From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Friday, January 31, 2014

5 Books With Soul

It is my great honor to be hosted by Rochelle Melander over at the Write Now Coach Blog. I am a long time follower and can't tell you how much I have learned from Rochelle.

Today I'm talking about 5 books that have taught me something. I picked five books that have stuck with me for a long, long time, and then explored why they did. It's because they have soul.

How does a book have soul, you ask? Which five books did I pick? Well, head on over to The Write Now Coach Blog to find out :)

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

When the Ideas are Buzzy and Fuzzy

It's been a bit of a hectic week. I spent basically the entire weekend dealing with computer issues. My computer was so infected by viruses that it would hardly start up, and everything I tried only made it worse. Thank heavens all my stuff was backed up, so I mostly kept my sanity. But it was still ridiculously frustrating, and there didn't seem to be any option that didn't involve spending lots of money. I decided to do a factory reset but it took me a few days to figure out how to do it without a backup DVD. Anyway. I am writing to you now from a clean and functioning computer.

Another thing. I feel at the beginning stages of not one, but many big projects. I'm trying to get serious brainstorming the next novel, and also a screenplay, which are the big things. But I also have these swirling ideas for YouTube videos and picture books and short stories and novellas and poems and just all these thing. I actually don't get that way very often, so its kind of weird.

I feel like my brain is on the static station. Like I'm trying to grasp at these ideas but they are fuzzy and buzzing around so I can't get a good glimpse. I think the frustration with computer issues and over-stimulation from half-baked ideas is at the root of the problem, and I'm trying to fix it.

I need to just sit down and make myself focus on one idea at a time. This is harder at the moment than it should be, but when I try and focus on one project I just keep thinking, oh, but this other thing is important too. Then nothing much gets done. This needs to change.

So. This is your friendly reminder to back-up all your stuff, and frequently, and a reminder to me that it is okay to focus on one project, and get it going, before I move on to the next. And that is what I'm going to do.

Keep writing!

Sarah Allen
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Monday, January 27, 2014

4 Ways to Recycle Your Best Blog Posts

One of my favorite concepts, for marketing and in general, is efficiency. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I know I'm using my ideas and efforts to their greatest advantage. So when we spend a good chunk of time brainstorming and crafting our top blog posts, I think its a good idea to get as much from those posts as we can. With that in mind, here are 4 ways we can reuse and recycle our best blog posts.

1. Blog to Book: If you've been blogging for a while and have a loyal following, a blog to book might not be a bad idea. I haven't looked into doing this too much myself, and it will be a while before I'm ready to take on a project like this, but this does the double duty of making more use from your blog posts and also adding a new book to your portfolio. I know the key here is to have a careful balance of recycled blog posts and fresh, new material that makes the book worth buying for your long-time followers. But with effort and a good-sized and good-quality backlog, you could make this work.

2. Readwave: This is a new site, and one I've only come across recently. But I've really liked what I've seen so far, and the concept is pretty cool. The idea at Readwave is to provide a feed of articles and stories that take less than five minutes to read (less than 800 words). The content ranges from articles on Indian women to funny stories about pets. If you have well-written and short blog posts, which many of them should be anyway, this might be a good place to put them to get some fresh eyes. I've just started, and have two posts up myself.

3. Inkpageant: At one time I used to put a good portion of my blog posts on InkPageant, and I'm going to start doing that again. This site is also aimed at providing a feed of the best quality blog posts, but it is specifically aimed at writers and the feed is links to the blog posts themselves, rather than republished posts. But this is an easy resource to take advantage of, so why not, right?

4. Image Covers: With modern communication becoming so image based, it might be to your advantage to create blog post posters, almost like magazine covers, and upload them to social media. For example, I did this with a blog post I did a long time ago, and this was the result:
 Pinterest especially will be your ally with this technique, but you can use it on most social media platforms as a way to simply catch peoples eye as they scroll through. And you don't have to be a graphic design genius either, in fact you can do it all online with a tool like PicMonkey. This can be a good way to revive some of your oldies-but-goodies that have been gathering dust in the archives.

