The 6 Road Blocks to Happiness

I debated titling this post “The 6 Barriers to Success” or “The 6 Reasons why your book won’t sell,” but bottom line, these barriers work across all goals, all genres, all endpoints. Whether you’re a writer or just a person trying to be happy in this life, fill in the blank where I’ve put “happiness” and you’re good to go.

  1. Availability. Here’s the example I always think of: I am constantly monitoring my weight and would no sooner buy grocery store cupcakes to have on hand in my kitchen than I would spoon sugar directly into my mouth. And yet, when there’s a party at work or when my local Whole Foods is giving away free samples of just about anything, I line up at the trough as if the calories don’t count. (This is also true with just about every job I ever said “yes” to.) The idea behind this barrier is that we often settle for what’s convenient or available instead of holding off for what we really  want.
  2. Momentum. Self-explanatory, really. If you’ve been doing the same thing forever—regardless of how happy or successful it makes you—the sheer fact that you’re familiar with it can keep you doing it ad nauseum or until you die. Whichever comes first. This goes for your book marketing efforts, or your job, your hobby. If whatever you’re doing is not so good, it’s time for self-examination. Which brings us to…
  3. Ignorance. If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied, maybe you don’t know how to change that fact. If you don’t know how, you could get off your butt and learn what you need to know to change your life. (This kind of overlaps with Momentum.) Ignorance is only bliss if you’re blissful. If you’re dissatisfied, you need to wise up and figure things out.
  4. Group decisions. As an ex-advertising agency copywriter I can tell you for a fact that committees spoil everything good. They take the magic out of a great line, they stomp the crap out of any subtlety, and they put you on the fast track to mediocre. Whether you’re trying to please a client (and honestly, what do they know?) or just a half dozen people-with-opinions, your end result will always and absolutely be the lowest common denominator.
  5. Comfort Zone. This is my particular sticking point and I bet it is for a lot of people. While you might not know it from the way I rabbit on in this blog, fact is, I’m a little shy around people-in-the-flesh. Not unlike a lot of writers, the idea of a bookstore signing is weighed and equated by me with the same relish as anticipating a root canal with no Novocain. I’m not exactly the Unabomber, but I like my comfort zone. And that’s no place to be if you want to be  successful. It’s always going to be easier to stay home, to not make that phone call, to stay in the corner instead of approaching people, to watch TV instead of knocking out word count. I used to have a line that went off in my head when I would collapse on the couch instead of at my desk: “Stress-relieving is not goal-achieving.” I think we give too much weight to our so-called stress-relieving activities. Nothing relieves stress like success.
  6. Passivity. It takes a lot of energy to be obstreperous and practically none to go along with the crowd. Somewhere in the middle is probably where we all need to shoot, but once you see how easy life gets when you just agree to most things, you may be tempted to make it a habit. Or, more likely, you won’t have any say in it becoming a habit. It just will. It takes energy and focus to examine what feels right to you and then stand up for it. It also pays off (or so I’m reliably told) in forward movement toward your goal, whatever that is.

So there you have it! Six roadblocks to happiness or success that you might not have even realized you were allowing to set up camp in your life. Do you agree? Can you think of any more?

How Social Media Helps Sell Books

Let me say right from the get-go that I’m grateful for all the other indie writers out there who publicly reveal mistakes they made so that I can try to avoid them, who suggest positive outcomes they think they created (or when they attribute to luck certain results that seem to have “just happened”) so I can attempt to emulate them, and who even make educated guesses not based on personal experience because I might not have thought of it, myself! A week or two ago, Romance Author Merry Farmer shared an experience of how having the first book in her romance series go free helped the other book in the series sell and then the first book, too, when it went back to full price. This isn’t a Kindle Select story, so everyone who has a series can benefit from learning from her experience.

