I REALLY wanted a car of my own after high school. I had survived borrowing the station wagon equipped with the 8 track player*, and the sturdy, huge, car with the ridiculously spacious backseat**. I wanted something teenage-appropriate that would get me from here to there, and that I didn't have to hand back over to my parents. I socked away savings from my fast-food job, and when I graduated high school, I used the gift money to buy a used '81 Mustang. It was perfect, because it was small and cute and had T-tops--and it cost about $1000. The whole package worked out great for me. I was so happy that I made a decision, and was free to drive as I wished. But there was at least on obstacle I would have to overcome. I needed to learn how to drive a manual transmission.
THE BIG SHIFT
I knew how to drive; I had been "cruising main" for over 2 years by the time I got the Mustang. But those automatic transmission cars had simplified the whole idea of driving for me.
Your writing career probably started out the same way. You envisioned your first great novel, your collection of short stories or articles. You had been writing for yourself, or for classes, or your blog. You know how to write. What is more difficult, at times, is getting into gear and shifting your writing career to the next level.
Even though my dad had to test drive the Mustang for me, and my boyfriend at the time had to drive it to my house, I was pretty confident that I would be able to pick up the nuances of the stick shift in no time. After all, so many other people took this "extra" step with their driving, why not me? I had practiced in other people's cars, I thought I had it down, at least enough to drive around the block, or down to the store. If I stalled, it was no big deal. I would just start it up and try again (thankfully, I grew up in a small town, where stalling wouldn't mean backing up a freeway or anything). Unfortunately, this plan didn't work out so well. My "new" car had a bad battery. So every time I stalled, I needed to find someone to give me a jump.
Talk about rejection from my new love, the little white Mustang.
Jumping into the writing world creates fits and starts as well. Just when you think you have all your words in the right places, and you believe they are ready to travel down the road to publication, something stalls: You get the "thanks, but no thanks" letter; you suddenly lose the day job you were holding onto "until"; you or a loved one gets sick. All of these things can threaten to leave you stranded in the middle of the writing road, and it's hard to get started again if you don't have a good foundation to build on.
When I finally got a new car battery, I was able to again focus on all of the steps needed to drive my car. It took a tremendous amount of concentration in the beginning. I worried that with all the steps I was taking to up-shift or down-shift, I would miss a stop sign or something else just as important.
There's a lot of talk in the writing world about creating a platform. The elements of this platform (all of the steps you take to become visible to potential readers, agents, publishers--marketing is crucial), are the manual transmission that drives your writing career. It all starts with your writing, of course. That's the vehicle that is going to get you where you want to go. Keep it fine-tuned, full of gas, and road-ready. Now, learn to shift.
If you are writing for publication, you can't just coast.
Many writers find themselves way out of their comfort zone when they start to market their own writing, similar to how I felt when trying to master the whole clutch/shift timing. It's uncomfortable, you may feel a little out of control, and you probably feel like you are not focusing on what is really important--your writing. But the reality is, the vehicle you are driving demands your focus to shift, so it's better if you practice, practice, practice--so that it becomes second nature.
Many cars later, I still enjoy driving a stick-shift. I feel I have more control, and that I actually am more present when I am driving. I no longer have to concentrate each time I shift (unless I find myself stopped on a big hill); it's second nature.
That's the hope I have for your writing/marketing: In time, doing both will become almost effortless. Sure, you are going to run into a few jams, but if you have practiced the tools, eventually you will learn to love the control it provides you and your writing journey.
Basics of Shifting into Marketing
When you write something:
- Share! Link to your blog posts or published articles on your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, any writing (or specific interest) online community groups.
- Re-purpose: Outline your latest work into a speech that you can give to a local community group, or join Toastmasters to help with your public speaking skills. It's important to know how to talk about your work.
- Make it Pretty: If you are self-publishing a book or e-book, research the best ways to make it "look" traditionally published. Your cover art and the formatting of the pages say as much as the content of your work. Not paying attention to this is like leaving that bad battery in the car; it's something that will continue to make your work stall.
- Cruise Control: Take advantage of tools that make the drive easier. Hootsuite allows you to create and schedule your Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter posts ahead of time. Networked Blogs automatically posts your blogs to your Facebook. If you are adding your articles to sites like e-zine articles, they allow you to post to social networking as well. Also, to keep your blogs consistent, work on writing a few at a time and then scheduling them to post later.
Sometimes it's difficult to find the balance--you may get so into your work in progress you forget to reach out to your fans or to participate in your online communities; or you may get wrapped up in Twitter Land and deprive your writing. What techniques do you use to manage your own writing and your marketing work?
*CD's were already available by then. Besides the radio, I had 8-track2 choices that I found at a local yard sale: ABBA or KISS. I don't know how convincing "God of Thunder" sounds from a geeky blue station wagon, especially with that annoying track switch in the middle of the song.
**Enough to fill my entire 7th hour trig class in-- don't ask.