How to jumpstart your writing career

by Anna M. Clark

Twelve years ago I bought a book called How to Start a Home-Based Writing Business.  Still not sure what moved me to do it. Until that time, I had put little thought and even less action into writing or, for that matter, building a business. The decade that followed was fraught with the ups and downs of leaving corporate America for the great unknown of entrepreneurship.  But the spine of the shelved book remained a clarion call of a possibility that I might explore someday.

Someday came in 2006.  Four years later, I’m a published author and featured blogger and I still haven’t opened that book.   Some things are best learned by doing.  So, based on my experience, here are ten essentials for carving out a career as a writer:

1.Write. J.K Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author, has been writing since she was six.  Harry Potter was an “overnight” success that was two decades in the making. It takes years to find your voice.  If you haven’t been consistent, you have a fantastic excuse for not being an instant hit.  Begin by writing what you know even if you think it’ll be boring. Nobody has to see your first drafts. Besides, you have to grease the wheels and turn out some rubbish before the good stuff can flow.

2. Start a blog. With WordPress, building an online presence is simple and free.  Many an author has been published on the strength of her blog following and content.   Social media guru Seth Godin explains, “Your book should be a souvenir from the trip.” Think of your blog as the travelogue in which you chronicle your adventures along the way.   From an organizational standpoint, your blog is the hub of your communications platform.  It’s also place to store videos, sell books and e-books, and link to your articles.

3. Make friends with other writers. Get several writer buddies to act as sounding boards.  Add them to your blog roll and ask them to link to your blog, too.  This will improve your SEO and bolster name recognition.  This support network will also help you stay connected and motivate you when it seems like nobody else is reading your stuff.

4. Share your posts on Facebook. I didn’t think my friends would be into my stories about electric vehicles, but some of them surprised me. When I started to write about faith and other more personal things, I noticed I got some new people responding. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care, so let them know you care by responding and engaging in conversation.  For every one that comments, many more will not.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.

5. Network with similar thinkers. Comment on their blogs.  Join social networking sites related to your field.

6. Get on Twitter. Imagine wandering into a room blindfolded and you are supposed to find common ground with folks after exchanging about 10 words. Sounds impossible, but with links to your blogs, you can build a community of like-minded acquaintances. Warning, you may hate Twitter at first. You may not even like it the second time. After that it becomes indispensible for attracting new readers.

7. Become an online contributor. Websites need fresh content to stay relevant.  They want news, stories and opinions.  Why not yours?  Make a “Top 10” list, email the editors, and pitch your material.  That’s how I got a regular blog on Greenbiz.com.  I named it Eco-Leadership and started finding leaders to interview. You’ll be surprised at who you can get in front of when you have a platform to offer them.

8. Pitch your best work to editors at print publications or high-traffic websites. As you gain experience, you may desire more visibility, especially if you are trying to sell books, products or services. Make a list of places in which you would like to see your work appear.  Search for the names and email addresses of editors.  Track their interests. Send them a paragraph describing what you want to write with a link to your blog.

Note: If you have Type A tendencies, you will probably get your ego wrapped up in this. Prepare for rejection because you will get a lot of it – and that’s if they have the courtesy to answer you at all.  To keep it from crushing your creativity and enthusiasm, you might pitch one round every 3-4 months.  During the waiting period, keep on writing.

9. Hire an agent. Go online and look for literary agent listings that match your subject matter (fiction, non-fiction, self-help, faith-based, sci-fi, children’s and so on). A good agent costs nothing upfront but makes 15 percent on works that are sold.   My agent has been a tremendous help to me in terms of coaching, moral support, and getting a book deal.  If you want to go down this road, understand that the agent’s motto is “help me help you.”  Be prepared to do most or all of the above steps on this list, write up a formal book proposal, and put substantial time into marketing.

10. Get real. To write well, you have to expose yourself, or at least a unique viewpoint.  It’s not for the faint of heart. As Hemingway put it, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

If this process deflates you, then focus on the fun and forget the rest.  Unless you are dedicated and dogged, gifted or lucky, trying to write for money can sap your satisfaction and creativity. Moreover, there are not guarantees; you can do all of the above and still fail in the marketplace.  Even relatively successful writers often gain more esteem than money.