My own little sharing tale began when I published my book Fear of Falling in March 2012 to practically nonexistent sales. I tweeted, I made it free, I discounted, I racked up a slew of very good reviews–mostly fours and fives–and I placed in a prominent fiction contest which allowed me to plaster a very attractive gold medallion on the cover–and still the book did not sell. And then, because while I think social media is worthless for many things (like promoting your book) but is pretty darn wonderful for making friends and learning from people, I read a terrific post from Dean Wesley Smith that changed everything for me. While I must admit to having re-read the post at least four times (I knew there was wisdom there specific to me but it wasn’t obvious at the first reading what it was), it finally clicked which toe I had, effectively, blown off with Fear of Falling, and what kind of surgery would be necessary. While I’d  cranked up the size of my name on the second stab at a cover design,  the positioning of my genre was a muddle, my sales copy was flat (and ME a copywriter!), the cover–although professionally done–was selling the wrong story to the wrong reader.

Here is the book that launched in March. It looks like what I thought it was: women’s fiction. (Turns out that’s only part of what it is and maybe not the best part.) I threw this cover to the left up on my Facebook pages where I have a great group of writers hanging around and got some opinions that basically said, “Yeah, you’re good! Love it but why not add more color?”  So I created the one to the right with the woman’s face staring reflectively off into middle distance as she contemplated her fears and the world ending etc. After a month of, like five sales, I started listening to my husband when he said: “Ditch the woman’s face and the type face. It looks too literary.” Fine. I’m flexible. I hired a designer to re-do my type and my next cover looked like the one below. It was so much better especially with the cool little “L” falling, but since I was still skating down the wrong side of the wrong genre, it wasn’t going to matter. I gave  a bunch of the books away to reviewers and started getting positive reviews. Because I didn’t know who my reader for this book really was, and because I took all the sex and the profanity out of it, I targeted a Christian audience. That worked up to a point but, really, just because my main protagonist thinks more about God when the world “ends” really didn’t make it Christian fiction. (You see how confused I was?) When a friend of mine in New Zealand read it, he told me he was absolutely surprised that he ended up liking it because he thought it was about how to overcome fears with horses! Now this was in May and I should have known RIGHT THEN that I was all backward with the marketing of the thing. But, I’m stubborn and I liked the cover (that I’d paid for) and there was my husband (and how I hate it when he’s right!) saying it looks like a horseback riding manual or some kind of toffy literary fiction. “But if you read the reviews they say stuff like ‘page turner’ and ‘had me on the edge of my seat,’ ” I would say. And still the sales didn’t happen. I wrote two other books in the meanwhile, totally annoyed that this great little book about a modern woman battling to keep her family alive in a post-apocalyptic dystopic rural society wasn’t attracting any readers! And then two important things happened.  I read Dean’s post. I cogitated. I wondered. I looked at Fear of Falling on its Amazon page and I glanced down and saw all the books underneath it that other readers looked at or bought after looking at mine. And they all had flashes or explosions or bomb dust or ruined cities on the cover. And I looked at mine. Hmmmmm.

All of a sudden, it was clear that the damn title was all wrong. I immediately changed it from Fear of Falling to Free Falling. And yes, I did it because I didn’t want to lose the value I’d paid for with the cool little wonky “L” that my graphic artist had created but also because I knew as soon as I did it that it worked. Fear of Falling said it was a nonfiction book and we were going to discuss your fears.

The horse on the cover said we were going to deal with your fears about falling. Free Falling said–what happens in this book is out of control.  I republished the book across all sites–and Createspace, too, and showed it to my husband and he nodded and said: “Now, put a mushroom cloud on the horizon, and you’re done.” What? Are you kidding? Talk about heavy handed! No way! I re-wrote the blurb and description across all sites. I repositioned the genre, killed the Christian fic slant and added sci-fi and even YA (hell, it has no sex or cussing, and a hero kid in it, why not?)  Then three days later, just for fun, just to see, I checked out istock.com for a mushroom cloud, dropped it into the cover’s indesign file and ghosted it back a tad…you know, just to see.

In 36 hours it had sold 20 books.

In 72 hours, it had sold 50 books. It went from a baseline Amazon ranking of 265,000 in the paid Kindle store to 40,000 and then 15,000.

In three days.

