It takes a great deal of courage to take something you’ve written, that rough draft of shit, basically, and to look at its merits. It’s like looking in the mirror really. And this time you’re looking for stuff that doesn’t work.

And so we say: “Well, gosh, my arms don’t look as toned as I’d like and my stomach looks pooched, and look, I have the ugliest knees, nose, ears . . .”

But to edit what you write, you have to look. But look past the obvious flaws.

Your train of thought will not always be clear.
You will go off on tangents often.
You will use commas incorrectly.
You will tend to skim the surface of an idea rather than actually dig into it.
What you are writing is not always a thesis.
Sometimes you need to just skim.
Don’t add commas when you breathe; there will be too many.
Just use spell check; resist the urge to run the thesaurus tool.
Don’t panic if you get something wrong.
Everything can be fixed.

Often, everything needs to be fixed.

Editing is saying publicly that you are not perfect. It is saying publicly that what you are doing is worth the time and effort. It is saying publicly that you believe you have something to say and that most of the time how you say it often doesn’t work the first time.

Take courage. Take another look. Be brave.

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I think a lot of business professionals would love to write smoothly. I mean, we all write, a LOT. We live in a text- and email-based world. We write notes and reports and we frequently get blocked. I think the hatred for writing is actually a hatred for being blocked as a writer.

How many times have you sat down to your computer or to a notepad to attempt to write something and that blank page or even the scribbled notes seems to rise up and rebel against you?

For me, often. And now, we’re feeling blocked in our writing in so many places: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, that everywhere we turn, we feel like failures at this writing thing.

I hear that. I recognize that. I know that feeling.

But Anne Lamott said it best. Just get the first shitty first draft down. Just get it down. Push through your blank page nightmares, and even those scribbled notes fears (that you won’t ever be able to do anything with those notes) and just get the glob of thought onto the page.

It’s the necessary step. The urge to just hit send or to post as is or the urge to edit it until it’s unrecognizable from the original thought you wanted to share will bury you in fear, worry that you’ll fail (or that you’ll succeed and then fail when you have far to fall), and more, but the first step is to get the first draft down. Write a really bad email, a really bad Twitter update. Write a terrible report summary or a ridiculously unstable sounding set of notes for your boss.

That’s all you have to do to get started.

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(via Flickr; our backyard Japanese Maple)

It is almost 2012.

The realization dawned on me this week (post-Thanksgiving) as I bought my 2012 planning calendar. I feel as if I am grasping at the end of 2011, practically willing it to slow down so I can complete the goals I set for this past year. But time is fleeting and 2012 looms in 32 days.

I will not win this fight.

So, I am reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Again. I need a refresher. I need streamlined. I need a calm sense of accomplishment as I move through my day.

Reality: I won’t get there completely. I will miss the mark in 2012 just like I did in 2011. Whaddya gonna do?

I’m going to take a breath. I’m going to do my best. I’m going to keep attempting the impossible. I will spend the majority of December planning for 2012. As soon as my calendar gets here.

Are you planning for 2012?

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(via Flickr)

It’s so hard to really do this. Life happens, we get sidetracked by vacuuming, bills, worrying about how to pay those bills or how to fit in the vacuuming and we lose track of our customers’ needs.

And our customers’ needs are the number one thing we should be worrying about. Especially when we’re using social media to reach them.

This time of year around most of the United States, there are piles of leaves. Piles and piles of them. True, this could represent your customer (or their needs), but for now, give me one leaf, one customer.

Got that customer in mind?

What one thing can you do for them today (via paid product that you sell or that someone else sells or free item that you give away or that someone else gives away) that would make their business—their life—better?

Why aren’t you doing it?

Just one thing—one customer—one leaf. Start there.

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Source: None via Trish on Pinterest

I’ll repeat: the problem with most business blogs is that the content is often not that interesting to the audience and is primarily marketing, marketing, marketing.

How to fix?

You can hire a very expensive pr and research team to figure out what your audience wants you to write about and how often you should market to them.

Or, you can use a few steps on your own.

But remember to test. Keep an eye on your Google analytics and your comments and only change ONE thing at a time.

Ready?

1. What are the top three questions you receive from clients/customers on a regular basis?

If you focus in on those three questions, you’ve got material for the next six months at the least. If you really think and focus on the three questions, turning them over and looking at them from every possible angle, you’ve got material for years! Dig deep. Talk microlevel. Don’t just dump the answers to those three questions and call it good. That ain’t good!

2. Who are your top five comment-makers?

Contact them and ask them the questions you were going to pay the pr and research firm to ask for you. Questions like: What do you want to read about on our blog? What do you find is the ONE thing keeping you from success in <insert your company’s expertise here>? If you could improve your blog reading experience while visiting our site, what would you tell us?

3. What are your top five competitors doing on their sites and blogs?

Take a look around the neighborhood online. See where your content brushes up or perhaps overlaps with your competitors’. Find your boundary and sit right there. If you find that to differentiate yourself from your closest competition means you have to blog a certain way or about a certain aspect of your product or expertise, you better do it.