So with all the ancillary work, potential for rejection, and odds stacked against us, why do we do it to ourselves?  Notable reasons such as self-expression, contribution, community, contact, transformation and transcendence keep many of us going.

Author Jack London, one of the most financially successful writers who never tried to be, summed it up like this: “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.”

That, my friends, is why we write. Even better than money, isn’t it?

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Shoestring and a dream

by Anna Brindley

Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines shoestring as: a small sum of money: capital inadequate or barely adequate to the needs of a transaction.

The synonyms – chicken feed [slang], chump change, dime, hay, peanuts, pin money, pittance, mite, song, two cents – made me laugh when I thought about potential titles for this article: Chicken Feed Dreams, Chump Change Dreams, Peanuts and Dreams???

Recently on HARO there was a query for entrepreneurs who started their businesses on a shoestring. Because I had done so much on my own for my business with so little money, I epitomized the shoestring startup concept.  Here is an excerpt from my article on that topic for ShoestringVenture.com:
I worked as if I had no capital. Anything I could do on my own, even with a learning curve, drove my strategy. I quickly became, as Entrepreneur magazine called it, the Chief of Everything Officer .  I wrote my business plan, designed the pajamas/loungewear, sewed the first prototype (and a few other WIP prototypes), designed the logo (friends gave input and voted), built (with templates) my website, presented and sold the product to a couple of boutiques, wrote my copy and blog entries, sent my PR queries, created my hangtags and labels, wrote my own patent and applied for my trademark—to name a few. Pattern-making, marking, grading, and sample production are all outsourced within the US. I employed a legal services website to help build my LLC. In hindsight I would take less expensive route on that as well.

I’ve learned loads of lessons on this journey. Check out the full article for the rest of the story (still unfolding as I write this)…

Will you endorse me?

by Anna Brindley

It’s election time and candidates are asking, “Will you endorse me?”. One such politician asked me for mine. He came to my house in person talking about things that are important to me.  He told me that he felt he had to make a stand and get involved. And then he closed me – I was sold. After we spoke, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities in our worlds:

Since the beginning of September, I have been working on my promotional campaign for next spring. I took pictures, wrote clever marketing words (at least I hope they were clever), and packaged it all together in a bulk mailing of postcards. After the mailing, I started dialing the phones, essentially asking:

  • What do you think of my policies?
  • Do we care about the same things?
  • Do you think I have your concerns in mind?
  • Do you think I will do what I say?

 

My purpose for all of this?  Of course, I want the “big kahuna” endorsement. If I could align with the big dogs – in my case Neiman Marcus, HSN, and Travel and Leisure magazine as of this writing – then I could get my message to the masses and hopefully get more endorsements.  The expected return on my time is more customers as a result. So, what if I don’t get these “endorsements”? At a minimum, making personal connections is still worthwhile. In fact, it might be the best thing I get out of my campaigning efforts.  Valuable feedback is another benefit of mixing with the people.  For example, one “voter” told me that she loved my product, but that her “people” may not understand it. She also said she might be more willing to endorse my policies if the price of admission were a little lower.

As I try to round up my big endorsements as a still unknown “candidate”, I have to go to the people.  I may even need to go “door to door” to get my votes (i.e. grassroots marketing and word-of-mouth PR). Who knows, that may be the best strategy anyway.  After all, the business experts all say you have to “create one customer at a time.”

Got a big idea? Speed up or get run over.

by Anna M. Clark

“You’ll never believe what just happened to me,” Anna Brindley told me. “I just got the rug pulled out from under me on a webinar for Entrepreneur magazine.” Seriously? “Does anyone even stay awake during those things?” I joked. “Don’t kid yourself,” she said, “people you can’t even see are waiting to pounce on your next big idea.”

Anna B. is not paranoid. As a seasoned entrepreneur, designer and the co-founder of Think Tank Society, a mindshare group for fellow startups, Anna lets good ideas flow freely and helps others hone theirs, too. But this time was different.

Here’s what happened: excited to learn, Anna logged on to the web event and wasted no time engaging Amy Cosper, editor of Entrepreneur, with her questions. “What is drip marketing?” Anna asked. Cosper explained, “That’s a bad name for it, but it means marketing that comes in drips.” Somebody else offered up his preferred term: “tease marketing.” Quick with ideas, Anna wrote back her own quip: “drip tease.” Seeing that, the editor said out loud, “Oh that’s brilliant Brindley, I’m writing that down!”

