6 Simple Rules Every Writer Needs to Know

tips-for-writerHello writers, this is Adair Heitmann writing to you today. Spring is in the air, it’s a time to refresh, renew, let out the old and bring in the new. We’ve spoken about building your author’s platform in this blog before. I’m going to continue that thread with six basic rules for amazing content marketing.

Content marketing is any marketing that involves the creation and sharing of media and publishing content in order to acquire and retain readers, customers, followers. Traditionally advertising has used content to disseminate information about a brand, and build a brand’s reputation. As a writer that’s still true, you need to develop your brand. It’s also important to build relationships in the digital community. No matter what online platform you use — Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, Instagram, the following guidelines apply to them all.

1.) Be consistent
Choose how often you can realistically post, tweet, or publish. Then do so. For some of us it’s once a month, for others, it’s once a day. Find the rhythm that fits into your schedule.

2.) Be useful
Remember the 80/20 ratio of success. 80% of your posts should be interesting useful content. Making it easily shareable is part of the magic and fun of social media networking. 20% of your content includes call to actions, such as registering for a workshop or buying your newest book.

3.) Be authentic
When we are true to ourselves and others, we build trust. Even vulnerable content can resonate with people.

4.) Tie into your reader’s emotions
Easier said than done, yet it’s achievable. If you are feeling something, it’s more than likely your readers are too. When we can give voice to the whispers, we deepen our relationships.

5.) Be where your audience is
If you’re like me, you don’t have time, resources, or inclination to create and share content equally across every social media network. Pick and choose based on where your audience is.

6. Tell, don’t sell
Nobody wants to be sold something every time they hear from you. They do want to follow you or learn more about you and hear how you view the world, if you give them a good story. Use storytelling to create content that people actually connect with. Find ways to create vignettes in your communications.

As the winter ground breaks open with new buds of springtime growth, let your writer self show fresh colors to your online community.

Until next time, keep on writing.


Writers: 3 Ways LinkedIn Helps You Work Smarter

keyboard_linkedinHello writers, this is Adair Heitmann sharing information on how using LinkedIn can expand your writing platform. We’ve all heard of LinkedIn right? LinkedIn is a social networking website for people in professional occupations. I call it the virtual water cooler of traditional corporate days. When I worked at Xerox Learning Systems, I’d meet and network with colleagues around the water cooler. The conversations were always professional, upbeat, and a good way to be visible while moving up the corporate ladder.

Nowadays, with telecommuting, or everyone bringing their own plastic bottles of designer spring water to the office, the water cooler set of connections has dried up. Meeting people and exchanging  ideas is now done online. Follow these three steps and see how your writing world expands. Let us know here how you make out.

  1. Join LinkedIn, fill in your professional profile, add a good PR head shot.
  2. Share your blog on LinkedIn: Most blogging sites have a “Share” feature. Go to >Settings on your blog site, then >Share and check the box next to LinkedIn. Fill in the prompts. Your next blog post will automatically publish to your LinkedIn profile.
  3. Join LinkedIn Groups. You don’t have to spend much of time on this. I’m a member of 18 writing groups on LinkedIn. Currently my groups range from A to almost Z. From “Authors & Writers” to “Writers International.” Do I discuss topics with members everyday? Absolutely not, I don’t have time. However, occasionally I’ll comment on a topic. Do I post my blogs to my LinkedIn profile? Absolutely yes. Be open to new opportunities on LinkedIn. I was recently asked to be a guest blogger for an eMagazine on eMarketing. Did it come through a writing group? No, it came through a LinkedIn Group I’m in on social media marketing. They noticed my online presence.

Just as you would dress for success at your day job, remember to dress for success in every communication on LinkedIn. It really is the current water cooler of connections.

Until next time, keep on writing!

Stephen King: We Lie for a Living

stephen_king_david_williamson_vip_reception_collageHello writers, this is Adair Heitmann writing about meeting Stephen King on July 18, 2013. How does it feel to meet an author worth over $400 million? Pretty damn good. How did it feel, even though I’m not a voracious King fan? Pretty damn good. Thank goodness I’ve liked some of his movies. I attempted to hold my own among his thousands of fans.