So what do you think? Can you think of other tools or ways for us to reuse and repurpose our best blog posts?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chuck Wendig Makes Me Feel Better

I just got off a Skype call involving my roommate and our college friend living elsewhere in the country. ("So in other words, becoming Relief Society president took all the evil over-lord out of your personality"*). We were all fellow English majors and when we happen to catch each other online and fall into a Skype call, the majority of our discussion centers on writing and our current writing woes and current projects. It's always fun, and always motivating.

Anyway, we're all sort of at this end of the beginning phase, where we've all been working at this for a good handful of years now, and we're starting to get a few books and many more rejections under our belts. I'm starting to think of it as the throwing rocks at the brick wall until it crumbles or someone on the other side finally notices and throws you a rope phase. Needless to say, it can be a bit disheartening.

It's nice to have company in this phase, and be able to talk about it and work through it with supportive friends. It's also nice to get a little confirmation and validation from those further along on the writing journey, which brings me to Chuck Wendig.

Chuck is always a hilarious and honest supporter and inspirer of the newbie writer, but his latest blog post was particularly helpful tonight. He talks about how long his own journey has taken him, and how even though he's now being called an "overnight success," that "overnight" only came after 20 years of hard, hard work. He says, "A writing career isn’t a short game — it’s a long con...It takes the time that it takes."

Part of our Skype conversation tonight was about Brandon Sanderson, and how he was on novel #12 before he sold his first novel, which was actually novel #6. We often hear stories like that, about how much endurance you have to have, and I'll admit, those stories scare me. We at the beginning of the journey are thinking, "Oh, yeah, I'll work as long as I have to but that won't be me. It won't take that much time or effort." Well, you know what, it might, but if Brandon Sanderson and Chuck Wendig's final destination is any indication, it will be worth the fight.

I guess I just wanted to say thank you to all the types of support out there, the awesome people in the blogosphere, and writers like Chuck who continually come back into the tunnel with a flashlight and promise us beginners that there really, truly is a very worthwhile light at the end of the tunnel, even if we can't see it just yet.

So keep the words coming! I will too, and I'll see you all in greener pastures soon enough.

Sarah Allen

*Apologies if you didn't get the joke...if you're that interested, this might help you understand a bit more.

Monday, January 20, 2014

3 Key Ingredients for Going Viral

Our goal as writers is to tell good stories, and tell them beautifully. Simple as that. However, writing stories will do us and the world little good if nobody reads them. We all hope to get our books out to as many people as possible, and as we writers in the modern digital age know, the job of doing that falls increasingly to the authors themselves. Meaning us. The most important thing we do is write, of course, but its also part of our job to get that writing out there in as big a way as we can manage.

That means going viral. As viral as possible. Infect to the north star! Okay, sorry, I'll stop. But seriously. None of us would say no to that kind of wildfire word-of-mouth spread that happens sometimes, right?

Clearly there is no, like, secret formula or anything for making something go viral or we would all be doing it. However, in his awesome TED talk, YouTube's trend manager Ken Allocca talks about three common traits in viral YouTube videos. And yeah, even though he's talking about YouTube video's specifically, we can apply these three ingredients to everything from direct book marketing to any social media we might do. Because everything helps, right?

So, without further ado, here are the three key ingredients for going viral:

1. Trend-setters: It's no secret, going viral can be a bit of a catch-22: you go viral by being viral. Celebrities and big names get the types of hits on all their content that we mere mortals only dream of. If you're Justin Beiber, every thing you say goes viral. What I'm saying is this: one of the quickest ways to go viral is to get a nod from one of these big-name trend-setters. Rebecca Black's 'Friday' video didn't go big until some big newscaster tweeted it.

How does this apply to writers directly? This strategy includes stuff like getting big-name reviews of your book or a big-name twitter mention. Obviously there's no guaranteed way to do that, and the worst thing you can do is become obnoxious about it (we've all seen what that looks like). So really I guess this one comes down to creating good (or otherwise noteworthy) content and praying for some luck.

