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How to Give Your Creative Work its Best Shot at Success

how to give your book or creative work its best shot at succeeding

Your book, service, art, or product–should you choose to share it with the world–deserves its best shot at success. Don’t forget that.

One of the most common questions I get is, “Do I need to have a brand or online presence before I have a book?” Or if you’re not a writer, just substitute in your “products” or “services,” for “book.”

Let’s look at this chicken vs. egg conundrum via the indomitable perspective of story:

Imagine you’re about to attend a cocktail party at a colleague’s house. You don’t know anyone there, but your colleague says you’ll dig these people. You’ve been working on the final touches of your first novel all day. It’s finally finished and even the cover looks great. Then you realize it’s quarter to six and you should have left like ten minutes ago. So you throw on a t-shirt and some running shorts, swipe a brush through your hair real quick and slap on some blush.

When you arrive at the party you realize you’re woefully under-dressed. Everyone is in cocktail party attire–little black dresses and button down shirts.

Crap that’s right it’s a cocktail party, you think, well here goes nothing. You walk in and say hello to your colleague Jane, who tries to mask her shock at what you’re wearing with a meager smile.

“You do know this is a cocktail party right?” she whispers in your ear as she gives you a quick hug.

“Of course, I just didn’t have time; I was finishing my book.”

“Oh well…uh, that’s great!”

“See!” You hold it up in front of your chest like it’s a medal.

“Oh you brought it with you?!” She laughs awkwardly and congratulates you on your accomplishment. Feeling a boost–after all you just finished your entire frickin’ book–you walk over to a friendly looking gay couple and introduce yourself.

“Hello, I’m Lucy, a friend of Jane’s. And this is my newly finished book!” Again you hold it out, this time like Vanna White. “It’s sci-fi. Would you like to buy a copy? It’s really great.”

The two men shoot quick looks of shock at each other, but as polite humans they feign mild interest and say pleasantries, but really they’re thinking Who the hell is this, and who does that? I don’t even like sci-fi novels. Also, where’s the shrimp scampi?

You sense their waning interest and move on to someone else who will surely want to buy your new book.

Of course, you wouldn’t actually do this in real life. But when you go out into the world with a book but no real brand, you’re basically doing the same thing. You’re essentially going into a world where no one knows you, what you stand for, if you have any talent, or if your work will be any good, and begin barraging people with requests to read or buy your book. 

Most people are not going to succeed using this method. Or at the very least, they’re entering the room at an extreme disadvantage. I mean, would you like this? Surely you’ve even experienced the receiving end of this kind of tactic. I know I have.

Consciously branding yourself before you have something to SELL is more like spending some time to make sure you’re appropriately dressed for the party (maybe you even have a conversation starting accessory), you’re showered and clean, your hair got did, maybe even your nails too. And you leave your book at home, but you bring your well-designed business card. You have more natural conversations with the other guests, finding out what they’re interested in, how you might help each other in your careers. You might even talk about the book you’re writing when they ask you what you do, but you don’t try to sell it to them (yet). You make sure you stay connected, if they want to be. And you do something nice for them, or give them some useful information, or the phone number of that reliable, honest mechanic you know. You act like a decent human being, not a book-hawking automaton in running shorts.

I’ve said it many times, but let me reiterate: branding doesn’t mean creating some bullshit persona, it’s clarifying the strengths, gifts and vision you have for your career and life while also identifying WHO you’ll help and HOW you’ll do it (whether that’s a book, massage service, or paintings, or whatever), so you can live within the bounds of your best self and attract the people who will help you or who need you (and your work).

Taking the time to craft a brand and introduce it to the world before you have your work all dialed-in requires self-knowledge and forethought.

If you swoop in out of nowhere and have no backstory you’re not going to be a sympathetic character. It’s going to be a lot harder for people to give a shit about who you are and what you’re selling.

Of course there are always exceptions, but let’s get real, better to plan for the hardest, most-likely path and be pleasantly surprised if it works out to be easier, than the other way around, right?

These days agents and publishers are looking for two things. As my friend Monica Odom, literary agent extraordinaire said during our recent online workshop: 

“Before you pitch or query an agent, know your work and know your brand.”

Of course, you must have a really good story and execution–don’t think I’m suggesting otherwise–these are crucial to your work, unless pf course you’re already an overnight viral internet sensation. So if all you have bandwidth for is writing your book, then do that for now. But know that the time will come where you will need to set aside time to work on your brand as well. Ideally, before your book launches.

All writing being equal, the author who has a brand to support sales of their book(s) will win the bigger deal and get more support from their agent, publisher, and readers.

Over and over, through my work with various authors, agents, and editors, I’ve found that publishers are looking for not just an irresistible idea but a partner to help sell it to the world.

I know how daunting and discouraging this can seem. Even with a background in branding and marketing, I sometimes still get overwhelmed by the thought of promoting myself. Not because it’s awful, but simply because I know the creative writing side of my brain operates much differently than the marketing side. It takes work to switch gears, no doubt.

And life gets busy. Like real busy.

But I’ll tell you a secret: Once you establish the foundations of your brand and parse out a general strategy that works with who you are, it gets more exciting and less overwhelming.

Branding is kind of like writing a book–if you think about the end product too much you’ll get buried under the enormity of it all. But if you break it down to the most important concepts, the themes, the characters, the settings, and commit to a schedule–even if you can only spare a couple hours a week–you’ll begin to see the power of the results you can achieve.

Baby steps, my friends. Either that or hire help if you can.

In your brand story you are the protagonist, the hero of your career, so you must show people why they should care about the stories you’re building.

woman reading a book

Photo by Jacalyn Beales on Unsplash

If you still doubt me, here are just some of the ways a consciously-created brand can help your writing (or creative) career:

  • Actually getting the book deal because you have an edge over less prepared authors
  • Getting a bigger-better ($$$) book deal because you’ve helped the publisher see the potential in your brand and work
  • Sell more books to your already building audience
  • More promotional opportunities will popup because more people are aware of you and how awesome your work is
  • More people will genuinely want to help promote your book(s) by reviewing it, telling friends, helping you with connections
  • Better connections with colleagues who can help you with publicity, bylines and the readership you need because they understand the value you bring

Where to Start

When it comes to branding, most people instinctively start with their visuals, logo, or website, or even social media, but that’s like creating a book cover without writing the book. This is the wrong approach.

It all starts with you and the story you want for your career–your ultimate vision. Ignore the temptation to jump on the pretty stuff and do the internal work first. Remember, the story is the most important thing, so you need to know what the hell you want the story of your brand to look like before you can tell it properly.

