From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Do You Look For From Online/Blog Friends?

Sometimes (often) I feel a bit guilty for being such a social media freak. I love learning and networking with such awesome people who have so much to teach me and share my interests and ambitions. However, I do occasionally feel like I'm not only pimping myself, but that I have nothing really to offer. There are so many reasons I participate in the social media sphere. To learn and network, yes, but also, eventually, to promote books.

I think social media for book promotion is okay. In a way, you are offering a bit of yourself in exchange for a bit of someones time and attention. Whether they're reading your blog posts and tweets or your actual book. I think if social media is used that way, then that's fair. Spamming and turning it all into a one-way self-serving conversation is a separate thing, an annoying not okay thing that plenty of people in the blogosphere have talked about already.

But that's not really what I'm talking about here. I guess what I'm saying is that I sometimes feel guilty for asking for your attention on this blog or Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or YouTube or Pinterest when 1) my general lack of experience and 2) my unpublishedness/not having a book available makes me feel like I have so little to offer in return.

I plan to, in the future. Obviously I hope to have an explosion of books available for everybody as quickly as I can make that happen (still querying agents), but I also want to share what I learn along the way to hopefully be a little helpful. But I'm banking on that in the future and in a way asking you to, too.

Does all this make sense? I guess my real question is what do you look for in the people you interact with on social networks? What can I offer you to make your time and attention here the most worthwhile?

Maybe its a general question, but I am very open to any answers. What would be most worth your while? Not just here, but all over the internetz. More book recommendations? Writing process tips and tricks? Contests? More funny cat videos and pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch's cheek-bones?

Sarah Allen

Friday, March 15, 2013

What are you up to this weekend?

Hey guys :)

Conversation with my eight year old sister from yesterday:
Her: Ya know how sometimes people don't look like what they are? Like, if I just met you I wouldn't think that you were a writer.
Me: Really? What would you think I was?
Her: Um...I don't know what its called. It starts with a G.
Me: What do they do?
Her: They sit and play video games all day. Oh! Geek!
Gotta love the family support ;) Apparently even my eight year old sister thinks I'm at my computer too much.

Mostly I'm okay with this, because even though its true that if I'm not at work I'm probably at my computer, my computer time is almost always writing and blogging and networking, which are good things in my mind.

However, sometimes I need a refresher. A person needs to get out and do things, too. Not simply because of my sisters not-so-subtle hint, but I've been thinking about this a lot and talking with some friends about it lately. I've blogged about this before. I guess I'm a little too obsessed with BEING PRODUCTIVE, so a lot of times other things don't feel as writerly productive as blogging and querying and...ya know...writing.

Anybody else feel this way? There are some fabulous things to do in the DC area, and the birds are starting to get obnoxious and the trees are getting green. That is enough to get out for.

But what are your ideas? What gets you out of the house? What are your hobbies or interests besides writing?

What are you doing this weekend?

Sarah Allen

Monday, March 11, 2013

What Gets You Reading Outside Your Genre?

I think we all have a nice set of adjectives we use to describe ourselves as readers: eclectic, voracious, avid. We can't help ourselves. I think most of us go from George Elliot to John Green to Jeffery Eugenides to Terry Pratchett without too much hesitation. Yes, we have our favorites that we go back to time and time again, and the genre where we're most comfortable, but I think most of us enjoy the occasional foray into other territory.

But today, when I say outside your genre, I'm talking really outside your genre.

My local library has two floors. Ground floor, we've got the adult fiction right up front, and science fiction and fantasy on the wall behind that. To the left is the wish-it-was-bigger young adult section. You walk through a door and there's a big room for the kids books. Then in the basement is all the non-fiction.

I've been in the basement maybe twice. Which is not much, especially considering how often I am at that library. Almost every time I leave I have something from adult, young adult, and kids, but I never go downstairs.

This is what I'm talking about. What would get readers like me to the downstairs books? I think I need to ponder this further before I have any good answers, which is why I'm asking you. And here's why I think it's important: for books to really break out, really get BIG, it needs to draw readers from every part of the book store. And it's fair to say we all want to reach as many readers as possible, right?

I think the last non-fiction book I read was Bird by Bird by Anne Lammot because 1) it was recommended by my trusty book recomenderer, and 2) it was directly applicable to me. Those are the best answers I've come up with so far for why fiction readers would delve into the non-fiction section. What others can you think of?

And I know there are plenty of those who generally only read non-fiction. Heck, I work at Barnes and Noble and that's an answer I've gotten from plenty of my co-workers when I ask about their favorite books. Only about half of the books on the staff recommendations shelf are novels. Like I said, I'm starting to come up with reasons for fiction readers to go to non-fiction, but what about vice versa? So for you non-fiction readers out there, what was the last novel you read and what made you pick it up?

I also know that there are plenty of people who only read mysteries or Pulitzer winners or books written in the 1800's (I wouldn't blame you). That's totally cool to read this way, but what makes you pick up the rare book outside your main category?

