Saturday, December 19, 2009

Five Ways to Create Inspiration

Paula's note: I've been wanting to write about inspiration and came across this wonderful post -- which first appeared as a guest post on Cassandra Jade's site -- by author and blogger, K.M. Weiland. Katie was gracious enough to give me permission to reprint her very astute and insightful description of this critical element of the writing process. Enjoy! -P.M.

I think it’s safe to open this post with a broad, sweeping generalization: We write because of inspiration. Not only because without inspiration we wouldn’t have anything to write about, but also because inspiration is the writer’s version of runner’s high. It’s this top-of-the-world, explosion-of-joy experience that makes the personal sacrifices and hard work of the writing life more than worth it.

Inspiration, however, is a slippery thing. Ultimately, it is intensely personal, unrepeatable, and often unresponsive to conscious prodding. You can’t force inspiration. It either happens or it doesn’t. You can’t sit yourself down at your desk, squeeze your eyes shut, and demand that inspiration appear in front of you complete with a drumroll and a puff of smoke. Inspiration is a gift, and like all gifts it must be treated with gratitude and responsibility.

But none of this is to say that we can’t position ourselves in the path of inspiration. Instead of just waiting around for the muse to hit us in the head with a lightning bolt, we can learn, in a sense, to create inspiration. Following are five ways I’ve learned to be receptive to inspiration. Inspiration, after all, is all around us; we just have to learn to become a conduit for it.

1. Look at the world through the lens of your story. When I’m in the midst of brainstorming a story, I wear it like a cloak. I, in essence, look at life through the lenses (rose-colored or otherwise) of my story and its characters. I’m washing dishes, walking the dog, running late? Maybe my characters are too. I hear a song on the radio, and it becomes an anthem for the scene I’m working on. I pass an interesting old codger in the mall, and suddenly he’s running amok among the characters in my head.

2. Listen to your subconscious. Never underestimate your subconscious. When you’ve come to a snarl in your plot, don’t think too hard. You can only push your conscious brain so far. On more than one occasion, after I’ve backed myself and my characters into a seemingly insurmountable corner, I’ve sat at the keyboard for hours, racking my brain for an answer that just wouldn’t come. But when I return to the problem the next day, after my subconscious has had a chance to mull over the matter for the night, the solution is practically staring me in the face. When you come across an interesting snippet of an idea that you aren’t quite certain how to develop, toss it into your subconscious for a while. Sometimes ideas stew in the back of my mind for years before suddenly reappearing on center stage as something worth pursuing.

3. Lollygag creatively. Novelist Michael J. Vaughn, who coined the term “creative lollygagging,” purposely looks for mindless tasks (gardening, walking, pulling weeds) to occupy his hands, while his brain stews on his story. “We are not talking about sitting around on a couch. Just as a satellite dish needs electricity, you need some blood pumping into that brain. Next, consider low focus. The activity shouldn’t be so intense that you don’t have time to think (Grand Prix and ice hockey are out). Look for a mellow pursuit, surrounded by low-level distractions.” (From Vaughn’s article “Creative Lollygagging” in the December 2006 issue of Writer’s Digest.)

4. Combine stories. Like most every other writer on the planet, I have at least half a dozen stories romping around in my brain at any given moment, most of them in need of that spark of “something” that will suddenly transform a gem of inspiration into a full-fledged concept worthy of my time and attention. Stories require many layers, and usually they acquire their layers organically. But some of the best complexities in my stories have been the result of combining two (or more) entirely different stories. Juxtaposition creates instant conflict, originality, and depth. Take a look at some of your embryonic stories and see if you can get something special by combining one more of them.

5. Feed the muse. Your creative mind is a living organism that requires just as much attention and nurturing as any visible part of your body. Lavish it with care, and it will flourish. Feed it just as carefully as you would your stomach. Nourish it with quality literature, movies, music, and art. Let it lap up the offerings of other artistic minds—and just see if the muse doesn’t take off running all on its own!