What Creating a Brand looks like, using an adapted Hero’s Journey model:

Before you read this, remember it’s the overview so don’t get overwhelmed, each step should be broken down into bite-sized pieces. This is not possible in one blog post, this is something I do in my online branding course and one-on-one with clients.

  • Happy Ending/Vision:  Start at the end. It’s important to understand what your end game comes first when you’re planning. Decide what you really want for your life and career. Even if you are having trouble visualizing what your career would look like after your first book, focus what you want that book launch and the aftermath to look like. It’s okay to not to have all the answers, but it is essential to at least strive for an understanding of what you truly want–even if that’s not super specific at this point.
  • The Hero and her Conflict: This is where you get to know the character, what you’re good at (your strengths) and areas where you’re not so strong (things you don’t have the knowledge in or struggle with), your values, and what makes you unique. It’s important for you to understand who you are–so you can base your brand on that and not a fleeting thing like a product or book.
  • The Mentor: Learn how to create your brand consciously. You will need help. You find some info online for free (there are even some here on my site), sign up for my weekly email, or read books, etc. Or if you’re ready to get the bite-sized guidance start-to-finish, sign up for my online course.
  • The Quest: Start brainstorming ideas based on what you’ve learned about yourself, your work, and your ideal readers, for marketing strategies, design, social media, events, etc.
  • The Challenges & Temptations: There will be setbacks, or challenges, the most common of which is your own motivation to get things done. Familiarize yourself with these and always look for tools to overcome. Don’t let these biatches keep you from the career and life you want.
  • Taking Action, Building Toward the Climax & Denouement: Figure out how much time you can carve out for building your brand and slap deadlines on those tasks. Work consistent brand-building into your life and you’ll see the results begin to build over time.

To get you started on the brainstorming aspect of creating a broad overview of your own strategy using the above mentioned formula, which is essentially the first step, download my free worksheet to help you visualize this process and get started on building your brand.

Why Branding is So Important for Writers and Creatives

One of the most common questions I get from writers and creatives is, “how can branding help me?” There are so many ways, but for brevity’s sake let’s just look at these few. But first, remember that great personal branding is all about knowing yourself so you can go kick ass at whatever it is you love!


If you’re unsure of exactly what the hell a brand is, you’re not alone. Read this post first to get the quick definition (& how it’s different than platform, or marketing).

If you DO know what a brand really is, read on.


Clarity = Powa! (aka Power)

Branding makes your life easier. Imagine you have a clear vision of where you want to go, what makes you strong, what values you hold dear, and clarity as to just who you are.

Suddenly making decisions like whether to take that job, or make that video, or write that book become easier. I’m not saying it’s magic, but it does give you more powa to make decisions.

Unlike what you may have thought before, your brand doesn’t pigeon-hole you, it frees you to be your most authentic self while pursuing the goals you truly care about.

Email Newsletters, ads, sales funnels, etc. are pointless without mindset.

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with the sheer quantity and pace of marketing? Really, who has time to do all of the things that everyone says you should do to promote yourself? We have to pick and choose what we’ll try and how we’ll market ourselves–but those are just actions, to do list items. If we want to succeed we have to change our mindset.

I’ve been working in branding and marketing for many years, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized just how key mindset is.

When you’re down in the trenches promoting yourself or your work it doesn’t always feel refreshing or inspiring. It’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing it in the first place. That’s where branding shines. If you’ve created a cohesive brand and branding strategy, it’s easier to go back and remind yourself of your WHY (why you’re doing all this anyway).

But there’s one more thing.

Brand strategy also takes you in depth into who your ideal market is and once you have a more intuitive and structured insight to who the people are who love your work (what they desire, and where they are) all of your efforts become more effective as well.

Marketing without first taking the time to figure out your brand strategy is like throwing darts into a lake, hoping to catch a fish.

Achievement isn’t as satisfying if you don’t know who you really are and what you really want.

We’ve all seen it before, people at the pinnacle of their careers who end up having a mental breakdown, or worse. And instinctively we know that many times this is do to overwhelm at a life that was reeling from fame and fortune. I’m no celebrity or billionaire, but I’m willing to bet self knowledge and mental healthcare could have prevented these tragic reactions to “success.”

When you are no longer in a low-key existential crisis all the time, you suddenly have the strength and clarity to do the things you never imagined you could.

Like creating the kind of art you feel born to create, for instance. Good brand development helps empowers you to do this.

You have a brand, whether you want one or not.

Think about the ridiculously successful writers and creatives you know of–they all have a personal brand, or what some might call a personal philosophy.

You understand quickly who they are and what they’re all about. You then use that knowledge to decide whether or not they are for you. Your audience deserves the same.

Regardless of whether you’re consciously creating a brand strategy, or just doing your random thang, people are watching. They are deciding whether or not you and your work fit into their lives. If you want to be successful you must make it easy to understand just what you’re all about.

What drives you? What do you want to do in this life of yours? How do you want to be perceived?

Chances are, you will not achieve the kind of success you want, unless you get super clear about who you truly are and what you offer the world.

The Secret Sauce is you.

When I set out to become a legit writer I was very confused about how to brand myself. After all I wrote in different genres and my day job was in marketing, design, and branding for business. For months I struggled with just what I wanted to do.

Then one day I attended a local TedX talk on personal branding. The speaker said something that  shifted everything for me. Paraphrased it was this:

When it comes to personal branding, what you do for a living doesn’t matter as much as who you are.

Let that sink in for a moment.

How you move about the world, your values, your desires, your professionalism, the way you do things is most important. Whether you change careers or genres it doesn’t matter if you’ve build a solid brand based on WHO you are.

This is what helps personal brands like Elizabeth Gilbert or Shonda Rhimes skip from genre or format without losing their fan base. People want to engage with other people. Sure they may be initially attracted to your writing or art, or songs, or whatever you’re making, but they will STAY because WHO you are comes through and resonates with them.

Invest in self-knowledge

This is why I do what I do. See, I believe we have the opportunity to make the world a better place and we all have our parts to play. Writers and creatives are needed more than ever. And yet writers and creatives tend to doubt themselves more than most. Our culture has placed more value on money than beauty, but I know we can have both. I refuse to follow the starving artist philosophy.

It’s the arts that makes us human, settles us, informs us, ignites us, and helps us remember that there is more to life than mere survival.

I’m on a mission to help creative people step into their authentic selves, even if that self is a work-in-progress–spoiler: we are all works-in-progress–and gain the clarity they need to live the life and do the work they feel pulled to do.

Branding is not platform, or marketing. Here’s the real definition.

Branding (or personal branding) is a term that gets thrown around a lot lately. It seems that everyone’s talking about it, but only some actually know what it means. If you’re one of those who’s scratching your head at this jargon, don’t worry even big companies sometimes get the definition wrong, or incomplete.

