4.29.2016

What's Your Excuse?

This week my sweet husband said two words to me that you might not expect out of him...

You're pathetic.

Now, before you get your knickers in a knot and leave comments about how no man should ever say that to his wife, and no self-respecting woman should ever take that from a man, let me be very clear: he was totally correct

In context, we were discussing a fundraiser that we're trying to plan for our adoption. And by "trying" I mean that we've talked about it a lot. And by "planning," I mean avoiding doing anything other than emailing a couple of people. 

There are a lot of positives to being married to someone of the same personality type. You get each other's humor, you understand their weak spots, and you're a solid team against the world. However, it also means that those aforementioned weak spots are your collective kryptonite. 

You'll be happy to know he didn't stop there. He paused before saying...

We both are.

In this instance, he was referring to our combined hatred of talking to people on the phone. Emails? Yes. Texting? A gift of the technology gods to introverts everywhere! But phone calls? Oh, please... anything but that! I've been putting off a phone call (to someone I know!) for months, and then a second phone call for several weeks to someone I don't. There's always an excuse
I was so swamped at work today. I meant to call him/her, but then I totally forgot until it was too late. I have it on my "to do" list. It's really tacky to call over the weekend, I'll wait until Monday. It was the next thing on my list and then [insert name] dropped by and ended up staying for 2 hours. {Or when there is time and no good excuse...} Did you see that I organized the pantry?
Here's the deal: in my head, I know that I have built up something I hate doing (talking on the phone) into a Goliath that it does not deserve to be. And truth be told, the calls take about 5 minutes, the information is gathered, and then it's all over. The "stone" of just doing it could absolutely take down the Goliath of dreading it.

How often is this the case? Yesterday, Phil Gerbyshack shared an image on his social media channels that perfectly captured this tendency, with the quote, "Stop saying it won't work. Start asking how you can make it work." As soon as I read it, it clicked.

There are several things in my life at the moment that I am guilty of shoving into the "it won't work" category. I am the queen of excuses when it comes to those things - always ready with a, "yes, well..." answer when the Hubs (or anyone else) asks me if I've followed through on something. If I took Phil's advice, I wonder what all I could accomplish - and what my life might look like in a year - if instead of making excuses, I started asking, "How can I can make it work?"

Now, if you'll excuse me... I have a phone call to take care of.


4.22.2016

6 Ways NOT to Market Your Book (or Product or Service)

For the last four years I've had a front row seat to the book marketing process. I've seen best practices in action, I've launched books, I've discovered what works - and what doesn't, and I've learned a ton about the industry. With all of that on-the-ground experience, you'd think I'd be a master promoter when it comes to my own self-published book... but you'd be wrong. Why? I'm an introvert. 

Of course I think our children's book is wonderful! I love the story and the illustrations, and I love that there's a life lesson tied in. I love that we included our real-life postman in the plot, and that the proceeds from the book go to support our adoption of 5 siblings from Costa Rica. There's so much good I could say about this book, but I don't - because I am self-conscious about self-promotion.

While I'm still figuring out this whole "promote your own book" deal, I have a few (hard earned) tips on how NOT to market yourself. These are things that turn me off, both as a promoter, and also as a potential customer. They are things I've been personally guilty of (hey, I'm a work in progress!), and things I've observed from my work online. They also apply to the sale and promotion of things other than books (we all have friends selling stuff, right?). So here we go...

6 Ways NOT to Market Your Book (or Product or Service)

  1. Turn your personal Facebook account into a one-way, self-promoting megaphone. Despite what you might think, your friends do not love this. They will hide you from their feeds, and no matter what their initial reaction to your news, they will not be following everything you say with baited breath. They might even unfollow you. Take it easy.  
  2. Personally reach out to every contact you have on LinkedIn to tell them about your book. Let's be honest - some of your contacts there are friends of friends, so they don't even know you, nor do they care about the book you just self-published or the product you think they need. Don't take advantage of those business connections - that will come back to bite you. 
  3. Casually mention your book (product/service) as soon as you meet someone. You've met these people, the ones who either have "author of the most amazing book you'll ever read" in their email signature, or the ones who somehow manage to squeeze in, "Nice to meet you. You work at a hospital? I included a hospital scene in the book I wrote." Don't be that person. (One of my favorite comics, Brian Regan, calls them the "Me Monster.")
  4. Ask people to leave you 5 star reviews. I know this might come as a shock, but your book (or my book!) may not actually be worth 5 stars. I've seen it from all sides. As a promoter, those 3 star reviews make me cringe; as an author, I'd be sad to see anything less than a 5 star review; but as a reader - I rarely leave 5 stars (a fact I've gotten into trouble for in the past). Strive to do your best work, but accept the fact that you won't be 5 stars to all people, and move on.
  5. Fail to acknowledge those who support you in the journey. Let's say that you ignore everything I've just said, and you manage to get people to promote your book or talk about your product, utilizing their social channels on your behalf. Don't be the person who thinks you deserve to be talked about - acknowledge that people went out of their way for you. A bit of public gratitude can go a long way... and possibly get them to share again. Win-win.
  6. Expect people to buy your book. This was the hardest one for me to grasp. When my husband and I published our children's book in 2010, I thought I had kept my expectations low, but in the end I was still disappointed in the response - or lack thereof. Friends didn't rush out to buy it; those who had a platform to talk about it, didn't; those who told us they loved it, didn't review it. But you know what? Friends are in no way required to buy, like, read, review, or promote your book. If they do, it's a bonus, but it's not their job to make you successful.
*  *  *  *  *

