Tuesday, December 16, 2014
It's that time of year again, folks.
A time when the hectic pace of the holidays, pending plans, and countless commitments can have us divided like a fraction. With Xmas only a week away, I have yet to finish my shopping and finalize my dinner menu. And I'm betting here that I'm not the only one. :-)
Not to mention, my attempts at recreating my mom's version of turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving, gave a whole new definition to a "hot mess." So, I've got to redeem myself.
But that's another story for another time...
Amid all the madness, it can be difficult to maintain focus and maintain writing momentum. But we can. And we should.
After all, there's great truth to the expression, "It's not how you start, but how you finish."
With this as our navigational tool, let's look at a few ways we can end 2014 on a positive note, and usher in a new year with even greater potential.
1. Look Back.
Though it can sometimes be a bit discouraging to revisit our failures or the resolutions never realized, there's no better way to identify time wasters, creative weaknesses, or business strategies that need to be revised. For example, when you look at your income received, did it meet your expectations for the year? Were your goals clearly defined? Did you spend too much time on social media and not enough on marketing? Assess and address.
2. Move Forward.
Armed with the knowledge of how you missed the mark in 2014, what can you adjust now to prepare for optimal success in 2015? Next year, I intend to diversify my client base and join more writers' organizations. For you, it might mean signing up for a class to hone your skills, or making efforts to become more disciplined in your writing routine. Don't just talk about it, be about it.
3. Seek Help.
In a "blog fog?" Need assistance in SEO writing? Have ideas for a book, but don't know how to pitch an agent? Take the time to align yourself with the right resources and the right people to make it happen. Even professional athletes sometimes hire coaches to reach peak performance levels. Don't let pride hinder progress.
4. Establish Balance.
Many times writers feel guilty about "working" during the holidays and lose out on endless opportunities. Don't be one of them. As I've said before, work hard, but play hard too. Carve out a little personal time to finish that book, or redesign your blog, or develop a marketing plan for the year ahead. Give yourself a jump start to go the distance.
5. Keep Going.
Don't let disappointments, editors' rejections, financial setbacks, or even self-doubt sabotage future success. Writing is much harder than most people realize. But, it is so worth it!
And your attitude can make all the difference.
...Now, so I can have time to put all these practices into play, this will be my final post for Pen and Prosper for 2014. Join me here on January 2, 2015 for more to explore, and fun activities to help you enhance your writing career and grow.
Feel free to leave comments in the interim to stay in touch.
In closing, I'd like to take this time to thank all of you for your readership, comments and support.
Whether you've been "naughty or nice," I hope Santa grants your heart's desires, and that your Christmas is filled with warm memories.
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
One of the most common challenges for bloggers today, other than coming up with a constant stream of quality content, is getting readers to connect through comments.
And frankly, for many, it's a tough nut to crack.
By all indications, readers are stopping by to check out your goods.
The analytics provided by your site confirm this.
In fact, your blog's stats reveal more "peepers" visiting you than the local Lens Crafters.
Still, week after week, month after month, you get the "silent treatment" from the majority of your reading audience.
Sound familiar? Don't despair.
Here are a few things you should know to preserve your sanity, govern your expectations, and increase the likelihood of more feedback in the future.
But first things first. Let's examine...
Why Readers don't often comment
They don't see that leaving a comment is like the equivalent of providing a tip for a waitress or service provider. Though there is no obligation, it's a small courtesy that "compensates" them for sharing their time, talent, and resources. And it makes the blogger feel appreciated.
2. They have a "voters'" mentality. They don't feel that their say matters.
Many are unaware that their comments inspire future topics and helps to navigate the direction of the blogs they read; including issues like blog frequency, subject matter, and even interviews.
Other than surveys, polls, or a psychic, there's no better way to assess their needs and their interest level.
Word to the wise: much like the political process, your "vote" matters.
3. Readers sometimes forget that blogs by their very nature are intended to be "interactive".
Why else would writers spend hours creating content and going public with their personal feelings and failures, if not for the potential of feedback and creating a sense of community and support?
