Marketing Strategies for Instagram

“The goal of social media is to turn customers into a volunteers marketing army.”
– Jay Baer

We hear it all the time: brands need to develop a solid foundation on social media. They need to network, promote products to their audience and make their brand personable. While this is doable, businesses must have a marketing strategy. It’s unrealistic to get onto Instagram and automatically be successful. Unless you have a team pushing your brand every day, and publishing content frequently, it’s hard to gain traction. So how do we develop a marketing strategy?

First and foremost, hashtags are necessary. A hashtag is the pound sign located about the four on your keyboard (#). There are hashtags for literally anything and everything under the moon. Want pictures of cats? #catsofinstagram has over 59 million+ followers. If you post pictures of your book covers, these hashtags are popular: #bookworm (7 million+ followers); #bookshelf (1 million+ followers; and #bookcovers (7 million+ followers). When using these hashtags, research them well. You want to use dominant hashtags that have a strong following. This ensures that people will see your content. It increases the chances that you’ll get followers, likes and comments.

Social media influencers are another marketing strategy. Think carefully about your niche. Who on Instagram is posting content like yours? If you’re a pizzeria, look for similar pizzerias. They don’t necessarily have to be located in your geographical area. But social media influencers agree to work with you. They post your content if you agree to post theirs. In the writing world, it’s the equivalent of guest posting. I’ll provide you web traffic if you send it back to my site. Followers from both accounts are able to see both profiles. You can tag the social media influencer’s account by using the at sign located above the two on the keyboard (@). Place it before their name and they will be tagged in the post.

Likewise, it’s crucial that you engage your Instagram audience. Don’t just post quotes. Don’t just post behind-the-scene photos from the office. While your audience enjoys these photos, they want to see different content all the time. Post a video, a promotion or a photo related to your brand. If you have a series that you started, post a photo in relation to it. Keep your content fresh for the viewer. Posting too many similar photos together can make your content go stale. The viewer gets bored and wants to see new. They want to see different. Give it to them or they may go astray to your competitor. Keep their foot in the door by keeping the content interesting and interactive.

On this note, involve the customer. Use call-to-actions to your advantage. A call-to-action tells the customer to do something. Take a look at this: Click on the link to get a free t-shirt! A call-to-action, I believe, has two parts. The first part is what the customer has to do. They have to click on the link. But what is the point? What’s the incentive? These days we live in a bargain society. Everybody wants a freebee, a bargain or a promotion. The customer has to get something for their action. So, in this case, the customer gets a free t-shirt. This is known as click bait because it encourages the customer to click on the link.

Another way to market your content is this: cross-post your images. Link your Instagram to your business Facebook page. In essence, you should connect Instagram to every social page you own. The five main social networks you should share it to are (excluding Instagram, of course): Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Share out your content. Encourage people to follow your content on Instagram. This is going to boost your following and your credibility. As you post more frequently, followers are going to trust your brand. Engage and interact with those that comment. This is going to make you humanistic and personable. It shows that you are comfortable stepping away from your logo.

Finally, don’t overwhelm your audience. In other words—I don’t want to see ten cute kitten pictures from your account in one day. Okay, bad example but you get the point. When you post too much, it’s like that pesky door-to-door salesman that won’t go away. He tries every sales pitch until you finally pay attention but then you just zone out. If you post ten pieces of content in one day, you have lost me by your 3rd or 4th image. It’s not that people don’t care, but your audience is not on Instagram all day and all night. They will not see each and every post. Those that do will feel as if they are being sold to, while those that don’t see your posts aren’t able to like or comment it. Post content at specific times in the day, unless you’re running a promotion. That’s my only exception.

I hope this has helped you get your Instagram off the ground. Instagram is quick and fun to use. Just don’t forget to have fun with it!

How to market your business on a small budget

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
– Peter Drucker

It takes skill to be an authorpreneur. This is an author that is also a small business owner. In essence, they are an entrepreneur. Most of us aren’t wealthy. We don’t have cash hidden in mattresses or a secret vault. This is all the more reason to market our business on a budget. If you are careful with your money, and target your audience well, this can work in your favor.

First and foremost, you must have products. These can physical products such as mugs, t-shirts or anything with your company logo on it. It may also be any digital product. E-courses, e-books, webinars and services all fit into this category. You could charge for a membership area of your site, for instance, or charge customers if they want personal one-on-one mentoring from you for their own business.