I was wrong, the cover was way wrong, the blurb was wrong, the genre was wrong, the damn title of the book was wrong. And because I’m an Indie, I can figure out what to do by accessing my online colleagues and advisers through social media. I can then sit down at my computer and make it right. So I’m passing this little case study on to you as living proof that (well, that Dean and my husband are both very wise men) but also that sometimes tweaking and changing and learning are all a part of the epublishing experience.

And sometimes even if you take the long way round to get where you’re going, if you meet the right people along the way, you can still get there in plenty of time.

The View from Auckland to Shanghai

As I am beginning the critical week before taking my son to his dorm at the University of Florida and all that that entrails—mega laundry, packing, last minute wellness checkups, and of course freelance assignments that I was told wouldn’t be needed until the last week in August—I am once more punting to family friend and all-round Uber Traveler Adam Jones-Kelly to bring a smile to your lips (especially since it’s not you that has to endure the 17-hour flight or the hairy crabs) until I return next week. Enjoy!

You’ve heard the old adage “going around your ass to reach your elbow?” Apparently I view this as the most direct route.
When my colleague Sia heard I was going to be in New Zealand he asked if I’d pop over to Shanghai for a couple of days of meetings.
“Sure,” I said, “that sounds perfectly reasonable!”
I don’t recall being drunk during this conversation, or having suffered a concussion recently, so I’m left struggling to explain this decision.
I like to think I’m fairly well-versed in world geography, and moderately informed when it comes to travel times between countries. For some reason I still can’t quite fathom I really did manage to convince myself that China and New Zealand are right next door.
The trip from Auckland to Shanghai took 17 hours.
Soo has stopped speaking to me.
Before making the day-long trek north to China’s largest city Soo and I enjoyed one last day with our friends in New Zealand’s largest city.
We left Rotorua bright and early, getting us into Auckland just after lunch. Soo checked us into our hotel, the fantastic Westin in the Viaduct Basin, while I returned our rental car. After freshening up and grabbing a bag of dirty laundry (Jo had graciously offered to let us do some much-needed washing at her place that night) Soo and I headed to Mt. Eden, an extinct volcano in the middle of town.
Mt. Eden offers some rather stunning panoramic views of Auckland, as does One Tree Hill, which is where Jo mystifyingly went to pick us up for dinner.
One Tree Hill is another extinct volcano, on the other side of town. Jo clearly believed we’d gone there because we only said “We’re at Mt. Eden” about 27 times. Our fault entirely.

Soo at One Tree Hill sans the one tree.

One Tree Hill, so named because of the distinctive solitary tree that once stood at its peak, doesn’t have the same deep crater as Mt. Eden, which is an entirely cool thing to see if you’ve never been inside a volcano. (Maori activists attacked the Hill’s namesake in 2000, damaging it beyond repair and causing its removal. It certainly seems like locals should now call the place No Tree Hill, but they don’t.)
During most of the dozen calls made back and forth while she was trying to find us Jo tried to convince us we really were at One Tree Hill. I can only assume she deemed us terminally incapable of identifying our own location.
She initially told us to meet her at Stardome Observatory, which she said was at the bottom of the hill.
We spent some time looking for it with no success, which made sense since Stardome is at One Tree Hill.
She then asked if we could find Cornwell Park.
We couldn’t, of course, because Cornwell Park is at One Tree Hill.
Soo and I walked around Mt. Eden for an hour, sweating in the hot sun while lugging around a big bag of dirty laundry and the two bottles of wine we’d bought for dinner before Jo finally found us.
When we got in the car Jo announced that she had pavlova, and I immediately forgot my frustrations. (My affections are easily bought.)
Jo cooked us one helluva Kiwi feast, including lamb, chicken skewers, steak and sausages. Soo pronounced it the best meal we’d had all week in New Zealand, and that was before Jo produced the pavlova. It was an absolutely perfect night with wonderful friends, and made us all that much more saddened to leave New Zealand.

Irvine, Adam and Jo enjoying the pavlova!

