Monday, December 08, 2014

Blog Pause!

My Editor is giving me the side eye for True Magics, so I'll be taking the week off blogging to get that done and out.

Meanwhile, Have you bought Small Magics or Cold Magics? Because you'd hate to be behind when True Magics comes out in April.

Talk to you all next week!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014

This Writing Life 17: When is a Project Dead?

Sometimes we have pieces that just don’t work.  At all.  I’ve got at least a half-dozen short stories and one novel that will never, ever see the light of day.  Ever. But how do you know when you’ve gotten to that point?  How do you know when your labour of love/hate is dead as a Dickensian doornail and needs to be abandoned?

So let’s start with the obvious:

How Big is the Project?

If it’s a Haiku
And you’re not happy with it
Write another one.

Anything larger (and even that haiku) is worth a one last look.  And if it’s the novel you’ve been working on for the last year that you’re two-thirds of the way done but just can’t get to “the end” then it’s definitely worth trying to figure out what’s wrong with it before you toss it away.

So how do we do that?

Step Away From It

Sometimes, the best thing you need to do is to take time away from the project. Work on something else. Clean your apartment/house/whatever. Go for a seven-day hike in the bush. Whatever it is you do to put some time between yourself and a project, go do that. And when you are done that, come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

Figure Out Why It Isn’t Working

Sometimes, once you know why something isn’t working, you can fix it. With both Small Magics and Cold Magics (which you really should buy), I got badly stuck. So bad I didn’t think I could go on.  So I went back and read through each one and in both cases, figured out what I did wrong and managed to finish the book.

So go through your work and find out what’s wrong:

  • Is it a character thing?  
  • A plot thing?
  • Are you focusing too much on the theme at the expense of the story? 
  • Do you just absolutely and completely hate everything about the book and everyone in it?

Then ask yourself two questions:

  • Can I fix it?
  • Is it worth the effort?

Usually the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s no.  Both are all right, because they allow you to move on.

Let Someone Else Look at It

I don’t usually recommend this with unfinished work, but sometimes you just need an outside set of eyes to look it over and help you see the problems and get past them. If you do decide to do that, make sure of three things:

  1. The person you get to read it will be brutally honest with you.
  2. The person knows you only want them to help find what's wrong, not to help you write it.
  3. You can deal with it like an adult if they agree with you that it’s so bad it can’t be fixed.

As with Figuring out what's wrong, this may lead to a fix, it may not. Both results are good.

Let It Go

Cue Disney song here and no, I’m not linking to the video.

Seriously. You’ve taken time off, you’ve figured out what’s wrong, you’ve had friends try to help.  If, after doing that, you decide it can’t be fixed, or that you hate it too much to bother, then let it go. Move on to your next project with a lighter heart and a happy grin because you tried.

Two Notes:

If You’re Getting Paid for It, Finish It

If the contract is signed, you need to deliver, whether or not you end up working on stuff you don’t like/hate/despise with a holy passion. Finish it anyway. Because writers who don’t finish work they’re getting paid for are writers who quickly end up with no work to do.

That Said…

If you are ready to chuck in the towel on a paid project, you need to ask yourself some things first:
  • How much money will you lose?
  • What damage will it do to your relationship with the client?
  • What damage will it cause to your reputation?
  • Will you be sued for non-completion of the contract?

If the answers to those questions are something you can live with, quitting may be an option, but generally, if you are getting paid, the best thing to do is to finish.

Then, you can promise yourself to never work for that client/ on that type of project/for that little money again.

Next Time: But I don't WANT to read in public...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Marketing True Magics 15: 10,000 Twitter Followers! Now What?

I now have 10,000 twitter followers!  Joy! Excitement! Thrills!

Sort of…

Why 10,000?

Because it’s big shiny number and it looks impressive!

No, seriously.

I wrote here why I used follow-backs to gain followers. In short, it allows me to find people with similar interests and market to them. Cold blooded? Yes. Effective? Time will tell.

What Does Having 10,000 Followers Get Me?

1. ReTweeters!

If you talk about interesting things, people re-tweet you. Last week, I got 21.9K views of what I tweeted, and 177 link visits. Not bad at all. Because more views lead to…

2. More Followers!

 10,000 followers sufficiently large enough that anyone who sees one of my tweets or re-tweets and clicks on my profile might say, “Hey, this guy has a lot of followers. Maybe he’s interesting…” and read through some of my posts, which should (if I’m doing my job right) make them decide that yes, I am worth following, which then turns them into…

3. Potential Customers

I need people to buy my books so I can eat.  And every person who follows me on Twitter is a person who may buy my book. And in the end, that’s what this is all about.

What Having 10,000 Followers Doesn’t Get Me

1. Fans

Followers are not fans. Fans buy your books, read your stories, come see you when you are in town, and promote your work to other people. Followers follow you on Twitter.

