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road questionYou need to know who you’re selling to and why they are buying.

As a marketer, I help my clients focus on the needs and desires of their audience. We spend a lot of time exploring exactly who their customer is, all the way from basic demographics (age, gender, professional role, geographic location, household income, etc.) to psychographics (lifestyles, philosophies, beliefs, values, opinions, etc.). Sometimes, we will develop customer personas – a composite individual who represents the larger group  (kind of like an archetype character). We do all of this because marketing and sales success does not hinge on the latest social media platform or automated lead generation system; it depends on knowing as much as you can about the exact person you are trying to reach. When you can step inside that person’s head and anticipate her deepest needs and desires, it becomes almost easy to deliver the perfect solution to her problem and develop a marketing message that will sing through all the noise and go straight to her heart.

It is the same with art. And writing. 

People (especially artists) often assume that artistic products, from paintings to pottery to the great American novel, follow different marketing rules than other, more commercial endeavors. People assume that art is either held to a higher standard that is less crass, more pure, driven only by the artist’s passion. Idealistic mantras echo around the Internet and through the artist’s head. Creators are encouraged to forget about everything except the art, create only for themselves, and eschew the siren call of commercialization or “selling out.”

I cringe when I hear this kind of talk. It’s not that I think artists should ignore the muse and focus only on turning a profit. Not at all. As an artist myself, I believe with all my heart in creating the work that is the truest expression of yourself. I believe in listening to your instincts, turning your back on the unsolicited input of others, and writing (or painting or carving or whatever) the thing that moves you. Knowing your audience isn’t about conforming to the pressures of an outside group, it’s about finding other members of your own “tribe,” as Seth Godin calls it. It’s about connecting with and serving the people who already “get it,” the people who need exactly what you’re offering (even though, maybe, they don’t know it yet).

I can understand why people get confused. The needs associated with more practical and tangible products are easier to label. A woman buying shampoo needs clean hair. A man buying a truck needs to haul something. A writer buying a pen needs something to write with. However, those are just the surface needs. Even the most mundane products deliver more than just the solution to a problem. There is almost always a second layer of needs to be met – an emotional layer. The woman buying shampoo doesn’t just want clean hair, she wants to feel sexy, beautiful, and confident. The man buying the truck doesn’t just need towing capacity, he needs to feel strong and capable. The writer buying a pen doesn’t just need to scratch a few lines in a notebook, she needs a writing instrument that embodies her commitment to her craft and her creativity.

These emotional needs are what drive people to buy a more expensive brand-name product instead of a generic one. These emotional needs are the ones met by good branding: logos, tag lines, visuals, copy, messaging. We use products for more than their intended purpose. We use them to build our identity, to define who we are to ourselves and other people. The art we buy is no different. Though it does not serve an immediately obvious practical purpose, it does meet a very real emotional need.

What purpose does a story serve?

Stories serve many different purposes. They entertain and distract us, offering much needed escape from our troubles. They inspire us. They educate us. They enable us to live out our fantasies. They offer us a chance to feel awe, wonder, hope, comfort. They provide us with a way to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Think about why you read. Why do you read (and love) a particular kind of story? What is it that makes your favorite books your favorites? Which of your emotional needs were met by those stories? Did you gain a greater understanding of yourself, the world, human nature, history? Did you get enjoyment from the read – maybe even laughing out loud? Did you feel release, crying or a sense of surrender? Did the book give you a feeling of belonging? Did it make you feel proud of having read it? How did the story serve you?

A story is not just words on a page. It is an experience. The same goes for all art. A person who buys a painting does not usually buy it simply because it’s pretty. She buys it because it “moves” her, it “speaks” to her. The image makes her experience something – an emotion – that fulfills a need. The painting is somehow part of her – a missing piece, if you will. The same is true of a story.

When we surround ourselves with visual art and other beautiful things we are not just creating our living environment, we are creating our world, our lives. Stories, though they are not physically present hung on the walls or sitting on shelves, do the same thing. Each story we read is woven into our psyche, it changes how we see ourselves and the world, it becomes part of our personal history and language.

As a writer, it’s important to be aware of all this. It’s important to know that you are not only creating a world of your own, you are helping your readers create their worlds. You are changing their perception of reality. Think about this when you ask yourself what kind of experience your story creates. Think about the kinds of changes you are manifesting by sharing your story. Do not let these wonderings direct your creative process, but just be aware. Sometimes, the experience readers have with your story will not be what you expected. That’s okay. The experience can be very fluid and is always subjective and influenced by the reader’s personal interpretation and general state of mind. Like a dream, a single story can mean many different things to many different people.

