From Sarah, With Joy

Sarah Allen on the craft, business, and joy of being a writer.

Writing tips every Monday

Story time every Thursday

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Don't Let Your Child Be This For Halloween

Oh happy day! The time draws near when parents far and wide send their children gallivanting down the street to beg sweets of strangers and neighbors and strange neighbors. Children everywhere are pre-planning not just the best routes, but the rules and strategies for the post-trick-or-treat candy swap, a process so intricate and nuanced it makes the New York Stock Exchange look tame.

But as adults have learned in recent years thanks to information previously unavailable before the internet, Halloween can be scary. There might be real life monsters out there! Many parents have addressed this issue by sending their child trick-or-treating accompanied by an elite SWAT-trained team of body-guards. While this addresses many of the physical safety concerns, there are still emotional and intellectual risks to keep in mind.

When a child dresses up as someone else, they take upon themselves elements of that character’s persona. By changing their physical appearance, their mentality also goes through a shift. Though subtle, these changes can have a lasting influence on our children’s mental and emotional state. Therefore, we must approach our children’s Halloween costume choices with extreme caution.

Here are a few costume choices you should NOT under ANY circumstances allow your child on Halloween.

Witch. There are many reasons that a witch can be a dangerous costume choice for a young girl. Think of the historical context! Witches are known for their power and independence, not to mention intelligence, and often beauty. Imagine the danger to our society if young girls thought of themselves as intelligent and powerful! And independence? I shudder at the thought. Witches are known to cause change, and challenge the status-quo. Imagine our society if girls were being intelligent and independent and powerful all willy-nilly!

Princess. This is looking at largely the same issue from the opposite angle. We live in the modern age, after all. We’ve made great strides forward from our Puritan ancestors. Remember the old fairy-tales? It seems in all those old stories, the princess did nothing for herself. She was taken by the dragon, remained inactive, than was rescued by the prince. Do we want this lesson taught to our daughters? They must learn to do for themselves! How dare they think they need anyone else’s help for anything, right? And wanting a happily-ever-after with *gasp* a man is not just cliché, but old-fashioned. And nothing old-fashioned can possibly be helpful or useful or good in this modern world.

Superman. Now this is a dangerous one. The mentalities shaped in our childhood form us as we grow, and we must be incredibly careful of the seeds we plant. Imagine teaching our children that they can overcome impossible odds, or defeat evil villains. Imagine allowing our children even for a moment the idea that they could have super-human strength, or fly among the clouds. This would only be setting them up for disappointment! We must teach them to keep their feet on the ground, and heads down. This is the way to avoid pain and hurt. If our children look up, if they try to fly, they could easily crash and burn, and we must ensure them that this is never, ever, EVER, worth the risk.

Policeman. This is a costume and career choice you should help your child avoid if at all possible. Policemen and women put their lives on the line every day for other people, and spend their time putting others’ comfort and safety above their own. This is not good, healthy, prioritized, Number One thinking. I mean, of course we are grateful that these select men and women do this job, so the rest of us can continue looking out for Number One in safety. But if your child wants to be a policeman or woman for Halloween, dissuade them. They might start envisioning themselves making other people their priority.

Zombie. It is not a good idea to portray, let alone acknowledge things that are dangerous, scary, or different from ourselves. Bruce Wayne clothed himself in his worst nightmare to prove to himself that this nightmare wasn't as petrifying and nebulous and unconquerable as he thought, but I say that’s bunk. (Batman is another dangerous idea). We are much better off pretending danger, fear, and difference doesn't exist. That way we decrease our chances of confronting things that are scary or different, because if we don’t see them, they won’t see us. And remember, it’s always Them versus Us. Always. Portraying something scary and “other” may suggest otherwise to your child, and that, of course, is dangerous.

So parents, and all those who care about the rising generation, be careful the tales in which you let your children partake. Those are the true spells every Halloween, and you never know the ways your child will emerge different and changed on the other side.

Sarah Allen

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[Photo Credit]

Monday, October 27, 2014

How Recording One Second A Day Will Make You A Better Writer

I have never been super great at living in the present. Doing the whole "live in the moment" kind of thing. My mind is always thinking about my novel and the short stories I'm working on and the agents I've submitted to and ideas for social media. I am pretty much always projecting into the future, imagining how things might be.

Basically this:

Then a while ago I listened to this incredible TED Talk from a guy who did a project recording one second every day. Just one second.