I want to change that for you right now.

I’ve dedicated a large portion of my career to branding and preaching the personal branding gospel so to speak. The reason I do this is because I believe it is the most essential component of a lasting career.

Branding not as complex (or convoluted) as you might think.

Contrary to how many people use this term, I want you to know that it does not constitute becoming a sellout or a fake. You are not a Kardashian. You do not need butt implants, botox, or a boob job to have a brand.

And once you understand exactly what it is (and the power it holds)  it frees you up to be more authentically yourself while actually worrying less about your career and public image. Odd, right? Maybe that goes against everything you’ve seen so far. That’s good.

First, let’s break down the concept of what a personal brand is.

Personal Brand definition: Your professional persona made up of a variety of elements.

[Image Description: A Personal Brand: Your professional persona made up of a variety of elements including: your body of work, your name, your logo, color scheme, social profiles, social media personality, business practices, professional experience, etc. Think: Oprah, Stephen King, Ellen Degeneres, Mary Karr, Laverne Cox, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Poehler, Tyler Perry ]

Now, if that’s a brand, what is brandING?

the definition of branding

[Image Description: Branding: Is simply the self-knowledge, strategy, planning, and actions that go into crafting your personal brand and displaying it to the world.]

Now that you have the basics, let’s clarify one of the areas that is most confused:

How Branding is different than marketing or platform

 

 

I hope that this post helped clarify what a brand and branding is and how it is different than marketing and author platform. If you’d like to learn a bit more about why branding is important, and how to utilize it to build your writer brand, author platform and ultimately the writing or creative career you really want, check out the sister post to this one, called Why Branding is So Important for Writers and Creatives.

 

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Inspiration is for Freakin’ Amateurs

Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. -Chuck Close

I realize this is a funny thing to say given that my work is largely infused with inspiration/motivation, but you’ll see what I’m really getting at. As writers and/or artists, we know that 90% of the battle is just putting your damn butt in the chair to write, or picking up the paintbrush (or pencil), or whatever implement you use to create. Yet all too often we expect this flash of inspiration to hit us like a gift from the gods.

Sure sometimes that happens, but more often than not it’s a slow build.

For me, creative writing, especially nonfiction about my life, is often an arduous process. There’s the occasional moment where the clouds part and the Universe says, “here you go, honey,” as they hand me a nugget of flow.

But usually, it pretty much goes like this:

 

As a kid I was a good student. I hated disappointing anyone almost as much as I hated being anything less than perfect. For the most part I got straight A’s. I was highly disappointed in myself if I didn’t.

Classmates would often remark that I was “so smart” or how they wished they could get A’s like I did. Frankly, this kind of pissed me off. Sure, on the surface this was a compliment, but underneath was the assumption that I just had some special gift that they didn’t. Bear with me, I know I sound like a bragging asshole right now.

I spent hours studying, doing drills, and practicing to earn those grades. In fact, in fourth grade when I got my first D ever (ironically, in spelling), Dad and I worked every night for months to bring that up to an A.

I was lucky that my parents definitely passed down their genetic propensity for traditional intelligence (make no mistake there are many different types of intelligence), but after that, it was up to me to get the grades even in subjects that felt like my brain was being torn apart. I’m looking at you math and conceptual physics!

In seventh grade this girl Mary and I competed for the best grades, we were often neck-in-neck for who had the best percentage A. This was when I realized there were smarter, harder working kids than me. She wanted it more and maybe she was smarter than me, too. I backed down a bit from my quest for perfection and sometimes settled for B’s or C’s (conceptual physics, you bitch). If I couldn’t be THE best, I’d get by with my reasonable best.

The thing is, I never applied this drive to physical activity as a kid. When it came to sports of most kinds, I was riddled with self-doubt and self-pity. If I couldn’t hit the ball, run fast enough, or catch often enough I just gave up. I needed to be at the top, and if I couldn’t I bowed out. It didn’t occur to me that hard work might just get me to “decent” eventually. I understood how to apply hardwork to school, but not as much to other things.

~

Fast forward twenty-some years to when I started out at UCLA X Writers Program. I entered thinking I was a pretty good writer who just needed to learn some tools in order to write better. From my first class, I realized I was an amateur. I was not even close to the top tier. Again, I wanted to be THE best. 

I secretly dreamed of being the next Joan Didion, or Mary Karr, until I realized I would likely not only would have to work for decades, but also was not born with their level of talent either.

Something had shifted. After a brief mourning period around not being born a golden child, I was able to better fight the urge to be perfect. I cared so much about becoming a better writer. Writing was something I’d wanted to learn since high school, and now I was finally doing it. I wanted to learn as much as possible, and push myself to my best, but not THE best. 

The initial momentum of my dream to become a writer propelled me, but it was the revisiting of it that got me through the hundreds of edits and thousands of hours of writing. I still feel as if I have a long way to go, but now just being on the path is enough to keep me going.

~

I liken creative work to walking. When you’re doing the work, you often feel as if you’re just staring at your feet as they step over the earth. You’re not sure where things are going, or even where you’ve been. There’s beauty in that presence, but if you don’t look up occasionally you’ll likely fall off a cliff or wander into a bad neighborhood.

On the other hand, if all you do is look up and around and your surroundings, looking for inspiration or motivation, you’ll never effectively see the path that leads you to your goals. And we all know the path is always a winding one.

I think then that our best bet is to do both. Observe what’s happening in our world, look forward toward our goals, our ultimate vision, as we call it in my personal branding course.  But we must also remember to look down at our feet, be in the moment, so we don’t stumble over that rock, or we can step over that brook, or clear out those branches that have fallen to block our path.

The rewards are all around us and even within the work of our path. But it’s that combination of steps, moving forward–the daily work–that leads us closer to our dreams, while that looking up that reminds us why we’re here.  

The more we do the work, the more inspiration follows. We don’t have to be the best, but when we are relentless in the pursuit of our calling, dream, or purpose, our most inspired work bursts forth.

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What to Do When Trolls Attack

We live in a new era, one in which anyone can say anything online with often without consequences. Heck, even our “Commander in Chief” knows that.

But what do you do if YOU are the subject of an online attack?

I’ve managed social media for many brands, including BinderCon, a literary nonprofit which advocates for women and gender variant writers. Which, as you might have imagined, has brought its share of sticky troll situations.

Women and changemakers are more often the target of trolls because well, these jerks feel threatened by our very existence. As writers, or artists we often create things that challenge people’s preconceptions, values, or ways of life. Naturally, this breeds asinine responses from rage-mongers, perverts, and just plain nasty souls. And the internet provides the veil they need to hide behind in order to feel powerful.