Unlike software or allen wrenches or kitchen appliances, a work of art should not be created to an audience’s specifications. The artist should never try to fabricate a work of art based on what he thinks the audience needs. The artist should create from his own experience and emotions and then find ways to connect with other people who either have already shared or would like to share those emotions and experiences. In this way, the artist’s (or author’s) brand will emerge organically and, because it evolves in an authentic way, it will be stronger and more enduring. This is why a deep understanding of your readers is so important. Get to know them. Learn about their lives. Understand how they are experiencing your work. The more you are in tune with the needs and desires of your “tribe,” the better you will be able to connect with them so that you can continue the journey together.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: milos milosevic via Compfight cc

Having a plan, goals, and keeping track of accomplishments are all great activities to practice regularly.

As is keeping a gratitude journal.

We’ve talked about all of these things here over the past few years.

It’s something similar to a gratitude journal that I recently discovered and I find it quite powerful.

I do it along with the gratitude journal, but it can be done separately, as part of a weekly calendar, or however you like.

Mantids can turn their heads a full 180 degrees - always keeping their goal in sight.

Mantids can turn their heads a full 180 degrees – always keeping their goal in sight.

It’s a list of items placed under the heading Signs the Universe is Supporting Me Right Now.

A sampling of a recent list of mine:

  1. I have the time I need to work on my business this week.
  2. I have exciting new writing opportunities arriving on my desk weekly.
  3. I have the technology and other resources needed to take my business forward.
  4. I am energized and ready to get my to do tasks done.
  5. My work environment is distraction free so I can focus on my business.
  6. I’m able to connect with the right people who can help me build my business.

That’s easy enough, right? It’s a bit picture way to keep goals in sight.

It’s part “act as if” and part list of gratitude items thought about in a different way.

I challenge you to give it a try — make a list, however short or long, of your proof that the Universe is supporting you with your goals right now.

It’ll be a great way to start your week.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She believes that keeping the universe ‘in the loop’ is a natural and positive part of life. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook,  Google+, and LinkedIn.

The (Writing) Company You Keep

pin quiet peopleWriting is a solitary endeavor. Though your process may include research or interviews or similar tasks that require interaction with other human beings, when you finally come to it – the selecting and ordering of words on the page – you must tackle the task on your own. Despite the necessary prevalence of seclusion in our lives, writers – especially successful ones – seem to have an unexpected skill for creating and maintaining strong communities.

Again and again I have read interviews in which a freshly published author attributes a great part of his or her hard-earned success to the support of other writers. Sometimes the associations are loose ones – membership in a large writing organization like Boston’s Grub Street, for instance. Sometimes the connections are more intimate, such as a small, private group of half a dozen fiercely loyal and committed (to their craft and each other) writers.

I have been fortunate in stumbling into several wonderful groups of writers. Just as I was launching myself as a freelance marketing writer, I fell in with a fabulous group of B2B (business-to-business) writers who were a few (or many) steps ahead of me on the learning curve. We became the Savvy Sisters, a moniker we adopted in honor of our collaborative blog, Savvy B2B Marketing. Though that blog has now, after an almost five-year run, been more or less retired, I will always be grateful for the experience and – more importantly – the friendship of those women. We may not talk as often as we used to, but we are still in touch and I would do anything to support them.

It was one of the Savvy Sisters, the indomitable Wendy, who originally invited me to become part of this blog. Being welcomed into this group marked another turning point in my writing life. While the Savvy Sisters focused almost exclusively on writing for a business market, the team here at Live to Write – Write to Live offered me a place where I can talk about my true love – creative writing and the writing life. Reading their blogs, writing my own, comparing notes, and sometimes sharing a glass of wine via Google Hangouts, I have felt the positive influence of these women on my creative and professional writing life.

I am also part of a fabulous “secret” Facegoup group of fellow marketing writers, many of whom are also aspiring “someday novelists” like myself. Though we don’t publish together on a blog, we share ideas and questions on a daily basis. The diversity of the group and the breadth and depth of our combined knowledge is capable of solving almost any problem – writerly or otherwise.

