159 #StoryGenius Lisa Cron on why backstory isn’t backstory. It IS the story.

To talk to Lisa Chron is–unless you’ve already read Story Genius or Wired for Story–to possibly flip everything you thought you knew about story–fiction, nonfiction, short, long, whatever–onto its head.

Story, she points out, isn’t plot. It isn’t what happens, and then what happens next, and then what happens next. It’s the why behind those happenings. It’s not, well, a spaceship just landed on the green in front of the library, and I’ll either a) rush towards it or b) head for my car.

It’s WHY I do those things. It’s not just what I do next, but what it is about me, now the main character in this rather stressful tale that may end with us all being the entrees on some giant interstellar menu, that makes me make the no doubt terrible choices that I make (good choices make bad books). And that’s my backstory. Which brings me to one of the many, many quick-write-that-down moments in this episode.

Backstory isn’t backstory. It IS the story. It informs every line of every page, every decision, every “because of this, then that,” right up until the end, when whatever screwed me up in the first place becomes something I can overcome in order to win the aliens over and persuade them that we’re not tasty after all (before I fry them with my laser gun and it’s alien nuggets for everyone, with a variety of dipping sauces).

Our guest, Lisa Chron, is the author of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel* [*Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere] and Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. She also contributed to Author in Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published.

#AmReading

Jess sings the praises of The Lewis Trilogy, Peter May

Lisa recommends Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng

KJ is still finishing her favorite novel of this year so far, There’s a Word for That, Sloane Tanen.

#FaveIndieBookstore

Book Soup, Los Angeles

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 158: #WhySticker Why setting the goals and keeping them matters, plus lots of vague-dissing on books that didn’t work and the best novel KJ’s read this year so far.

Kj here, with a confession: I’ve been lying to myself

Letting myself off the hook.

Not keeping my butt in the chair and my head in the game.

I mean, sure, I had lots of excuses. I’ve been traveling or doing intense farm stuff since April 12. That’s almost a month with–count them–only two days of being entirely home without travel or a major, all-day farm commitment. So okay then. Some of those days I called it. I knew I wouldn’t get anything done on my next book, and I didn’t.

Some of those days I had a reasonable plan. Open the file. Stay with the work. That’s all.

But SOME days… some days I futzed around. I kept moving the needle. I let myself quit because “I’m really not focusing” or “this isn’t getting anywhere” and although I had time to do something, and plans to do something, I didn’t manage to do anything.

So here’s the thing about goals, and getting your daily (or 5 days a week, or 6 days a week) sticker: the achievement needs to be hard, but do-able.

Something that will pull you alll the way in and ask something of you. Something that will measurably move the dial.

If your sticker goal doesn’t demand that you say no to some things–no to lunch, maybe, or no to taking a walk on the nice day, or no to a child who wants but doesn’t exactly NEED a ride somewhere–in order to say yes to the goal, then the goal isn’t high enough. Because it’s the saying no that makes you, as Steven Pressfield would say, a pro. It’s the saying no that means you’re saying yes to yourself as a serious person with work that needs to get done, whether there’s anyone else waiting for that work or not.

You’re waiting.

I’m waiting.

So this is my declaration of re-intent. My “sticker” for the next 30 days (at a minimum) is 1000 words. No shortcuts, no lowered goals. SOME DAYS I MIGHT NOT GET A STICKER–but there will be no participation awards. No A-for-effort.

It’s sticker or nothing around here, baby. And that’s #WhySticker.

Other links in the episode:

The Secret Library Podcast, episode 147: Martine Fournier Watson
What happens when your editor asks you to change a major plot point?

The famed 2-tier outline process at Author Accelerator.

#AmReading

Chasing Cosby, Nicole Weisensee Egan

The best novel KJ’s read yet this year (drumroll please):

#FaveIndieBookstore

Book People Austin, TX

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 157: #ExcitedAboutWords chatting with Nicole Blades about the pros and cons of skipping an agent, using rejection as fuel, and the joys of the writer community.

Nicole Blades is a Podcaster (Hey, Sis! Podcast), Author of Have You Met Nora?, The Thunder Beneath Us, & Earth’s Waters  –and this is a glorious episode, recorded live and in person at Mom 2.0, in which we really capture the joy of writing, of finding your novel, of getting to do what we do.

We also get into Tall Poppies, the writer’s sharing group (I’m not sure what to call it) started by Ann Garvin, which also includes the Bloom  

website. I’ve been seeing this crew ALL OVER Insta this week, sharing each other’s books like crazy, and I love it. It’s a formalizing of the writer’s community we all love and dream of and hopefully have (and we DO–it’s called the #AmWriting Facebook group, and while we may not formalize the sharing of each other’s work, we sure do do it).