I remember that idea really hitting me. He talks about how there were days when it was really hard, and days when he had to be creative, and it ended up really making him focus on how each day was different and unique.

In other words, it helped him live in the moment.

So why do writers want or need to live in the moment? Why will it make us better writers? Well, as an example, my Monday/Thursday blog schedule has presented me with some interesting challenges, and not ones I necessarily expected. Especially with the more personal Thursday posts, where my goal is more connection and entertainment than information and instruction, like the Monday posts. But I've often found myself having a difficult time coming up with ideas or topics when I sit down to write my Thursday posts. I find myself thinking, "What can I say that's entertaining? I work and I write, that's about it."

Living in the moment provides us writers with the material. And it's something I'm working on improving. When I make a conscious effort each day to think about why this day is unique and different, or why my particular situation or view on the world is different, then I start seeing more of the richness of life. And that richness is exactly what provides the stories and ideas and thoughts we writers need, not just for personal style blog posts, but for any writing we ever do.

So how do we do it? How do we get better at noticing and observing and gathering the day-to-day things into usable material?

We record one second every day.

And by no means does it have to be video recording either. In fact I suggest three other methods of recording and observing our day that might even be more useful for a writer.

1. Write in a journal. I've made a rule for myself recently that I must write in my journal every day, even if its just once sentence. Just one sentence is enough. This has helped me temper my natural tendency to project into the future rather than noticing that actual lived moment. It helps me go over my day and think about what I did that was different than every other day, even its only one thing. And I can go back and look over the journal too to remind myself and find stories. We are writing anyway, right? If you don't currently write in a journal, try out just one sentence a day and see what it does for you.

2. Take one picture. Okay, so we already know I'm a bit of a social media nut, but Instagram is my newest obsession. (I go through phases). Don't worry, I'm not here to suggest that every writer use Instagram. My point is that increasing my activity with it has forced me to look for unique and beautiful images throughout my day. It's forced me to take notice of my day, even in the things I do all the time like drive to work or go grocery shopping. In other words, taking pictures has made me open my eyes a little more and be more observant. These little moments of discovery or interest that we all have throughout our days, if we notice them, and even if they're not major events, are exactly the types of moments we use in all kinds of writing. And even if you're not one who likes sharing pictures everywhere, try it out for your own sake. Make a goal to just take one picture a day and see what happens.

3. Call someone. Now that my family is a little more grown up and a little more spread out, I have to make a conscious effort to keep in touch. We call each other a lot. And when you talk to someone on the phone, it not only forces you to go over your day and find the stories, you get to listen to someone else do that for their day too. And I think both are incredibly valuable. We've already talked about how going over our days can be a great help, but going over another persons day adds that extra layer, that extra depth. You get to hear the unique differences and stories from other peoples day-to-day lives too. This is exactly how we train our inner eye to notice those daily things that are beautiful and unique and that matter. Plus, talking with the people in this world that you love just makes you feel happy. And that's a good thing.

So why take the effort of recording and going over and analyzing our days? Because it helps us live in the moment and find the stories that are already there, and that already have meaning. And meaningful stories is exactly what writing is all about. So try writing in a journal and taking pictures and calling someone up every once in a while. Gather these stories, and maybe next time you start a project, whether its a novel or a blog post, your bout of writers block won't be quite as bad.

Write on!

Sarah Allen

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  • Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition: We’re looking for short stories! Think you can write a winning story in less than 1,500 words? Enter the 15th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition for your chance to win $3,000 in cash, get published in Writer’s Digest magazine, and a paid trip to our ever-popular Writer’s Digest Conference! Due Nov. 17.
  • Humber Literary Review: The Humber Literary Review is seeking submissions of prose, poetry, artwork, and comics for their third issue, scheduled for release in Spring 2015. Pays $60 per poem, and $100 each for essays, fiction, and reviews. Due Dec. 8.
  • Workers Write!: Issue eleven of Workers Write! will be Tales from the Coliseum and will contain stories and poems from workers in the sports industry. We're looking for fiction from sportscasters, scouts, referees and umpires, agents, front office employees, vendors, groundskeepers, trainers, and even athletes—as long as the tale is about the "job" of sports. Due Dec. 31.
  • Infinite Acacia: Infinite Acacia is now accepting urban fantasy submissions for our Infinite Urban Fantasy One anthology. Due Dec. 31.
  • Microfiction Monday Magazine: Microfiction Monday Magazine is seeking exceptional stories told in 100 words or less for publication every Monday. There are no restrictions on genre or content, just punch us in the chest with characters we can feel, images we can't get out of our heads, and stories that are complete despite their brevity. Rolling.