The bottom line is this: you not only don’t have to do it alone, you shouldn’t. Writers are everywhere. With the Internet and social media, it’s easier than ever before to find people, connect, and stay in touch. You really don’t have any excuses. I realize that I’ve talked about this before – the importance of giving yourself the gift of a writer network – but it’s worth mentioning again. And again. There is strength and inspiration and sanity in the support of a group of like-minded individuals. As the now defunct MasterCard ad campaign always said, “Priceless.”

What kind of writing company do you keep? 

What I’m Writing:

"They bobbed on the waves and dreamed about what they would find at the end of the world." From Hopper & Wilson by Maria van Lieshout

“They bobbed on the waves and dreamed about what they would find at the end of the world.” From Hopper & Wilson by Maria van Lieshout

In addition to the secret Facebook group of fellow marketing writers, I’m also a member of an offshoot group that’s focused on those of us doing the marketing thing, but moonlighting on the side with various creative writing projects. Each week, one of our intrepid members invites group members to check in regarding how their work is going. Here was my response this week:

I wanted to plead the 5th, but then I tried to come up with SOMEthing positive. Here’s what I’ve got: Despite life and work stuff being CR-azy, I am 1) still managing to keep up with my weekend edition posts at Live to Write – Write to Live (no small feat since I’ve apparently completely abandoned my marketing blog) and 2) continuing to give brain space and stolen moments to ideas for stories AND – perhaps more immediately applicable – ideas for story-ish products and creative projects. I’m playing around with different assumptions about what it means to be a writer – more than short stories and novels. I’m slowly and quietly deconstructing my preconceived notions of what My Life as a Writer should/will look like and trying on some different possible realities. It’s all very hazy at the moment, but it’s keeping me afloat despite some challenging personal/business situations that have taken over my life recently. Thank goodness for the artist’s soul – always curious, always creating, always looking for beauty and meaning.

I share this with you in case anyone else is experiencing a similar sense of “limbo” in terms of establishing/evolving a writing life. I have always equated “being a writer” with “being a novelist.” Though being a (published) novelist still holds a great deal of appeal for me, I am suddenly realizing how many other types of writing exist in the world, AND how many types of writing I could explore even though there is no established market for them. Would I love to write a series of successful novels? Of course I would. It’s nice to realize, however, that that isn’t the one and only way to become A Writer.

What are your writing aspirations? Have they changed over time? 

book bellman blackWhat I’m Reading:

Just this morning, still tucked in under the covers, I finished Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield. I enjoyed Setterfield’s first book, The Thirteenth Tale as an audio book (beautifully read, I might add, by Bianca Amato and Jill Tanner), so when I saw a hardcover of her second novel sitting on the $2 shelf at the library book sale, I didn’t have to think twice.

Like The Thirteenth Tale, Bellman and Black is a haunting tale with an ever present hint of mystery and some darkness. If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t as swept away by Bellman & Black as I was with The Thirteenth Tale. (I really hate to say that because I have heard so often how challenging a sophomore novel is for the new author.) It was, however, a satisfying read full of beautiful language and imagery.

One such passage that struck a particular chord for me, since I’m always feeling short on time, was this:

“Never let time be your master,” Bellman told Verney when he asked about it. “If you want to do something, take it on. Time will always make itself.”

But what he really felt about the matter was that he had discovered – or been given – the key to chronometry. He could open up the case of time when he chose, apply weight to the pendulum and slot its movement. He could take the hours apart, find the extra minutes that were going to waste in them, make them his own.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

This has gone so wildly viral that you’ve probably already seen it, but I couldn’t resist sharing it One. More. Time. I was never a big fan of Mr. Yankovic, but after this fabulous parody, you can count me a new convert. Enjoy!

Here’s hoping you find your perfect community of  fellow writers and word nerds, grammarians and historians, memoirists and fantasists – the people who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on the writing journey. Meantime, glad to have you as part of the Live to Write – Write to Live community. We love sharing our adventures with you! 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

This week’s question is part of a series based on 100th episode (“Ask The Readers Anything” ) of the UK-based podcast, The Readers. We thought it would be interesting (and fun!) to answer these questions from the perspective of writers who also (obviously) love to read. 

QUESTION: Picture this. Aliens are coming and you’ve been charged with selecting five books for them to read. The idea is to educate them about the human race. Which books do you choose and why?