The good news is you can convert followers into fans with work. Not all of them, but enough to make a difference which is why I don’t have…

2. Time to Relax

Must keep the information flowing.  Must keep the fun and exciting tweets going out. Must start the Christmas “Buy my Books” Campaign.  Must begin developing contests and twitter talks and other exciting things so people will keep paying attention.  But doing all that on Twitter does not give me…

3. An Excuse Not to Use Other Marketing 

Twitter is nice, and I started with it because it’s the easiest. But email lists work far, far better and that’s an area I haven’t even started figuring out yet. I still need to develop my Google+ presence, and my Facebook page for those who are already fans. Then there’s planning next year’s convention and promotion circuit to go with my new book (True Magics, out in April).  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And speaking of that…

Next week: Marketing Plans 2: Why do I need all this background stuff?

Monday, November 17, 2014

This Writer’s Life 16: There’s no such thing as writer’s block (and how I deal with it)

I was hoping to make a joke about how I was trying to write about writer’s block and got writer’s block from attempting to write, and be all meta or something. (Is that meta? What is meta anyway? Is it meta to reference meta, or is it only meta when I reference myself referencing meta?)


The Myth of Writer’s Block

One day, you sit down (or stand at your standing desk) take out your pen and paper or open your laptop or take out your clay tablet and spike (I’m looking at you, writer of Gilgamesh) and you prepare to start writing but, horror of horror, nothing comes!  I can’t write! I have writer’s block! I’ll never write again!

Yeah. Right. Suck it up, Buttercup.

There is no such thing as writer’s block. It is a myth writers invented to give themselves an excuse not to work on their projects. (And won’t that statement make me popular, eh?)

The Brain Never Stops Working

Seriously, never. You are designed to have continuous brain function and to be continually observing, thinking and reacting.  Doesn’t matter how good you are at meditation, doesn’t matter how tired you are, doesn’t matter how much TV you’re watching. The brain is always going.

Which means you are always able to write.

If it’s not Writer’s Block, What is It?

It’s called being stuck and it happens. And the nice thing about being stuck is, whether is a car in the snow, a boot in the mud, or your story on a page, you can unstick yourself (and for those who want to argue about drowning in quicksand, that is not being stuck, that is being caught and yes, I am being overly pedantic).

Here are some of the tricks I use:

1. Start Writing Anyway

Seriously. WRITE. Write what your character is wearing. Write what room they are in. Write the weather for that day in the story. Write “ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY” a few dozen times (unless you and your family are alone in an isolated creepy hotel in the middle of winter in which case, better not). The very act of writing something can be enough to get your brain going and get you back on task.

2. Questions and Answers

Ask yourself questions about the project and write down the answers. How does the character feel about his/her mother?  Why is he in that room?  Why did you make her wear the red shoes with the green pants? What will the rain do to the fields? Doing this forces you to think about the characters, their world, their lives and relationships and helps you get into your project.

3. Do an Outline

I used to hate outlines. These days I rarely write without one because they act as signposts on the way to “the end” and get me there faster. Outline your story. If that’s too big, outline the chapter. If that’s too big, outline the scene.  Break it down into smaller and smaller pieces until you have something you can write. Then write it.

4. Edit

If I’m in mid-project and stuck, I go back 5 or ten pages and edit. I clean up the language; tighten up the character’s lines; improve the descriptions.  This forces me back into the world of the story, which can give me the boost I need so that when I get to that blank part of the page, I can keep on going.

5. Go Back and Read

When I get really badly stuck it’s usually because somewhere I’ve done something that makes it impossible to move the story forward. Maybe the demon was supposed to come to terms with its raccoon mother but I killed the kid already.  Maybe the matching pants and shoes will save the world but I made her wear red and green.  Maybe the rain was supposed to put out the small fire they were building but I wrote the driest summer ever and now there’s a grass fire.   Whatever it is, I’ve messed up the story. So I start reading from the beginning until I find the place where the story stops making sense. Then I fix it and get it moving forward again.

Need other Suggestions?

Hayden Trenholm (author, publisher, and all-round smart man) wrote a great post on Writer’s Block  that is well worth reading. There are also (according to Google) 13,570,000 other articles on the Internet about writer’s block.  Search through and you’ll find something that suits your process.

But no matter what, write.

Next Time: When is a project dead?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Marketing True Magics 14: What is a Marketing Plan?

(Also called "Building a Marketing Plan, part 1." I thought I should change the title to reflect what we’re talking about. I hear that helps people to know what they’re reading and, you know, find stuff on the internet.)


It’s Planning Time!

This is the fun part of the whole thing. Planning!  Figuring out every action you’re going to take for the next six months and justifying your reasons for every single one. Fun!

No, seriously. It’s fun.

I love planning. Planning is the thing that makes everything else work, and when each step of the plan works you get to do a little happy dance.

Of course, you need to be flexible in your planning because, no plan ever survives contact with reality intact. So you plan in flexibilities and contingencies and hope you’ve thought of everything.

Before I start waxing eloquent on all that (which will be over the next several posts), I thought I’d use this post to define what a marketing plan is and does:

Marketing Plan – Short Definition

A marketing plan is a detailed document that explains exactly what you will do to convince people to buy your products, and why you are doing it that way.