4. Readers are busy and have to ration their time and comments.
You're not the only one "courting them." And if given a choice, many of them will choose to leave comments for the celebrity bloggers (i.e. Darren Rowse, Carol Tice, Brian Clark); it makes them feel like part of the "in crowd".
5. They're "just not that into you."
Sometimes silence speaks volumes. Though everyone has off days where they fail to capture input from their audience, I have visited sites where there were no comments for six or more posts consecutively. Ouch. If this happens to you, perhaps you should reassess what you're posting. Don't be bitter, be better. Make sure that your content is engaging, addresses the needs of a specific target audience, and has solid take-away value.
6. Readers don't comment because you haven't asked!
Though this may appear simplistic, it's often overlooked. Readers typically need a "call to action." Pose a question at the end of each post. It can be something simple like..."Thoughts?" "Agree or disagree?"
Like the Good Book says: "You have not because you ask not."
7. You have too many comments or too few.
Remember the story of the Three little bears? The consumption has to be "just so". Too few comments and your readers may feel that it's not worth their time to provide feedback. Too many comments and they feel as if their "two cents" will get lost in a sea of many.
8. There's a barrier to entry. It's too tough to leave a comment.
Nothing is more frustrating than to have to type in a code, register, dodge pop-ups, jump through hoops, or practically sacrifice your first born, just to be heard. Run a test. Try to leave a message at your site and see what the experience is like. Are there any glitches? Does it take too long for the process? Is it easy to identify where to leave comments? These are things you'll want to assess.
9. You have too many social media options.
It's often easier for folks to "Tweet you" or "Like you" on Facebook than to leave a comment.
10. Though they enjoy your content, they feel shy about leaving a comment.
Don't take it personally. Sometimes readers see it as "public speaking." It makes them nervous or paranoid.
11. They feel that they need to say something "profound" or clever to add to the conversation.
Not so. Not always. I think I speak for most bloggers who sometimes appreciate the proverbial pat on the back with simple comments like "good job." Or "Thanks for sharing this." Ironically, I get direct emails from people like this, but they hesitate to leave it on the blog.
Though I'm not complaining; it just confuses me. :-)
12. Readers don't always consider that leaving a comment has mutual benefits.
Many times if a person leaves a comment at a site they've visited the blogger will reciprocate. Additionally, it's a quick an effective way to get "discovered" at other sites. Really. It's true. I have actually had "followers" say that they discovered my site through a comment I made somewhere else, and they simply followed the link. Michael Corley, realtor and entrepreneur is an example.
Okay, now that we've "discussed" why readers don't always leave comments and potential ways to address the problem, here's why comments count...
- It validates the blogger and makes him feel "heard." Not to mention, it's one of the few things now and days that's free and fat-free.
- It serves as a success metric for professional situations. Did you know that the number of comments at your blog is used by potential advertisers, clients, publishers, and even blogging contests to assess your ability to engage an audience, build community, and sell your "brand?" For example, at Write to Done's popular "Top 10 Blogs" contest, 15% of the total scoring for each site is based solely on the number of comments received on their posts.
- It encourages today's busy blogger to go the distance. It's a huge investment of time and energy, and comments allow us to reap a return for our sweat equity.
- Leaving comments helps us all to teach, learn, and grow.
*Also, to optimize your chances of receiving comments in times ahead, make sure to respond to the ones that readers leave behind.
Well, there you have it folks: the good, bad, and the ugly behind the act of commenting.
A special thanks to Linda O' and Michael Corley. Their comments inspired today's post.
Now, I'd love to get yours! Thoughts?
Which of the "Dirty Dozen" are you guilty of? Do tell. :-)
Which of the "Dirty Dozen" are you guilty of? Do tell. :-)
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Is your to-do-list expanding like your waistline around the holidays?
Are the blogging dreams you started out with still unfulfilled?
If so, you'll want to continue reading today's post to give you a little perspective...
Most bloggers start out with the best intentions. They launch their sites to share a passion for writing, or to raise awareness of a cause, or to connect and create community, or to provide expertise that allows others to live better.
