In Your Corner: How Does One Stay Creative in the Midst of the Doldrums?

Have you ever struggled to figure out just how to keep generating good new material, as an author? Have you ever tangled with the doldrums when it comes to dredging up new ideas for marketing your self-publishing book?

Staying creative is hard.

Perhaps this is self-explanatory, or the sort of statement which prompts a “duh” reaction in some of our readers, but it’s worth saying nonetheless. Recognizing and honoring a difficulty like this is paramount in moving forward to address it. Denial is not a friend to productivity, on any level.

In all of my years working alongside self-publishing authors, one of the most common questions I receive is simply: “What else can I try?” The unspoken statement, uttered in the silences between words, is this: “I’ve run out of ideas, but I know I need to try something different since what I’m currently doing is not working or somehow not enough.” And perhaps that’s part of the difficulty; when authors go looking for just “enough,” they are hoping creativity will do what dogged persistence and dedication to craft won’t. They’re hoping creativity will level up their book’s success.

But that’s not strictly true. Creativity is a part of the whole, just as dogged persistence and dedication are. Creativity, however, differs greatly from those other two things, which can be counted on to produce measurable and reliable results. Generally speaking, if you put time and energy into something with persistence and dedication, you’ll be guaranteed to see results. Creativity, on the other hand, is fickle. It’s hard to qualify what it is, much less quantify what it does. I think of it as part of your navigation system; alone, it won’t get you anywhere, but it can certainly help you find your destination … but I don’t know, I think my metaphors tend to break down sooner than I can pin them down in pixels or on paper.

Instead of digging myself a deeper hole to step in, I thought I might shift gears a little bit, and talk about some of the tried-and-true methods to coax creativity out of hiding. What are some ways we can boost our creativity in at least a semi-reliable fashion?*

creativity listening

Ten Starter Tips to Summon Creativity

  1. Sleep (& walk to work) with a notebook and pen. The best ideas crop up when we least expect them, which is why it’s important to … well, expect them. Put yourself in the best possible position to jot down those nuggets of dream-time wisdom (at night) and kinetic inspiration (while you’re on the move) and contemplative excellence (when you’re at work, or eating dinner). And just as important as writing them down is the need to do something with them … so schedule a half hour or more every day to expand one of your jotspirations into something that later might fit into your larger project. Don’t put too much pressure on the individual pieces to become anything; they’ll assemble into something larger or inform your work as you go.
  2. Change your project. This is the scariest item on the list, perhaps. But it’s important to be open to changing directions mid-stream, no matter how far along in your project you are. I’ve known artists to destroy eight or nine of every ten artworks because they weren’t what they wanted, and I’ve known authors to strike one of every two pages during the editing stage, or delete entire drafts and start over from scratch. This might be a bit extreme for you, and there’s no need to go that far if it doesn’t fit your feeling for what’s right, but you should pay attention to your intuition. Is your current manuscript headed where you want it to? Has what you want changed? Should it?
  3. Steal like an artist. Beg, borrow, steal. You know how it goes: we are what we read, what we see, what we witness. Instead of feeling shame or repugnance at stealing from others whose work you admire, consider instead a system by which you acknowledge, pay homage to, honor, and celebrate these influences. I guarantee you that you already have a number of influences that are bleeding into your work; it’s simply a matter of recognizing them and working with them as a feature rather than a distraction.
  4. Get up earlier, don’t stay up later. Quite a few items on this list could have been taken up with “self-care” instructions, but use this item as the lynchpin of a body-friendly, healthy writing strategy. Studies show that getting up earlier (and going to bed earlier to account for the difference) and eating well, getting out and about, and seeking out friendly company are all significant physiological boosters for creativity and productivity both. You won’t be able to pin down your inspiration if you can’t even concentrate, so take the time and set a schedule which allows you to inhabit the best, healthiest possible body–and therefore create the best possible work you can.
  5. Read, read, read. Books are food for the soul, friends for the lonely, and so many other things. They’re also the raw material we chew up in our heads and turn into fuel for inspiration. Don’t shut down the assembly line which delivers this vital ingredient of your work! Spend as much time reading as you do watching television or scrolling through your Facebook timeline, and I guarantee your work will benefit.
  6. Diagram it. Not all brains work the same way, but many brains benefit from branching out and trying out some of the tried-and-true methods of people who might be gifted in other ways. Case in point? I am terrible at math. Or at least, I wasn’t a fond student of the subject. I’m a rather predictable writer in that I love words, words, always words–but once in a great while, when I get stuck, I find I really benefit from posing the question: “What would my friend A. do?” A. is an engineer and gifted mathematician. And what would she do? She’d diagram the thing. She’d figure out how to visually represent the component parts of an ongoing project: inputs, outputs, time and energy budgets, and the architecture of the piece itself. Seeing it laid out in this way helps me grasp where the holes are, and where to spend (or “budget”) my next writing session.
  7. Sing in the shower. No, seriously. Get up out of your chair if you’re struggling and go take a shower. Eat a piece of fruit. Pears are great for this, as are apples. Did you know a single apple contains more caffeine than a shot of espresso? True fact. I heard that one from my family doctor. Kick up your heels; put the radio on for a minute and go for a drive, just because. Belt out one of your favorite songs as if no one was listening. (If they are and don’t like it, well they can go lump it.) Get your blood moving, and vary your activities every fifteen or thirty minutes while writing.
  8. Clean your work space. Ha. Yeah, I know, I’m not doing too good on this front myself right now. But it’s a fact that most people operate best, focus best, when their work spaces are organized and cleared of clutter. Also, the act of cleaning often knocks out some of the cobwebs, maybe even knocks some new ideas loose. Don’t underestimate the power of those bubbling shower cleansers and elbow grease in prompting creativity to scuttle out of some dark corner.
  9. Finish something. And by this I mean: “If you can’t finish the big project, finish a little one.” It can be something related to your piece, as in, a chapter or a paragraph. And reward yourself for this! Or it can be something completely unrelated to your writing, like cleaning the bathroom or writing a thank-you letter to your niece for that lovely Christmas gift you forgot to mention earlier. (Oops.) Some people call this procrastination–but if you recognize the need to vary your tasks, and turn it into a productive deviation, one that you can reward yourself for finishing, your morale will spike. Just make sure you do get back around to writing again afterward.
  10. Count the ways. Count the ways you’re doing well. More than anything, struggling with creativity can sap your self-confidence, your morale, and your sense of your work’s value. But you’ve done so much good work already! Make a list, maybe, but no matter how you count the ways, make sure you celebrate each and every accomplishment!