Thursday, October 23, 2014

10 Things That Make Me Happy

1. This performance of this song (get ready for chills):

2. This trailer of this movie:

3. This GIF of this dog:

4. This cover of this magazine (Like really MERYL STREEPS HAIR WHAT? I can't even):

5. This illustration of this fairy-tale (by Cory Godbey):

6. This person hugging this person:

7. This kiss from this show:
(and this one)
(Okay and this one I'm a romantic okay?)

8. This tribute to these stories/characters/writers:
9. This kid in this costume:

10. This man on this planet:

And of course YOU, you gorgeous reader you.

Have a happy filled day!

And write on!

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

Monday, October 20, 2014

6 Ways To Let Others Do Your Book Marketing For You

We are writers, not marketers. Writers, not publicists. We are creating art, not peddling "product."

Writers write, right?

Cue enormous *le sigh*.

Writing, creating those beautiful words like brain babies, is absolutely our most important calling. It's top priority. But we still want people to see and read and ooh and ahh over those brain babies, and that involves what the vampires and soul-sellers of the world call "marketing," and unfortunately, in the modern publishing world, if we don't do that marketing ourselves, it's probably not going to get done. And in most cases its certainly not going to get done as effectively as we could do it ourselves.

As we writers are commanded told time and time and time again, by everyone from "authorities" to Authorities, from every conceivable platform, we modern writers are now responsible not just for creating our beautiful brain babies, but for raising them smartly and releasing them into as loving and large a throng as we can muster.

But as someone from an eight child family can tell you, isn't it enough to worry about keeping our creations alive and healthy, keeping them from lopping off their hair or blowing out their diapers, without also having to be the one that bribes all the student body to be their friend and vote for them as Homecoming Queen? Okay, so maybe I'm getting a little out of hand with my metaphors here, but you get what I mean, right?

I'm here to tell you that there are plenty of ways to be low on the sleezy and high on the lazy efficient sides of book marketing. We all know the "it takes a village" aphorism, right? Well I think it applies to book marketing too. In other words, there are lots of perfectly appropriate ways to piggy-back on other people and let them do lots of your book marketing for you.

Now, just to be clear, we are mostly talking about long-term marketing here. These are things that will be most effective months or even years before your book comes out, or in the times between books while you're just working on platform building. During the heavy-hitting book release times you're probably going to be doing so much direct marketing work yourself that you'll need a year's supply of RedBull and a tribe of energizer bunnies just to get you through. These are long-term, slow building strategies, but they can really help out in the long run, and can help us be effective while still focusing our efforts on the most important thing: those brain babies.

1. Pinterest is your new best friend. When I read Anne R. Allen's post from her incomparable weekly blog I had to grin a little with the irony. I was in the middle of writing this post and in some ways we are looking at the two sides of one thing. If you haven't read Anne's post this week about the dangers and frustrations of living in our modern cyberworld, do yourself a favor and check it out. All the points she brings up are vitally important and need to be kept at the forefront of our online strategies. As we said at camp, "Safety first!"

That being said, Pinterest can be one of your most useful tools when used correctly. The many social media options and "must-do's" out there can be completely overwhelming, but before you get scared off, let me explain about Pinterest. One of the dangers of adding to your social media platform is the time-suck, and people are afraid of that with Pinterest especially. But honestly, give it a chance and Pinterest can be one of the least intimidating and least involved platforms out there. It can absolutely be a black hole of where-did-the-last-seven-hours-go if you want it to be let it, but it by no means has to be. Being an active user of Pinterest can mean no more than five minutes a day of looking at and maybe repinning pictures of motivational writing quotes, beautiful book covers, great blog posts, and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch. Honestly. That's all it requires.

And did you catch that thing I just said about blog posts? I get more traffic to this blog from Pinterest than almost any other site. The way Pinterest is structured, it is easier to get discovered and spread on this site than any other, at least in my experience. What I do is make images almost like book covers for a blog post, using an applicable and appropriate photo. (Like the one at the top of this post). I edit and text overlay using a photo-editing site like PicMonkey. Don't let that scare you off either. It may be a learning curve but you'll end up being able to whip one up in less than five minutes. And then put it up on Pinterest, and bam, you have other people spreading your word. I am by no means an expert, but for an example of how I've been using Pinterest at least relatively successfully, check out my Pinterest boards, especially the ones for writers. (Whew, I didn't realize I had so much to say about this site. Maybe it deserves it's own how-to style post...)