The best place to market these products is via your social media pages. If you want to reach more customers, you can use paid advertisements that start at $5/day. But this isn’t necessary. Consistently post products and promotions for your customers to see. With everyone wanting a bargain, you’re going to keep your products in the minds of your customers. They won’t forget that you have books or webinars out that they can purchase.

But get creative. If your webinar has a deadline, sweeten the pot by offering the customer a coupon. They will save forty percent if they sign up a week in advance, for instance, while the price goes up after that week has passed. Focus on the needs of the customer and what they want from your company. If they want more books on gardening or parenting, then make sure to give it to them. Anything else is not going to gain as much traction. As a result, it’s not going to get leads to your website and may not generate many sales. The customers that buy your products are your target audience. You are solving a problem for them, so focus on their needs and you will always have a thriving business.

You also have to be competitive in prices. Don’t forget we’re living in the digital age. Everyone wants a discount or bargain. A customer will be looking for a deal whether they shop online or are at a store’s check-out lane. It’s just how we have conditioned ourselves. Due to this, it’s crucial you meet your customer in their social space. Post promotions and deals on each of your social media pages. Make your prices competitive to other businesses within your industry. If you go too low in price, people will skip over it. Yet, the same effect happens if your price is too high. To get the most sales, it’s important to price somewhere in the middle. It’s nearly a game of trial and error, which is why companies do surveys and research to find their target buyer.

Where can customers find you? Are you in large department stores, boutiques, or just online? Are you selling your book at book fairs or driving cross country to donate to libraries? If you expect to make sales, customers have to know where they can purchase your products. Put links to your products on your website, as well as all your social media pages. Make your products visible to your customer. Post updates about your products by giving the customer coupons and discounts. This is going to keep your product front and center, preventing it from being buried in other content.

And finally—sell! sell! sell! Promote your products on your website. Consistently advertise your products on your social media pages and in your e-mail newsletter. If you’re not well-known, consider running a giveaway or sweepstakes for a free product. The customer, in turn, would post a review of the product. This is a fantastic way to get more sales and more traffic to your website. Try to think outside the box when you advertise. There are unique ways to advertise both online and offline. Take advantage of all of these and you’re sure to be a success.

Being an authorpreneur is no cake walk. But, with the right tools in your wheelhouse, you’re going to have everything you need. Soon your business with thrive with more customers than you expected. Watch it grow and be thankful. You’re making a difference in the lives of others.

Why your character needs flaws

“You must learn to be three people at one: writer, character and reader.”
– Nancy Kress

Perfectionism is an ideology. It’s what most of strive to be, but as much as we don’t want to admit it—all of us are going to fall short of this goal. So why, dare I ask, do you hold your characters to the high standard of this unachievable goal? Those reading a book realize that perfectionism is an ideology. When they see a character that is flawless and perfect, this character appears as two-dimensional. They’re not real. They’re not larger than life like we expect most fictional characters to be.

First and foremost, a flaw is a trait that affects your character in some way. It could be a weakness that has serious consequences, such as lying and getting caught by a loved one or an employer as a direct result. Real people do this and so should your characters. This is going to add conflict and action to your story. If your character has everything they need, their life is perfect and they don’t have a hair out of place—well then, where is your story? The reader is going to put down your book and may not pick it up again. Give your character flaws that send them down a rabbit hole. Get them into trouble and move them toward the climax.

In order to create rich character flaws, think of those flaws of your loved ones. Your cousin may spend too money, while your best friend may smoke like a chimney. These flaws show weakness. In the case of the cousin, it shows insecurity. With the best friend, the weakness may be nervousness, grief or loneliness. But these flaws are going to stand out to your reader. They’re going to relate better to your character because of them. They’re going to show your reader that, in fact, the character is not perfect. Rather, the character has struggles just as the reader does.

At the same time, you don’t want to give your character too many flaws. If they smoke like a chimney, for instance, don’t make them anxiously bite their nails or drum their fingers on the table. This shows impatience and insecurity. Give them a strength that seems reasonable. While they may smoke like a chimney, maybe they give charitable donations or help those misfortunate within their community. In other words, make sure there’s a silver lining within the cloud.