No one can dispute that this creative endeavor requires dedication, time, and a great deal of sweat equity in order to reap returns.
Which is all the more reason why today's blogger must learn to be more strategic-- to deal with the weekly rigors, avoid burnout, and successfully build a strong platform that allows them to make a difference and make a living.
With this in mind, here are five practices and principles that may be sabotaging your efforts, stunting your growth, and stealing countless hours. There's great truth to the adage, "Time is money."
So, let's get started.
The Hard Way:
Blogging without goals or a game plan.
The Smart Way:
Reflect. Assess. Consider. Why are you blogging? What's your goal? To make money? To build a platform for your writing career? To entertain? To vent about your 9 to 5 job? Who is your target audience? What common problems do they encounter? What about their lifestyle? These are things to evaluate so that you can create a marketing plan that addresses these issues. Not having blogging goals or a game plan is like traveling to an unknown city without a road map or compass.
The Hard Way:
Spending countless hours getting caught up in social media: FaceBook, Google+, InstaGram, Twitter, etc. to get noticed. In the words of Dr. Phil, "How's that workin' out for ya'?"
The Smart Way:
Align your blogging goals with just two forms of social media and devote a day or two to promoting your content and establishing important contacts. The rest of the time you should probably devote to writing, researching, or marketing. Hello?
The Hard Way:
Not having consistency in updating your blog. Sometimes it's once a week; other times it's once a month, or whenever your muse inspires you.
The Smart Way:
Commit to a schedule that's comfortable then keep it. Ironically, when you post sporadically you work harder. You lose momentum, and you lose readership. I know that I have personally unsubscribed to bloggers who insist on playing games of "now you see me, now you don't!"
You're better than that.
The Hard Way:
Trying to do it all alone. Coming up with all your own topics, content, contests, etc.
The Smart Way:
Reach out to other writers and bloggers. Have them contribute to your site through accepting guest posts, or sponsoring blog tours;even book reviews work well. Doing so adds to your blog's appeal, and provides variety for your readers. Not to mention, it allows you to take a "mental break," so that you can go the distance.
The Hard Way:
Blogging without branding.
The Smart Way:
Making strategic efforts to make your online "brand" stick to your readers like Velcro.
This includes consistency in your message. Having a logo and a slogan. Creating content that is associated with excellence. And last but not least, honing your writer's "voice" so that it resonates with readers, and is easily distinguished. With all the blogs currently out in the blogosphere, it behooves you to do as much as possible to make your blog "bookmark worthy."
Wouldn't you agree?
Thoughts? Do you struggle in any of these areas?
Sunday, November 30, 2014
|Mistake # 14|
There's great truth to the adage, "Those who fail to learn from the past are destined to repeat it."
With this in mind, I'd like to share some experiences that have rounded out my year, and made me stronger and wiser--serving to "advance" me in this classroom we call life.
In doing so, I hope to shorten your learning curve, so you'll encounter fewer detours on your writing journey, and the quest for quality living.
Feel free to share your own, "ah-ha" moments, or to elaborate on the ones provided here.
Pencils ready? Class in session...
1. Freedom of speech ain't entirely free.
It comes with a degree of responsibility. In this day and age of the Internet and social media, we can instantly share our thoughts with thousands, at the click of a button. It's empowering. It's enlightening. And sometimes it can be, well... frightening. Frankly, I'm amazed at some of the things that people place on line simply because they "can." Slander. Racist comments. Mean-spirited attacks. Word wars. Dirty laundry. Don't be one of them.
As writers, we have the ability to heal with our words. Let's hold ourselves to higher standards. It's incumbent upon us to reveal the brighter side of humanity; to show empathy, civility, and accountability.
Use your "powers" for good, not evil. Of course a good "rant" every now and then is cathartic and necessary.
2. All writers are not necessarily "starving artists."
The key? Good clients. Choosing the right field or area of specialization. Good decisions. And good karma in the writing and blogging community.
