This last week I finished The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult. Here is a review of the book, and a dissection of how she uses flashbacks as a productive plot construct. I have tried not to reveal too much, but as a general warning, there may be spoilers in the post below.
The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult, is about Sage Singer, a baker who revels in the solitude of her job. Despite her general reclusiveness, Sage befriends 95-year-old Josef, a regular in the grief group she’s attended for three years and a man well known for the years of good he has done in their town. As their friendship grows, he reveals to her that he was a German Nazi SS Guard and he needs her, a jew, to not only forgive him but help him end his life. The shock and the stories his bold request unearth leads Sage down a path that will require her to determine whether redemption is possible, and who is worthy of forgiveness.
Releasing a novel is a bit like being sucked into a tornado while a bunch of people smile and wave at you. It's exhilarating, terrifying, and you can't always predict which direction you'll be thrown. With the expanse of online communities and personal networks available to authors these days, it's hard to know what to focus on when you're trying to self promote. Or how to self promote in the first place.
So, that's what I'm here to talk to you about. No more illusive talk, I'm getting down to the basics. It doesn't matter if you've never been published or have already published and want to grow your audience; it's never too early or too late to start self promoting.
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1. Brand yourself.
When you start self promoting, it's exactly that: SELF promoting. You are the business you are trying to sell, not a particular story. You want all of your other endeavors to succeed because you are the one responsible for them. The goal is to make your name recognizable, so you'll have to decide early on if you want to use your real name or a pseudonym. Once you decide, create all your social media accounts, online community profiles, websites, and business cards with the same name. You don't want to be @rachelhuffmire on one site and @rachiewrites on another. Keep them consistent and professional.
When I first started out, I heard an illusive term floating around: author platform. They told me it was important, but nobody really spelled it out for me. So here you go--- an author platform means all the places you'll be able to stand up and say "Hey! Look at this awesome thing I did!" The bigger the platform, the more people will hear about you and your novel. Your followers don't have to be restricted to writerly groups. If you have a following that watches your how-to videos on making felt finger puppets on YouTube, guess what! That's part of your platform! Figure out what niches you fit into, how you can offer people valuable content, and be friendly. Genuinely make connections, and you'll be surprised how quickly your group can grow!
A few things to think about... Your platforms need to be public, to draw people in. That being said, you need to decide how publicly you are going to broadcast your personal opinions and private life. For me, I decided not to post much about my kids, because, you know, weird people. But, I'm also pretty careful about staying clear of supercharged issues. My brand is not involved in politics, controversial events, derogatory speach, or anything explicit. That's the brand I've chosen. Whereas, some people's brands revolve exclusively around those things. Realize that you absolutely have to make some deliberate decisions about what you can be involved in online.
2. Develop a website.
When people hear your name, they need a landing zone. Your website is where you can tie all your platforms together into one big self-promoting mega machine. People might stumble across your latest tweet, or Instagram pic, but the people who visit your website are deliberate seekers of your brand. These people are coming with questions: What was her book called? Does she have any signing events going on? Can I sign up for a newsletter? I liked her book, I wonder if she wrote anything else.
A good website will have a short bio, blog articles, links to where they can purchase your products, newsletter subscription forms, and event information. You don't have to buy a domain yet, but as soon as you get that publishing contract, having a .com address will make you easier to find and look more professional.
After you get set up, do some research about how to improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimization). When people type in your name, you want to be the first google hit that shows up. It might be a little daunting, but I can promise you, having a polished website that is the first thing to show up on a google search will make all the marketing you do for your release day much more profitable. So get this step done early.
Do you ever sit down to write, only to find you can’t concentrate when there’s clutter around you? Do you then spend your writing time either cleaning that clutter or avoiding the problem entirely by retreating to social media or “research”?
Cleaning is the bane of my existence, so I’ve never been very good at keeping up with mess. In one of our first apartments, my husband and I basically lived out of our dryer, nearly every flat surface was considered fair game to put junk that didn’t have a spot, and there was a room that was filled with unorganized papers I would toss in when I passed by (don’t worry, I cringe thinking about it, too). And that was BEFORE I had kids. Now, even though I’ve gotten some of my bad cleaning habits under control, even when I get something put away it doesn’t stay put away for long.
But what does my hatred of cleaning have to do with writing? I’ve always known that the pressure to clean never eases up, and that taking care of the worst messes either comes before writing or gets worse. These two priorities clash in my life every single day. I’m constantly trying to come up with a way to keep a clean house and write, but it always feels impossible. Then I bought a book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
I was the kindergartener who read voraciously right out of the gate.
I was the 5th grader getting plastic trophies for finishing the year’s reading program, usually several thousand words above the goal.
I was the teenager getting grounded for reading too much instead of calling a friend or going outside.
I am the mother who, once latched onto a fascinating new book, doesn't do anything else until I've finished it. Don't worry, my kids still get fed! The dishes...well, they can wait, right?
I am a bookworm. I actually come from a family of bookworms. My husband is one, too. Unfortunately, the love of reading isn't exactly genetic, so making sure our kids love reading has been a goal of mine since our oldest was in the womb.
He's six, homeschooling at a kindergarten level and reading at a second-grade level. His next oldest sibling is hot on his heels. My kids love books more than candy and toys. They spend a significant amount of time each day reading, aside from bedtime stories. A new book is irresistible to them, and it isn't long before they have it basically memorized.
I don't say this to brag about my children the way parents are inclined to do (okay, maybe a little), but rather to say that we're well on our way to breeding the next generation of book lovers in our family. I wanted to provide a brief list of things that seem to be working so far to make our children into bookworms, so that you can instill a love of reading into yours, too!