I met King at a VIP reception at the Mark Twain House and Museum, in Hartford. His devotees were then bused to the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts for a sold-out author interview. The Twain House was a fundraiser, with all proceeds benefiting the continuing educational and preservation activities of The Mark Twain House. My friend, David Williamson, owner of Betts Books, LLC, got VIP tickets.  He was kind to include me in his family for the night.

Oh, it’s good to know a book-rock star. Not King, Williamson. David was besieged with Stephen King groupies at the VIP reception. While King was protected by his body guard and posed for pictures, the rest of us enjoyed an open bar and ate gourmet finger foods. It was the fans, however, of David’s, who flocked and buzzed around him. For you King lovers, David is the model for the character “Father Callahan” in King’s The Dark Tower series.

King, as you know, is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies and have been adapted into a number of feature films, television movies and comic books. King has published 50 novels, and five non-fiction books. He has written nearly two hundred short stories, most of which have been collected in nine collections of short fiction. He wears his fame well. King was authentic and surprisingly funny.

I’ve been to a lot of author talks, yet this was the first time I’ve witnessed an author receive a standing O just by walking on stage. The audience roared to their feet, clapping and whooping, before King even sat down. Interviewed, at the Bushnell, by WNPR radio personality Colin McEnroe. King said, “All fiction writers are liars, We lie for a living.” King went on to encourage writers to “. . . find a sweet spot in what you are doing. When you get it right, no matter what it is you are doing, you get the buzz, you know you are in the sweet spot.”

King praised Charles Dickens as one of the best published authors to provoke emotions in his readers.  King commented that he, himself, was a sensitive and imaginative boy. Now when he starts writing a book, he “starts with an image.” Once he has the image, the story flows from there.

When an audience member asked King what his favorite book-adapted-into-a-movie was, he answered, “Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and Misery. In that order.” Gasping, I leaned over to David, and whispered, “That’s my list too!” In an instant I added my name to the Stephen King fan club.

McEnroe and King discussed many topics. The one that tattooed itself in my brain, was hearing that 36 years after first publishing it, King is writing the sequel to The Shining. As a writer myself, I think that is worth a standing O.

The making of a memoir

Fairfield’s Randi Oster (right) has written a Randi-Oster-214x300105,000-word memoir, Questioning Protocol. It tells the story of her experience acting as her teenage son Gary’s patient advocate during a difficult period of his battle with Crohn’s disease, a stretch in which he was hospitalized twice. In addition, it offers readers tools to deal more effectively with their own and their loved ones’ critical health-care issues.

A former workshop colleague of mine, Randi was highly energetic and organized, and a natural storyteller. She also was, as our Writers’ Workshop of Fairfield leader Carol Dannhauser liked to put it, a rocket scientist. Literally. What Randi was not in those early workshops, by either natural-born gift or education or profession, was a writer.

The story of the making of Randi’s memoir is also the story of the making of a writer.

Parroting Carol’s oft-repeated verbal reminder to her from our workshop days, Randi says with a laugh, “ ‘It’s comma, quote.’ I never learned this in school. I am a product of the ’70s Bronx school system. To escape a mediocre education, I went to the Bronx High School of Science, where I avoided writing and focused on math and science.  Then in college, I studied electrical engineering. I barely wrote papers, much less anything with dialogue.”

Randi went to work at General Electric, rising to key roles in leading teams that designed such technological marvels as sensors for the Stealth fighter. Eventually, she joined the executive ranks, where she received leadership training in GE’s legendary Six Sigma quality control program. After she left GE, she joined Carol’s exercise-based workshop, then moved on to another that focused on memoir.

Despite her late start in writing, Randi has always done something even longtime writers often cannot bring themselves to do: She submits her work for possible publication. One successful example was a local contest. In 2011, her piece “Countdown to Chili” was accepted for and included in the Writers’ Room of the Fairfield Public Library’s anthology Around the Table: Food Memories of Fairfield. An excerpt from her new memoir recently was published in a health-industry magazine, another is being reviewed for possible publication in one of the country’s most prestigious medical journals, and the manuscript has attracted serious attention from literary agents.