Leave your thoughts in the comments! Let me know the last "outside" book you read, and why you read it. I'm anxious to get some more ideas about this :)

Sarah Allen

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Be So Good They Can't Ignore You (and Americas Next Top Model)

Of all the proverbs, platitudes, adages and whatever that people throw around, this is one of my favorite and one of the most, I think, useful. This one is from the hilarious, sage, respectable, entertaining Steve Martin. He's always been one of my favorites, one of those rare people whose celebrity hasn't tainted their decency as human beings.

I've had this quote at the back of my mind for a while and it's recently become useful in some interesting context.

So, maybe I was watching America's Next Top Model, and maybe I'm about to impart from the Book of Tyra Banks...don't judge me :) Anyway, on the show there were only like five girls left in the running and their assignment was "go-sees," which is apparently where a model "goes and sees" designers and other fashion-y type people and they see if they want to hire her. So, its obviously important for models to do well on these go-sees because its, ya know, how they get work.

What happened was that at the end judging part Tyra was talking about how each of the girls had something that the designer and fashion-world people could use as an excuse for not hiring her. One girl was 25 which is *gasp* positively ancient in model years, one girl was too quirky, one girl was 5'7'' which means that in the fashion world she's basically a midget, a couple of the girls were black, which, emotion and rightness and whatever aside, statistically still is a huge disadvantage in the modeling world.

Tyra pointed out that there are hugely successful models with each and every one of these "negative strikes." (Tyra herself, obviously.) That anyone with these "flaws" can go into a interview or go-see and just be so good that they are left with no excuse. You have not given them a reason to ignore you.

I think that's the same battle we're fighting in the publishing industry. There is just so much out there and people are looking for every excuse to mentally put us aside and find something better. They don't have time to let us prove ourselves. We're all the same way. If you're reading a sample on your kindle and the story or writing just isn't sparking, we're gonna delete and it not think about it again. Even more than that, when I'm in a bookstore and I pick up a random book and I don't like the first line, that's the end right there. If we're going to make people pay attention to us we have to grab them by the throat from the very beginning and not let go.

And I think we do that by playing to our strengths. I will never be as good a plotter as Stephen King. I will never be as transcendentally poetic as Wallace Stegner or have the same delightful humor splashing through my work as Charles Dickens. Nobody will. But King and Stegner and Dickens don't write like me or any of us, either, and they've all gotten many horrific reviews. (Some delightful person on Amazon says, and I quote, "Stephen King should find somthing new to do like not writting books.") Don't misunderstand me: these three are genius and if I can write half as well as them at their worst than I will feel okay calling myself a good writer. But I also think that part of their genius is that they played to their strengths and did what THEY did so well. So well that despite any bad reviews, despite prejudice at the publishers, whatever, they could not be ignored.

This is not to say that we should not take criticism into account. We all have room to improve, and should be trying to. Yes some critics just don't get it and what they say is bollocks (thank you Amazon), but often it is wise and productive and can cover our literary blind-spots. We need it. But in addition to improving on our weaknesses, I submit that what will help us most is blaring our strengths so brightly that we cannot be ignored, that the weaknesses don't matter.

In short, listen to Steve Martin and Tyra Banks. Be so good they can't ignore you.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Keeping Motivated Between Boosts

Every once in a while, something happens that validates your efforts. Like sign posts, they tell you you're on the right path.

You finish your novel.
You get a short piece accepted by a literary magazine.
Your university gives you a creative writing scholarship.
You place in a creative writing competition.
You get a positive, personalized rejection or sample request from an agent.

These moments are great. They are like water in a desert.

However, I've been realizing more lately that to really find success, motivation has to come from a place that's a lot deeper and a lot more internal. If we rely only on these kinds of circumstantial boosts, however important and lovely, we may run dry. We can't control when these things are going to happen, and if we're going to have consistent and long-term success, we need to be motivated and productive in the between times too.

It's hard, though. I feel like the boost moments can bring your end goal into sharper focus, make it feel more concrete, and going for a long time without them makes it feel fuzzy and so far away. That can spell death for ambition and motivation. Or at least put pressure on your reserves of strength.

So how do you keep going when it feels like you're on empty? I've found that talking with writer friends really helps to keep each other motivated. They know what I'm going through and their excitement can be contagious. Its also important to keep focused on the project at hand and let the writing itself be exciting and important and motivating. Because it is.

Sometimes I think it comes down to simply just doing it. Make a schedule for writing, submitting and networking. A little bit every day, even when its not fun, not exactly what you want to be doing, even when you'd rather be sitting on the couch watching Animal Cops.

The cool thing is, after a while of powering through on empty, that's exactly what will get you to your next boost.

Sarah Allen

Friday, March 1, 2013

Who Are Your Favorite YouTube Artists?

No denying it, YouTube has become one of the premier artistic platforms of our age. It's got everything. Poetry, book trailers, music videos, dancing, animated shorts, all of it. Even us writers, whose medium is the written word rather than video, can find an overwhelming amount of beauty and inspiration. Here are some of my favorites:

And even some incredible educational videos that also manage to be entertaining:

I know that's a lot of videos, but they are all SO WORTH IT. Take some time this weekend and enjoy.

The real reason I wanted talk about this, though, is to get recommendations. So take a minute and browse through your watch history and your likes and your favorites and tell me: Who are your favorite YouTube artists? What videos have most inspired you? Which do you come back to again and again?

Sarah Allen
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