What a Marketing Plan Does

Forbes puts it like this:

“The right marketing plan identifies everything from 1) who your target customers are to 2) how you will reach them, to 3) how you will retain your customers so they repeatedly buy from you.”

Sounds simple enough, right?


Elements of a Marketing Plan

Unfortunately, the devil (and a lot of annoying perspiration) is in the details. And while Forbes definition is correct, there are a lot of things you need to do to get there.

Background: This section examines all elements of the environment in which a product is being sold, including:

  • Date of product release
  • Venues of sale
  • State of the market for product
  • Competition
  • Previous products
  • Success/failure of previous marketing efforts
  • Financial state of the organization
  • Resources available for marketing
  • Benefits of marketing the product for the organization

Marketing Objective: How much of what are you trying to sell by when? And yes, you need to have an end date. Otherwise it isn’t a plan, it’s a long, slow march towards obscurity.

Communications Objectives: What things do you want people to think, feel and do so they will buy your product?

Target Audiences: To whom are you selling your products? And which people do those people listen to who could help you sell your product?

Key Messages: What will you say to convince your target audiences to buy the product? What other messages can you use to support that message and who will you say them to?

Channels: What channels will you use to market your products? Note this is not where you are selling them, but where you are convincing people to buy them.

Communications Strategies, Tactics and Evaluations: This is the brass tacks stuff.

  • Strategy: What you will do to achieve your communication objectives
  • Tactics: How you will do it.
  • Evaluation: How will you measure success for each tactic and strategy.

Critical Success Factors: Without these nothing else will come together. Example: you are selling a book, but you don’t actually write it. Marketing campaign fail.

Tactical Map: This is where you get to play with spreadsheets! Look at all your tactics for all your strategies and figure out:

  • How are you going to do it?
  • When does it start, when does it end? (timeline)
  • Who is going to do it and who is going to support them?
  • How much you’re going to spend on it? (budget)

Next Steps: Assuming all this works out, then what do you do?

So just a little bit of work to do, right?

I’ll be continuing on about marketing plans in 2 weeks. But first...

Next week: 10,000 Twitter followers. Now What?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

This Writing Life 15: Getting Through The Bad Days


This article does not deal with mental health issues. Mental health issues are a whole other kettle of fish.  If you think you suffer from a mental health issue, the Health Information Page on the CAMH website has good information. Read it and visit your doctor.

If you are in crisis, if feel you want to kill or hurt yourself or someone else, please call 911, or your local emergency number.

I like you and want you to stick around. Get help.

That Being Said…

Everyone has days where things don’t get done and goals don’t get met. Where they stare at their computer/tool bench/blank canvas/empty notebook/whatever, and bemoan their art, their job, their family and their existence. I’ve had several of them recently, and they’re what inspired this post.

Fortunately, here at Erik Buchanan Writing and Communications, we have come up with an effective solution:

Suck It Up, Buttercup

Yeah. Seriously. Suck it up.

As soon as you finished reading this post and have out of sheer gratitude purchased my books, Small Magics and Cold Magics, get off your couch/chair/self-made cross and do something productive.

Anything productive.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it just has to be something. Because even the tiniest accomplishment makes the difference.

That last sentence is so important it’s worth repeating, rephrasing, expanding and putting in bold and italics:

When you are having a bad day, do something productive because even the smallest accomplishment makes a difference, and can motivate you to accomplish other things.

So suck it up, Buttercup, and go do something. And if you need help getting started, here’s a process:

Step 1: Make a list

Get something to write with and something to write on, and make a list of things that need doing.  Not things that you want to do, or things that you like to do, things that need doing.

Don’t number the list, because numbers give a false sense of priorities. Put little checkboxes beside each one.

Step 2: Do the simplest thing on your list

It may be taking out the trash. It may be deleting the spam in your email account. It may be putting on pants (no, seriously, it may well be that on a bad day).  Whatever the simplest, easiest thing to do is on your list do that.

Congratulations! You have accomplished something! Celebrate it! Pat yourself on the back and….

Step 3: Do the next simplest thing on your list

You can see where this is going, right?

Each task that you accomplish reinforces your perception of yourself as a person who gets things done.  Even if you only get one little thing done today, that means you know you’re capable of getting at least one thing done in a day.  Tomorrow, shoot for two.

But What if There’s Nothing Simple on My List?

Then you are thinking too big. Take the big tasks and break them down into small tasks. Example: Do the dishes.

Doing the dishes is not one action, it’s several actions:

  • Finish your coffee
  • Take the dirty dishes from the dining room (if you have one)
  • Take the dirty dishes from the bedroom (hey, don’t judge)
  • Pile the dishes on the counter
  • Take the dirty dishes out of the sink
  • Rinse out the sink.
  • Put in the plug
  • Fill the sink with water
  • Wash a glass
  • Repeat until all glasses are done
  • Wash a plate
  • Etc., etc., etc.

You may not manage to get all the dishes done, but each step brings you closer.

So suck it up, Buttercup, and get stuff done. Because you and I both know that you can. You just need to get started.

Next Week: Writer’s Block Doesn’t Exist And How I Overcome It

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