Are you reading Writer’s Digest?

I noticed today that I can drop $40 on two books with scarcely a thought, but I’ll spend considerable time deliberating over the purchase of a blouse for $39.99. Needless to say, my closet looks a little bare and my bookshelves are overflowing.

My reading is mostly about curiosity and learning. I do read the occasional novel, but I’m more often in every section of the bookstore but the novel section. Sometimes I buy a couple of novels the library is getting rid of for 50 cents or a dollar. I don’t like to worry about returning novels.

Recently I have been making more trips to the library. My latest reading has been about the writing process, as you may have guessed. The book I borrowed yesterday is called HELP! for Writers: 210 Solutions to the Problems Every Writer Faces, by Roy Peter Clark. I just returned Writing the Memoir, by Judith Barrington. It is an excellent reference book. I extended my borrowing time and made some detailed notes for later reference.

I have also borrowed every Writer’s Digest copy the library has, all thirteen of them. You’d think a library would have a good stack of back issues. I mean, isn’t a library all about writing? I’ve been deliberating getting my own subscription, but it’s so much more fun having a half dozen magazines to peruse. I just looked online and between the five libraries in my city they only have a total of 46 Writer’s Digest magazines. A shame.

The advantages of reading a magazine is that it condenses the best and the latest information.  Take for example, 25 Agents Who Want Your Work: How to Land a Book Deal, from the October 2012 issue. Or, How Creativity Works: 5 Writers Take You Inside Their Process, November/December 2012.

The magazines are published approximately every other month and each is a collector item if you are a writer. An annual subscription costs 19.96 if you live in the US, 29.96 if you live in Canada and 31.96 for international customers. You get eight copies for that price. Writer’s Digest also offers valuable resources such as webinars and tutorials, free writing downloads, a weekly writing prompt and workshops.

A special reduced price is made available for those who purchase a subscription to WritersMarket.com at the same time. This actually looks like a great deal. WritersMarket has up to date listings of writing markets (you probably guessed that!). It can also help you track your submissions and has a few other special features that make it like a personal assistant for writers. I haven’t subscribed to WritersMarket yet but I am seriously considering it.

I will be away on holidays without consistent internet access for the next two weeks so you may or may not hear from me. In the meantime, check out a couple of Writer’s Digest magazines. You might get hooked on them.

When they don’t like you

Recently I was on a blogger’s site where another blogger posted, in no uncertain terms, that he did not want this blogger to follow him. There was a lot of outrage in the following comments, but then I saw a comment that I thought was very appropriate. It went like this:

Wow, (blogger). Sorry (this person) came at you like that. You’re correct to say it’s counter-productive for anyone to attack their supporters. It’s not in their best interest. Both on my blog and on Twitter, I have people following me I have disagreements with politically, morally, and spiritually. But anyone willing to lend me an ear or extend me a hand of friendship will receive mutual respect. There are people I interact with I struggle to understand on a host of levels, but does that close me off from them? Heck no. Every once in a while, someone with an opposing or different viewpoint shares something with me that impacts me a great deal.

This was by News Burp (used with permission =)).

The blogger who was “attacked” responded by saying that he liked discussion and even a good argument but that he brushed off hostility. He chose instead to focus on improving his art with the hope that next time the reader’s response would be different.

In my last blog on “stars” I mentioned the sensitivity of some authors towards reviewers who give them ratings of less than five stars. We may disagree with our reviewers, but, before we criticize them, let’s remember that they are also our readers, our audience. We may not understand why they respond to our writing as they do, but let’s consider that their experience of our writing is a valid one, maybe even one that merits our careful attention.

Only four stars?

Recently I came across an organization that distributes books to readers on behalf of new authors in return for a review.

I have not yet received any books for review, but today I read on the website that authors have been hurt because some of the reviewers gave them only four stars.

It is a delicate situation for the host of the site who does not want to offend the authors who are giving reviewers free books.

Having the occasional lower review may actually be a good thing. Andy Traub explains why in his article entitled,  Why five star reviews aren’t as powerful as four star reviews on Amazon.

Buyers will look at the overall balance of reviews. If there are only five star reviews then the book has no credibility. It needs 80% five star reviews and the remaining 20% will likely be spread out through one through four star reviews.

Readers want objective reviews. As authors we need to brace ourselves and accept that not everyone will like our books equally well.

Please like me. Please follow me.

Last week I took Gretchen Rubin’s  Quiz: Do You Make Other People Happy? | LinkedIn. For those of you who don’t want to go to her site, here is the quiz:

  • Do people seem to feel comfortable confiding in you?
  • Do people seem to drift toward you? Join a conversation that you’re having, sit down next to you at a meeting?
  • Do people whom you hardly remember go out of their way to greet you warmly? Say, the friend of your old roommate, or a former co-worker?
  • Do people seem to want to connect with you — by making plans or by emailing, calling, or texting?
  • Do people seem energized by you? Do they smile and laugh in your presence?