You also have to understand the character’s backstory. Why did your character start smoking like a chimney? What made them first anxiously drum their fingers on the table or bite their nails? Negative traits aren’t formed out of boredom but out of habit. What experience(s) shaped these flaws for the character? Too much backstory is going to throw your story off and your reader will lose interest, but sprinkling it in through dialogue and action is the way to go. Give your reader hints of why your character acts a specific way and they will continue reading until the last word.

Finally, your character’s flaws are going to help the story move forward. Remember that nobody is perfect. It’s okay for your character to make mistakes. Your reader will emphasize with your hero because they (your reader) has also made mistakes throughout their life. In turn, this is going to make your readers root for your hero’s success. Throughout the novel your reader has connected with the hero; the hero is just like them. But, what if the hero was perfect…they never made a mistake? Your story will flatline and so will the interest of your readers.

So embrace your flaws. None of us are perfect and neither are your characters. Make them jump off the page and into your reader’s imagination. Make your hero seem larger than life. Your story is going to read better for it and your readers will be anxiously awaiting your next book.

Mistakes you’re making on Instagram

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”
– Maya Angelou

Instagram is a social network with millions of users. This social network is a powerful business tool. Not only is a key marketing strategy, but it gives businesses a digital way to promote their brand. Millions of photos and videos are shared across the social network each day, while its live streaming service makes it possible to connect directly to your followers. Businesses have it easy on Instagram as long as they have an effective marketing strategy. If you find that you’re not gaining traction, however, check off the list below. What mistakes are you making that you could fix?

No interaction. As a business, you stay within your niche and post creative content each day. You may post 2-3 photos a day, which isn’t too spammy. While your following is increasing, your photos are getting likes and comments. For one reason or another, however, you haven’t found the time to interact with those that comment. This is a huge mistake in social media. It’s like having a staring contest with a customer that’s standing at your cash register. What is keeping you from replying back? When you don’t do this, it shows that you are too timid to step out from behind your logo. It implies that customer service is not your main priority. And, the implication is that you may not be a serious entrepreneur. It’s the equivalent of having your arms tightly crossed in front of you (which means you are closed to new ideas) and your face scrunched up. Is the image you want to portray for your business? If not, then let’s change it.

Whether a comment came in today or three weeks ago, reply. This shows that you are acknowledging the person as a human being. They have value to your business. Their thoughts and ideas matter to your brand. A simple “hello” is a nice ice breaker. If they made a comment about a product, reply back about it. If they said they enjoyed your photo, say thank you. Engage with your customer. Show that customer that you can step away from your company’s logo. Make it known that you do care about your customers. This tells your customers that are humanistic and personable. It shows them that you’re on the same social level as they are, and that you can connect with them.

A blank biography. If I landed on your Instagram, would I know who you are? Instagram doesn’t give you many characters to write your bio, but make the most of it. Tell customers what you are, such as your profession. For instance, on my Instagram it says I’m an author. Tell them where they can find you: a physical address (I would only use this if you have a commercial property), a phone number, e-mail address and a website. Any of this information left out of your biography confuses the viewer. It casts a shadow of doubt on your credibility. Your profile says you’re an architect, but where is your website? Let me see what buildings you have designed. This is your chance to market your brand. Impress me so I purchase your products. Clients click on your website and you get work. Work leads to money in the bank, so don’t leave that bio blank!

Misuse of hashtags. Use too many hashtags and people may think you’re seeking attention. Use too few hashtags and your content may not get noticed. Hashtags is a tricky game, but it’s one that you must master. Research your hashtags well before you use them. Aim to use hashtags that have a large following. This ensures that your content will be seen. If you were to use had only had a few thousand followers, there is an unlikely chance that you would not be noticed. I find that using hashtags is trial and error. If one hash tag doesn’t work well for you, move onto another. But keep track of these. Which hash tags didn’t work and which hashtags brought you followers? Keep these in two separate columns on a database. It’s going to prove useful in the future for your marketing.

Don’t spam. There are followers on my Instagram that post all…the…time. Don’t do this. When you post more than a couple posts a day, most users will look at this as spam. It turns them away and they soon click the unfollow button. This is bad news. It means that you are losing followers instead of gaining them. Post at the same time each day for Instagram, while keeping it consistent. Users are going to expect to see your content. But keep your posts brief. Post 1-2 photos per day and schedule the rest. All of us get so many pictures and videos in our Instagram feed. You don’t want to make your followers feel overwhelmed.