3. Sometimes blessings are retro-active.
Don't get discouraged if what you hope for in your life, your career, or even your relationships hasn't unfolded. God has his own sense of timing. Stay strong.
4. Keep in mind the definition of insanity.
A wise man once stated, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results." I'll be using this to navigate my writing career in 2015.
5. The best revenge is a good life.
Let go of grudges and regrets. Be better, not bitter. I've discovered that there's nothing more liberating than peace of mind. How about you?
6. Not everyone deserves a front row seat in the arena of your life.
Even if it's a family member. Be prudent with whom you share your confidences and your company.
"Guard your heart." It's in the Bible.
7. Humor heals.
The medical community has long recognized the restorative powers of a good laugh. And it's why I incorporate funny sitcoms in my daily viewing routine, or sometimes a humorous book. In a world with far too much sadness, it can be a sanity saver. Try humor in your blog posts, in a fictional story, or even a poem with a surprise ending. Better yet, babysit. It will definitely inspire your muse. I spent time with one of my nieces recently and her joy was contagious.
8. Want a better quality of life in 2015?
Reduce two things: your level of stress and your level of debt.
9. If having your work published in a book by a "traditional publisher" is your goal, here's a great option I've explored.
Consider submitting to popular anthologies, on various themes. Some will even accept previously published work. To date I've had about a dozen accepted; a few by publishing giants, "Simon and Schuster."
The pay-off? In many instances, these projects provide cash prizes, prestige, and important publishing credits. I'm still working on being published in "Chicken Soup."
But, the good news is that I recently had an essay accepted for an anthology on education, slated to be released next year. Yay!
10. Effective time management is crucial to success and longevity as a writer.
I credit this skill for my ability to juggle with minimal struggle. Rise early. Do things right the first time. Prioritize with a purpose.
11. For a greater financial forecast in the year ahead, and to decrease the likelihood of deadbeat clients, it's imperative to operate like a true business.
This includes "screening" clients, requesting deposits on major projects, and having terms and conditions outlined in the form of a contract. I learned the hard way; yet it's a lesson that I won't need to repeat any time soon.
12. This holiday season, consider giving gifts that will be appreciated all year long.
Things like benefit of the doubt, forgiveness, empathy, respect, value for others' time and gifts.
Don't be so quick to judge and blame. You get what you give.
13. Keep your word.
I'm really surprised and saddened that not enough folks do these days. There's no better form of "branding."
14. Mom sometimes knows best.
The picture above reflects my efforts to try my own version of "dressing" instead of following my mom's recipe. "Kids don't try this at home!" Usually I'm a great cook. Go figure. Oh well, if at first you don't succeed, right?
In our efforts to provide quality time with family and friends for the holidays, many of us abstain from writing, the Internet, and related activities. This isn't always prudent. Work is work. Although priorities are important, balance is crucial. Work hard. Play hard. Do a little of both, when the situation allows. For example, during the recent holiday, I took the time to stay in touch with valued clients. I continued to respond to emails in a timely fashion.
Turns out it was a wise choice. This practice landed a pretty sweet contract, that has the potential of paying off for several months next year.
The moral of the story? Be a quick study by following these timely lessons and being faithful to your own personal truths.
Thoughts? What lesson will you be heeding in the year ahead? Do tell.
Friday, November 21, 2014
It's been a year of trials and triumphs, changes and challenges.
Not just for me personally, but collectively as a nation.
The Ebola crisis. Political upheaval. The deaths of entertainment icons like Robin Williams and Joan Rivers.
The increasingly high cost of living.
We've witnessed extremes in everything from the weather to gas prices at the pump.
When we take time to assess and reflect, there is so much for which we can still be thankful.
Everyday. Not just one day of the year.
With this in mind, I'd like to thank you readers--for your support, your time, your interest, your feedback, and your loyal follow.
I'm thankful to those of you who have honored my Blog with awards, Tweets, interviews and guest posts.
I'm thankful for work that gives me joy, and helps others to advance their careers, improve their quality of life, and avoid some of the mistakes I've made.