2. Take advantage of the @Mention. The @mention feature on Twitter is one of your best tools for doing some totally appropriate piggy-backing of other people's audience. On Twitter itself, when you communicate directly with people in your industry using the @mention, you increase your chances of getting your tweet favorited or retweeted, thereby being introduced to the other tweeters audience. I.e., letting them do some of the work for you.

But the @mention can help in even more ways. I've had tweets mentioned in other author's newsletters that led people to both my twitter account and this blog. And you know how I make a spotlight list of other blog posts every week? I make sure to mention those bloggers on Twitter too. Of course doing this expecting other people to owe you any favors is totally obnoxious, (and this tool is mean to be the opposite of harassment) but I've been lucky enough to have my post mentioned or retweeted on other authors blogs and that has led to some great traffic that another writer already had ready and waiting. Plus its just a great way to be involved, and involving yourself with others creates involvement for you.

3. Guest post. "Wait!" I hear some of you saying. "You said this was for lazy marketers and writing more blog posts isn't lazy-friendly at all!"

True, but think of it in terms of return on investment. Letting other people do your book marketing for you is all about efficiency. Yes, you have to spend an additional 3-4 hours crafting the guest post. But if you put in the effort, do your best work, and are lucky enough to get accepted by some of the huge platform blogs, then guess what that means? That means you spent 3-4 hours reaching a crazy large audience that it would have taken you hundreds and hundreds of hours to reach otherwise. That blogger has already put in those hundreds, even thousands of hours building up that great audience, and guest blogging is the perfect way for you to piggy-back. In an appropriate, non-creepy (hopefully) way that is beneficial to both parties.

4. Create or discover interview opportunities. Again, this can take less effort than you expect. And it's all about efficiency and return on investment, right? The good thing is that there are already some tools in place that make this strategy quite simple. Help A Reporter Out is a newsletter sent directly to your inbox every day that lists topics reporters from everywhere want to get quotes about. For example, perhaps a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee needs to interview three middle school librarians, or a blogger for a major corporation wants to talk to work from home moms. Stuff like that. I've found a couple applicable postings, and if I can, you definitely can. And there's no easier way to piggy-back on that publication's audience.

The other tool is Blog Talk Radio. Caveat: I haven't used this site yet, but I've heard a lot about it lately and plan to get started soon. What I know so far is that this is a platform for anyone to create their own radio show or podcast, and some have audiences in the thousands. If anyone has any experience using this site I'd love to hear about it.

5. Blurb, collaborate, and bundle with other authors. How do you get your name and the title of your book on the cover of someone else's book? Blurbs! If you get a chance and it seems appropriate, blurbing might be a good opportunity.

And collaborating. Writing a book with another author is an automatic introduction to their already-built audience. However it doesn't even have to be as involved as all that, because I know writing a book with someone else isn't for everyone. But what about anthologies? That's collaboration, right? Or co-authored blogs? Or working with an illustrator to create a picture book or illustrated poetry? All great collaborative opportunities that mean access to someone elses in-place audience. Efficiency in book marketing is all about getting access to these already-built audiences. A reader who buys an anthology because they know another writer might end up loving your work just as much. And all you had to do was write.

And don't forget bundles. I've never done one myself, but selling your work in a bundle with some other authors gives you basically the same advantages of an anthology, but may have an even wider reach.

6. Ask. You know who else probably has a built-in audience? Your family and friends. Maybe they don't have the reach of some of the big industry influencers, but they can still help. Again, I have to emphasize, my point here is the opposite of "be entitled and pushy." In fact as a general online rule you should be giving help as much if not much more than you're asking for it. But you also shouldn't be afraid of asking for help when its appropriate. Asking your friends and family for a boost on their Facebook and Twitter pages, especially when your book is nearing release, can be a big help in your push to get the ball rolling. And most likely you'll have plenty of people who are more than happy to help.