Irregular posting schedule. Your users may be used to seeing your content each day Monday-Friday. But all of a sudden your content stops. You don’t tell your followers why you stopped posting it; you just stopped putting it out there. In essence, you left your followers out in the cold. They look for your content and it’s no longer there. It should be expected that they unfollow you because you’re not giving them anything. This is a huge mistake. If something happened to where you can’t post, have someone take over for you. This person may be a family member, an employee from your company or a friend. Have them keep up with your regularly scheduled posts and stay on schedule. This is particularly important if you’re a brand influencer. It’s necessarily that your customers aren’t left out of the loop.

Don’t post low-quality images. Finally, care about the images you put onto your Instagram. If the image is too dark or blurry, don’t post it. This makes you look like an amateur. You also don’t want to post content that irrelevant to your brand. Why would you post a sundae picture when you’re a landscaping business? I would also be weary of using filters. Some filters may help our photos look awesome, but other filters may make our photos appear lousy. In fact, some followers like a photo based on the filter which you have chosen. If possible, don’t use a filter but upload the photo as it appears on your hard drive. If it’s a high-quality image, it’s still going to get plenty of likes from followers. Have confidence in yourself and your brand.

What other Instagram tips do you have? Leave them in the comments.

Best-Selling Genres: Consider These for Your Next Book

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
-Maya Angelou

Do you enjoy reading sci-fi / fantasy or biographies? Are historical romances. thrillers, mysteries or cookbooks on your Kindle? How about young adult fiction, children’s books, or Christian books? Really consider these and other genres. Typically when writers sit down to write a novel, they write what they read. So if you’re a huge fan of crime thrillers, this is most likely the plot that you’ll develop for your reader. It doesn’t always happen that way, but most of the time.

Why is genre so important? First, this is how you’re going to identify with your readers. You’re going to want to really study the craft, but you don’t have to buy dozens of books. Go to your local library and check out books in your genre. Study how the authors create their plots and scene structure. How to they develop characters and conflict? If you study the genre well, then you’re going to be well-prepared to write it. You’re going to know all the twists and turns that are necessary for your plot. You won’t leave out any cliffhangers or suspense. 

One of my favorite authors is Nicholas Sparks. The Notebook is one of my favorite books, and of course, one of my favorite movies. When I read his books, his characters really drive me into the story. The description of his settings and characters really puts the readers in the moment. If you want more of an action-story, you may consider action thrillers. Read authors in the genre of which you plan to write, for they will be your teachers. There’s just some things all those reference books can’t teach. You’re in no way copying authors, but instead getting a grasp of how they do things.

So what are the leading genres? Let’s have a peek into some of them. First, there is the mystery / thriller genre. Let’s admit it, everyone likes to be scared a little now and then. These novels are action-driven. The inciting incident often occurs within the first couple of pages, setting the protagonist and antagonist in motion. There are often murders, heart-stopping page turners and characters that work for the FBI or the covert affairs. Yet, these are what makes these books so fascinating. Readers want all this and this is why these authors are so successful.

Family saga fiction is another popular genre. Similar to other genres, this is one that often requires a great amount of research. Sure, it’s fiction; yet, often these books are based off facts. For instance, a grandmother may have come through Ellis Island and the author is telling the story through the eyes of the character. Of course the character is not her grandmother, but she holds similar qualities. It’s very tricky because you don’t want to make it too similar to the real-life person. Timelines may also be hard to keep straight, which is why you need excellent plot organization. Where was your character on Jan 9, 1945 and how does this effect his whereabouts three months later? If you confuse them, the reader will be lost.

Another popular genre is romance. Your (often female) protagonist must have external and internal goals they are trying to reach. For instance, they may meet a man on the beach yet are playing hard to get. The protagonist has to powerfully move through the story while the male suitor tries desperately to win her over. Unlike other genres, there may be more backstory in romance. The readers might benefit of why the character is playing hard to get. Perhaps she is young and not ready for a serious relationship. In the end, however, the character must always reach their goal. The reader expects this and they want it.