Grateful that we can laugh and learn together.
I'm thankful for family, good food, and good friends...health and shelter.
And I'm thankful for my upcoming, much-needed break!
Jen will be taking a hiatus for the holiday. I'll need some time to recover from the turkey, rich desserts, side dishes, and decadent chocolate.
So, let's get together again-- on or around December 1st.
Until then...wishing you and yours a holiday filled with abundant blessings, and memories as rich as grandma's gravy!
Monday, November 17, 2014
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Seems the more I work, the less I can afford to comfortably pay for this year. No doubt, as a freelancer, you’re trying to come to terms with this conundrum as well.
In fact, recently when my Internet bill arrived, to my dismay I discovered that my monthly charges had almost doubled. Even though I had not acquired any additional services or requested any enhancements to my account.
Perplexed, I called my phone provider to get the “4-1-1” and choose a cheaper package to potentially save money. I was informed that I was already receiving their cheapest package! Hello?!
To make a long story short, the representative went on to explain that this “inflated” bill was because the cost of doing business is simply higher now due to fuel, delivery charges, taxes, regulations; you know the spiel.
But unfortunately, as my mom often says, “It is what it is.”
While I can’t do much about the steadily increasing cost of living and operating a business, I have found a way to use my “creativity” to reduce my out of pocket expenses, without reducing my quality of life. And you can too.
Want to know my secret?
In a word: bartering.
And here’s the good news: without realizing it, you’ve likely had plenty of practice over the years.
Remember back in grade school when you’d “negotiate” your apple for your best friend’s pudding cup? Or baseball cards for popular action figures?
Well, bartering’s value has not diminished over time.
Though this form of doing business is as ancient as cavemen, far too few entrepreneurs use it today to enhance their operations and build their client base.
Don’t be one of them.
In a tough economy where people are “cash crunched,” bartering just makes good business sense. Trading services provides a win/win situation for all parties, while building important relationships and future collaborations.
And I should know. Over the last few years, bartering my creative services has saved me a bunch of cash, while providing the following perks and goodies:
Free tickets to events (like a live jazz concert with food)
New kitchen chairs from a local antique shop
Catering for parties
Tree trimming services
Other “enlightened” entrepreneurs are getting on board too…One Chicago restaurant owner has even accepted bartering arrangements to score “hot deals” like vacation packages, new floors, and even dental services.
Bartering can “pay” big for you too! Here are a few practices and principles to observe to get the best from bartering:
Make sure to get everything in writing.
This includes any deliverables, deadlines, and “deal breakers.”
Ideally, the exchange should happen at the same time.
I once got burned because I provided services for a guy who later changed his mind about his end of the bargain, and there was no way to “un-do” or “refund” my half.
Be certain that both parties agree that the services and/or goods are of equal value.
Bartering arrangements that work well include:
- Exchanging photographic or design services for writing press releases or collateral materials
- Providing social media management or clever blog posts to local merchants in exchange for free classes, meals, or merchandise
So, if you’re looking to operate more efficiently in the year ahead, take a new look at the “old-school” advantages of bartering.
For bartering opportunities, consult Craigslist.org in your geographic area, or connect with other artists and entrepreneurs in your social media circles.
By the way...though today's post title is gender specific, these tips work equally well for my male readership.
Your turn. Have you ever bartered your creative services? Anything you would add here?
Image credit: Freedigitalphotos.net
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
|"Wish others well."|
Guest Post By: Noelle Sterne
"Wish other writers well?" you're thinking. "Are you crazy? There's only one writer I want to wish well: knuckle-biting, discipline-fighting, draft-grinding me!"
Every bookstore displayed towering mountains of her bestseller.
The greater her praise, the deeper my self-deprecation.
Chronically depressed, I stopped reading reviews and crossed the street when a bookstore loomed.
Finally I realized something crucial, which led to the antidote I'm suggesting. This hard-to-swallow remedy is not proposed from magnanimity or naiveté. Rather, it's plain old self-interest: As I proved for way too long, jealousy of other writers just doesn't work.