I’m no lawyer, and I don’t have all the answers, but here are some methods I’ve learned for dealing with said asshats. But before we start, let’s define troll. I include the original meaning as well because I think it adds dimension and context.


troll

noun

1 : a lure or line with its lure and hook used in trolling
: a person who intentionally antagonizes others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive behavior


Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s begin.

First, ignore them

Most trolls are just jabbing you to get a reaction (see definition). Many of them aren’t even people, but bots.  The reality is that they are doing what they are doing to get you to engage (and rage).

Think of them as the old school bully, but hiding behind an internet persona.

Tuning them out and refusing to respond often diffuses the situation. But if it doesn’t there are more steps you can take.

Block and report

Inasmuch as you ignore these jerks, block and report them too. Don’t let a fear of being a whiner keep you from handling these jerks like they deserve, in a matter of fact way.

The harder good people make it for trolls to attack, the less there will be.

Every social platform has a method for reporting, just Google it if you need to report someone.

Prepare

Really, this should probably be the first rule but most of us encounter a troll and only then realize we should be better prepared for them.

Preemptively secure your social profiles and websites with complex passwords that are harder to guess or hack. This is a precautionary task designed to help keep a potentially nasty situation from escalating.

Decide ahead of time what kind of content you’ll post about, retweet, share. Sometimes, especially in today’s political climate, it’s tempting to post about things we’re angry about. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t. However, it’s worth asking yourself if the post will really make a difference, if it is in alignment with your brand and what you’re all about.

And then if it passes all those tests, is it something you’re willing to take flack for? If so, go for it. If not, maybe reevaluate.

As annoying as it is, you must decide if what you post is something worth fighting for. If not, if it’s just venting or inflammatory–what’s the point?

Create a reporting plan for situations where you feel it is necessary. It can be difficult to think like a troll, especially when you’re a good natured person who doesn’t appreciate online fights. But creating a few “what if” scenarios can be healthy and help you avoid some painful dealings in the future.

If you decide ahead of time, for instance, that you will report and block sexual harassment type posts, you’ll know what to do when or if that happens. This can take some of the emotional side-effects out of the equation.

This helps make the incident more of an annoying task, rather than a traumatic attack.

Document everything

If someone is repeatedly attacking, or harassing you or your followers (or doing other nasty things), document everything.

Even if you just have a feeling like they might do something nefarious, take screenshots and save it in a folder. You’ll have the info, should you ever need it.

Protect yourself

Make yourself less vulnerable online by using fake information whenever possible. Avoid using your real hometown, phone number, address. Make it harder for jerks to find you IRL.

I recall a nasty troll attack a few years ago where some asshole took a video from a mom-blogger’s site (of her children, mind you) and dubbed over it with horrifying racist material. That’s some next level shit that deserved a lawsuit. It made me realize just how easy it is to access anything you post online–even if you think it’s private.

So as you post, always ask yourself: Is this something I’m okay with being completely public?

Set boundaries for the kinds of content you want to share. Do you really need pictures of your kids online? Does that selfie have any identifying information in the background?

You don’t need to be paranoid but you don’t need to feed the trolls, either.

Don’t disappear (or do)

There’s no need (usually) for you to make your feed private in response to a mild attack. You’re online for goshsakes, it’s all public one way or the other anyway. Plus it makes you look like you have something to hide, which you don’t. This is a tactic many abusers use–making you feel like you’re unsafe in the world. Don’t let them.

However, don’t be afraid to shut down and go offline. Sometimes there is good reason to just leave the online platform for a while. Your brand will not fall apart if you decide you need a break from the chaos of the internet. You can still communicate in places where you feel safe.

Don’t defend

In most cases you do not need to defend yourself against false claims or aggressive remarks. Listen, we’ve all been there and responded. I know I have. But it’s not worth it. Responding gives credence to their attack. So vent to your friends, report the trolls, block them, whatever, but don’t engage.

If for some reason you truly need to make an official statement on something, do so as an email to your subscribers and maybe as a well crafted closed-ended statement on social. Keep it general and professional, consult a lawyer if it’s a real sticky situation.

Do not make it a part of your profile. It should only be a post. A day is an eternity online so there’s no need to draw attention to a troll’s claims or aggression on your profile, when most people won’t have even noticed.

If you must respond, and especially if you’re angry give it 24 hours. Unless of course you feel like you or someone else is in danger.

If the attack warrants a response (and usually it doesn’t) give yourself some time to cool down. Unless you’re the president of the United States, your Twitter situation is likely not a national emergency. Ahahahahaha, but seriously.

Take it to the authorities

If things are really escalating, or if you ever feel genuinely threatened or in danger, err on the side of caution and get not only the social platform, but the police and legal authorities involved as well.

Remember who you are

Aside from the unfortunate reality of being attacked just for being a woman, or a person of color, or disabled, or liberal or conservative, or however you exist in the world, often if you’re being attacked you’re likely doing something different and worthwhile.

Some of the most hot button issues are things like human rights, equality, racism, climate change, etc. You know this. These issues are important and so they garner a lot of emotion, sometimes rage, and often troll behavior.

Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing in your work and your life, and stick to your truth. Be a good person; we sure could use more of them.

And remember the wise words from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum (Don’t let the bastards grind you down)

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Stop Wondering What to Do with Your Life

Last year my daughter, then a junior in high school, was having serious anxiety over impending college doom. See, nowadays they put an insane amount of pressure on kids to decide what they want to do for a career, pick a four-year school, and run headlong into their (often ill-conceived) goals.

Problem is, many–I’d venture to guess it’s the majority actually–don’t know what the hell they want to do with their lives.

Let’s be honest now and admit that many adults still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I think I was like thirty-two, when I finally figured it out.

There are a mess of opinions out there as to whether you should follow your passion, or even have one; just take a steady job and do what you love on the side; or heck that if you find your passion you’ll never work a day in your life.

#truthbomb: No one answer works for everyone. Click To Tweet

But I hope to give you some solid advice that I’ve gleaned from years of research and teaching. Buckle up, Buttercup!

The sky is falling

There’s a real stigma about death and dying, especially in America. It’s often impolite to speak of it. So let me be that a-hole. The truth is, we’re all going to die at some point. Nobody wants to hear it, but our time on earth is limited.

Strip that social moré away though, and death becomes a natural part of life. It’s an integral cycle that ties us in with the history of humanity itself.

What’s truly amazing though, is how much potential we have to live bigger these days. Many of the social constraints, limitations, or disadvantages of previous generations have been stripped away, or are fading into the distance. While we still have a ways to go, we live at a time where we have luxuries like women’s rights, running water, and dentists.

These modernizations potentially free us up to be able to create the life we truly want. Each of us has the option to make an impact; to help others and ourselves. We have the choice to live to our greatest potential.