Finally, historical fiction books often top the best sellers list. It’s not uncommon to see historical thrillers / mysteries and historical romances, but these books need extra care. It’s not enough to say your character walked down a street in 1860. You have to put readers there. What does the street look like? Are there factories, buildings or nothing at all? Is it not even paved or is it gravel? Expect to spend a lot of time in libraries researching your setting. Those that have knowledge of your setting are going to expect you to get it right. For instance, a character in the 1700s might not be using electricity but rather a candle.

These are just a few genres off Amazon’s best seller list. There are dozens more. You can cross genres with other genres; the possibilities are endless with your book. So that’s it. Stop reading and get your pen (or fingers, if you’re at the computer) moving!

How to Effectively Use Google

“Research is formalized curiosity. It’s poking and prying with a purpose.”
-Zora Neale Hurston

Millions of people use Google. Students, authors and teachers are among the few that conduct daily research. There are ways to effectively use Google to sharpen your search results. It’s as simple as using these methods.

“ ”: Exact Phrase. Placing quotations around a phrase tells Google to only search that phrase. Let’s say you want to search football cards. It should appear like this in Google search: “football cards.” Without quotations — results for football, cards or both will appear on your screen. Those websites that only use the phrase “football cards,” however, will be the ones that Google delivers to you.

: Exclude Words. This excludes websites which contain specific words/phrases. For instance: the Google search may be: dog breeds – golden retrievers. Your search results will exclude any search result that is not related to golden retrievers. This technique will likely sharpen how you search. You’re only getting the information which you seek. It’s like cutting the weeds down just to get through the forest. You don’t need non-relevant information, but just the facts.

~: Similar Words. This allows you to search for a word and all of its synonyms. You may search for ~beautiful, for instance, and it would provide all synonyms for that word. You will not get results for any variations of the word, which is an effective way to stay on task. Using this symbol (~) before the word brings up synonyms and definitions for the word.

OR: Multiple words. This search technique helps you narrow your search by searching for either word. Searching for non-fiction OR memoir, for instance, will bring  up results for non-fiction books which are memoirs. It cuts out the rest of the non-fiction books entirely, giving you the opportunity to search for exactly what you want. This makes your results more directly to the point.

…: Numerical ranges. Do you need to search for years or prices? This is the search technique that works best for it. I did a simple search for Ronald Reagan 1981…1989. All the information on Reagan pertaining to those years is at your fingertips. There is no information about anything else related to those years, such as pop culture of world events. This Google search method is going to assist you in researching so much better.

define: This shows you the definitions of words. Type this into Google: “define: coffee.” Doing this automatically brings up definitions for coffee. It may be Google’s definition, alongside many of the online dictionaries. If you’re studying for an exam or writing books, researching definitions this way is useful and efficient. It gives you variations of the definition. Some of the definitions may be worded in a complicated way, while others may be simplified English. Often times, too, the dictionaries will include synonyms of the word.

What other Google search methods do you use? Leave a comment to share them with others.

Writing Your Novel’s Second Act

“When all else fails, write what your heart tells you. You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
– Mark Twain

Congratulations! You’re now in the second act of your novel. This means you’re nearly 25 percent completed with your manuscript. If you’re planning a 70,000 novel (which is good size for a novel, actually), you should have somewhere around 17,500 words at your disposal. So, let’s move forward. Let’s keep those characters in conflict. Let’s keep those readers burning to know what’s going to happen on the next page, in the next scene–in the next chapter!!

REACTION. After the first plot point, your character should be a little frazzled. They have just had obstacles thrown in their path and they are trying to figure out what it all means. Perhaps a burglar just stole from their home. Your character may have inner conflict where they struggle to deal with what they could have done differently. If their child is in the hospital, your character may have conflicts with themselves and the hospital staff. They’re trying to sort out why their child is so ill. Keep the readers interested and they’ll burn through the pages of your stories like wildfire.

1ST PINCH POINT: While the protagonist is your good guy, every story has an antagonist (the villain). The first pinch point is to remind the protagonist that this villain is in the story. While your character may want to buy a house, the antagonist may be the dependent, needy neighbor that begs and guilts them not to go. At this point, drop subtle hints of the conflict to the reader. You can do this through dialogue and action but don’t give anything away. After all, authors show instead of tell. Don’t tell us how the neighbor is crying in the voicemails of the protagonist’s phone–show us by their actions. What else do they do?