Finally, and most importantly, don’t wait for inspiration. We’d all like to take up permanent residence in that rarefied atmosphere where the “inspiration high” is a constant state of being. But, as all writers discover sooner or later, that high will inevitably run dry. If we allow our writing to dry up with it, we’ll never so much as finish a story, much less be read by anyone. Inspiration is much more likely to strike when your mind is active. So even on the days when the mental well seems to have evaporated and blown away in clouds of steam, sit yourself down at your desk and keep writing. Inspiration, after all, is really a very small part of the big picture.
K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She blogs at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors and AuthorCulture.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Seven Ways to Make Hiring a Book Publicist More Affordable

Hiring a publicist can be an expensive proposition, especially for self-published authors and those whose books are published by presses that offer little or no marketing support. With some publicists asking $1500 - $5000 per month in fees, authors are often surprised by the amount of money they need to spend to get the word out about their books.

But publicity doesn’t have to be a bank-breaker. Here are some tips you can use to help defray costs when working with a publicist to promote your book:

1. Plan ahead
The best time to start planning how you’ll market a book is while you’re in the process of writing it. Think about who might want to read your book, where you’re most likely to find those readers, and how much you’re willing to spend on reaching them. If you plan to self-publish, research PR pricing in your subject area and start setting aside cash early, so that you’re prepared for costs when your book is published. Any amount is fine, as long as you’re willing to live within those monetary limits when your book comes out. If you’re offered an advance on your manuscript, don’t spend it -- save it to create promotional material, advertise, hire a publicist, and/or cover travel costs when your book is released.

Once your book is published, think about what you want in the way of events and media coverage. Decide who your readers are, and consider the different niche categories and venues you might explore to reach your audience. The more clarity you have about who your audience is and what you want in the way of publicity, the more you’ll be able to articulate that to a potential publicist.

2. Shop around
Get the names and numbers of publicists in your price range or area of expertise and spend some time getting to know them. Ask for references and talk to those individuals – they’ll give you a good idea of what it’s like to work with the person you’re considering hiring. Discuss your needs with potential publicists and be certain that they have the experience and contacts to do what you want done. Know how each individual publicist bills, how she provides updates, and when she expects to be paid. If you work on a contractual basis, ask to review the contract first, and don’t be afraid to make changes based on your own expectations.

3. Negotiate
Everything’s negotiable these days, and that includes public relations services. If you cannot afford a publicist’s fees, offer to pay what you can afford and see if there is some work the publicist is willing to do for that amount. Consider prepayment options – perhaps a publicist would be willing take a percentage off her rate if you offer to pay in advance for a set amount of work, or if you can guarantee a number of hours per week. Be creative, but be fair – if what you’re offering doesn’t cover what you expect the person you’re hiring to do, the relationship most likely won’t last.

4. Be prepared
The more footwork you do up front, the less you’ll have to pay your publicist to do. Learn how to write a press release and generate one that your publicist can either use as is or as a source for key information. Once your press release is finalized, post it on free sites on the web. Create a bio, Q & A, and brief synopsis, so your publicist doesn’t have to spend time on these pieces herself. Research venues, media, and blogsites you’re interested in, and provide your publicist with contact info – the more you do up front, the less she will have to do for you.

5. Participate
Once your publicity campaign begins, be a willing participant in the process. Keep your publicist informed of commitments and dates you’ve scheduled on your own, so he doesn’t double book you. Offer information and assistance with locating media in the areas on which you’ve focused – oftentimes a publicist will be trying to book you in a part of the country (or outside it) with which he is unfamiliar. If you have first-hand knowledge of certain city, county, and state areas, libraries, booksellers, and media outlets, share what you know, so that he doesn’t spend extra time on research.

6. Partner up
Even if you haven’t coauthored a work, there are plenty of other authors out there who are published in the same genre and niche market as you. Work with those writers to team-up at book signings, workshops, trade shows, and fairs. Share costs on booths, travel, and even publicity work by doing events jointly rather than alone.

7. Develop a backlist strategy
While it’s true that the window for marketing most books is during the first six-eight months after they're published, you’ll still want to promote your book once that time period has passed. Even if you choose not to continue appearances and book signings after the first year, you’ll want some kind of promotional effort in place for the months that follow. Work with your publicist and your publisher to develop a marketing strategy for your book once it’s backlisted. Enter your book in contests and issue press releases when it wins awards or garners any other news-worthy attention. If your book first appears in hard cover, consider a re-release in paperback form. Write columns and blog posts, and use social networking and a strong web presence to keep your book in the public eye.