 

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: OMG. Um. I have no great answer for this one! My thoughts on aliens are that they can just ‘absorb’ information, so don’t need to actually read anything – more along the lines of being mind readers. If someone comes to visit NH who’s never been here before, I don’t want them to sit and read something – I’d rather have them experience it. So, same in this situation — I’d rather have the aliens join a community and learn about us that way.

I’m curious to read the other answers and your suggestions – as I can’t think of any relevant books. History books all have a bias – and are there any uplifting history books about how humans treat each other?

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: This is a Really Hard question. On The Readers, the panelists selected books that were pretty heavy and tried to give a sense of the (not so nice) nature of human being. They picked books like Animal Farm and, if I remember correctly, Lord of the Flies. Yikes! I would rather provide the aliens with a look at the “softer” side of humanity. With that in mind, I think I’d opt to share some children’s books … maybe A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books for starters. Looking at my own shelves, I could also offer up The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. For a slightly older audience, maybe Watership Down by Richard Adams and Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I would look for books that, though they may illuminate some of the harsher sides of humanity and life in general, ultimately focus on the wonders of courage, friendship, and loyalty. And then, just because life really is too important to take seriously, I’d have them read selections from Douglas Adams (probably The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe - who could resist?) and Kurt Vonnegut (maybe Galapagos – one of my favorites).

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Wow, this is a tough one. What five books would I say define the human experience? Going to be narrow here, based on the human experience of me. Persuasion by Jane Austen, to explain love and longing. To Kill A Mockingbird to talk about race, and justice. Cider House Rules, because I love that book. The Accidental Tourist to talk about life choices. And Murder on the Orient Express to talk about revenge.

 

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m with Julie on Persuasion for love and longing and To Kill A Mockingbird for race and justice. For revenge, I’d probably go with Hamlet, and for where we are now, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I just read and thought was terrific. And Ake: The Years of Childhood, a memoir by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, about growing up in Nigeria. But I could easily pick five other works of literature, depending on where the aliens were from and what they were interested in.

Recently, a friend gave me a copy of the book: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers written by Leslie Leyland Fields and Dr. Jill Hubbard. She knew that I liked memoirs and thought I’d enjoy it.

forgivingThe back cover reads “If our families are to flourish, we will need to learn and practice ways of forgiving those who have had the greatest impact upon us: our mothers and fathers.” It goes on further to pose these questions:
• Do you struggle from the deep pain of a broken relationship with a parent?
• What does the Bible say about forgiveness? Why must we forgive at all?
• How do we honor those who act dishonorably toward us, especially when these people are as influential as our parents? Can we ever break free from the “sins of our fathers?”
• What does forgiveness look like in the lives of real parents and children? Does forgiveness mean, I have to let an estranged parent back into my life? Is it possible to forgive a parent who has passed away?

Using a series of heart-wrenching stories, (some personal, some from others), the authors manage to present horrific examples of parent-child abuse and then they go on to explain why it is so important to forgive.

What’s interesting to me is that this is a memoir of a different color, not quite a memoir – not quite a reference book – instead it’s sort of like a “memfrence.” Add to this a strong Christian tone and what you get is a complex book that weaves several ideas and approaches into one piece.

Which, in this case, actually works, and that’s just not an easy thing to do.

My friend assured me that the religious aspect was all in context. “It appears naturally,” she told me. And it does. Not only does it appear naturally but it appears often. Obviously I’m not the right audience for this book because I found the references a little jarring. However, if you go over to amazon, you’ll find many, many readers who appreciated that very same Christian aspect. They liked the approach, for them it felt right and it helped them, while using their faith, to figure out their relationships with their parents.

But don’t get me wrong. Adding religious views is not a bad thing, especially if it is part of a sincere backbone to your book’s purpose, as it is here. It’s all in how it’s presented. This is a well-written book that manages to keep several balls in the air at once. I have tremendous respect for the authors who could have been side-tracked by telling too many stories, by not telling enough, or who could have hijacked a story with too much reference material. See what I mean? Writing a book that “does” several things (not just tell a memoir story but also gives instructions) is a very tough thing to do. Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers is a great example of a book that not only manages to balance all, but does it well.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

I love my mystery writing community. A lot. Sisters in Crime (especially the New England chapter), Mystery Writers of America, our New England Crime Bake committee, people I have met at conferences, and blogs I follow. And my two writing blogs (this one and Wicked Cozy Authors) both provide a team of support that enrich my writing life.