Immediately, another webinar participant named Chris writes in, “I just checked the domain driptease.com and it’s available.” Not 30 seconds later, Chris revealed that he just bought it. “What was galling,” Anna told me afterwards, “was suddenly everyone starts congratulating Chris. It wasn’t his idea, but he jumped on it before I had even 5 minutes to consider what I might do with it.”

According to Anna, she casually tossed her idea into a collaborative forum and it was glommed on to so quickly that even the webinar participants didn’t remember who made it up first. “I’m sure I wouldn’t even have used it myself,” said Anna laughing, “but the situation did leave me feeling a bit like road kill.” As for Chris, he was none-too-shy about showing off his spoils in his same-day blog post entitled, “DripTease.com coming soon…” Chris wrote, “I can’t resist a good business idea. Just ask me about the time I beat a multi-billion dollar business to the web-url punch. It’s just how I roll.”

We live in a world that moves a warp speed. Even though we all enjoy the benefits of greater collaboration and transparency, there will always be opportunists and mavericks standing ready to capitalize on a good idea. Anna’s story is a lesson for anyone with a good idea: move on it fast, because the slow lane is a road to nowhere.

Here are 5 tips to ensure that you remain the beneficiary of your own best thinking:

1. Keep an ideas journal. Sign and date your most promising entries. Charles Darwin did this with such rigor that his notebooks pinpoint the precise day in which he discovered his theory of natural selection: September 28, 1838. You can stake your claim on your own world-changing ideas by documenting them first in your notebooks.

2. Run an online search. Make sure somebody else hasn’t already run with your idea before you waste your time. If they have, start thinking up a value-add to update your thinking to first-class status.

3. Secure the domain name. Log on to http://www.godaddy.com and search for a domain name to match your idea. Most domain names are about $10 – not bad to secure something that could end up making a million.

4. Get your IP lined up before you start sharing with others. Check out http://www.uspto.gov to search trademarks and copyrights. If you aren’t ready to formally register a mark, you may still qualify to apply for intent to use if you are in good faith planning on using your idea for commerce.

5. Use a NDA. Before sharing your idea with anyone outside your “circle of trust”, ask him/her to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Be aware that many venture capitalists will not sign such agreements, but there are a number of situations where confidentiality agreements are accepted, if not expected.

These tips apply to protection of an early-stage idea, primarily related to a brand or concept. Inventors should do more research on patents before deciding how to proceed.

Speaking of patents, Anna Brindley is the proud owner of a new one of her own. Keen to share her experience with others, Anna disclosed her tips for securing ideas at a recent Think Tank Society meeting. “I’ve been on the road to entrepreneurship for 12 years,” she said. “I get a charge out of moving in the fast lane, but I like to see deserving friends flourish, too. I’d rather give someone a lift up than leave them behind.” She added, “What else can I say? That’s just how I roll.”

I think, therefore I can, man!

Hello, Anna Brindley and Anna Clark here. Welcome to the Think Tank Society™ blog. We’ve been supporting each other through our entrepreneurial journeys for the past 6 years. Now we’re ready to share what we’ve learned with others who dare to follow their dreams. Our mission is to share our experiences in the world of entrepreneurship, authorship, and the still dreaming ship. To bring a diversity of perspectives to this blog, we’ll take turns sharing posts. If you like one of us, we think you’ll like both of us.

In case you haven’t met us yet, Anna Brindley is the owner of an apparel company. She blogs on marketing, product development, trends and business lessons she has learned. Anna Clark is an author and president of EarthPeople, a consulting and communications firm. Clark writes on sustainability, leadership, communications, and faith-based inspiration. Together, we cover the gamut of topics that most aspiring and seasoned entrepreneurs care about.

On top of our professional pursuits, we’re both busy moms juggling kids and households. We understand the obstacles to achieving your dreams. Not only have we been there, in many ways we still ARE there. So let’s do this thing together. We hope you’ll visit our blog regularly when you need motivation. And if you have something you’re dying to share, please make comments on our posts or contact us to submit a guest post of your own.

Best,
Anna & Anna