REALIZATION: Next, your character is going to wise up. As the conflict continues, he (or she) is going to start drawing conclusions and become more informed. They do this by talking to other characters and seeking out the truth for themselves. Perhaps they hired a private detective to find out why the needy neighbor doesn’t want them to go. Or, going back to the child in the hospital, perhaps your character has discovered something there. At this point, you should be reaching the half-way point of your novel. You’re getting there!

MOMENT OF TRUTH:
At this point in the novel, your character is realizing the nature of the conflict. They have just found out the needy neighbor doesn’t want them to leave. The neighbor moving is the only one that knows their secret. The character with the child in the hospital may have discovered the doctors switched their child’s charts with one down the hall. What happens now? Whatever it is–make it powerful, compelling and strong. Your readers expect nothing less. If you lose them, then it’s hard to get them back.

ACTION. This is it! The protagonist has fueled the fire and is going after the villain! I can’t say it enough–action, action, action!! Your characters want to see your protagonist and antagonist interacting and battling it out for the win. If your character is fighting the burglar that just stole a priceless heirloom from their home, or selling it at an illegal auction–it’s expected that stakes are going to be high. The novel’s pace is going to be fast. Don’t disappoint your readers. Give them what they expect!

2ND PINCH POINT: This serves as a reminder to the protagonist. It reminds them of what’s at stake for them in the story. What’s at stake if the character doesn’t move from the needy neighbor, for instance, and what’s at stake if they stay? You should have well-developed characters at this point. You should have them outlined on paper, index cards or another method to keep them organized. Don’t get too boggled down in creating them, however, for this can take you away from your writing. As reporters often say–“Just the facts!”

RENEWED PUSH: Here, again, we reach another arch way. This arch way means the end of Act 2 and the entry way to your final act–Act 3. The protagonist provokes the antagonist but wins against the villain. The majority of action is complete. Your characters are drawing tiresome but you are not quite done. You’re about 75% done with your story–or roughly 52,500 words–so let’s get keep going to that triumph of an ending!

 

Writing Process: Making a Commitment

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
– Anne Lamott

How many times have you heard this: Get your butt in the chair and write. It sounds almost cliché, doesn’t it? People believe that writers are an ever-flowing fountain of ideas. We never struggle to get our character to their next battle. Poetry and song lyrics flow out of our pens with ease and simplicity. Well, those that believe this nonsense couldn’t be more wrong. Writers, just like those that enjoy simply reading, go through moments when we’re racking our brains. We have times when we struggle to get one word on the page — or one complete sentence.

But don’t give up. Don’t let your struggle with writing be your defeat. Don’t let yourself be swayed by negative critics. Instead, let the constructive criticism lift you up. In order to be successful at writing, you have to stay committed to writing. This is often much easier said then done; I have realized this many times over. But the techniques I’m about to share with you I have tried throughout my career as a writer. My recommendation is that you try each of them out. Should one of the methods not suit you, however, remember that one size doesn’t fit all. One author doesn’t reach success the same way another author of the same caliber. Authors which write in the same genre do not often share the same writing process. You have to be unique to you.

So having said that, let’s get started!

Read.

Above all else, you must read. If you’re a fiction writer, you must read books inside (and outside) your writing genre. Let’s say you write historical romance. You wouldn’t only read historical novels, nor would you only read romance novels. You would read novels across the board. Read thrillers, adventure stories and fictional stories based on real-life stories. Similarly, read a plentiful amount of non-fiction genres. If you’re well-read, this gives you a broader range of creativity.

Additionally, keeping a reading journal helps you keep notes of what you read. Keep track of words, dialogue tags and how other authors write their characters. Make notes of quotes that you found useful within a book. These may be spoken by characters (in fiction) or written by authors (in non-fiction). Keep tidbits of information on setting, action and conflict. As you’re writing, you can pull ideas from this journal. You can use these ideas to flourish your own writing and it will shine brighter as a result of it.

Join a writing group.

When I was first starting college, I attended a writing group at my local library. Many of these groups are full of writers just like you. They may be established in their writing, or they may be newbie writers working on their first book. But everyone in the group has a common goal: they want to help others achieve success.

