Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why writers must earn the trust of readers

Readers want stuff, information on how to live their lives, increased incomes, a better world, how to make better films, whatever – and if you can’t credibly get it to them, your message is unpersuasive.

It’s not that your arguments don’t work, it’s that you aren’t a trusted messenger, and you can’t win in a low-trust fight because low trust channels are dominated by corporations, big media, and their emotionally appealing spokesmen and women.  (HT to Naked Capitalism from whom I stole the idea of low and high trust messengers and much of the text.)

The only way to beat this overwhelmingly powerful system is to become a trusted messenger.  like Seth Godin became a trusted messenger to thousands by writing valuable, helpful daily blog posts for years. He is so trusted that he was able to raise $300,000 for charity with one blog post.

No blogging from the jungle

Very little blog posting for the next two weeks.

In two days I am leaving the world of Starbucks, croissants and air conditioning for the Peruvian Amazon basin. The ecology of this area is amazing. It is one of the most biologically diverse places on the face of the earth. I brought a Canon S100 pocket camera. Hopefully many pictures to follow.

If all goes well the trip might turn into a series of articles, or possibly a book, but right now it's just exploration.

Now, if I could only get a couple Starbucks into the jungle...

why carry your books to the Amazon basin?

I am in Lima Peru this morning, on my way to the Amazon basin for two weeks of research on a personal project.

I normally carry copies of my books when I travel. This time, before leaving home I thought... "Get real. The Amazon? Who's going to want a copy of Digital Video Secrets in a dugout canoe?"

The first morning of my trip is a stopover in Lima. I go to the local Starbucks for a Cafe Americano Venti. A woman stands next to me, filming her friends. I politely offer to shoot so she can be in the picture with them. The young guy sitting behind me equally politely explains they are shooting a film! 

It's a small crew of four shooting a doc. Complete with shot list.

I tell them i write books about film, and give them my card. I ask the director to email me details of their film and I wish them well. Then I let them get on with their work.

If there is a moral to this story i guess it is always bring cards, and at least one or two of your books when you travel. Even down the Amazon.

The worldwide hunger for film knowledge, and the reach of the traditional book publishing and distribution system is astonishing. The day before I left for Peru, I was at home exchanging emails with a reader in Tanzania!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Growth and fixed mindsets

Our beliefs make a profound difference how we respond to challenges. Stanford researcher Carol Dweck found that people tend to respond to challenges with one of two distinct mindsets. She labeled these mindsets ‘growth’ and ‘fixed’.
After a loss, a person with a growth mindset thinks, “I have something to learn.” They set out to learn what needs to be changed, and move forward.

A person with a fixed mindset reacts to loss or failure by thinking, ‘I am a failure.’ The mindset, I am a failure, dooms any effort to change. 

Dweck points out that these mindsets are only beliefs. And beliefs can be changed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Decide you have no intention of giving up

Each of us can make a decision not to give up. Sometimes, all we can do is keep going and say “I have no intention of giving up.” 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Morgan Ågren: A Drummer Documentary

 A madly great documentary project by my friend Carl King. This is not my kind of music, but after watching Carl's trailer I want to see this film. Fascinating. Watch the trailer and see what you think.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The value of keeping promises quickly

Most people want to be helpful. It is easy to promise to send a review copy, write a book review, do a short interview, reply to an email or send a link to a useful book or article.

There are really only two ways to handle promises. Either do them as quickly as possible, or don't make them at all.

A neglected promise is a small nagging irritation. Eventually unfulfilled promises can accumulate, become a large irritation and interrupt creative work.

work, interrupted

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Write a theme sentence first

Theme? Theme? I don' need no stinkin' theme!

Updated and revised: 6/6/12 11 AM:

A theme sentence is a powerful and necessary tool for writing nonfiction.

It is used to guide both writing and subsequent revision (because everything is revised). If something has to be cut, the theme shows what can go. If something needs to be added, the theme sentence shows what is missing.

There are three big problems in coming up with a good theme sentence:

1. Writing the theme sentence too early.
The underlying theme of any piece of writing may only become clear to the writer after time-consuming and painful research. When writing something long--say over 5,000 words--the writer may not know the theme until he or she has done considerable thinking, analyzing, reading, and note taking. Writing the theme sentence too early tends to limit the research, and stifle the writing.

2. Writing the theme sentence too late.
Writing the theme sentence too late often leads to bloated drafts that require major cuts during revision. A bloated draft is not always bad. One way to find the underlying theme is to write a sprawling first draft. This is a perfectly acceptable way to find a theme, it's just a lot of work. It may mean writing one, two, or a dozen drafts of a book before the theme emerges. 

3. Incomplete theme sentences.
The most effective theme sentences are fairly short. They have a Subject Verb Object construction,

A complete theme sentence might be: "Theme Directs Writing" The subject (theme) does something (directs) to the object (writing.) What is important? Finding the theme. Why is it important? Because the theme directs the writing. What's the point of this blog post? To show how a theme sentence directs writing, and why it is important to find it before beginning the first draft.

An incomplete theme sentence might be, "Theme is really important to writing."  How is it important? Why is it important? What place does a theme sentence play in the writing?  What's the point of this blog post? None of these questions are answered by an incomplete theme sentence.

