Inspiration, time management, Writing

LUNCH AT THE BEACH: Thoughts on SEAGULLS and WRITING

A few years ago, a friend and I took our kids for a day at the Jersey shore. It was a beautiful day with clear skies, mild surf and salty breezes. The kids spent the morning jumping waves and building sand forts. By lunch time they’d worked up hearty appetites and couldn’t wait to dig in to the delicious picnic we’d packed.

Sitting on boogie boards and towels, they unwrapped their sandwiches and took their first bites.  I, too, was about to dig in when, suddenly, I felt a nasty pinch and flapping of feathers. I screamed, just in time to look a seagull right in the eye.  He was trying to get my sandwich, but had gotten my finger instead.  Moments later, another seagull swooped in, this time successfully nabbing a chunk of my son’s sandwich right out of his hand. Looking up, we saw several seagulls circling overhead. “They’re dive-bombing us, Mom!” my son shouted. Then he and his friend stood and started stomping and waving to scare them off. It didn’t work. The seagulls kept circling and swooping.

By now the girls were screaming too. Thankfully, my friend kept her wits about her. “Sit down, everyone,” she said. “I know what to do.”  Then grabbing our boys’ towels, she covered their heads as they sat on their boogie boards, making two makeshift picnic tents.  “If you keep your sandwiches hidden, they won’t dive in,” she explained.  She made similar tent for the girls and one for herself.  And sure enough, they worked!

Just look at the boys…

and the girls….

and my friend.

Alas, I’d forgotten a towel for myself.  My solution?  My son’s orange t-shirt strategically flopped over my wide-brimmed hat provided just enough cover to thwart those nasty seagulls.

Writing sometimes feels a lot like trying to eat lunch at the beach.  I begin the day with great intentions, but as soon as I sit down to write, those seagulls start swooping in. They might not look like birds, but if I’m not careful, things like email, Twitter, Facebook, laundry and dustbunnies, can easily snatch up all my writing time.  What I need is a tent!  For me that means turning off the internet, not answering the phone, and finding a distraction-free place to write.  And if those pecking dustbunnies and flying laundry baskets still distract, I just promise them that I’ll feed them in an hour, after I finish my feeding my muse.

How about you?  Is your writing time ever besieged by seagulls?  If so, what’s your solution?

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider following my blog. I post once or twice weekly. Posts are devoted to celebrating reading, writing and life! This post first appeared August 2013 but I thought it as relevant as ever, plus I just returned from a week at the beach where there were lots of… sea gulls!

Book Launch, marketing tips, time management

ORGANIZING a BOOK LAUNCH: Notebook Style!

In just under four months my seventh children’s book, Happy Birthday Christmas Child, published by Paraclete Press and illustrated by Gabi Murphy will release.  For a couple of months already, I have been busy preparing for release day. And as I have been doing so, I’m realizing that over the course of these seven books, I have hit upon a strategy that really works for me in terms of keeping track of all the many moving parts that go into successfully welcoming a new book into the world.  The moving parts include communicating with the publisher to see what their plans are and complementing/enhancing those with your own publicity efforts including setting up social media/blog/podcast opportunities, building and working with a launch team, setting up in-person and virtual book events at stores, schools etc., creating ancillary materials for your book like lessons, activities, etc. and more. 

All this can seem a bit daunting, but I think I’ve found a way to keep it manageable. What’s my secret?  For each of my books I have created a book launch notebook which serves as ground control for all aspects of the launch.  And today, I thought I’d give you a sneak peek into how I have organized it. 

Here’s the cover. There’s logic behind this colorful cover.  I want it to stand out and be easy to find. Having it be book-themed and cute is also motivating to me to persevere with my planning because good things come to those who plan ahead.

Small (but not too small). I have chosen a 5”by 7” notebook with a thick and sturdy cover so it’s small enough to toss into my bag and carry with me, but not so flimsy as to slip between the cushions of my sofa which happened with my first book launch notebook and, oh my, but I was stressed before I found it again!

Front page.  Here I have clearly noted the title of the book that is releasing, the publisher as well as two over-arching goals. 

Five Sections. The notebook is divided into five sections, each marked for now with a post-it, though I may switch those for paper clips as I get going, for extra easy flipping.

Section One: Events. This section has two parts. 

The first is a summary page which will be filled in later, once I have all my events in place so I can list them in date order. This page also include columns with each book title so I can note how many books were sold as a result of each event. (It’s fun to look back and see the grand total of sales I directly influenced over the years and also is good for analysing what worked well (or didn’t) at each event.)

The second is a large, continuing section where I make notes on each of the events as I set them up.  I also fill in dream destinations and then see if I can make them happen. 

Section Two: Blog, Podcasts, Press etc.  This also has two sections. 

The first is a summary page, which again I will fill in later, once I have everything in place.  It will include the date, venue, and topic with the goal of reaching a range of target audiences including teachers, librarians, parents, faith-based ministries, writers and more.  I will also strive for a range of topics and formats so it all feels fresh and fun. 