While I wasn't one of those new parents that read to my firstborn in the womb, we did start reading to him as soon as he began to sit up. We read from the same two or three books every night, delighting in his obvious thrill at our animal noises and silly sounds.
With reading a part of our first baby's nightly routine, it's been easy to create a habit that has lasted his entire life so far, and now his three sisters (and in-the-womb brother) all enjoy story time before bed. We also “leveled up” with our oldest and started reading chapter books with him after his sisters are in bed. Nothing gives me a greater thrill than sharing my most favorite childhood stories with my son, and discovering new ones together, too!
Give Unrestricted Access to Books
We keep a multitude of books on a shelf just the right size for little hands. There are many benefits to this that I believe far outweigh the cons. First, kids internalize that books are a green-light item. They're allowed to read them, look at them, even play with them. It's easier to say no to grown-up books that we want to keep nice when they have several shelves of their own books that we can redirect them to. We select quality books and keep them rotating through the shelves so they always seem fresh and new (and so mom and dad can get a break from reading that one really long or annoying one, am I right?). We've utilized generous grandparents, thrift stores, and libraries to keep our collection exciting and refreshed. (Although, I'll admit that we rarely check out library books… the potential for damage and the cost of replacement is too high in my house with four sticky, chaotic, enthusiastic readers!)
I know you're tired after chasing them all day, running errands, and keeping them alive. But when your toddler runs up with their favorite book, or your older child stops you every other sentence to ask a question or make an observation, try your best to turn down the cranky dial and make it magical for them. We're imperfect people, but we can find ways to bring joy into reading. Maybe it's an extra ridiculous voice or face, maybe we add inflection and alter our tone, maybe we introduce our children to audiobooks, movies, or musicals based on the books we read. We read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my oldest last summer and he loved it, so when the local Jr. High announced their production of the musical, we bought tickets and made sure he got to go. My energetic six-year-old sat through the entire thing, riveted. He loved pointing out all the differences he noticed between the book and the show. I'm looking forward to sharing one of the film adaptations with him, too.
A very critical point to make here is that we never force reading on our kids. d. It's one reason we home school. A child can sometimes be forced into reading too soon because of school requirements. It’s one of the quickest ways to kill the joy of reading, making it something a child might not discover until adulthood, which is a tremendous shame. I think some of the danger is mitigated by reading in the home before school begins. Help your young reader find books about things they love to keep the spark lit, even if reading becomes hard for them. My son loves sharks and sciency things like tornadoes and weird fungus. A book like that will keep him occupied for DAYS. So does his now-tattered copy of Calvin and Hobbes comics. I try not to be too picky, as long as he's reading!
Monkey See, Monkey Do
If you don't read, why would your child? They are the world's best mimics, and if you never make time for any sort of reading beyond Facebook scrolling, I can assure you that most children won’t see that reading has any sort of value. Let them see you do it, and tell them about what you’ve read recently. In today’s age of technology you have no excuses. Audiobooks make “reading” during your commute or while doing dishes or laundry possible. Even many e-readers come with read-aloud options. Ebooks make reading on the train or in the car an option for some. Those that get carsick can slip a Kindle in our purse and read in the waiting room or in the school pickup line.
I love paperbacks and hardcovers, but let’s be real: kids trash them, they pick them up and walk off with them, they lose your spot no matter what sort of bookmark you use, and they can be plain inconvenient. My personal library is filled with my very favorite books in print format, but for reading in general I have grown to love my Kindle. Since I often read to my kids from it for home school, they know when I’m holding it that I’m reading.
If you are reading this article and you don’t love reading try reading something you’ve never tried reading before. Pick up a new genre, a new author, an audiobook, try it again. You might find something you didn’t expect to love and become a bookworm yourself.
Reading ought to be something your kid loves. I believe nothing will prepare a child more for success in the future than a deep love of reading. I look forward to seeing the light catch in my children's eyes and to help form their love of reading even more.
Are you raising bookworms? How have you taught your kids to love reading?
As a writer, I work diligently to ensure the words I present to the world make it a better place. How much more should my attitude reflect what I wish to see manifested in my life? A huge obstacle and a fairly easy exercise of gratitude helped me realize my mentality was holding me back from “a better place”, even in the height of success.
They say the city where I live, Denver, sits in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. Does success cast a shadow or shine a light from the top?
This weekend, I climbed a mountain. Not a real one, the weather is far too treacherous this time of year. However, my novella, Reactance, hit #1 on the Kindle Free Charts for Metaphysical Science Fiction. I find this to be quiet an obscure sub-genre, but nonetheless, I have now have a #1 book.
A few weeks ago, Amazon canceled all of my paperback preorders just weeks before Apparent Power’s launch date. There is no way to recover these sales, and preorder on Amazon is no longer available for this book. Furthermore, I have no way of knowing how many were lost or who to contact about alternate ordering options. What I did know, was somehow this would be a blessing in disguise.
Apparent Power is a dystopian novel about a mom who refuses to give up. When she’s separated from her son by a hundred miles with no working transportation, she resolves to walk to distance. As a mother, that is just what you do to make sure your kid is okay.
So, in the face of the news about my losing those sales, I dug deep. So deep, I went through every social media post I had made on my author page back to January 2018. I wrote down every “win” I experienced since I signed a publishing contract for Apparent Power. When I finished, I had three pages. Then I realized something. I never took much time to celebrate a single one of those victories, big or small. I immediately went after the next achievement. I was swinging between milestones like a kid on the monkey bars, only looking at the glorious end of the line and failing to see that each bar supporting my full weight was an accomplishment.
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.