And I say, as I so often do, that one of my favorite things about being a writer is that it’s so easy and wonderful to share and celebrate each other. Because for one thing, we’re all in this because we love books and good writing. And for another, nobody who likes books ever just bought one book.

Other links mentioned in the episode:

Steven Pressfield

BookPeople, Austin, TX

#AmReading

Daisy Jones & The Six, Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Accidentals, Sarina Bowen

Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon

My Father’s Stack of Books, Kathryn Schulz

Chase Darkness With Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders, Billy Jensen

The Other Americans, Laila Lalami

#FaveIndieBookstore

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Nicole’s #FaveIndieBookstore is Books Are Magic, Brooklyn, NY   “Even though I now live in Connecticut, I still feel like I can own this bookstore. Because … Books Are Magic

Find out more about our guest, Nicole Blades, here — and check out her latest book, Have You Met Nora? here or at Libro.fm.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 156: #WhenFansPay Talking to Lyz Lenz about using Substack and a subscriber model to get paid for your work

It’s hard enough to start a subscriber email. But what if you asked your fans to pay for it? It’s so crazy it just might work.

Hello from the Mom 2.0 conference, where Jess and I just did a panel on Launching a Speaking Career. More on that in an upcoming episode–but meanwhile, this one’s a real thought-provoker. Most of us struggle with what’s a good use of our time in our writing careers. We’ve talked a lot about the value of an email subscriber list when it comes to selling books and sharing your work–but what if the email is your work, or becomes a way to share your work?

Journalist Lyz Lenz uses Substack to share a largely subscriber-only email with a group of readers/fans whose financial support has helped to carry her through the ups and downs of a freelance career.

Other links mentioned in the episode: 

Lyz Lenz’s Contently

Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, Roxane Gay

Ann Friedman’s Newsletter

#AmReading

Heavy: An American Memoir, Kiese Laymon

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love, Dani Shapiro

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson

Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, Mark Bowden

The Last Stone: A Masterpiece of Criminal Interrogation, Mark Bowden

#FaveIndieBookstore

Lyz Lenz’s fave is Next Page Books in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Bart knows all the local gossip and has always been a great supporter of my work.”


Find out more about our guest, Lyz Lenz, here—and check out the first of the TWO books she’s working on this year, God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss and Renewal in Middle America on IndieBound.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template (the one KJ swears by).

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 155 #GetUnstuck with Uber-Coach Jennifer Louden

Jennifer Louden is a personal growth and creativity coach who’s appeared or been quoted everywhere from the Oprah to Brene Brown’s books. Her mantra is claim your voice, share your voice and get your shit done, and her specialty is helping people get unstuck–as writers, creative people and as people in general.

We talk to Jennifer about exactly that–what do you do when you’re feeling stuck in your career or your work? Listen to hear her go deep into the topic, but here are a few ideas to get you started.

Ask yourself–what is it about this work that really lights you up, and how can you blow on that spark to get your fire lit?

When you’re focused on a goal off of your to-do list, give yourself a reminder of that spark as well. You want to achieve the goal–but why?

Find your enough, and work with that rather than continually raising the bar on yourself. Plan your days to allow you to feel like you’ve done your enough for the day, and let yourself appreciate that success rather than rushing on to the next thing.

#AmReading

Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha, Tara Brach

Chris Grosso

Nora Ephron

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, Clarissa Pinkola Estes

A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving

#FaveIndieBookstore

Jennifer Louden’s fave is Boulder Book Store in Boulder, CO. “They do a fantastic job of making recommendations and have a whole Shambhala Publications section and a Sounds True Publishing section.”

Find out more about our guest, Jennifer Louden —and check out her latest book, A Year of Daily Joy: A Guided Journal to Creating Happiness Every Day, or on IndieBound.

A Guide to Creating Your Own Writing Retreat

What to do when your book won’t work: Maybe Failure Is Just Another Word for Compost.