*PLEASE NOTE: These tips are tricky, and the object elusive. If you’re struggling to make any one of them work (that is, you’re struggling to summon that spirit of creativity), there’s nothing at all wrong with you or with your methods, necessarily. There are no failures in the pursuit of creativity, merely delays. And as always, if you’re facing a daunting prospect, remember that we’re here for you, both to commiserate and offer up all of the expertise we collectively have on offer.

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner : Celebrate National Reading Month With These Marketing Tips! (summary edition)

Four weeks ago, I set out to gather together my absolute all-time favorite marketing advice––advice I have both given and received over my years as a self-publishing advocate working in sales and management––and today is a good day, because I get to look at it all together.  Over the course of four Thursdays, I have laid out a map––a blueprint––for an indie author’s success on the marketing trail: Fourteen tips you can put to work as you decide upon your own personal priorities as an author and put together your own marketing campaign.

They are:

Part One:

  • GETTING STARTED : Become the local expert.
  • TIP TWO: Get ’em while they’re young
  • TIP THREE: Consider online advertising
  • TIP FOUR: Introduce new formats of your book

Part Two:

  • TIP FIVE : Ask for book reviews
  • TIP SIX: Request peer reviews
  • TIP SEVEN : Create a mailing list or Facebook group

Part Three:

  • TIP EIGHT : Craft a “keep in touch” plan
  • TIP NINE : Go to the Press
  • TIP TEN : Get your next manuscript off the drawing board
  • TIP ELEVEN : The book must be blogged!

Part Four:

  • TIP TWELVE : Give your blog or website a face lift
  • TIP THIRTEEN : Play well with others
  • TIP FOURTEEN : Take the Grand Tour

 

If you think this list is a long one, consider this: Marketing is no joke.  It’s not an easy thing to do, especially if you’re embarking upon the journey solo.  You’ve already done some mammoth work in finishing your manuscript––in being an author, period––and to be faced with a list like this might seem daunting.  Which is why I didn’t really want to leave you with fourteen tips.  What I really want is to leave you with one.  And so, without further ado, I give you:

THE ONLY TIP YOU’LL EVER NEED: Let others help shoulder the burden

This is both the simplest and the hardest thing of all.  We’re indie authors.  We are accustomed not just to wanting to go it alone, but to having to go it alone.  But the thing is, we’re at a critical and beautiful point in the self-publishing industry’s evolution: every door is open to us, and nobody is looking to slam them shut on someone just starting out, or on a veteran who needs to change things up.  Take a breath.  Take all the time you need.  This is and always will be, your story.  And it will be exactly what you want it to be, even if you have to ask for a little assistance along the way.

There are more resources than ever before available at your Google-savvy fingertips.  There are hybrid self-publishing companies offering incredibly diverse kinds of assistance, tailored to your needs.  There are advocates like me and like many of the people I work with at Outskirts Press who want nothing more than to help you achieve what you want to achieve.  We’re here for you, and we’ll always be here for you.