Here are some of the writing lessons Randi learned in the making of her memoir:

Composing: Get editing help. After taking Carol’s memoir workshop, Randi decided to devote herself to writing the book, making it a fulltime job with a goal of producing 10 pages a week. To help her, she hired Carol to spend one hour a week editing her newest copy. Randi is not the only member of our former workshop who recommends an editing approach. Gabi Coatsworth, a Fairfield-based award-winning essayist and short story writer, rarely submits a piece of writing before having a professional editor critique it. [See “Why hire an editor? Here’s why”; FWB, March 1, 2011]

Early on, both the writing and the editing went slowly. “One time I wrote a sentence that took me 45 minutes,” Randi said. “Carol, reading along, said, ‘Oh, this is good.’ Then she just went on to the next sentence. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? That was 45 minutes.’ ”

Nevertheless, instead of 10 pages, or the more realistic seven that Carol had set as a standard, the first week they struggled to review two. At the end of their 60 minutes, Randi would go home with Carol’s red-penciled pages and “input the changes. Every single week. I didn’t let them pile up. I didn’t say, Oh, I’ll do that in three weeks.

“A lot of it wasn’t copy-editing,” Randi continues. “It was thought editing. She would have a note: Need to add more about Blah. That takes time, to add more about Blah. That wasn’t edited. That was material missing. I would probably spend Monday and Tuesday just updating what needed to get done. And then I would spend the last three days of the week trying to come up with the new stuff. I was making the same mistakes over and over.”

Such as? “I learned to stop ‘realizing’ for the reader.  Now, in the past I would have written, ‘I learned pretty quickly to stop “realizing” for the reader.’ ” And to eliminate those –ly adverbs.

Voice: Be true to yourself. Randi fell into the trap that ensnares many writers who read stories similar to their own between writing sessions. “I would like the style of someone else’s voice,” she says. “Then I would write my story with that other voice. Carol would look at my copy and go, ‘It’s crap.’ I’d say, ‘What do you mean? I’m being literary.’ I learned that when I was authentic and real, the pages flew so much faster.”

But being authentic and real has its drawbacks for the memoirist. “It meant being brutally honest,” Randi says. “So I don’t always come out looking good. Sometimes I’m a bitch. When you’re writing, it’s hard to make yourself look bad. But the truth is, that’s what I needed to do. It was easy to find fault in everyone else. But the reader sees through that. You must not be afraid of showing the skeletons in your own closet. That’s hard. I got used to writing the truth, but now I realize that people are going to read it. Now the game isn’t fair. Someone else will know so much more about me than I’ll ever know about them.”

There’s an ultimate payoff, though: “People can relate, because now I’m not some figment of perfection. I’m a real person.”

Language: Think of your reader. Despite years as an electrical engineer and a GE employee schooled in the argot and acronyms of Six Sigma, Randi’s language in the book is a reader’s language. “Technical. Detailed. Boring,” she says in a singsong voice, “is what I avoided.” Yet her Six Sigma training plays an important role in the book, especially in the climax, where she shows how a focus on quality can make a difference and she gives readers tools they can use themselves in a real-life setting.

One method she used to make the complex simple was to draw analogies. For example, when she describes the tribal divisions of the medical personnel in the hospital cafeteria, she equates them to the different-colored flamingoes and other birds she had seen standing apart from one another at the San Diego Zoo. And to convey the personalities of the members of her family and other key players, she compares them to the characteristics of the Hundred Acre Wood storybook residents in Benjamin Hoff’s 1982 bestseller, The Tao of Pooh, derived from the A. A. Milne classic.

Structure: Tell a story. To be successful, Randi knew, her memoir needed to include the key elements of narrative storytelling that one would find in fiction.

An inciting incident that defined Randi’s personal conflict—and triggered her thorough note-taking that she referred to while writing the book—arose when a doctor prescribed Gary a medication without first telling Randi, which she had previously told the physician she wanted him to do. Three weeks after that incident, Gary was back in the hospital.

“If we’re talking about story arc,” she says, “I was blessed, in a weird way, that my son had a disease and that we got him through [a crisis] in a positive way. I knew there would have to be some growth in the main character, who is me, and that there should be an ‘aha’ moment.”