And there’s more where that came from, but we’ll stop there.

Any other comments or ideas about business blogging? Talk to me.

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Just like you all, I’m an author working on my “story.” And I don’t mean the topic of a book manuscript that I’m currently writing. I mean, how do I view things? What’s my lens?

I’m in major transition, as you can see by my earlier post this week. This place makes it hard for me to know exactly what I am focused on. Parts of the old focus are drifting away and new focuses feel clumsy, like a coat that is either too big or too small, not quite fitting.

Perhaps some authors reading this feel as if they too are in transition. So this post is for you.

So, I have written a few books in my time. I got started back in the late 1990s; if you’ve read my bio, you know this. My first book I half-sold (it didn’t make it through the editorial committee, alas) was when I was 23 or 24. It was in the aftermath of my grandmother’s death. I was very attached to her and I wrote a book proposal about letter writing (she had always written letters to me and to everyone) and also in the midst of this I had applied to write a series of work-for-hire (no royalties) books for Publications International. One of the book titles was GRANDMOTHER, so you can see how I was chosen. The bits of verse I wrote for GRANDMOTHER touched many of the editors that saw the book as it was being produced (this series was hardcover gift books; five in all, only four were published, FATHER was pulled for some odd reason). So, this book came out and I had sent the proposal for the letters book in and then I sent a copy of the GRANDMOTHER book in as well and I think that was what made the acquiring editor want to sign me up.

But I was young, without an agent, and the publisher decided my idea was pretty good, but I wasn’t famous, so they handed it off to a famous author. True, the words they told me were “this other famous author just pitched us a book about the same subject” but I refused to believe that. I still don’t believe it. The other author’s book on letters BOMBED. I mean seriously, no one bought it. Why?

Because it was my idea. It was how I viewed the world. The story was authentic. I had just buried my “other mother” and my grief was raw and I chose to use that grief to write about a beautiful piece of her that to this day (14 years ago this week) I still treasure deep in my heart. How could anyone else take that idea and do it justice without their own authentic experience?

This is what I mean by story. It’s yours, first of all. No one else’s. True, other people can try, but it won’t work, no matter how much energy they put into (or how famous the author is). My story was MINE. I was the only one who could do it justice. And it won’t ever be published. Because I’ve changed. I see other things from my beloved Gram Bee’s life that I want to share.

Perhaps my story back then had to do with how strong love is even after someone is gone.

The second series that I wrote for Publications International was a kids book series. The titles were cutesy, but it was a fun project. HUGS FOR MOM and HUGS FOR DAD were little tiny hardcovers that were to be used as gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day (sure enough, they were sold in Target stores nationwide for years. Every May I’d get a call from a friend in Texas or Oklahoma telling me my books were back and they had their own endcap on the books aisle!). That was fun. That was also inspired by my grandmother. I simply channeled the “story” inside me to other projects.

But my interest in work for hire was waning. I wanted my own book. And then 9/11 happened and because I worked in publishing, so many things shifted. I started a novel (and have been writing novels ever since) and my story changed. I fell in love, got married, changed some more.

I’m not the person I was in 1996 to 2000.

All that to say, the story you have may not be the story you stick with. I’m trying to find my story again, both for my fiction and my nonfiction. But things are moving around in my life and it’s hard to pin it down. I rely on the fact (and so can you) that there is something there that propels us as authors to write, to communicate, to tell the world about over and over. It’s just up to us to find it.

So, what’s your story?

Question or comments?

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Writing is the most important thing that writers do. We know this. We believe this.

I wholeheartedly believe this and that’s why, on this blog, you’ll hear me talking a lot about “lighting up” kids book authors. (And lighting myself up as I write.)

What does that mean?

My theory is that authors should write everything from the same place. This is writing with passion, writing from the heart, writing because you believe it will help a kid, a parent, a teacher, or a librarian to communicate a basic truth, to help kids (and adults) to feel an emotion, or to put themselves into someone else’s shoes for a day or so. This is why I write. Am I missing the mark?

Writing from this place creates incredible books, meaningful connections, and that quick intake of breath by a child or a parent when they discover a universal truth for themselves from something you wrote.

And yet, when an author often writes something other than a book (aka promotional blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), the writing seems forced, choked, in this artificial way of communicating. Sometimes, the author is obviously frustrated and her audience quickly becomes just as frustrated.

I think there’s a better way.

I think authors should not separate out their promotional writing activities from their books. True, you have to plan this a bit ahead of time, but think about writing a blog post or handling an author interview or showing up on Facebook and Twitter and writing from the heart. To me, that’s powerful.

That sounds too easy, some say. Others say, no way, that’s impossible.

Hang in with me here.

What is prompting you to write those books in the first place? Really.

Shouldn’t this be the same thing inspiring your promotion? Take the promotion out of it.

Shouldn’t this be the way you communicate all the time with your readers?

