be, even self-publishing has its attendant costs, and Black Friday is a magic day for everyone.  But the precious commodity constituted by the time left between Thanksgiving and Christmas is shrinking rapidly––so what can we do to make the most of it?

Thought #3:  Breathe.  Write.  Publish.  But mostly, breathe.  (Rinse & Repeat)

Most often, you’ll get tip lists around Christmas from self-publishing gurus, somewhere along the lines of “50 tips to launch your book this Christmas,” or “3 unexpected ways to promote your book over the holidays,” or even “10 steps to self-publishing success.”  I’m not here to tell you these tidbits of advice don’t work––some of them certainly will, and some of them are probably destined for failure.  I am here to offer you something a little more offbeat than a rote list of hit-or-miss ideas.

I’m here to tell you it’s okay to step away from the phone, from the bookstore, the library, and your Amazon book listing.  I’m here to tell you it’s okay not to push your book with some wild and crazy Christmas party, or by setting up a quiet reading at a classy booklover’s club.  But hang on one second––I’m not telling you that you shouldn’t promote your book (at all).  I’m telling you that there’s more than one way to break a glass ceiling.

Think about it for a second.  What’s the most effective way to promote a book?  Writing a book people love.  That one’s a no-brainer.  But what’s the second-most effective way?  Writing another book people love.  No matter how many readers you earn with your first book, you are practically guaranteed to win more with each book that follows.  Name and brand recognition play their parts in authorial success, as does the pleasurable possibility of the serial read.  Whether you write self-help books or genre literature or poetry or something else that is wonderful and wild and perfectly unique to you, your sales will improve as you publish more books.  You know how we all like to marathon whole seasons of Doctor Who or How I Met Your Mother, or drop by a sick friend’s place with Tylenol and the entire extended edition boxed set of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings?  Readers treat your books the same way.  Once they find an author or a series or a genre they like, they’re likely to read all the books that author has written (so long as they’re easily accessible).  And I’ll admit, I’m one of those readers who will wait in line for a signed copy of a new book, then hurry to the bookstore register to purchase all of the prequels, sequels, and tangentially related volumes I can find. 

So, maybe you’ve written just the one book.  Maybe that’s all you have in you right now.  That’s okay.  Don’t ever let anyone try and push you to conform to their expectations of what a writer’s life or method looks like.  As I’ve mentioned in past Wednesday blogs, there’s no one right or wrong way to go about this writing thing, or even this self-publishing thing.  It’s tough enough being a writer without feeling like you’re out of joint with someone else’s expectations.  This holiday season, take time to breathe.  Return to those ways and means that rejuvinate you.  Cherish the stories you’ve written, and the stories you have left to write, and live.

For the first blog in this series, navigate here.  For the second, here.  Look for my final holiday-themed self-promotional blog for the year next wednesday!  If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

 

ABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog at http://kellyschuknecht.com.

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