Mixed in with the above questions she has the following:

  • Do people follow your recommendations?
  • Are you a source of material comfort or security for someone else?
  • Do people whom you’ve introduced often go on to have a continuing relationship?
  • Have you recently been involved in the improvement or growth of an organization, group, or process that involves many other people?
  • Are you providing opportunities for other people – job leads, blind dates, contacts in a new city?

Notice the difference between the two? The first group is about how people respond to you, while the second is about contributions you have made. Perhaps by combining the two Rubin was trying to show that people will be attracted to you if they perceive you are making a positive contribution.

As writers we will be regarded for our contribution. Whether or not we have a magnetic personality may make little difference in book sales if our book or blog is loved by its audience.

However, I have noticed that people who are open and engaging do tend to have more “follows” and “likes” on their blogs. Of course this does not mean that those without this level of recognition are less attractive or personable. Perhaps they have not been discovered.

There is a lot to learn about the art of blogging. Recently I have discovered a strategy for gaining popularity that has less to do with one’s contribution as a writer or having a likeable personality, and more to do with effective marketing. Those who take time to consistently “like” and “follow” others, tend to reap the rewards of their labour in gaining followers themselves. While nobody is forcing anybody to follow them, there seems to be a sort of unspoken expectation to reciprocate the compliment.

I love to spend time reading the blogs of others and find that if I am not careful my writing will be neglected in favour of reading. Reading what others are writing is important in order to keep up with information, to learn to write better, and, I believe, also to support other writers.

In the blogging world, however, I have begun to wonder if  “follows” and “likes” are beginning to be distributed like business cards. I spoke with an author at a writers conference who told me she drops most of the cards she collects in the garbage before she leaves, along with all the others that are trashed. How sincere are we in our “likes” and “follows?”

Like everyone else out there, I am saying, “pick me, pick me.” Please like me, please follow me. And if you are just “liking” me or “following” me to direct me to your site that’s OK. It will give me the pleasure of meeting you. Who knows, I might even “like” and “follow” you back.

Happy landing

I am awake at 4:00 a.m. and not able to fall back asleep. This happens fairly regularly. It is a great time for reading, and sometimes writing.

Speaking of reading, one of the best books I have ever read is People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others and Resolve Conflict, by Robert Bolton, Ph.D. This is a book you will wish you had come across earlier.

The book reminded me of how, at times, I desperately want to help people and yet everyone has to determine to make positive changes of their own will. I can be accepting, listen reflectively, help with problem solving, and even confront, but a lasting, positive change requires that a person is internally motivated to take action.

I recently saw someone on a downward trajectory, heading to crash and burn. I recognized the signs because I’ve been there, figuratively speaking. We all have resilience and insight and if we catch ourselves in time, sometimes we can pull ourselves out of a fatal spiral.

In flight language, a “death spiral,” happens when a pilot, “loses the ability to judge the orientation of his aircraft due to the brain’s misperception of spatial cues” (Wikipedia). He loses his sense of equilibrium and fails to recognize or respond to instrument readings which, if heeded, could correct his course.

This kind of spiral can occur when visibility is reduced, as while flying at night or during a storm, but it can also happen when conditions appear good. I experienced it once when I was with a new pilot flying in clear skies.

As a writer, I can be flying along, thinking I am doing fine, when unexpectedly I find myself losing altitude and beginning to spin. Usually I’ve taken on too much, sometimes I’ve encountered a road block, or I’ve received some backlash for something I’ve said or done. I begin to feel fatigued and discouraged and start to behave irrationally.

When I experience a heightened sense of anxiety and a lowered tolerance of small irritants, when I avoid routine duties and responsibilities, and feel controlled by an obsession, be it a deadline or a conflict or crisis, I am beginning to spiral. These signs are like lights flashing on an instrument panel. If I don’t take corrective action I will put myself, and possibly others, at risk.

A wise professor once reprimanded a student who handed in a superb paper because he knew the student had not slept or eaten properly and had skipped classes and shirked responsibilities to get the paper done. The instructor saw the importance of maintaining a consistent and healthy lifestyle. He was wanted to encourage the student along a path that he knew would be sustainable in the long term.

As writers we can lose sight of the big picture and become fixated. When this happens we need to take a step back and think of where we will end up if we continue on our current trajectory.

I find it necessary to keep reminding myself of my values so that I can orient myself and adjust my course for a safe flight and a happy landing. I need to stay tuned to my “instrument panel.”