Bring your writing to these groups. Engage and interact with their members. Do you struggle with point of view, your subplots or proofreading your final draft? Surely there is someone that could help you here. If they can’t, many of these individuals are well-networked. They work in or around publishing agencies. The lady sitting next to you may be the executive producer at the six o’clock news. Another person at your table is the lead sports writer at your town’s newspaper. It’s not selfish to ask for help. Ask if you can use their connections to further your project.

Use post-it notes for positive affirmations. 

Do you have a bulletin board by your desk? Purchase colorful post-it notes in fun shapes of just squares. Now, write positive affirmations on them to keep you motivated. Post the following affirmations somewhere around your writing area. Make sure you look at them every day. You are a successful writer. You have the ability to climb the best seller’s list — if you haven’t already done this. And, even if you have, you have more of a reason to stay there. Think positive and you will get much farther in your writing.

  • I am a proficient writer. 
  • I will become a best-selling author. 
  • Writer’s block will not overcome me today. 
  • I can see my book on the New York Times’ best sellers list. 
  • Rejections are just setbacks; I will get through it.
  • There is a publication awaiting the book/article which I’m writing.

Create a schedule.

In order to create a finished book, you have to do the work. I started this blog post with the phrase “Get your butt in the chair and write.” While I’m not fond of the phrase, it has truth to it. You have to work at least a couple hours each day on your writing. Set small goals, such as getting your research completed or finishing your draft. Let these lead into bigger goals, such as having your book completed within 6-12 weeks. But commit to your writing. You have to treat it like a job. Show up and do the work. If you work from home, this means you work when your spouse and kids are out of the house. If you work shift work (such as 11 a.m.-7 p.m.), believe me—I know you’re dead on your feet when you walk in the door. That was me for nearly 13 years. But do what you can and try your best to stick to it. You have to be committed and soon you’ll be a published writer!

How do you commit to your writing? Leave tips and techniques in the comments below.

Bad habits that kill productivity

“Time is non-refundable; use it with intention.”
– Unknown

Do you have days where you’re just…stuck? Maybe you feel unmotivated or feel as if you have too much going on. It’s natural to feel the pressure as an entrepreneur. If one team member falls through on their commitments, it makes it that much harder for everyone else. Bad habits start creeping in the door. Productivity may be a struggle. But take a breath. Let’s kick all of the following bad habits out of the office — because we’re better than that!

Multi-tasking. Writers generally have dozens of tabs open on their web browsers. They have to-do lists pinned to their bulletin boards: Email the client. Have the sales meeting. Order the office supplies. Host the webinar at 3 o’clock…the list goes on for pages. But here this: there is only you. Multi-tasking does nothing but drive us crazy. We’re running in circles not knowing if we fixed the copy machine or sent a fax. Sooner than later you’re going to have incomplete tasks piled up on your desk. Learn to trust your team. Delegate tasks to them and check in every so often. They are there to help manage your workload so — let them help you do it.

Distractions. If you work at home, distractions are EVERYWHERE. How you learn to tolerate these distractions is going to speak volumes on how you achieve success. If you give in to the cell phone notifications and the television, you may not get far in your business. If you only district yourself with these outside your business hours, however (let’s say you work 8-4 or 9-5), then you have a much higher chance of being successful. You have to stay focused. You have to keep your mind on your goals in order to see them fulfilled. If you’re checking your phone every few minutes, how will this be accomplished? Social media will still be there at your lunch break; I promise.

Perfectionism. This is my biggest struggle. I strive for perfection in everything I do, but it’s only hurting me. Why? It’s an unachievable and unrealistic standard. I can obtain the highest academic degree and work for prestigious publications, but I would still fall short of perfection. Human beings are flawed and we have to be okay with that. We have to realize that we’re going to fall behind schedule and make errors in documents. If all of us were perfect, then that would put proofreaders like me out of business.

Sitting all day. This, too, is a struggle of mine. As a work-at-home author, I work more than I take breaks. I eat lunch at my desk and go for walks in the afternoon or evening. But as much as I’m trying to change this, I realize it’s not healthy. Our bodies were not designed to sit in a chair for 8-hour shifts. Get up and stretch. Go for a walk around your neighborhood or do household chores. This is going to get your body moving and prevent your joints from getting stiff. You’re going to find that you’re much healthier for it.