2. Trend participation: Going back to the 'Friday' video. There were quite a number of people who got some big numbers by making parody videos. I'm sure you've seen a handful of them. Now, I am definitely not saying you should write to trends. There have been innumerable posts around the blogosphere about why that is a terrible idea, and I wholeheartedly agree. What I am saying is that you should find all the niches your books fit in and participate fully. This strategy also comes heavily into play as you do your social media marketing. Use appropriate Twitter hashtags and write blog posts about relevant news and trends. In short, find applicable discussions and find a way to join in. The higher quality your contribution to the discussion, the more attention it is going to get. In other words, this also comes down to creating quality content and praying for some luck.

3. Unexpectedness and remarkability: In another wonderful TED Talk by Seth Godin he uses the example of a purple cow. We see cows fairly often, while we're driving down the road, right? We don't particularly notice--or remark--them. However, if one of those cows were purple, we would stop and do a double-take. But then, if all the cows became purple, purple cows would cease to be remarkable. See what I'm (he's) saying?

You know those horrible videos where there's a peaceful scene, like a truck driving down a lush country road, and it goes on for a minute or so and then a terrifying witch face comes screaming onto the screen? So, those are obnoxious examples, but we need to do our best to be something like that. We need to create content that people remark on--that they remember, and talk about with there friends. That's how you get the ball rolling in the first place. This applies to both our book marketing and our books themselves. Make tweets and blog posts and YouTube videos and paid advertisements and interviews and, most of all, books, that are remarkable. Meaning this comes down to--you guessed it--creating quality content and praying for a bit of luck.

So yeah, if there were a secret ingredient to all this, it would be luck. My grandpa used to say luck is when preparation meets opportunity, and these three ingredients will help us take best advantage of all opportunities.

What are ways can you think of to use these three ingredients in your book marketing? Can you think of any great examples of people who have done this?

Sarah Allen

Friday, January 17, 2014

Using Your Loftiest Goals to Guide Your Career

There are just so many cool things in this world. There are beautiful pictures and paintings and novels that make you cry and novels that make you laugh and TED Talks that make you think and movies that make you feel like you're walking on clouds for the next week. So many beautiful, wonderful things.

My good pal C. S. Lewis said "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world," and all these amazing things make me feel exactly that. I think art and beauty at its truest form gives us a glimpse into the something greater out there.

This means that I just get really overly excited about so many things and want to do ALL OF THEM. I want to have books published, of course, and I also want to make movies and write an article for National Geographic and make a CD and maybe give a TED Talk. (In other words, I want to be Amy Tan, who has done all of those things.)

I think we all have dream-world goals like that. We all have things that just sound so incredible that we would love to accomplish, but it seems like those things are made for people other than us; that we can still do our own cool things, but those goals are just too unreachable. The leap between our current standing and that lofty peak is just too far.

But here's the thing. What if it isn't a leap? What if it's a hike?

For me right now, the goal of getting a gig with National Geographic is impossible. It just is. They're just not going to hire someone with my lack of experience.

However, if I look at a lofty goal like National Geographic as an endpoint, I know what step I would need to take in that direction. A smaller, more realistic step. I would need to start adding cultural and historical texts to my reading, first of all. Maybe start pitching some smaller magazines. Those things, I can do. Those things are definitely possible.

And here's the other thing. A gig with National Geographic might never happen. In fact, there's almost no chance that it will. (They say so on their website.) But that doesn't mean the dream ever has to cease being the guidepost and the end goal. I can continue, my whole life if I choose, taking those smaller, possible steps, bringing myself closer and closer. And who knows what might happen in the end, or along the way.

What are your lofty goals? What steps could you take towards them, and do you think its worth your time?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Some Inspiration for Supernatural Female Characters

I thought I'd just keep it nice and pretty today and give you all some hot supernatural women to inspire you as you write your fantasy or sci-fi or magical realism or whatever it may be that might have an element that's a bit, shall we say, out of this world.

So, which of these is your favorite? Any story ideas springing from these lovely ladies? Check out my Pinterest board for more ideas.

Sarah Allen

Monday, January 13, 2014

How Lists Might Be Enabling Procrastination

I've come to a helpful but uncomfortable realization.