So. There are ways that we can appropriately piggy-back on other people's audience and let them do some of our book marketing for us. Keep in mind that this is about being pro-actively efficient and smart, and is absolutely not about being entitled or sleazy or pushy. Have I said that enough? Also keep in mind that many of these strategies are long-term and slow-building; more about building our blog readership and growing our email list than direct sales. But if we use these strategies effectively then when its time for our precious brain baby to be released into the world, we already have a bit of a network in place and ready to go.

Do you think these strategies can help? What other ideas do you have for piggy-backing on other peoples audience and letting them do some of our book marketing for us?

Write (and minimally market) on!

Sarah Allen

This Week On Social Media:

For more frequent updates, writing tips, and funnies, follow on FacebookTwitterGoogle+
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  • First Line Magazine: Submit a story with the assigned first line. Due Nov. 1.
  • Critical Pass Review: Calling all poets, writers, photographers, and visual artists! The Critical Pass Review is now accepting submissions for its Fall 2014 Issue. Due Nov. 19.
  • Madcap ReviewThere are two weeks left to submit to Madcap Review! Due Oct. 31.
  • Imitation & Illusion: For I&A 2.2, we're looking for submissions that combine the styles of poet Jillian Weise and sci-fi writer James Blish. Each author uniquely approaches a specific subset of the science fiction genre, broaching the subjects of biology, self-awareness, and society. Due Nov. 21.
  • Big Book of Useful Poetry: Submit "useful" poems as well as the tags for their usefulness. Tag examples: . Poems can be previously published as long as you have the rights for reprints. No limericks. Submit up to three poems. Until Filled.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

To Hold A Killer In Your Hand

There are lots of cool things about Las Vegas.

One of the coolest has to be the Clark County Renaissance Festival.

I'd never been to a Ren Faire before this weekend (I know, I know, it's like I need to turn in my nerd card or something) but that oversight has been fixed. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but boy, I wasn't disappointed.

As some of the people I chatted with beforehand mentioned, the people watching was often the coolest part. The costumes and decorations and food and everything were just incredible.

Also camels.

(I swear its the Geico Hump Day camel. He's making that face...)

So, there's this thing, both online and IRL, where I sometimes wonder if I'm being taken seriously. Not you guys, you guys are great. And it's not ever anything even remotely big deal-ish. But, ya know, I get called darling and sweetheart a lot, and every once in a while I'll catch a surprised look on someone's face when they see that I can, like, do things. I'm pretty sure this all just comes with the short, round-faced blond territory. Which, again, is totes fine most the time, but I do wonder sometimes if I look young enough even just in profile pictures and such that it influences my online and IRL interactions with serious, important people like agents and editors.

But I think, at the Renaissance Fair, I came up with a solution.

First, I need to take lessons from this guy:

That is real life full metal armor and there was real life jousting with real life lances that shattered on impact and everything. It was completely epic. This guy is a former soldier and started the Knights of Mayhem for the pure love of jousting. There's not a single agent or editor or book buyer alive who would not take this guy seriously.

Am I right? This guy was so epic I had to play with Photoshop to capture his true awesometacity.

(Is there female jousting? Is that a thing?)

Mostly, though, I just need to make sure that in all my profile pictures, I've got a killer in my hand.

Isn't she gorgeous? The trainer said her name is Sheba, and she's a Bateleur Eagle. I mean it just keeps building epic upon epic. Sheba? Bateleur? And look at that wing span!

To be honest, though, I'm not sure that picture is going to help me out very much, because even with a killer in my hand I still look younger than I am, and I still have a goofy grin on my face. Although, the trainer did compliment my endurance and tight grip (I'm also stronger than I look :v). And you know what, I'm thinking maybe that's okay, because all it means is that I just need to find people who take goofy grins and round faces and Pixar and Mo Willems and Gary Larson and Frasier and puns and Aslan and Atticus and the Newberry Award and chocolate covered bananas as seriously as I do. And, of course, there are lots of us out there, which is why the blogosphere is so amazing, because I get to talk with lots of you all the time!

So yeah, let's just acknowledge that the best life is one where you have a Bateleur Eagle or a lance in one hand, and a blue-ray DVD of Monsters, Inc., or the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes, or a Mickey Mouse hat in the other.

And with whatever hand you've got left (whether you were born with it or stole it from the church cemetary across the street, I won't judge)...

Write on!

Sarah Allen

For more updates, writing tips, and funnies, sign up for the monthly newsletter and get a free copy of 50 Marketing and Networking Tips for Writers!

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