And yet, how many of us actually do it?

We’re gonna live forever

The thing is, for most of our lives, death feels far off.

It’s like knowing we’ll age, but not realizing it’s happening until those age spots and crow’s feet appear in the mirror. It often doesn’t feel real until it happens.

Most of us suffer from the delusion of reprieve, in which we see the realities of life and death, yet somehow secretly believe that it’s not going to happen to us, and that somehow at the last moment we’ll be whisked away from death.

Obviously, we can’t spend each day worrying about our mortality, that would defeat the purpose of life. But the problem with avoiding it is that so many of us wait until it’s too late to say what we needed to say, or do what really wanted to do.

A deathbed story

So i’m going to tell you a story, one I’ve adapted from Les Brown:

Fast forward your life to the point where you’re on your deathbed (keep reading, it will get better, I swear). You’re laying there and you know there’s not much time left. All of the sudden several people walk in, people you’ve known your whole life yet never took the time to get to know on a deeper level. Each one of them represents one of your talents, passions, and ideas.

Maybe the first represents that book you wanted to write–the one that scared you into paralysis. Maybe the second is learning to dance salsa, and the third is starting that business you always wanted to try.

Whatever they represent to you, imagine you’re lying there and each and every thing you felt pulled to do, the hopes and dreams of your life, staring down at you.

One by one they open their mouths and softly they say, “We were born with you, we were the gifts you were meant to share with the world, but you never used us. And now we will die with you!”

Take a moment and let that scene sink in.

Wait, there’s more to you

I’m willing to bet, that right now you have so much more to give this world than what you are currently are. I’ll even venture that deep down below fears, excuses, and denial, you know exactly what some of these things are that you’re meant to do in your short time on this planet.

When I first heard that story I wept. Who am I kidding? I cry every time I hear it. I cried as I wrote it. And I do because I cannot bear the thought of dying like that, with all of those ideas and gifts left unused.

We’ve all got that gift or talent, or idea we’ve been imbued with since birth. So why the fuck aren’t we using them?

Busy and scared

Lawd knows, there’s so much to do. We’re distracted by our never-ending to-do lists, celebrity drama, stupid world leaders, and an overwhelming amount of information. (Did you know the average person is inundated with 100,000 pieces of information each day?)

And yet, at the end of our lives most of those things will not matter to us.

I know I won’t be on my deathbed thinking, I’m so glad I always paid my cable bill on time, or I’m so glad I spent hours of my life on Facebook.

We live in a corporate message driven world, guided by what we think we should buy to fill the gap of desire in our souls.

Shedding the busy-ness only goes so far though, because at the root of distraction are two best friends: Fear and Addiction.

If we’re honest, most of us are a little bit (or a lotta bit) addicted to TV, social media, and the internet, just to name a few “busy” makers. But in the end it’s our choice every time. For most of us it’s a choice we’ve come to make on autopilot. Its as if our reptilian brains are in control. Oh wait, they are.

Which brings me to addiction’s best friend, the worst four-letter word ever: Fear.

About a decade ago a colleague from my business women’s group mentioned that she was training to become a life coach. Her training centered around busting through fears to create the life you really want. It was based on the philosophy of the book, Fearless Living.

She said that she was nearing the end of her program and that she was doing 12 week coaching for a few people for free. She offered me one of the spots. The thought of free coaching was appealing, but I told her, “I’m pretty motivated, I don’t think I have a lot of fears left to conquor.”

Kindly and wisely, she said, “that’s okay, even if you don’t, you might be surprised at how many subconscious fears people have.”

So I did the twelve weeks. Boy, let me tell you: it was then that I noticed that pretty much every decision I made on a daily basis came from some fear, whether tiny or huge. Things like:

  • not wanting my hair cut like a “mom” because I wanted to be seen as a cool young mom;
  • letting my ex walk all over me because I was afraid he’d retaliate;
  • not standing up for myself when a client stiffed me, because I feared I’d never be able to replace them.

The list goes on and on. But the point is that we are often unconscious of the role fear plays in keeping us from living up to our true worth and purpose.

Whether we busy ourselves with social media because of FOMO, or we stay in our “secure” boring/comfort zone job because we fear financial ruin, or we don’t pursue that crazy idea because we’re afraid of being judged, or we don’t speak up because we fear we might be wrong, or we don’t write that one book because we don’t want to fail, or we don’t take salsa dancing classes because we don’t want to look like “idiots” or even beginners; it all comes back to fear.

Don’t freak, move

I know how hard it is to face the reality that maybe you’ve been half living your life, or that fear has been ruling it. Obviously, I’ve totally been there. It took me years to realize how I’d squandered my innate gifts and purpose(s) because of my fear of being worthless.

The only way out from the guilt, fear, or sadness is to say, “no more!” And take the risk of really living. Whatever that means for you.

It doesn’t mean you need to run out and do everything on your bucket list (unless it does). It just means that it’s time to begin.

Crawl if you’re not ready to walk. But baby, do something.

Start before you’re ready, and before you have it all figured out. Take small risks because little changes have better, lasting results than drastically trying to change everything at once.

Remember the story about your deathbed? Guess what? It’s time to change the story.

A different kind of deathbed story

This time imagine now you’re lying on your deathbed, but now  you’re basking in the contentment of knowing that you’ve fulfilled your purposes on this earth. You have this sense of peace that you’ve done what you needed to do. Can you feel it? It’s like a warm blanket on a cool night. You’ve done the things that most pulled your heartstrings and now you can rest easy.

  • What are these things you imagined you did? Think about it.
  • Then write those things down on a sheet of paper and put it somewhere where you’ll remember to look at it.
  • Review that list every morning and let those ideas marinate in your brainpan for a few days.
  • Set yourself a deadline to pick the first one you want to work toward. And begin to take small actions.
Little conscious steps down the right path are much better than strides down the wrong one. Click To Tweet

Once you make the decision and commitment to pursue what you’re meant to do, whatever that is, you’ll begin to feel the deep river of fulfillment begin to trickle and flow into your daily life. It’s a feeling unlike anything else.

So here’s the two-ton question: What do you want to be known for? What will you do with this one life you have?

It’s okay to not know. I won’t judge you. But it’s kind of like going on a trip and not having a destination planned. If your goal is to just explore that’s great, but if you want to create a fulfilling career, live up to your potential, or want people to understand what you’re trying to do in your life or business, you need to have vision.

Maybe you like your life the way it is. That’s cool. But if you have a flickering desire for more, if you have some dreams, start taking action.

And if you’re wondering how my daughter is doing, she’s much more at peace knowing she will start community college next year and take a little extra time to tune-in to what she wants. I’m very proud of her.