That came at the end of a darkest-hour turning point, a harrowing high-speed, 3 a.m. ambulance ride between two hospitals during a thunder-and-lightning downpour, complete with a demonic-looking EMT at the wheel and an eerie, heavy-metal soundtrack blasting from the dashboard radio. When the man changed the station and Mariah Carey’s “Hero” came on—the song was No. 1 on the charts the day Gary was born—Randi found peace in its message, which she defines as: “You’ll find the strength from within.”

She says that, “In memoir, unlike fiction, you have to hope that these moments happen, because you can’t make it up. But those are real things that happened.” What she leaves unsaid is that, as a writer, you also have to be able to recognize such moments and their proper places in your story structure.

Message: Incorporate a broader theme. Randi views her book as more than just a personal story of “how I navigated the health-care system.” It is, she says, a toolkit for “the 141 million people with chronic diseases who are constantly going in and out of the system.” Rather than blaming doctors and other medical personnel, she uses her quality-control training to suggest ways to “improve the performance and the process, so everyone does better. There were very clear tools that I used. . . .There were techniques that enabled my son to end up not needing medication and take a nutritional approach. All those tricks are in the book. And those skills and tips are easily learned and transferred. My goal, for every page and a half, was for readers to have learned something they can use.”

Reviewing & Revising: You are not done yet. Upon finally finishing her memoir, Randi hauled her edited stack of pages north to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. Every day, she’d go to a different tourist landmark—Norman Rockwell’s veranda, Edith Wharton’s garden, Mt. Greylock—and sit down, pencil in hand, to read the book from start to finish. At night in her B&B room, she would type in the changes on her computer.

Some of those alterations involved cutting. “There were times when I would take four sentences to make one thought,” she says. “To go from four sentences to one sentence makes it powerful. It gets faster and smarter.” At least 25,000 words ended up on the floor.

More illuminating to Randi than finding places to cut “was how I was able to tie things at the end back to the beginning. Because I could see it all, I could see where I could build up a more of the story. So now it has more of a flow.”

When she returned home, she went through every single page of the book a final time.

Even now, though, Randi may have more to do. After reading the final manuscript, a friend asked her, “What happened at the end? I feel like your pen ran out of ink. I wanted about 15 more pages.”

Randi expects that the book’s eventual publisher may say the same. But after all her hard work, she says she told her friend, “I couldn’t take it any more.” Yes, even she had run out of writing energy.

Final Lessons: Write and enjoy. Randi concedes, of course, that not every aspiring author can afford to hire an editor. Nevertheless, she says, “A person with a story should not limit themselves because they feel inadequate. Write. Read. Write. Then write more. If you can afford to, take a workshop and learn. I couldn’t have done it without the writing workshops. In my case, specifically, the memoir workshop taught me to be honest on the page. Eventually, you will find that you have completed a work, and then you will be able to figure out the next best step. But, there is no next step if you don’t start!”

In the end, to write a book, be it a memoir, a novel, or anything else, something inside is more important than one’s inspiration, education or professional skill. “I think it’s passion,” Randi says, “and a determination to give yourself the gift of saying, I did it. It doesn’t matter what happens to your book. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a bestseller. But allow yourself to be able to say, I finished. The book is ancillary to the passion. Enjoy the process.”

Publishing: Build a platform. Having finished the manuscript and embarked on the agent search, Randi has been “building her platform.” She has her own website and she’s established a presence on social media. She has attended conferences where she’s met authors of bestselling books on her general subject but approached from other angles (with the hope of getting one of those authors to write a foreword). She has become a screener for the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge Awards. She has submitted excerpts, and seen one get published. And she has done interviews like this one, with broadcast outlets as well as print.

Thus, when the next interested agent calls and asks the inevitable “Do you have a platform?” question, Randi will be able to answer with a resounding, “Yes!”

That’s exclamation point, close quote, Randi.—Alex McNab

I Was a Wrimo Again

Participant-100x100-2Hello writers, from Adair Heitmann. With the recent, tragic and unimaginable losses in the Sandy Hook community in Newtown, CT, I can barely focus on this post. Yet, writing helps me through grief, it has universal curative powers.