Saying yes. Sacrifice is a strong word. If we want to get ahead in our business, we often have to give up something. As an entrepreneur, you’re going to find that you can’t say yes to everything. If you were to attend every event, then when would work get done? Pick and choose which events to attend. Ask your family/friends if they’ll take a rain check since deadline is approaching. Most will understand that you are working hard in developing your business. If you can’t attend a birthday party, graduation, wedding, baby shower or anniversary—send a gift and card ahead so that your loved one knows you were thinking of them. This is a nice gesture to show that you genuinely care about them.

What other bad habits have you encountered? Leave them in the comments.

Tips To Writing Your Novel’s First Act

“Writing is a dangerous profession. There is no telling what hole you may rip in society’s carefully woven master narrative.”
– Danielle Orner

Disclaimer: This blog post contains links for affiliate marketing.

Most people have a dream of writing the great American novel. They desire to be known as well as Jane Austen, Mark Twain and Nicholas Sparks–all whom have built literary legacies through their love of words. This is a wonderful dream to have, and one that may be successful if done properly. When writing a novel, it’s important to follow a specific layout. For instance, make notes of the following:

HOOK: This is what grabs your readers and pulls them into the story. It’s often the first line but no longer than the first paragraph. In most novels, it may reveal character and action. There is a chance it may hint at setting, plot or the novel’s theme. If you choose to include dialogue, then that may reveal to the reader how well-educated (or under-educated) the main character is. And, the hook often tells the character what point of view the story is being told in, such as a first-person account (where the character is telling the story themselves) or a third-person account (where someone else is telling the story.) There are varying POVs in each of these, of course, so you’ll want to research that.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at the opening lines of the following novels. What do they reveal to you?

11/22/63 (Stephen King): I have never been a crying man.

Before I Go to Sleep (S. J. Watson): The bedroom is strange.

When I Found You (Catherine Ryan Hyde): Nathan McCann stood in his dark kitchen, a good two hours before dawn.

The War of the Worlds (H.G. Wells): No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as man busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

SET UP:
 Moving on from the lead, you want to put your characters onto the stage. Introduce them to your reader through narration, dialogue, conflict or action. What are their motivations? What are their stakes? In essence, why should your reader care about them? If you’re writing your main character, keep in mind you’re going to have to throw trouble their way. Have them cross paths with an ex, have obstacles fall in the path to reach their goal. For instance, let’s say your character wants to buy a house. Have them lose a job, deal with a family member get sick, fight to get a loan (that every banker turns them down for) and then let a miracle happen. Why all this trouble, you ask? Because it keeps your reader up at night. It keeps them turning pages until the last juicy word in your novel. They’re going to stop reading if a character gets what they want when they want it and how they want it. Snoooze. 

INCITING INCIDENT. Once your character experiences the first big conflict–a tornado wipes out their house or a traumatic car accident–this is the inciting incident. It sets the domino effect into motion and triggers each conflict that comes thereafter. Normally, in real life, when our house gets mowed over by a tornado we rebuild. But, the stakes are high for your character. They may have to go live in a shelter or find other shelter with their child or pet. As long as they transform by the end of the story, your readers are rooting for them all along the way. And so should you.

BUILD UP. That’s right. Build up the action. Make it bigger than life. Your character may have moved into a new home. Make the roof leak or a pipe burst to show us their strength. Whatever your conflict is, make it 10x or 100x larger than life. If they have an have an accident, have them cling to life and then make a miraculous comeback to life. This will give your readers a happy ending of a character they have wept over and worried about for 300 pages. Show the readers why they should care. The buildup is your chance to double the tension of the story and create in-depth, compelling characters.

1ST PLOT POINT. 
Finally, you’ve reached the first doorway. You’re reaching the end of Act 1 and about to enter into Act 2. Think of this plot point as as an arch that leads the reader from one section to another. Let’s say your character was just in a bad motorcycle accident. At the end of the chapter, you may have left a cliffhanger of him being loaded into an ambulance with horrible injuries. Now, you have two options. You can immediately go to the hospital’s Emergency Room and show him there or you can show him in recovery. It depends on your story’s pace, your character and your conflict. But, don’t leave your reader searching for answers. If they last saw the character being carried away in an ambulance, don’t show them leaving the hospital. That’s a good way to lose your audience. Too many details are being left out.

Congrats! You have finished a third of your novel. Take a breath and then flex those fingers. We’re just getting to the good part of your story.