Three ways I can help you:  Enroll in my personal branding course, book a one-on-one branding consultation with me, or sign up for my weekly email newsletter.


Image credit: Photo by Maxime Bhm on Unsplash
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How to Get Readers to Actually Remember You

Being a professional writer is only half about writing that book, or screenplay (or whatever your big project is). The other half is actually getting someone to read your work.

When I first started writing, a friend and I went to a day-long seminar about how to market yourself as a writer. It was a clusterf#$k of information. We were totally intimidated and overwhelmed because all we wanted to do was write well and have said writing get in front of some eyeballs.

We were not ready for the glut of work it actually takes to sell your writing.

Writing and marketing (and branding) are two vastly different skill-sets which require different mindsets.

That’s why I’m going to go ahead and be a jerk here and say the thing that most writer marketing people won’t: if you’re just starting out and you are still just trying to figure out the HOW to write your work effectively, skip this post and go check out some of my other ones like Mind the Gap or Writing Peace. You’ll likely find these much more enjoyable.

I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon here, it’s just a waste of your precious energy to think about marketing stuff until you’re ready. And if you think about marketing too early in the game, your writing may never pass the shitty first drafts phase.

On the other hand, if all you do is think about writing, but not the promotion of it, you’ll likely end up with some beautiful writing that only a handful of people actually read. (Which hey, if that’s what you want, no worries.)

If you’re a writer who’s truly ready to think about marketing–maybe you’ve had a few things published (or are ready to), or maybe you’re even widely published and you just procured an agent, or a book deal, or you’re getting ready to publish a book yourself, or heck if you’ve even published a few books but haven’t built the readership you’re looking for–this post is for you.

Let’s get to the meat of things.

Once upon a time, you could be a nobody and have some good writing, or even just a great idea for a book and get a book deal. This would garner you a suite of promotional support from your publisher. Support in the form of money, paid book tours, marketing, etc.

Those days, for the most part are gone. You’ve likely heard this before.
You’ve probably even heard that you need to publish micro versions of your work as widely as possible and have a platform, in order to get a good book deal and/or appear to build an audience. This is also true.

But let’s talk about the thing that no one seems to be addressing–and that’s the big ol’ WHY.

Why do we think we need 5k followers on Twitter? Why are we plucking segments from our books, or offshoot subject matter and working to get it published? To get a book deal? To build an audience? Will these things actually give us what we want?

Wait, do we even know what we truly want?

Which brings me to this: We’re caring about the WRONG THINGS. That shit really doesn’t matter. I recently saw the badass Nicole Walters speak and here’s a shot of one of her slides. It’s a little blurry (my bad), but it says this:

#TruthMoment: You Care About the Wrong Things

and then under that are three words are crossed out: Traffic, Followers, Subscribers

[to be clear she’s not saying you shouldn’t care about your followers or subscribers–rather you shouldn’t care about the number of them]

I’m going to tell you something you likely already know, deep down. But that hardly anyone is saying.

Just because you got published in the NY Times doesn’t mean you have a real audience. Just because you have a ton of Twitter followers will not guarantee that they’ll buy your book. Think about it. Even if hundreds of thousands of people read your work–which is amazing by the way, I am not knocking it at all and I want this too–when it comes down to it, will they remember you?

What percentage of those readers will actually remember your name in the future? And of those, what percentage will buy your book when it comes out? What percentage of your Twitter or Facebook followers will even see your book announcements in their feed?

Did you know that most Facebook users have about 1,500 news feed items backlogged every time they login?  Chances are your followers will only see about 1-2% of what you post.

Not to mention that you’re also competing with your friends’ cute puppy and kitty pictures, and political posts.

I don’t know about you, but I may read an essay, even an excellent one, then save it and share it around, but unless I already know the writer personally, I usually forget who the hell they are as time passes.

Here’s the thing that even many publishers haven’t fully caught on to yet: building your author/writer brand–and not just marketing for one book, will not only yield you more sales up front, but repeat customers in the long run.

I hear your gears turning and maybe you’re thinking, but Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t have to do that, Stephen King didn’t either.

Statistically, most of us will not have the kind of ginormous success that they have. And besides, they are not coming up right now in this vastly changed landscape. Even so, we can still be successful even if we’re not at JK Rowling status. But while there is much to learn from mega-writers, when it comes to how to market ourselves, chances are we’ll need to work harder and have a different approach.

The publishing industry has changed both a lot and not enough in the past couple decades. It has not caught up with the changes in our society, nor how people buy, nor what contributes to long-term viability.

I see that as an opportunity! It is an opportunity for a savvy writer like YOU to utilize skills from the entrepreneurial world to make bank despite the weird limbo that New York publishers are in.

Two things you can do today to build a bigger, better audience for the long run:

1. Think like an info-preneur and create a good content strategy.

Publishing work that is in line with your brand may sound like a no-brainer, but start thinking about what kind of brand kingdom you’re looking to build and make the dang blueprints to build it.

I know that’s easier said than done, heck I even struggle with this myself. But here’s an example of mismatched blueprints and construction, to illustrate my point:

Imagine you want to be known for your western mystery thrillers. Maybe that article you’re writing about the trend in bra membership sites isn’t a good match for your brand.

Maybe you’re thinking, but Andrea I have to make a living! I get it. As a single mama, more than most.

So let’s get real about what you need to do now to keep moving toward what you want, while also paying the bills. Maybe that means taking a different job, maybe that’s writing about bras for now, but having a plan for moving toward what you really want. You are the only one who can decide.

And then once you have decided, you can still create a content marketing strategy. Make a list of pieces you can write that build the brand you really want to build. Decide which will be posts on your blog, or email newsletter, and which will be pitched to publications. Then gets ta writin’.

The more volume of quality on-brand material you have, the better chance you have of getting in front of those eyeballs.

2. Enlist some easy, tangible ways to bring readers back to you.

Whenever possible on your posts or published pieces, include a link to your writer website (or at least the website spelled out if they won’t link to it). Don’t have a website? Get one! You need it! Even if it’s a one-pager, that’s okay.

But don’t stop there. The entire reason you want them to go to your website is to provide value and make contact. Have at least two ways to connect with you: an email list sign up, and an email address where they can contact you.

The goal here is to collect info. We know that social media is flooded, so while it’s great if they follow you on Instagram, it’s much better if they give you their email address. This allows you to keep in touch down the road, when you publish stories, or articles, or essays, or your book comes out.

And of course, you’re going to be a good steward and only send them good info, right? Don’t just drone on about how cool you and your book are. Provide some dang value!