Jennifer Louden is known for her retreats–and you can still retreat with her virtually, but her in-person retreats are sold out for 2019! But you CAN still join us for an in-person retreat in September, 2019, hosted by our sponsor, Author Accelerator. Come work with KJ and Jennie Nash to find your book and find your mojo on Bar Harbor Maine–and get a re-start after that inevitable, glorious summer slow down. More Information here.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 154 #MathandDictationAreFun: demystifying calculus and replacing your keyboard with dictation (some of the time)

Math storyteller Steven Strogatz makes both calculus and dictation seem approachable and fun. #notkidding

Jess, we learn, was told in an early math class not to give up her day job, and so she gave up on math—until she found Steven Strogatz, whose writing puts a human, topical, understandable face on numbers from algebra to calculus, and glories in seeing “the math in everything”. If you’re the master of a topic that seems too narrow, academic or wonky for a larger audience, consider finding fresh ways into the subject—or “every way,” says Strogatz. If you can’t relate to one analogy, he’s ready with another, and it’s that willingness to try multiple ways to get his ideas across that’s made his work popular.

Strogatz is a teacher first, writer second (now you know why he and Jess bond)—and he uses dictation to find his way into a more natural voice in his writing in the simplest way possible: he holds his phone up to his mouth while he walks the dog and talks into his notes app, the one where you just press the little microphone button on the iPhone.

I’ve tried this (this is KJ) and it makes me crazy, because I struggle not to watch the words come out and correct them. For Strogatz, though, the opposite is true. “It helps me get around my OCD tendencies,” he says. “If I’m writing on a keyboard and see the words, my immediate instinct is to start deleting them.”

#AmReading

Educated, Tara Westover

The Tangled Tree, David Quammen

Inheritance, Dani Shapiro

Dead Wake, Erik Larson

#FaveIndieBookstore

Steven Strogatz’s Fave is Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, NY. It’s his local–“I was just in there last week. You just feel surrounded by great books.” Buffalo Street Books is a co-op! Members join and get dividends, year-end profit-sharing (I’m guessing they’re not getting rich there, but still) and–best of all–their local bookstore is still alive and kicking.

Find out more about our guest, Steven Strogatz, here — and check out his latest book, Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe, on IndieBound or at Twitter.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 153: #GrammarGirl Need We Say More?

Mignon Fogerty on Pet Peeves, riding a wave and what to do if you’re a writer–and grammar still scares the bejabbers out of you.

Plenty of writers #fangirl on Mignon Fogerty, who took her own quest to make grammar rules easy and accessible and turned it into a mini-empire. In her case, the podcast came first, the books second–and what followed is a fun exploration of being creative around a subject and finding a way to make it your own.

A few links from the episode:

Peeve Wars Board Game

The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl

#AmReading:

Semicolon, McKayla Debonis

Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere), Lisa Cron

I Miss You When I Blink: Essays, Mary Laura PhilpottA

KJ mentioned A Circle of Quiet, from Madeline L’Engle. And then she ended up not liking it.

Infinite Powers: How Calculus Reveals the Secrets of the Universe, Steven Strogatz

Laughing at My Nightmare, Shane Burcaw

Find out more about our guest, Mignon Fogerty, here —and check out her books on IndieBound or at Libro.fm.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE.

Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Episode 152: #Continue Here for Email Lists The Go-To How-To on What to PUT in Your Email Once You’ve Got One

The information onslaught continues! Jess and I, with Sarina’s help, keep talking email lists (ok, with Sarina’s guidance). This week, we’re focused on what to put in that email once you’ve got you list, whether you’re reaching ten people or ten thousand–and how often to email them once they’re paying attention.

You’ll want a welcome message, of course–which may also be where you deliver your promised “freebie” which is what may have enticed them to sign up for the email in the first place. I’ve got multiples of these (each of which has its own landing page within my website, with an embedded sign-up page). I’ve lost track of them, to be honest. At this point, I think no matter WHY you sign up for my email, you get Ten Mantras for Happier Parents.

I need to fix that.

Yeah.

Don’t tell Sarina.

Sarina, as an author with multiple book launches a year, sends an email “whenever I have something to share or news.” That means contests, new chapters, cover reveals, price drops. She also does some complex list segmenting.

Me, I sent an email once a week when my book was launching. I had them ready, and off they went, with extra commentary on things in the book, promotional things, stuff like that. And then I tapered off, because I had nothing to say.

But I LIKE emails that are consistent, that I can expect, that deliver what they promise. I pointed to Anne Helen Peterson, Mary Laura Philpott, Dan Blank and Jocelyn Glei. I aspire to that–but honestly, if you don’t love your email (and it’s clear these folks do) I think that’s very hard to achieve.

You can’t fake it, damn it.

I think Sarina loves sending her emails, too.

What would YOU want to email your people about, and how often? That’s the question you have to answer. What do you want to share?

To see my evolving answer to that, you can sign up for my email here. To see Sarina’s mastery, sign up here.