Now more than ever before, one thing is true:

You are not alone. ♣︎

making a list and checking it twice

 

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

 

 

Marketing Missteps Episode 1: The Self-Centered Campaign

You’re a self-publishing author, recently come out with a new book, and you’ve already decided to throw yourself into marketing in a serious capacity.  So what next?  Finding that starting point is a tough first act, but it’s always helpful to know a couple of false starts that others have made before you, isn’t it?  That way, at least you know a couple of places not to start, and you can find a path to success that fits your own indie experience, bolstering your skills and steering clear of your weaknesses.

Today, I’m going to begin a new series that will take a close look at several of the most important marketing missteps to avoid; the story doesn’t end here, of course, but hopefully this series will prompt you away from the edge of a few abysses.  One or two of the mistakes I’ll point out may strike you as “common sense” points, but as my dad once whispered to ten-year-old me on a sidewalk corner facing a four-way stop in heavy traffic where nobody could quite figure out the correct right-of-way: “Common sense ain’t so common now, is it?”  Even if a mistake strikes you as obvious, every reminder is a good one!

This week’s post is going to examine one of the most pernicious of all marketing missteps: that of the self-centered campaign.  At its simplest distillation, the self-centered campaign will alienate you from your readers quicker than a ten-year-old at a traffic stop.  Why?  Because readers are smart.  (I find it’s a wise policy to always assume my readers are smarter than I am, and they always seem to notice even the tiniest of continuity errors in my work before I do!)  They will pick up on the arrogance–intentional or unconscious–of an author who makes their marketing campaign all about his or her excellence instead of shining the spotlight on the real stars of the show: the book itself, and the readers who have so cleverly fallen in love with it.

arrogance in marketing

Here’s a hard fact to swallow: Your readers won’t always care about you, the author.  You might be able to persuade them to, a little, over time, simply by virtue of writing excellent social media posts or demonstrating sensitivity to others.  One crucial misunderstanding that self-publishing authors make is believing that they and their readers value the same things.  Hopefully, your readers will care about your humanity and the work you produce, but beyond that is murky waters.  How do we un-murkify them?  By doing the work.  By doing the research.  By figuring out what you do for your readers that no one else can.

To successfully market your indie book, don’t sell the customer your product (or book) … sell them your solution to their needs.  What issues interest your readers?  What subjects compel them?  These are the basic components with which you can build a successful marketing campaign.

Market research, even basic, is more than just helpful.  It’s necessary.  It is the one magical ingredient that will move your strategy away from something self-centered and toward something that is product- and consumer-centered.

But how to get there?  What are the best strategies for research?  One consideration might be to craft a simple survey with SurveyMonkey, or to poll a small focus group.  I recommend steering clear of using friends or family as focus group members, since their personal connections to you will skew how they answer.  And besides, online crowd-sourcing platforms like the aforementioned SurveyMonkey (as well as Facebook Groups and Google Forms) make for an inexpensive replacement for focus groups.  What you ask depends on what you find useful, but it might be worth crafting a few questions that speak to your readers’ genres of interest, the amount of time they spend reading or on social media, and how they like best to engage with fellow fans and their favorite authors.

Whichever avenue you pursue, these basic data-gathering methods should give you new insight into your readers, and help you shape your marketing message to focus less on you and more on the them.


Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT 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, kellyschuknecht.com. 10:00 AM

In Your Corner : Celebrate National Reading Month With These Marketing Tips! (part three)

Two weeks ago, I started us off on a month-long exploration of one of my favorite subjects: the intersection of reading with writing and publishing, a journey that I continued last week in honor of National Reading Awareness Month.  I said it then but I think this bears repeating: here at Self-Publishing Advisor, we love the fact that there’s an entire month devoted to celebrating the written word–as well as the ways in which we can spread the joy of literacy–and so I would like to invite you to continue joining me in making reading a focus all month long, here in our Thursday blog post slot.  How am I going about that?  Well, for starters, I’m running down my go-to list of tips and tricks for the new and ingenue self-publishing author.  This week, I’ll be starting with …

 

TIP EIGHT : Craft a “keep in touch” plan

Last week, we examined the benefits to putting together an active mailing list and/or using a Facebook group to keep in touch with your readers through direct messaging.  But what’s next?  Once you have put together your active mailing list, you’ll need to decide how you want to keep in touch.  And by “how,” I’m talking about the content and quality of your communication, not just the platform.  One thing is absolutely, unarguably true: over-sharing can prove more toxic to your message than bad grammar and condescension put together.  I highly recommend that you find a reasonable frequency–for example, a monthly newsletter–to touch base with your readers.  You can write about topics related to the genre of your book or other similar books that you think your readers would enjoy, or you can stick to more of a “behind-the-scenes” glimpse into your writing process, if you feel like you have enough to share without spoiling the reading experience itself.  If you plan on publishing multiple books–say, in a series–your followers would no doubt love updates on the status of each upcoming book, the research you’re doing or interesting things you’ve discovered during the writing process.  Give them just enough to whet their appetite, but not so much that they feel like they have to sift through an essay to find the important facts!