You’ll also get a lot more people to sign up for your email list if you give them something in exchange for their email address. It could be the first chapter of your new book, a list of your favorite indie bookstores online, a quiz about your genre–you get the idea. Be creative, offer real value, and begin building an audience you can actually speak to.

You can do this.

I know it can be daunting to think about marketing yourself, or building your writer brand. I’ve totally been there. After that seminar I told you about, I wanted to lock myself in my room and never think about marketing myself again.

The good news is that you don’t need to have it all figured out. It’s just like writing the freakin’ book in the first place. Break it down into bite-sized pieces and do what you can do now.

Awareness with action is better than knowing everything and being paralyzed. Click To Tweet

Now, go get your email list sign up set up  if you don’t have one already (it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes), and just jot down ten quick ideas you could write about to build your brand. Then put them into your calendar so you actually pitch, write and post them.

And sign up for my email list below–see what I did there–to get first notice when my new Content Marketing course comes out! I’ll be walking you through each step to make a killer plan.


Want more help? Here are three ways I can help you now:

Enroll in my personal branding course, book a one-on-one branding consultation with me, or sign up for my weekly email newsletter.


Feature image by Zack Sheppard from San Francisco, CA (Waiting for Harry Potter at Borders) via Wikimedia Commons

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How to Set Up an Email Sign Up on Your Website

For personal brands, I usually recommend either of these two email marketing service providers: ConvertKit and MailChimp.

They each have their strengths and only you can choose the right one for your needs. Both email marketing providers have been selected for their ease-of-use, affordability, and flexibility. Below my Pros and Cons for each, are specific instructions on how to set up an email sign up form on your website, based on your type of website.

ConvertKit

I’m a bit newer to this provider, but I LOVE it’s capabilities for advanced marketing methods along with simplicity. I’m also a big fan of their company in general. Good people run this thing.

They say ConvertKit has the “power of Infusionsoft, but easier to use than MailChimp.” So far in my experience, that seems valid.
setup Convertkit on your site

Pros:

  • Easier to segment your list based on a subscriber’s actions, preferences, and purchases, so you can give people more of what they want (or need) and less of what they don’t
  • Super easy to sign up and implement
  • Great for automations–i.e. someone signs up for a freebie and then gets a series of useful emails after.
  • Reasonable price
  • Lots of integrations
  • They have a wealth of knowledge on what actually works in email marketing and are proactive about helping you build your list.

Cons:

  • They don’t have as many design options, and there’s no drag-and-drop layout designer
  • There’s no free to start option

Now, if you are going with ConvertKit, here are instructions for how to set it up on your own site:


MailChimp

I switched to MailChimp from Constant Contact a few years ago when I felt like Constant Contact was trying to have too many bells and whistles while also becoming more corporate. Anywho, I really do like MailChimp’s drag-and-drop design, but there are a few things I don’t like so much–which may not matter to you when you’re just starting out. I recently began my migration from MailChimp to ConvertKit because I wanted to have a more complex way of catering to my subscribers needs.

Pros:

  • Design options galore! Easy to do, too.
  • Clean, modern user interface
  • Easily integrated with many types of sites and platforms
  • Good if you’re just starting out. Free to start and begin collecting email addresses
  • I think they’re pretty cool people too–they loyally sponsored BinderCon

Cons:

  • The user interface, while lovely is often counter intuitive. There’s definitely a big learning curve to understanding lists versus segments, versus groups or doing any kind of more advanced list segmenting.
  • You cannot send your email to more than one list at a time.
  • You can end up paying for duplicate subscribers (billing is based on number of subscribers) if you use more than one list, as they count them separately.

Now, if you are going with MailChimp, here are instructions for how to set it up on your own site:

 

 


Full disclosure: I am an affiliate for ConvertKit so I get a tiny commission if you purchase. (Thanks for your support). I currently use both email marketing platforms, but am migrating over to ConvertKit.

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You’re Irresistible, You Just Don’t Realize It

Everyone has that special something that makes them oh-so-attractive to the right people. Sure there are the folks that are attractive to just about everyone, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about us–the everyday people who also have raving fans (even if they’re only your moms, or best friends, for now).

Let’s think about your career in the context of dating and relationships.

If you’re looking for your soul mate aka The One, I’m going to go ahead and boil down the myriad of self-help books to two things you’d likely do: First you’d figure out what you’re looking for in a mate, maybe  make a list of everything you’re hoping for. Next you’d take a good hard look at yourself and see whether you match up to that ideal partner, or whether you may need to do a little work on yourself before you’re ready for them, or will become irresistible to them.

Personal branding is a lot like that. When it comes to your creative career, whether you’re a writer, a painter, or a blogger–it’s no different. You need people who want your work/you. But you also don’t want to sell your soul, or sell out to get that audience. In order to attract them, you need to understand (and maybe pump up) the traits that will pull them toward you.

So now that you’ve got that, let’s step away from our soul mate metaphor for a moment and talk about your creative work.

Of course, the work you produce has a ton to do with whether or not people will want more of it, but identifying what it is so amazing about both you and your work is essential to tweaking that homing beacon that will attract them.

Without sitting by the mirror pool like good old Narcissus for too long, let’s take a look at a few ways we can focus on that second part of enthralling our “soul mate” audience: ourselves. Here are some quick ways to gather insights into why you’re so kick-ass, without feeling like a total asshole about it.

Gather Info

Take a moment and think back, or even look back at emails or notes, or whatever, from those who have said nice things about your work (or you). What did they say? Usually, there are some common threads. These are often clues to just what things make you and your work so appealing. Make a list. And circle commonalities.

I have a Feel Good folder where I keep nice things people have said to me, cards, art, etc. to help boost my confidence during low moments and remind myself of my strengths. I highly recommend creating your own version.

Listen to Compliments

Instead of eschewing compliments, from now on just start listening when people compliment you, take note of it, and of course, thank them kindly.

More often than not, if someone has taken the time and energy to compliment you, it is genuine. It’s often a lot more awkward to speak up that than we realize, so when someone breaks the barrier of silence to tell you why they love you or your work, for gosh-sakes, listen.

Ask More Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Pick a select group of people who like your work, or have said nice things in the past, and ask if you can pick their brain for just a couple minutes. Tell them you’re working on becoming your best self and producing more of your best work and that you’d love to hear their advice.

Here are some good questions to ask:

  • What do they like best about you/your work?
  • What/how does it make them feel?
  • How does it add value to their lives?

Get to Know Thyself

Next, go internal. Get real with the WHY of your work.

Why do you do this stuff anyway? Perhaps, it fulfills you, or maybe it pays the bills. Heck, if you’re lucky, both.

Once you’ve written down a few reasons, go another layer or two deeper and keep asking WHY.

Why does it fulfill you? Why is it good that it pays the bills? You get the idea.