And all of this invites a question–why isn’t there an #AmWriting email? Because doing it right would take a lot of work. Interested? We might need a partner for that one.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwriting

for details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template (the one KJ swears by).

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.

Want more Sarina Bowen? Go here

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.


Episode 151: #StartHereforEmailLists The Go-to How-to on Launching, Growing and Maintaining a Newsletter (or whatever you want to call it)

This episode has a metric ton of info in it. A few highlights:

Don’t worry about starting small. We all start small. Sometimes we stay small, and that’s okay too. Your email list is about reaching the people who will sign on for anything you do. Your superfans. For a while, that might be your mother.

When you choose a service provider (Mailchimp is the thousand-pound gorilla here, but Sarina uses MailerLite) make sure you don’t do anything that leaves you stuck. Point your sign-up links to a page on your own website, not theirs (they all provide an embed you can use, and then it’s an embed you can change).

How am I going to get people to sign up? First, ask. KJ (via a tireless virtual assistant) slowly and methodically emailed everyone who had ever emailed her and invited them to be on her list. Sarina’s had good luck with give-aways and free content, from a first chapter to an entire serial. To reach beyond her immediate audience, she might trade an invitation to get something like that free chapter with a fellow romance writer who also has a good-sized list.

How often should I sent something? KJ sent weekly during her book launch, and has tapered down to, well, not-weekly while she figures out how to play with her content to appeal to her various audiences (more on that in the second part of this 2-parter). Sarina sends “when I have something to say” which means both when she has a new book, or when she’s THOUGHT of something to say–for example, here’s a preview! Here’s a cover reveal! Here’s a serial!

What if I send too much and people hate me? Don’t be afraid of your list, Sarina says. When in doubt, she asks herself this memorable question: WWPBD? That’s What Would Pottery Barn Do, and the answer is, they’d send the friggin’ email, and then ten minutes later they’d send another one, and they paid somebody a million dollars to figure that strategy out. To that end, she’ll sometimes re-send an email to people who didn’t open it, and she doesn’t worry about doing too many promotions.

Hey, where’s Jess’s advice? Jess has a jillion people on her list, and she’s still kinda working on what to do with it. So she’s listening. If you’re on her list, expect to hear from her soon.

Episode 150: #NeverReady Mary Laura Philpott on the weeks before a book launch, regrets and do-overs

Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink: Essays, launches April 2, 2019. (In a departure from our usual Indiebooks link, we’re linking to Parnassus Books–order from there and you’ll get a signed copy! Or support your local Indie.)

She’s totally ready!

Ok, maybe not. And Jess and I relate. If you’re a long time listener, you know I probably overdid it on my book launch (here’s the episode, along with the 8 things I did that sold books). Mary Laura’s been working all the angles too-but practically.

Here’s what she’s done: She made sure as many people had and could read the book early as possible, especially indie booksellers. (Who came through for her rather nicely–here she is heading up the April Indie Next list.) Her suggestion here is to get all the advance copies and galleys out there that you can, and make liberal use of NetGalley or any other digital format if you just can’t bring that off.

She kept her usual stuff rolling. If you get Mary Laura’s email, you know she would like you to buy her book. But you also still get all her usual great recommendations.

She’s directly asking people for things. Sharing. Coming to her book events (we’ll hear how those go in a later episode). Buying a copy and giving it to their cousin, their sister-in-law and their dog walker.

Here’s what she wishes she’d done: Truly cleared her schedule. All those loose ends that take up hours every day are still dangling, and all the usual stuff is still there, and maybe if you don’t already have large blocks of empty time, planning to fit a book launch into those blocks is not going to be as easy as you’d hoped.

Planned and written essays to try to place in various outlets earlier. I thought I started that early, she said–but it wasn’t early enough.

Read the book out loud before trying to read it as an audio book. Mary Laura cannot say “depths”, but she sure likes to write it. (I can relate–I can’t say “towards” to save my life, and I think I used it ten times in my book.)

Nobody’s ever ready for a book launch. But even though she denies it, I’d say Mary Laura is as ready as you get.

Find out more about our guest, Mary Laura Philpott here—and check out her latest book, I Miss You When I Blink: Essays, at Parnassus Books or at Libro.fm.

This episode was sponsored by Author Accelerator, the book coaching program that helps you get your work DONE. Visit https://www.authoraccelerator.com/amwritingfor details, special offers and Jennie Nash’s 2-tier outline template (the one KJ swears by).

If you enjoyed this episode, we suggest you check out Marginally, a podcast about writing, work and friendship.

Find more about Jess here, and about KJ here.