keep in touch

TIP NINE : Go to the Press

And by that, I mean: It’s time to start thinking about putting out a press release.  Any time you have important news to share about your book–such as announcing its publication, the advent of a book signing event, or spreading the news about an award it has won– you should definitely look to your local newspapers, radio stations, and other media sources … but this shouldn’t preclude you from looking further afield, to national media outlets and popular blog sites, for example.  You can use online press release distribution sites or try contacting your local newspaper as a first step, and if you’re working with a hybrid or full-service self-publishing company you should definitely check out their list of marketing options.

press release

TIP TEN : Get your next manuscript off the drawing board

Hollywood scriptwriters and directors often talk about “development hell,” but this term isn’t the exclusive property of the rich and/or famous: it applies to authors of all kinds, too!  We all know the dangers and struggles facing us in the form of the dreaded Writer’s Block, so if you’re ready to start publishing–or you’re getting close–you should definitely try to give yourself the necessary kick in the pants necessary to put the finishing touches on your manuscript and start the publication process today.  Delay hurts no one more than you, and that’s the truth!  Many companies offer publishing packages or offer the services of a Publishing Consultant to assist with this process, and sometimes a little help really is necessary.  There’s no shame in turning to a professional for help if it means your book gets off of the drawing board and into the hands of your readers!

drawing board

TIP ELEVEN : The book must be blogged!

An oft-overlooked component of a successful marketing strategy is the beloved book blogger.  We love them, we read their posts, but we don’t often think of them as partners in our journey to publication.  But they are!  They really, most definitely, can give your book a boost in visibility.  So, my last tip is more of a suggestion, really: Find those book bloggers you need to increase the exposure to your book.  Check out websites such as BookBloggerList.com to find bloggers interested in the genre of your book, and look to the book bloggers you personally admire and find readable.  Find out which bloggers would be open to reading and reviewing your book and contact them–or vice versa.  You might even get a link to your website or your Amazon book page out of it!

I’ll be back next week with some more tips!  And …

… always remember: you are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Self-Publishing Advantages Out on the Table

This posts and blog exists to help you make the best informed choices for the future of their books. Whether you’re still in the conceptualization phase or searching for a publisher, these are tips, each worthy of careful consideration.

For example, take a moment and write out your personal publishing goals…

For many authors, these 7 are the most important:

1) Keeping 100% of your rights and creative control to your book
2) Keeping 100% of your author royalties
3) Unlimited wholesale and retail availability
4) Additional marketing support and services
5) Publishing imprint and ISBN flexibility
6) High-quality book design
7) Complete print-run flexibility (1 to 1000s)

What would you add to this list?

– K


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Self-Publishing – Finding Versatility in Your Writing

Comedian Steven Wright once dryly noted, “I’m writing a book. I have the page numbers done.”

Writing is something that takes time and effort. In fact, it can take several years to produce a manuscript ready for publication. But that doesn’t mean your writing has to sit on your hard drive collecting digital dust. Using your written material more than once can be a great way to stay motivated and market your writing to readers.

This advice holds true whether you are writing a book, a poem, or a blog entry. Some may find this concept to be similar to recycling—diluting to the original work.

I tend to dislike the term “recycle” too (unless it has to do with conservationism), but recycling your writing is absolutely necessary. There is no other way to keep up with all the self-marketing and promotion you will be doing.

Once your book is published, consider repackaging your chapters into articles. Obviously, this is much more applicable to non-fiction than fiction—but even fiction chapters can be repackaged or modified into short stories or “excerpts” for duplicate use.

Give this a try: When you are finished with a chapter of your book, repackage it into a stand-alone article or excerpt by adding a beginning and ending paragraph to it. Now you have a stand-alone product that you can use to promote your whole book when it is published!

Again, one of the many benefits of self-publishing is the exclusive ownership rights you retain that allows you to use your work, however you see fit and for your benefit. 

I hope that helps. Keep writing!

Karl Schroeder

Ask the Book Doctor – Show n Tell

Q: We hear all the time, “Show, don’t tell.” My feeling is

the point is overused. Better might be “Telling is okay,

but it must be interesting and justified, for example,

moving the story along.” What do you say?

A: Everything in creative writing is a matter of

moderation. Back story almost always includes a little

telling, but keep the “telling” to a minimum. Make sure it

involves as many action verbs as possible, and it probably

will be fine.

What’s your question for Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas? Send

it today to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com.