The second, again, is a large, continuing section where I make notes on each of opportunities as I set them up. I also leave open boxes for dream opportunities and then see if I can make them happen (such as being on a nationally or regionally syndicated show! A girl can dream, right?)

Section Three: Launch Team. This section is for contacts, who aren’t necessarily bloggers etc, but who are active in their communities and who have said they’d be happy to help spread word about my newest book. This list typically includes teachers, librarians, directors, friends, moms in the thick of the preschool years etc.  Again it includes two parts. The first is a list of who they are. The second is a list of tasks/requests for them to do (if they so choose). All efforts are voluntary and doing even just one or two helps!  The tasks include things like telling three friends about the book, suggesting it for purchase at local libraries and schools, taking a picture reading the book and then sharing on social media, writing a Goodreads review etc. 

Section Four: Libraries This is where I record libraries that I or others have reached out to to recommend the book for acquisition – along with a column for the result.  

Section Five: Daily Actionable Steps  This is the secret sauce to the success of the launch.  It’s also what keeps everything manageable.  The secret?  I set myself a goal to take two manageable/actionable steps per day towards reaching my book launch goals and I record them at the back of the notebook, working from the last page towards the front.  I simply record the action taken. This can be as small as reaching out to a venue or creating an order form for a school visit.  Just two small steps per day, recorded at the back of the notebook.  Each daily effort is entered in the left hand column, with the eventual result in the right hand column.  Keeping this list helps me remember what small steps I have taken and serves as a reminder for what I need to follow up on until I have a result.  

And that’s my notebook!  Anyone else have something similar?  I’d love to hear what works for you or if you plan on giving something like this a try. Happy Monday, all. 

time management, Writing

SUMMER CHALLENGE:  Taming TIME Spent on Social Media (EIGHT Ideas to Get You Started)

As a children’s book author, I devote significant time each week to growing my social media platform which for me includes Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I would also loop in my blog because the content here must also be created weekly.  This platform building is something my publishers expect me to do. Thankfully, I enjoy it, but I’ve also discovered that it can easily become overly time-consuming, distracting me from the most important (and joy-filling) task of all — writing poems and stories for children!

So this summer, I’ve decided to tame the beast with the goal of limiting time on social media to 30 minutes daily and blogging to three hours weekly. I will keep track with a daily record and post my weekly time statistics on my socials. Interested in joining me? Here are EIGHT ideas to get us started.

Idea #1: Set the timer. I plan to use my phone’s timer, setting the time for the exact amount of time I’m allotting for a particular social media/blog effort.  When the timer goes off, I will stop!

Idea #2: Make a schedule for when you will be accomplish your platform efforts.  I’m hoping this will help me break a bad habit of hopping onto my socials whenever the fancy strikes – especially after I’ve posted something for the day and want to see if anyone has commented/liked/shared etc.  My plan is to pop on to my platforms three times a day for 10 minutes each. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once at the end of the day.

Idea #3: Decide ahead of time what your goal is for popping on. My goals will include posting something new, responding to any interactions on my feeds, and taking time to interact on others’ feeds. I will also spend occasional 10 minute sessions, growing my sphere by liking, following, and friending others across a range of interests – i.e. authors/illustrators, educators, bloggers, librarians, churches, parenting etc.

Idea #4: Create a stockpile of quick, easy, fun social media posts. Sometimes, at least for me, it’s more efficient to create a bunch of similar type posts in one creative burst and then have them on-hand for the future than to create them one at a time.  For example, in the past, I’ve made lists of one-sentence questions I might ask my followers weekly to encourage interactivity.  I’m also in the process of gathering interesting quotes. Then, when it comes time to pop on, all I have to do is cut and paste.

Idea #5: Make each post do triple or even quadruple duty! By this I mean, crafting posts off-line and then sharing them across your socials. You can even stretch the impact of a blog post, such as this, that has a list, by subsequently running a social media series with a colorful graphic for each numbered idea.  That would mean potentially getting 7 or 8 posts using material from the time and effort spent into creating a single blog post.  (Stay tuned to see if I do that!)

Idea #6: Step away from your devices.  When I find myself struggling to resist the temptation to take “just a quick little peek” to see if anyone has responded to a post, I have started a simple strategy of stepping away.  For me this means going old-school and doing much of my writing this summer in an old-fashioned notebook.  For the times I am at my lap-top, I’ve been turning off the internet connection so I’m not tempted by notifications.  (I could also turn off the notifications.)

Idea #7: Decide what your priorities are and stick with them.  Social media can be a fun and effective way to interact with potential audiences but spending time on-line in this way is not my first priority.  My first priorities are starting the day with quiet time for prayer and reflection, taking care of my family, staying fit so I have energy to do all that I am called to do, and growing my author career through daily intentional writing, setting up author events etc.  Social media is an important part of the picture, but it needs to be kept in check and the time I spend on it should reflect that. 

Idea #8: Everything is better with a buddy.  Replacing habits that you dislike with better ones takes patience and hard work. That’s why having a buddy to join you on the journey can be a great support and source of mutual encouragement. I’ll be posting my successes and setbacks weekly on my socials and I have a small team to keep me accountable. Let me know if you decide to do the same.

Happy Week!