Why? They don't plunge into depression at the news of their own advance/article/ assignment/ agent/bestseller/contract/book tour/miniseries/Oprah selection, etc., etc. They don't lose all interest and hope, condemn everything they've ever written as drivel, or swear there will never be enough to go around. They don't snap at everyone in sight, eat way too much, and write way too little.
Who does? You guessed it.
I’m tired of all that unproductive pain. It's finally pushed me to another, more fruitful perspective.
I realized that our envied colleagues, despite their intimidating accomplishments, remain only people. They too get cavities, have to shave, run out of coffee, and accumulate roomfuls of rejections.
And something else: No matter how stellar their past credits, like every one of us, they must daily face the next test of success—the blinding blankness of the empty page or screen.
The only difference between us and our supposed rivals is that they probably know something we've forgotten: an overnight success never is. In fact, our colleagues exemplify the truth of all those easily scoffed-at clichés:
· There's always room for someone good.
· Each of us is uniquely and irreplaceably creative.
· As you may have read before, be yourself. Everyone else is taken.
My conviction in these truisms was first challenged with my college classmate. When her third well-received novel came out, I wrote her a letter. I told her of my long, agonizing jealousy of her and how it had stopped me from writing. I said I nevertheless admired her work and wished her well with her in-progress fourth novel. She never replied, but that letter freed me tremendously. I still avoided bookstores but gradually wrote more and began to publish.
Recently, an equally ominous ordeal emerged. In a single week, I learned of the successes of several writing friends. One received a prestigious award for her children's book, another signed a contract for her first historical novel, and the third published his latest short story in a top national literary magazine.
At first this news pierced me like multiple wounds and almost sent me straight to bed with a fifty-pound bag of chocolate chip cookies. But then, although admittedly less than joyous, I resisted crawling under the quilt and instead strode over to my computer. Remembering my letter to my college nemesis, and defying the green-eyed gods of rejected writers, I brazenly fired off notes of congratulation to all three.
I wasn't fibbing. For one thing, as with my college classmate, I can't help praising a good piece of writing, whoever's written it. For another, I recalled the words of a very wise preacher: "If you curse the successful, you'll never be one of them. Bless them instead."
My congratulatory notes were certainly forms of "blessings," and self-interest again impelled me to reinforce them. Sitting at my desk, I addressed each of my accomplishing friends aloud (and a little self-consciously): "______, I wish you all the success, fame, and wealth you want, and more!"
The results were astonishing. My jealousy evaporated, depression disappeared, and spirit returned. I leapt into a manuscript I'd been avoiding for weeks and did splendid battle for several too-short hours, finishing an entire third draft.
More rewards came. The children's author sent a beautifully inscribed copy of her book. The historical novel writer called, thanked me profusely, and offered a personal referral to her agent. And a letter came from the short story writer. My words, he said, had pulled him out of a slump so severe he was sure he'd never write anything again. With my note propped in front of him, he'd just started another story.
Seeing their responses, I almost cried. My well-wishing had evoked these immediate blessings! All envy, like a wayward winged insect, flew right out the window.
My survival-driven stumbling into well-wishing was confirmed and extended by agent Anna Olswanger of Liza Dawson Associates (quoted by editor and writing teacher Deborah Brodie, “More Is More”). Talking about the children’s book market, Olswanger said:
And more—remember, each time you wish other writers well, you're making room for your own greater success and wishing yourself nothing less than the best.
BIO: Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Funds for Writers, Rate Your Story, Tiny Buddha, Transformation Magazine, Unity Magazine, Women in Higher Education, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, she is completing a handbook for doctoral candidates wrestling with their dissertations on their largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). A story will appear in 365 Tiny Love Challenges by Tiny Buddha (HarperOne, 2015). In Noelle’s book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she draws examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at
Your turn. Have you ever had a bout of "writer's envy?" Do you compare your successes and failures to other writers? Do tell.
Your turn. Have you ever had a bout of "writer's envy?" Do you compare your successes and failures to other writers? Do tell.