That dismay was only heightened when I told Soo that we’d have to be up at 2:45am to catch our flight. Seventeen-hour trips are bad enough. Seventeen- hour trips that begin well before dawn are downright miserable.
Upon arriving in Shanghai we had barely enough energy to slurp down some room-service soup before passing out.
On our last trip to China Soo was made sick by having to eat things like snapping turtle, king cobra, and crabs with hair. In an effort not to suffer the world’s fastest divorce I promised not to put her through that again.

The long-suffering Soo in Shanghai pre-pedicure.

Sadly, I kept that promise, which means I don’t have anything particularly extraordinary or gross to blog about. I worked all day, and the most exciting moment occurred when Soo sat down for what she thought was going to be a pedicure and instead had the otherwise-sane appearing man take a knife to her toes, chopping the nails right off. No pedicure for Soo.
She reported that she was so shocked by the sight of him coming at her with a sharp object that she lost her voice, and was incapable of even uttering the word “no!”
The toenail butcher did give her an exceptional foot massage, so this sort of made up for it, but Soo will probably stick to pedicures in English-speaking countries from now on.
We ended our brief stay in Shanghai shopping on Nanjing Road. Soo needed a few items for friends, and shoes for herself. (Open-toed shoes just won’t do when you have naked toes, you see.)

At least that’s what I’m told.

How NOT to use social media to sell your book

You know how you know you should keep your mouth shut or go ahead and write the blog but then not post it…but you do anyway? As a result of a few recent posters assertions on the benefits of social media to sell books, I find myself compelled to revisit the whole Social Media: Waste of Time or Important Way to Sell Your Books? argument. The bloggers that triggered this urge in me have recently reasserted their beliefs that creating a warm ‘n fuzzy social media clam bake of “good friends” can be effective in selling books.

I think that’s bollocks.

As I understand it, their basic tenet goes like this: the best way to use social media to sell books is to support each other as writers—instead of obnoxiously, repetitively hawking our wares. Just be nice and don’t overtly sell your books and eventually sales will come to you. Whether it’s via superficial friendships with other writers or infiltrating chat sites of likely prospective readers of your books, I have to say I still think using social media in this way to move books off the e-shelves is like pushing a pea up a hill with your nose. On a skateboard. Backwards.

Going a step further, I’m ready to stand up and announce after careful examination of the available facts and discussions with a lot of people who have sold a ton of books via Twitter, that I think social media might well be useful as a spamming tool to blanket the universe with your name and your latest release and trigger sales which, if the book is any good, might possibly spur a word of mouth thing. Okay, it’s obnoxious, I’ll grant you. But so are the commercials on television and every once in awhile they do alert you to something that might improve your life.

If you think spending time on Twitter or even Facebook telling people bits and pieces of your writing life is going to do SQUAT for your sales overall you are just plain DELUDED. (Sorry, didn’t mean to shout.)  And if you’re doing it for that reason, please do all of us—and yourself—a favor and sign off now. I’m not saying it’s not great to find an online community of like-minded people and if those people give you an atta-girl now and then, all the better. But if you are fooling yourself into believing that you are gathering a henhouse full of love that is going to rain down upon you when your time comes to release your next book then you are not only wasting a whole lot of time on something that won’t happen, but your main purpose for connecting with people is self-serving and devious. (Great basis for a friendship!)

Don’t get me wrong, I think social media can be great for developing a community of like minds. Writers are solitary people. We’re not the Unabomber, (most of us), but writers don’t hate being alone. So yes, I can see reaching out via the Internet to connect with other writers—I frankly love doing that—and then

So then if you write a 5-star review for me, I’ll write one for you…

scurrying back to my cave to knock out another 2K words. Social media is fun and I’ve had a few LOLs with people I’ll never lay eyes on whose wit and insight I enjoy.  But I have my hands full pushing my own career without spending thirty minutes a day promoting someone else’s in the hopes it’ll come back to me someday. Why can’t we just let the work speak for itself and use social media to announce it? Thems that is interested can dip into the constantly moving Twitter stream, and them that ain’t can let it go by. Don’t get your knickers in a twist because people are trying to sell you their books. So far, nobody’s holding a gun to your head to buy.

I think it still comes down to the  maxim we writers all seem to accept: if you want to sell more books, write more books, and make each better than the last.

Thoughts? Comments?