Chances are, as you keep digging you’ll uncover more of the core of what motivates you to create in this world. And the more in touch you are with this purpose, the more it will ring true in your work and life and the more you’ll attract the right people.

Own Your Bad [Irresistible] Self

Your next step, once you’ve begun to understand what makes you so darn wonderful is to start thinking about ways you can serve others with your amazingness.

What actions can you take to help serve your ideal people better?

I firmly believe that when we act on the things that drive us, utilizing the talents and skills we have, to add beauty and insight to our world, the more we naturally step into more effective ways to reach the people who really need both us and our work.

I’ve also created a handy-dandy free worksheet download to help you really dig into this exercise and own your irresistible self.

So go ahead and download the free worksheet & find out what makes you so damn irresistible:

 

What makes you irresistible?

Find out now, download the free worksheet:


What makes you irresistible - find out
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Nine Traits of Astonishingly Successful Authors

In a market of ideas, why do some take off while others don’t? Why do some authors have mega status while others continue plodding on in obscurity, or with only moderate success?

The literary market fascinates me. There’s this vast ocean of books, ebooks, audiobooks, etc.  published each year and just a handful of them hit it BIG. I won’t pretend to guess that I know the reasons, but thinking about this got me wondering if there are some common traits among bestselling authors.

I think if there was a magic formula we’d know. We’d know because only be those who fit that formula would get books published. But as a writer trying to make it–and by that I mean support myself with my art–I do keep my eyes peeled and my ears open to what seems to set wildly successful authors apart.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the past few years or so in my work with writers, and participating in writing seminars, networking, workshops, and of course, my own research.

To be sure, this kind of mind-blowing success–I’m talking JK Rowling, John Grisham, Elizabeth Gilbert level–is not likely to just happen to most of us, but it can’t hurt to know what these authors have in common.

So, let’s dive in, shall we?

#1 They write a lot. And often they have been for a while. One of the big fallacies that I wish that some successful people would stop perpetuating is the idea that they just tried something and it worked. Sure there are those lucky ducks who get rich quick. I’m not saying luck never has anything to do with it.

But read enough success stories, or listen to enough podcasts like How I Built This or Being Boss and you’ll notice a pattern that successful people worked really hard for it. Whether it was practice, trial and error, or getting a degree, more often than not, it takes time and commitment.

There’s a reason they say “building” a reputation and not “sprouting” a reputation.

Neil Gaiman offers this advice, “Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”  (Here’s his full commencement address at The University of the Arts: http://www.uarts.edu/neil-gaiman-keynote-address-2012)

But before you go quitting your job, please read on.

#2 They submit/pitch a lot and are in it for the long game. One of the stories that has encouraged me the most is Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk where she shares how she submitted her writing to publications for almost SIX YEARS before getting something published. That’s a long fucking time to wait. And that’s real commitment.

#3 They believed in their project(s). We’ve all heard certain authors say that they didn’t think anyone would actually publish their work. This is one of those moments where I wonder if their hindsight is really 20/20.

Who writes for so long and submits proposal after proposal if they think they have absolutely no hope?

It’s likely best not to have expectations, but I have a hunch that they believed someone would say yes, eventually.

When asked about her faith in her first Harry Potter book, before it was published, J K Rowling said, “You know, I can say this now, I was quite diffident about saying it for a long time. But I did have a belief, with Harry, that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to take it, because it didn’t fit. People said children’s books had to be half the length, and what an old-fashioned subject, a boarding school. I did have this feeling that the difficult thing would be persuading someone to publish it – but that if it was, people would like it.

(Read the full interview here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/28/conversation-lauren-laverne-jk-rowling-interview )

#4 They stood for something. Often something different/unique. These famous authors have instant recognition in our minds. We know them for their style, their voice, their subject matter, or persona of writing. I think a big reason many authors don’t get there is because they aren’t deeply rooted in who they are, what they offer, what/who they stand for, or what they seek to understand. Aka they don’t know what their brand is.

This of course, is of utmost importance in the stories we write as well. Depth of plot and character, as well as intimate knowledge of themes and what both you and your writing is about is key.

#5 They are as tenacious as fuck. They made time for their writing, they got agents, they created book proposals, they wrote essays, or stories, or whatever. The point is, they didn’t make excuses for finding the time to finish their work. They did the work. Stephen King wrote every night after his two day jobs, in the laundry room, on a makeshift desk his wife made for him.

#6 They are focused. Maybe this one could be combined with the point just above, but I want to emphasize it. Perhaps because I need to remind myself of this so often. I love ideas, always have. But the problem is, I find myself jumping on too many of them and doing way too many disparate things, which makes me fall behind on finishing the things I’ve already started.

“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” –Ray Bradbury

What is clear is that all of these fabulously successful writers carve out time to write, consistently. They make it a priority.

#7 Most of them had day jobs, so there’s no excuse. JK Rowling was a single mom with a low-paying job who was on state assistance while she wrote the first Harry Potter book. I try to remind myself of this when I’d rather be working out a storyline than getting my other/paid work done.

Besides I think writing in a vacuum often produces navel-gazing, academic, philosophic work, whereas having other obligations while writing, however you do it (doesn’t have to be a day job), produces richer writing and more interesting work.

Here’s what Maya Angelou said, in an interview with Harvard Business Review:

Interviewer: “When you were working at those early jobs, did you ever envision what you would become?”

Maya: “No, but I didn’t think I wouldn’t. I somehow got the feeling early on that if human beings did a thing, I could study it and try to do some of it too. And one thing led to another. If I had not studied Latin in school, I wouldn’t have found it as easy to comprehend the structure of language. Had I not danced, I might never have really listened to music and known I could compose something. You see? I understood early that not everything I did wasn’t going to be a masterpiece, but I would try to do it the best I knew how. I’ve listened to an inner voice and had enough courage to try unknown things. And I think everything in its time.”

And that brings us to what I think is one of the most important points of success.

#8 They had really great ideas/stories that were usually well executed. It seems to me that more often than not their stories or ideas were not only great, but were well crafted. How many times have you read a book, seen a movie, or watched a TV show and thought, well it was a good premise, but it lacked [fill in the blank]? These BIG successful books, essays, screenplays, etc. are (with definite exceptions) excellent ideas, well played.

I think we often underestimate the power of great ideas.

#9 They often felt a higher calling to write. One more quote from Maya Angelou, to sum this point up: “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.”

Whether you or I ever get to the top of our mountains, I think Ms. Angelou’s advice is always good.  If you love what you’re doing, even if you’re making your money elsewhere, you’ll enjoy this life more anyway.

Here’s hoping that someday, your name will be in lights. Or at least that you get to do more of what you love.