Bottom Line: 
There's a balance between letting your world know about your product and coming across as a self-promotion, "me monster" machine. 

Proceed with caution.

4.15.2016

Savoring the Moment

Two years ago we were seated in a posh restaurant, preparing to enjoy the most exquisite dessert - some kind of chocolate ball that the waiter poured hot fudge sauce over, melting the top to reveal the raspberry cream within... amazing, to say the least.

As the man placed the plate in front of me, he paused with the hot sauce poised over the top of it as my two dining companions and I stared at him. One second, two seconds, three seconds (this was starting to get awkward, what was he waiting for?)... until finally he asked, "Do you not want to take a photo of the dessert before I pour?" Taking a moment to process what he'd said, I blurted out, "No... I just want to eat it!" The waiter instantly changed from a pre-programmed robot to a human being who said,

"You have no idea how refreshing it is to hear someone say that! Everyone wants a photo of the food before and after, instead of just savoring the moment."

There have definitely been meals when I have taken a photo because I want more than a memory to remember the end result - an anniversary dinner, a special meal in a foreign locale, the triumphant success of an unsure cook. This last fall, it was a loaf of pumpkin bread that I made in a specialty bread pan that actually popped out perfectly - a moment I was (and still am) insanely proud of! 


But there have also been times when my (smarter and less tolerant of social sharing) husband has looked at me and said, "put the camera down and eat the food while it's hot!" In other words: savor the moment. 

Do you remember life before social media took over? Life before selfies and instagram and in the moment sharing? When you decorated a room in your house and no one knew (if you've read this blog, or followed my Facebook page, you know I'm not pointing fingers!)? Or, better still, when our thoughts - religious, political, or random - could only be shared over dinner with the family, sparking give and take conversation and debate, not angry retorts posted in the heat of the moment? 

Social sharing isn't all bad. My grandmothers lived a thousand miles from us, so my childhood was captured on film, printed out, and delivered by the United States Postal Service once or twice a year to show how I'd grown. Today, my friends around the world can instantly update long-distance family with photos and videos of their child's latest and greatest achievement. Hooray for technology (and the ability to unfollow those updates on Facebook)!

But sometimes, I don't want to know it all. Sometimes it's nice to be in the dark until you can catch up face to face - asking questions and engaging with each other. Last week, we received a birth announcement in the mail from a friend who I didn't even know was pregnant. What a lovely surprise! She hadn't documented her ever-growing belly on a weekly basis, or plastered her cravings or labor progress on social. All that I got was the unexpected (good) news, and like the waiter, I found it refreshing.

Even if you don't share it with the world, savor the moments.

4.01.2016

Clutter, Stewardship, and The "One Touch" Rule

There's a part of my personality that absolutely abhors clutter - in all it's various forms. Curious thing though, had you walked into our home two months ago (or into our basement for any of the 15 years we've lived in this house), you might have wondered if that side of me had gone into long-term hibernation.

During the days of waiting on adoption paperwork and country decisions, there's not much that these two recovering-INTJs can control. We'd filled out the forms (in triplicate), made copies of everything, shipped it all off to be processed, and were feeling a bit out of sorts with the time we had on our hands. However, it was during this lull in activity that the blinders to the household chaos seemed to come off, and we were truly appalled by what we saw.

Stuff. Everywhere. Stuff in the closets, stuff on the counters, piles upon piles, and enough empty cardboard boxes to move an army. The switch flipped and we went into major purge mode.

For the first time since we moved in, you can walk through all areas of our basement without tripping over Styrofoam coolers, shopping bags that used to hold jar candles but were now just housing the empty paper wrapping, and a plethora of "we might be able to use this some day" mistake purchases.

The result of cleaning out the clutter was more than just peace of mind and tidy spaces, it was a very timely reminder of a large chunk of our lives when we were less frugal than we would like anyone to know.


In the weeks since our purge, we have both implemented the principle of "touch it once" - meaning that when something comes into the house, we aim for the goal of touching it one time. It comes in, and we deal with it. We file it, store it, toss it, or use it immediately. It doesn't find a home on the kitchen counter for the next month. It doesn't get tossed on the basement floor to be dealt with later. If we don't know where to put it, we find a permanent home so it doesn't get flung into a spare closet to disappear for years.