How can you do it, though?

I’m going to give you a cheat sheet. And first up,

1. What’s your story?

Thomas McCormack wrote an awesome book called “The Fiction Editor: A Book for Writers, Teachers, Publishers, Editors, and Anyone Else Devoted to Fiction.” A gem of a book. A small paperback reprint was put out by Paul Dry Books in 2006, I believe. Grab that one.

McCormack likened the theme of a novel to an overarching axiom—something that encompasses what the writer is trying to do in that novel. This is what I mean by story. What’s your axiom? For the breadth of your writing career? From where you are today. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, just today. Tomorrow, it may change, but we’ll deal with that tomorrow. (Yes, I’m channeling Scarlett O’Hara.) What is the thing that you can’t stop talking, thinking, writing books about? What is it that drives you to communicate? That’s usually your axiom. It could be a saying, a quote, a word, an emotion, a truth.

You may not figure it out for a while. You may not find it until you talk to a friend or author or your agent or your editor. And even if you find it, you may want to change it. That’s fine. But this is the first step. Think on this. Forget about your readers, your friends, society’s pressure. Find out what makes YOU light up today.

We’ll be talking more about this in the weeks to come. Any comments or questions on what we’ve got so far?

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I’ve convinced a few people to start an email newsletter (eZine, if you will) in the past few months.

I see a lot of good newsletters and I see a lot of bad newsletters.

It’s all about what your reader needs and desires from you.

But how do you know what they need and desire?

You try one thing and then you try another thing.

Here’s what I see as the big mistakes when publishing a newsletter.

1. A long newsletter never takes a break and the author never tests a short (less than 500 words newsletter issue). How will that author ever know which length works best without some testing? I would alternate short (less than 500 words) and long (over 500 words) and see what gets the most open rates and most click-through rates. (You do link to your site and blog and books from your newsletters, right? You should!)

2. A newsletter with images or in html never tests in plain text. I see a ton of newsletters coming through again and again and they include giant pictures and they are all in html. What if your readers want plain text and how would you know if that affects your open and click-through rates? I would test it. Most reliable email newsletter programs include the ability to send plain text and html issues at the same time. See what your audience resonates with the most.

3. The topic of a newsletter sometimes comes through as hit and miss. Sometimes with these long and winding theorizing newsletters about some cultural issue, I wonder if the author really intended to talk about that to their audience. Is that really what an audience wants to hear? What if the author told a story to bring that cultural issue into the personal zone? What if that author engaged us so thoroughly with a story that we couldn’t wait to get the next issue? Dickens knew how to do this. I think our culture can still handle a Dickens author. People would press in on the newspaper office to get the next installment of a Dickens story. Engage us!

4. No inbound links to an author’s blog or books or website. I’m the first to make this mistake, just because I forget, but you should be giving avenues for any reader to find you quickly and easily. Your Twitter, your Facebook, your blog(s), and any social media tool you’re on. We want readers to jump into the engagement they choose to get to know you. Anytime we decide for our readers that one social tool is better than another, we’re not listening to our audience. Unless you test.

So, go, get started! Next up, we’ll be talking to authors who do newsletters and how they figured out the format and topic that their audience most wanted to see in each issue. Questions?

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Just a word for those who continue to visit this blog and wonder why suddenly there is all this talk about kids books and kids book author promotion.

I’m changing things up.

I tried to launch in April, but my travel schedule got in my way. So, now, in May 2011, you now get the choice between two different blogs focusing on authors using social media.

Authorblogger.net is for the non–kids book writing folks who are writing books for adults, whether that is memoir or fiction or narrative nonfiction, or if you’re only writing a blog and are just now thinking about positioning it for a future book, Authorblogger is the place blog for you.

What’s coming up on Authorblogger in May?

Authorblogger will play host to some top-notch online marketing and publishing experts, including Stephen Johnson of Community Engine, Pam Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation, and Jonathan Fields, author of Career Renegade. I’m so excited! Are you?

So, head on over, especially during the next week or so, as things are built up and the fun gets started and thank you for your patience! It’s not easy to split a blog off into two blogs and it’s even harder on a blog audience to figure out where they are supposed to be! My aim is to make this easier, not harder, on you.

If you’re interested in this blog and are wondering when this 30-second commercial for Authorblogger is going to end, you’re lucky! I’m turning my attention to YOU! If you haven’t yet signed up for my real/brilliant eZine, please do. Good stuff coming up for kids book authors in the days to come. And thanks for sticking around with me, through the launch and relaunch and relaunch . . . I think we’ve got it now!

Happy Monday!

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Wondering how things went at SXSW?

I was interviewed by British copywriter extraordinaire, Amy Harrison, and she posted this video on her blog yesterday. I LOVED SXSW! (if you couldn’t tell)

Check back next week for the start of fabulous content aimed directly to you, kids book writers and authors! Got a couple of cool interviews coming up with some fabulous authors that I think you will enjoy!

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