I love lists. Huge list fan. I make them all the time, and in all sorts of places. I love consolidating lists of things I need to do, and I can't function unless all my ideas and to-do's are organized in neat little lists. I keep lists of projects I'm working on, possible projects to work on, daily social media goals, all sorts of things.

And I'm realizing that my list-making might be enabling my tendency to procrastinate.

This realization only happened the other night, actually. It happened because I was sitting at my computer (as I do. Frequently.) and an idea came to my head for possible collaborative work. I thought to myself, this could end up working out very cool, I should get in touch with these people and see if this idea could work. Then my next thought was, I'll put that on my list.

That's where the problem is. There was literally nothing stopping me from finalizing ideas and sending off emails right that second, but my mind is so "list-centric" that my natural tendency was to mentally file the idea away in the appropriate cabinet. Whereupon it would most likely stay, becoming covered in dust and cobwebs.

So instead, I got off my lazy butt (metaphorically, not physically. I was still sitting on the couch) and took care of the idea immediately, instead of procrastinating it till later. And you know what? I have not one, but two possible projects resulting from the communication. (More on that to come).

Lists are still my favorite thing, and of course, they are still incredibly useful. My point is that, like, say, the internet, they can be an incredibly useful tool or nothing more than a distraction. I'm seeing how I've occasionally let lists enable my bad habits, and now that I'm aware of it, I'm going to do my best to avoid letting that happen.

So here's to lists, may we use them wisely!

Sarah Allen

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Friday, January 10, 2014

For my birthday I met Ian McKellen and Zachary Quinto

It's been a whirlwind couple weeks. I was lucky enough to be able to spend the holidays with my family in D.C. We've never been as spread out as we were this year. I've got two siblings out serving missions for the LDS Church and another sibling starting a family elsewhere in the country, so the nest was emptier than its ever been. But it was still incredible to be able to be with most of my family for Christmas and New Year.

The cool thing about being in D.C. (one of many cool things) is that the MegaBuses take you to New York for between $15-20. Isn't that insane? I bet a lot of people feel this way, but I often find myself almost feeling sorry for people who aren't in my family, because my family is so amazing, and I always feel that way around Christmas. This year, we got New York. With a big polka-dot bow atop the Empire State Building and a ribbon around the statue of liberty. Just kidding. But we did get a trip. A kinda freaking amazing one.

My parents are smart about trips. They found somewhere online (I'm too lazy to look up where) that lets you find people who are renting out their apartments or houses for a week. It's a much cheaper way to go than hotels, so we ended up staying in this adorable apartment in Greenwhich Village, renting from a young opera singer who was gone for the week. It was fun to feel a bit like a true New Yorker.

Among all the fun things we did, we walked down Mulberry Street

Found 30 Rock

Visited the LDS Manhattan Temple

Braved the wind and snow to get some quick shots of Lady Liberty

Realized Central Park planners have NOT seen Doctor Who

And of course, played in Times Square and ate at Grand Central Station (best burgers and curry EVER.)

All this was incredible. I was already brimming with excitement and feeling the Billy Joel song about New York running in my blood. And then.

And then.



Sir Ian McKellen and Zachary Quinto. That's right. GANDALF AND SPOCK EVERYBODY.

I am a fan-girl in a family of fan-girls, so whenever we go to a show we definitely stake ourselves by the stage door afterward and wait for the stars to shine. Man, I'm getting giddy just thinking about it. Who cares that its two degrees (it was.) Who cares that I nearly stepped in human feces on the subway (I did.) ITS FRIGGIN GANDALF AND SPOCK GUYS.

Obviously there was too much of a crowd for a picture with Sir Ian, and we barely got his autograph as it is (thanks to my moms insanely long arms). We saw No Man's Land with him and Patrick Stewart, and it was SO GOOD. I did technically see Patrick Stewart with my own eyes, but he hurried through, motioning to his throat that he was ill and had no voice, and didn't stop for pictures or autographs. It made me feel really sorry for him, and that we were making these seventy year old men stand out in literally freezing whether in sopping wet rain. But they were amazing and wonderful nonetheless. We saw Zachary Quinto in The Glass Menagerie, and he was fantastic. He was also very kind and gracious in talking to fans.