Kahlil Gibran wrote, “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Much of our collective grief has to do with the senseless killing of innocent children. Children who were in a safe place, school. Children who were with teachers and administrators, loyal to the children’s welfare and capable of taking care of them, until, the unthinkable happens. Gibran’s quote helps me see that I cry because I love children, because I’m a mom, because I’m a teacher, and because I love teachers. All those things, when taken in the balanced order of life, bring delight. I mourn, with the rest of our country and the world. As a writer, I write, to help me get through this grief. So, I am going to continue with the essay I planned, an article about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).

Dipping my toe in the NaNoWriMo seas again this year was truly delightful. This past November, I managed to participate in NaNoWriMo and still keep my job. Plus keep all my diverse professional and personal plates spinning. The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to inspire writers of all ages to write 50,000 words in one month. I entered with my eyes wide open, knowing that reality prohibited me from having the spare time to write a 50,000 fictional novel. However, if I added up all the words that I wrote for work, I’m sure I’ve written several full-fledged novels during the month of November. I used NaNoWriMo as a way to fertilize my own writer’s platform, by playing in a national arena. I knew I couldn’t complete a new novel, but my day job gave me the opportunity to participate as part of a community outreach. (It’s nice to write for a living.)

To complete the participation in NaNoWriMo, I needed to look into my own resources of what I’d previously written. I brushed off a parable, for children of all ages, that I wrote 21 years ago. I re-worked some sections, and wrote some with fresh eyes. NaNoWriMo inspired me this year. I had to submit something to get the dandy “Participant 2012” icon you see above. I submitted my children’s parable in a word document to the official NaNoWriMo word count counter on their website. The word count added up to a spanking 2,369! Like any good teacher who acknowledges an advancement that his or her student makes, I’m giving myself an A for effort.

Being involved in NaNoWriMo writing circles also gave me a chance to learn more about their Young Writers Program for kids and teens. It looks like an energizing and creative way to engage young writers. I’d encourage any teacher out there, reading this post, to incorporate this into next year’s Language Arts syllabus.

I end today’s piece in a dedication, with love, with compassion, and with inspiration to all the children and teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

On a holiday note: All of us at the Fairfield Writer’s Blog wish you a peaceful season and a New Year filled with hope.

Until next time, keep on writing.

The Versatile Blogger Award Winner: Thank You!

Hello to all you writers out there, this is Adair Heitmann writing to you on this steamy summer day. Did you hear the bells and whistles? The Fairfield Writer’s Blog just received The Versatile Blogger Award! This is awarded to blogs that are considered helpful and excellent. Aw shucks. Both my colleague and fellow writing workshop leader, Alex McNab, and I currently keep The Fairfield Writer’s Blog going (along with our invited guest authors). We strive to be informative and always bring the blog back to its core mission of “literary connections.”

As writers we constantly hear about building our writing platforms. Part of building your platform includes creating and maintaining an online presence. Blogs are a great way to do that, and commenting on other people’s blogs can be invaluable. (See more about this in the list below.)

The Versatile Blogger Award was a connection that came put of the blue, thanks to blog reader Brooke Ryter.  Part of being nominated for the award is to select and share 15 blogs/bloggers that have been recently discovered or that we follow regularly. Here’s Alex and my edited and combined list, sorry we couldn’t put every blogger we know on it. The list is in no particular order, but we attempted to include blogs that are good resources for writers. Please check them out.

Mary Carroll Moore writes all about the book writing and creative writing process.

Jane Friedman – Being human at electric speed: Exploring what it means to be a writer in the digital age.

Ollin Morales Courage 2 Create inspires writers to do just that . . . write!

Patrick Ross: Travels of a MFA student and prolific writer.

Gabi Coatsworth: writing about a writer’s life in Fairfield County, CT.

Kim Craft Fiction, Memoir, Creative Writing (from Top Ten Blogs for Writers list)

Christina Katz: The Prosperous Writer. Her handle sums up her niche.

Anne Kathryn Smith, writer at large. She recently commented on The Fairfield Writer’s Blog and I was drawn to a helpful link to her blog.

Larry Brooks is one of many storytelling gurus online. He revisits the basics of structure from time to time in helpful ways.

the millions.com
Publishing news, author Q&As, plus a lot of links to pieces of interest on other sites.