In fact, part of this purge came about when we found out we needed to turn our guest bedroom into a room for a little boy (we were set up for 4 girls, but when those girls had a little brother... bye-bye guest room!). Losing the guest bedroom meant we also lost the last remaining "spare" closet in the house, so everything in there had to either find a new storage home or disappear. It's amazing how much of it left after we realized that we hadn't pulled it out in years. Lack of storage can be a (first world) pain, but an excess of it can be just as bad when it causes you to keep stuff you don't need, don't like, don't want, and don't use. 

Over a month out, our kitchen counters are still clean, our dining table is still free of piles, our basement is actually a pleasant place to spend time, and our wallets are more securely stowed. Developing a habit - good or bad - doesn't happen overnight, but one day at a time. One day at a time, we're choosing to pick up, put away, and deal with the mess in the moment instead of putting it off for later. It makes me wonder...
...what else in my life have I been putting off until later that would free up mental space if I just did it now? 
Something to think about...


3.29.2016

It's Not Time To Celebrate Yet

Last week I talked about taking the next step. I talked about how it was time to get out of your holding pattern and land those dreams, moving forward into the doing stage before you find yourself regretting the years of not taking action.

I don't know what that next step looks like for you (though I'd love for you to tweet me with #NextStep so I can cheer you on!), but for me it looked like a long list of partially started projects and filed-for-later dreams. In order to do the next thing, I started by writing them down, and specifically focusing on the next 90 days (breaking down Living Forward's recommendation).


A Specific Example...
Towards the top of my list was the task of dusting off the cobwebs from the children's book we wrote and published 6 years ago, and breathing new life into our promotional efforts. The motivation is different this time around, with the results of our efforts (i.e. book sales) going into our adoption fund. There are 5 little Costa Rican faces in my head now when I work on spreading the word about Mashed Potatoes - and that's 5 x's the motivation, let me tell you!

Although I reopened our Little Brother Stories Facebook page about a month ago (feel free to join us, I don't spam your news feed, I promise!), and updated our combined author bio on Amazon and Goodreads, there were still unfinished ideas on the list.

A fellow author recently passed on some helpful tips that someone had shared with her. Taking her advice, I signed up for a square account and ordered a stack of Mashed Potatoes to keep on hand. I also followed her lead and decided to dive in to the world of free video trailers. I quickly realized I was way out of my depth. Someone throw me a life ring!

Despite the fact that I am not technical (e.g. I read paper books, take notes by hand, and obsess over cute notebooks), I managed to figure out PowToons after a few hours of under-my-breath muttering. If only it were as simple as creating a video, but it also meant setting up a YouTube account, creating a header that would look okay on all three preview layouts (screen, mobile, and TV), and figuring out a work-around to download the final video as an MP4 file (the free version of PowToons doesn't allow for that).

In the end - SUCCESS! Not before the Hubs had a few laughs at my expense, but he's entitled - he spent hours doing his own muttering when he used to create all of our video updates while we were overseas. And, of course, I want you to see it!


So now what do I do? Now that the video's made, I can check one thing off of my list, right? Not quite. It's true that I took my next step on one item of my list, but that doesn't mean I now get to sit back and wait for the success to find me. It doesn't mean I get to stop pounding the online (and offline) pavement to get the word out about this book or my other endeavors. And it certainly doesn't mean that I'm checking off a box.

It does mean I've made progress towards defining my next step. 

For example, now that the step of actually creating the video is done, it's time for me to turn my efforts towards letting people know it exists. If I have the best video in the world (not saying I do!), but I haven't told anyone about it, then my invested time has been wasted. Even banking a new skill in my account (5 hours of practice on PowToon), I have to be mindful of where my time is going if it's not being wisely channeled towards my Next Step of building a community of people who are willing to share their social channels, hard earned dollars, and a smidgen of their time with me to talk about the book.

It's not only important to take the next step, but to keep your goal at the forefront of your to do list. If I lose sight of the goal, then my list of steps aren't going to help me. If I lose sight of why I'm creating a video about a book that's been in print for 6 years, focusing on the fact that I checked off a box instead of moving to the next step, then I'm not actually working towards my goal.

If I keep my goal in focus (covering the expenses of bringing our 5 kids home), then I see each step in terms of how it moves me forward. So my next step of getting traction for Mashed Potatoes leads to selling more books, which leads to additional income from those sales, which fills our savings account, and that pays for our kids to come home.

Bottom Line. Know what you're working towards, and keep your eye on the prize.

*   *   *   *   *

Interested in becoming part of the community? I'd be honored if you'd take one of these steps with me!
  • Watch the video.
  • Share the video (or this post).
  • Buy the book (on CreateSpace or Amazon).
  • Donate a copy to your local library.
  • Tell your friends to buy the book.
  • Leave a review so others will buy a copy.
  • Play a part in helping us bring home 5 kids.


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