Writing is a solitary act, but finding a community of writers is critical. So today, I thought I would virtually introduce you to a few of my mystery writing friends and their virtual communities.

Lisa Haselton. You know her as Lisa Jackson. She is a wonderful member of the mystery writing community, with online chats with different authors, and a interviews and reviews. She covers more than mysteries, but that is how I know her best.

Hank Phillippi Ryan. Hank writes thrillers. She is also a force of nature, and blogs regularly for Sisters in Crime, doing wonderful interviews with other mystery authors.  Her regular blog is with the Jungle Red Writers, a wonderful group of mystery authors including Hallie Ephron, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Roberta Isleib.

Roberta Isleib also blogs on Mystery Lovers Kitchen. I love this blog. Cozy authors who share recipes. They are turning 5 this month, and have a give away contest.

The Maine Crime Writers blog includes Barbara Ross, Kate Flora, Kathy Lynn Emerson, and Lea Wait amongst others.  There are a lot of crime writers in Maine. Long winters?

And, of course, there is my other blog, Wicked Cozy Authors. The Wickeds are Barbara Ross, Jessie Crockett, Liz Mugavero, Sherry Harris, and Edith Maxwell. Sheila Connolly also blogs with us once a month, as does Kim Gray. [Four of us will be at Jabberwocky Bookshop this Friday, July 17 at 7pm. I will be moderating a panel with Edith Maxwell, Liz Mugavero, and Jessie Crockett. ]

Glad to introduce you to some of my friends. Happy summer reading, everyone!

 

WiddecombTableSince my mother died nearly two years ago, Dad’s been sifting through their belongings. Even though they’d downsized twice before, they’d accumulated lots of stuff during their sixty-six year marriage. What was left were the important pieces: the handcrafted cherry bed, a velvet sofa, hundreds of objets, and the dining room set.

These are beloved pieces, each with its own story, but none appropriate for Dad’s new digs. He’s preparing to downsize from a spacious two-bedroom apartment, complete with dining room and kitchen, into a single room in a comfortable assisted-living home for seniors.

Every time I’ve visited my dad in recent months, I’ve helped him sort through his stuff – and decide what to save, what to divest. The kitchen is easy: he won’t need any pots or dishes at his new place, but the bigger pieces are harder. The dining room set, for instance, is by a fine, mid-century, furniture maker and includes what my mother always called a Break Front, (the cabinet where she stored her china, silver and linens), a table that extended eighteen feet, and chairs with leather seats.

If furniture could talk, this table would tell stories of the luncheons Mom prepared for each of our elementary school teachers back in the day when we walked home for lunch; stories of Friday night suppers that started with prayers, and birthday celebrations from one to eighty. It’s also a beautiful table, and it’s been maintained with exceptional care.

My dad wants someone in the family to take it, but his four middle-aged children all have furnished homes of their own. So we’ve made a deal.

We’ll put the table into storage, along with anything else no one is ready to claim. That way, these household goods will be available when his grandchildren graduate from shared apartments to furnished homes. Dad won’t have to give his furniture to strangers, but he also won’t have to cram everything into his living quarters as if it were a furniture warehouse.

I know that this technique of setting aside things you still love but can no longer use works. It’s a technique I use in my writing all the time. Whether it’s a paragraph or a chapter doesn’t matter: if it no longer serves the story, it just has to go.

Excising paragraphs can be painful, and pulling chapters and subplots hurts. But not everything that’s cut must go to the trash. Simply filing the pages filecabinetaway can ease the trauma of excision. I store what I no longer need in my novel in a folder labeled “Outtakes.” Filed, these pages can be rediscovered and repurposed later – without cluttering the story at hand.

The current draft of Ellen is a hefty four hundred pages. There are paragraphs I love: I remember writing them, and I still find the prose sings, but it’s no longer the right melody for the story. Into the Outtakes folder it goes.

Whether it’s household chattel or purple prose, what I’ve learned is that as hard as it is to let go of things – be they tables or paragraphs – once gone, they’re rarely missed.

Cutting deadwood works for essays, short stories, poems and novels. Originally, this post was over eight hundred words; now, it’s under five hundred fifty.

dll2013_124x186Over the years, Deborah Lee Luskin has cut millions of words from her work. Some she’s composted, others she’s burned, but the gems she’s put in storage for later use. Learn more at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

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