Galleycat is a publishing news place. On the parent media bistro site, there are periodic interviews with authors and editors, under the heading What Do You Do?

The focus here is on plotting your story.

A rotating group of book editors has something new up every weekday. There are a lot of helpful gems back in the archives.

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management posts essays and links from its agents. Again, lots of good stuff in the archives.

She spoke at the Library a few years ago, and is currently doing the mega media circuit.

Thank you again to The Versatile Blogger Award for helping us here at The Fairfield Writer’s Blog continue to be a valuable resource to writers everywhere.

Until next time, stay cool, and keep on writing!

Blogging for Writers: Six Easy Steps

Greetings writers, this is Adair Heitmann sharing a crash course on blog marketing. Blogs are an important addition when you build your author’s platform. First of all they are free, secondly you can slant your blog to your brand. Your brand represents who you are, your niche or specialty. Here are six basic steps to remember, and I’ll almost guarantee you that you’ll never be at a loss for blog content.

1.) Be passionate about your subject
If you are, you will always have ideas to draw from! Your words will sparkle and you’ll stay ignited about your online communications.
2.) Write a how-to essay or a basic steps article
That’s exactly what this is. I’m not telling you everything you will ever need to know about writing blogs, but I’m giving you some clear and useful  information.
3.) State a problem and solve it
Example – Are you afraid to start a blog because you don’t know what to write about? If so, go back to Step #1.
4.) Ask a question
If you are curious how other writers keep their blogs going, ask them. Then go to your writing desk and write a blog about it, being sure to bring in their different points of view.
5.) Interview someone
It can be an author, agent, publisher, or an expert in the topic of the field that you write about.
6.) Write a tip
This is a shorter version of a how-to essay. Short, sweet, simple, and to the point.

I hope this helps, let me know. Until next time, keep on writing!

A Writer’s Website: Part Five

Hello to all you writers out there! This is Adair Heitmann reminding you that one of the most important ways to build your author’s platform is to have a website. Your website can be as simple as a one-pager, or more elaborate with videos, social media plug-ins and e-books. I’m glad to be able to continue to help you take manageable steps in creating your website. Please go to June 2011 for Part One, then proceed to July, August and September 2011 for earlier information on building an author’s website. Like a proud new mama, I’m happy to announce that I finished my own website makeover, and it’s serving me well. The time I spent researching what I wanted in the revised site, learning new technology, and making it happen, paid off. Did I have moments when I pulled my hair out in frustration? Yes, but the end product has been worth the grief, like labor in childbirth.

Today I’ll share information for those of you who want to keep the hairs on your head and prefer to hire out. You can do so by hiring a web developer, a web designer or both. Or as a member of my writing critique group did, get by with a little help from her friends. Find tech-savvy friends to do the technical pieces for you.

First let’s clarify terms:
1. Web developer – knows the tools of the techno trade, usually has several already prepared themes for you to choose from, and can technically provide you with what you ask for. A web developer can provide some customization. In the Northeast an average hourly rate is $40/hour.
2. Web designer – is more of a, just what the name implies, designer, someone who knows the graphic and artistic end of website communication. A web designer can create a unique website. Again it depends on the part of the country that you live in, but here in the Northeast an average hourly rate is $75/hour.

What stays the same is that you, the writer, need to research what you want. You’ll want to give the developer or designer your website wish list. This way, you are in the driver’s seat. You’ll also want to think about if you want to update the site yourself. If so, you’ll need a CMS (Content Management System) type of site. Remember that once your website is up and running, if you don’t have a CMS site, you will be paying your developer or designer a fee for every update.

This brings us to cost:
1. Know your budget and respond accordingly.
2. Research other writers that you know, if you like their website, ask them how much their website cost.
3. Find out the name of the developer/designer and get an estimate from them. Ask them to include future revisions, and update charges.
4. Since more and more people are using mobile devices, be sure to ask your developer/designer if the layout will look good and work efficiently on smart phones.

A cost estimate for a simple 5-page website can run approximately $500.00 and up.

Last but not least, be sure you love your site. An author’s website is a writer’s online face to the world. You want to make the best first impression you can.

Until next time, keep on writing!