We also met Dule Hill, who plays Gus in the show Psych, and he was perhaps one of the funnest celebrity encounters I've ever had. My nine-year-old sister is a huge, huge fan of the show (when she got her tonsils out, she watched Psych straight for a week. I'm not exaggerating.) He came over and talked with us for a good four or give solid minutes, and answered questions about the show. It was awesome.

Well, I've gone on too long already, but I just wanted to share a bit of the fun and joy of the past few weeks. I'm back home in Vegas now, and its good to get normal life going again. But its also fun to be refreshed and reminded at how beautifully messy and chaotic and exciting and bright and weird and awe-inspiring our world is, and to bring a bit of that magic back to our everyday lives. That's why we have trips to New York, and pictures with Spock, and why we have books.

Keep the magic, everybody.

Sarah Allen

p.s. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook or Google+ (or other places) you may have seen some of these shots already, and for that, I apologize. But yeah, for others, follow me at those places and you can be part of the adventures as they happen :)

Monday, January 6, 2014

10 Questions for YOU

It seems I have a lot of, you could say, survey type questions to ask you guys. Numerous and varied, actually. I am fascinated by behavioral trends and opinions. So I'm just going to go ahead and ask them, if that's alright by you.

No rules, just answer as many as you feel like answering.

1. Top 3 (or more) favorite blogs?
2. Are there any YouTube channels you watch regularly?
3. Are there any Facebook Fan pages you visit regularly?
4. On which social media site do you spend most of your time? What specifically do you use that site for?
6. Do you generally prefer more personal or business oriented blog posts?
7. Which magazines do you subscribe to, if any?
8. Do you use Instagram or Vine?
9. What book are you currently reading and where did you hear about it?
10. Friends or Seinfeld?

Don't be shy. I love hearing from you, and would love every visitor to leave me as many answers as they feel comfortable with. Looking forward to seeing what you all have to say!

Sarah Allen

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dealing with Change in 2014

January 2nd. Kinda the day when life starts going back to normal, isn't it? January's always been the most depressing month to me, except maybe for February, but its good to get back in the swing of things.

I already talked a bit about goals and resolutions last time, but I want to sort of continue in that vein. There has been a lot of talk around the blogosphere the last week or so about the potential changes coming in the publishing industry in 2014. Chip MacGregor, Jo Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith have all put in their predictions and thoughts for what they think is likely to happen to publishing in the coming year.

There are a few common thoughts going around. Many are predicting some major changes for Barnes and Noble, though opinions on what and how those changes might be vary widely. There is a lot of talk about publishing house mergers and more ebook content in libraries and more brick-and-mortar support for indie-books. These things all seem to make sense to me, from my very n00b perspective. I can see it happening, and happily so. (Happily if the changes at Barnes and Noble are productive ones, not destructive).

It's all really interesting to read and think about, and I enjoy it. I hope to be increasingly informed about the publishing industry and the trends and changes happening in it. I am most definitely in favor of being aware of new developments and taking advantage of every possible opportunity as authors.

But I guess my two cents would be this: I think we tend to look at these oncoming changes as traumatic and life-changing, when really, I think our day-to-day lives and duties as writers don't really change at all. In short, we don't need to worry. The one thing we writers need to worry about is and always will be to write, and write a lot, and write as well as we can. The changes in all the rest will come, but they don't need to be disruptive.

I believe this because success as a writer comes through endurance plus a dash of luck, not through clever trickery and manipulation of some kind of fancy system. It's really a very simple process. We write the most and best we can and put it in front of as many people as we can. And we keep doing that. Keeping ourselves updated and aware of all the latest developments and changes will hopefully make things a bit easier for us, but we never need to be afraid that we're missing some kind of magic switch to instant fame and glory. That doesn't happen. It's an endurance race, and taking advantage of everything that comes along just helps us on the way.

It comes down to--always has and always will--telling a good story. Yes, being business-savvy helps. We're all trying to do the best we can in every area. But if we tell good stories, I think we'll be okay.

Sarah Allen
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