For a superb description of the theme sentence see Jack Hart's  Storycraft.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

No such thing as a small favor

Got a minute for me?
There is no such thing as a small favor when you are a creative professional. 
Everything interrupts the work, everything takes longer than expected, and everything is a hassle.
In the post industrial age, we are all creative professionals.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Are you writing for strangers or friends?

This is another in a string of posts that began after I heard Seth Godin say "People don't buy books from strangers."  

It turns out this whole idea of selling to strangers is central to what Godin is teaching. Another Godin post on the subject, copied below:

Strangers and friends

Most marketers are organized around more. More share. More customers.

And if you want to do that fast, it means marketing to strangers. Strangers that don't care about you, don't trust you and aren't listening to you.

You market to a friend differently. A friend isn't necessarily someone you went to summer camp with, it's someone who gives you the benefit of the doubt. Someone who will listen, at least once, to your pitch.

I was talking to an author about his next project. The question I asked him was, "are you writing this for strangers or friends?" The implications are huge. It impacts how you design the cover, how you price it, what it's about, where you sell it, when you publish it, how much you pay for store displays, etc...

You need to treat friends differently at every step along the way. First, don't confuse the moments you're supporting them or connecting with them with the moments when you are doing business. Second, understand that the most powerful win is when your friends tell their friends about you. This is worth 1000 times more than you talking about yourself.

The cool thing is that now, everyone has ten times as many friends as they used to. The social graph online is a fascinating, exponential factor in growing the list of people who might be willing to hear what you have to say (once). 

Which means that your site and offer and products can be organized around friend selling instead of stranger setting.

Guaranteed: if you sell a friend the way you sell a stranger, you've made neither a sale or a friend.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Writing for Strangers by Seth Godin

 Writing for Strangers

"is different than writing for friends.

"A blog post for strangers needs a title like, “11 proven ways to improve productivity,” while a blog that is aimed at subscribers and long-time readers could be titled, “Try this!”

"Same goes for novels and other sorts of books.

"The novelist with regular readers doesn’t have to reintroduce each character anew each time. The business book writer can ignore his editor who clamors for complete clarity on every page, and actually engage the audience as patient, thinking humans instead.

"Going forward, it’s difficult to imagine much scale in the stranger end of the business.

"Which means you better hurry up and make a lot of friends."

Seth Godin, June 3, 2012

media in the waiting room

The other day I found myself sitting in a hospital waiting room. There were old magazines on a table and a flat screen television on the wall playing the crime show CSI.

I was reading a book I brought with me, Michael Hyatt's book on social media, Platform.

As I read, I was suddenly struck by the difference in tone between the messages I was reading in the book and the messages I was seeing on the screen.

The book was about generosity, honesty and patience. The screen was about fear, violence, and death.

Successful mass media aims for the the lowest common denominator: the lizard brain and the mob. Successful social media aims for an individual.

When reading or watching any media, it is useful to stop occasionally and ask: Who was this crafted for? And why?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The most effective blog post

A topic of value is the one thing that determines whether a blog post will get a lot of hits.

High traffic posts have something worthwhile to say. Something that matters. Something of value to the reader. It may take daily posting for a year or two or three, but eventually people with something to say will build a following.

Easier said than done.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Friends, fans, followers, family and strangers

If I  "friend" someone on Facebook, are we really friends? I don't think so.
(HT Personal Euphoria for image.)
Here's my quick pass at words to describe Internet Age relationships.
  • Friend - Someone you know personally and trust. You probably meet them in person.
  • Fan - Someone who knows and likes your work. They have given you premission to contact them, and wait eagerly to hear what you have to say. A fan is an evangelist. He or she will tell other people about your work, attend your workshops, and buy your work. You may meet them once or twice at a workshop or event, and exchange emails. Or, you may never meet them.
  • Follower - Someone who likes your work. They may or may not have given you permission to contact them. A follower might tell other people about your work. They will buy occasionally, and might subscribe to an RSS feed to keep track of what you are doing. They generally support your work. You may never meet them.
  • Family - People you are related to by birth or marriage.  
  • Stranger - All the millions and billions of people in the world. They don't know you, or your work, and they probably don't want to. Most of them have no interest in your work, and never will. It just doesn't mean anything in their lives.They have NOT given you permission to connect to or talk with them--and they never will.

People don't buy books from strangers #3

People don't buy books from strangers. - Seth Godin

This statement goes to the heart of what Godin is teaching.

Before the Internet, a writer wrote for four or five people. They were the gatekeepers with the power to get a writer published. A powerful agent, editor or publisher could make or break a career. 

After the Internet, the gatekeepers are gone. Anyone can publish world-wide at no cost.

Instead of writing for four or five people with the power to choose a writer and present his or her work to an audience of strangers, writers are suddenly writing directly to the audience.

This is really scary. Not a single writer that I know is comfortable with this. At least one said angrily, "It's Bullshit!"

Fair enough. Fortunately, there is a simple way to test Godin's statement.

Pick up the Manhattan phone book and start calling names, beginning at "A." When the stranger at the other end answers say, "I would like you to buy my book."  

If people buy books from strangers your entire print run should be gone by the time you reach "D".