An Above-Average Joe

Business Writing CoachYou’re going to see a lot of changes on this site over the next few weeks.

I’ve been writing for a living since 2009 and sharing what I’ve learned about the industry since 2010. It’s been fun, and I’ve appreciated the comments and compliments I’ve gotten from everybody who’s been a part of this blog over the years.

But here’s the thing. Writing is a small part of what I do…and a small niche in which to teach. Much of what I know — and most of what I did before writing — is far more widely applicable. So I’m branching out in this blog to cover life coaching, business coaching and similar fields.

The overwhelming majority of what I’ll have to say (and of what I’ve said so far) can be summed up in the title of this post: above average Joe.

What I mean by that is I’m nothing special. The folks I’ve been fortunate enough to work with or present to over my life have been smarter, tougher, more talented, more skilled and generally more pleasant than I am. Despite that fact, I’ve been able to accomplish a solid A-/B+ level of success in most things I’ve tried.

 

  • As a writer, I’m not a New York Times bestseller…but I make a solid living from home doing nothing but writing.
  • As a martial artist, I never became Bruce Lee or Randy Couture…but I won regional point-sparring tournaments and medals in grappling and self-defense competitions.
  • As a traveler, I haven’t become Rick Steves or Anthony Bourdain…but I’ve visited a lot of places and am about to begin my second stint of living abroad.
  • As a business owner, I didn’t get rich…but I enriched the lives of my clients and my staff and made enough to pay my bills while doing it.

 

I’ve spent my life doing pretty much exactly what I want, when I want to, with the people I would prefer to do it with. If I have a super power, it’s an ability to identify those wants and then find the personal, financial and temporal resources to make it happen.

When I coach or speak, one thing I hear a lot is “I wish I could do that” or some variation on that theme. What I’m here to tell you is, if little old slightly above average me can do the stuff I’ve done…there’s no reason you can’t do everything on your bucket list.

Over the next few weeks, I’m refocusing my personal offerings and branding to help more writers, parents, businesspeople, teachers and students wrap their heads around that. I’m excited to see what happens.

Thanks for listening. More to follow.

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If you can’t move your bar to the music, move the music to your bar…

Reggie Mace and Beth Rahn of Mace Mead Works have been doing that for a little less than a year now.

images Mace Mead Works is a bar in Dayton, Washington, a small farming community about halfway between Walla Walla, Washington and Cour d’Laine, Idaho. If you think there’s nothing at that point on the map, you can be forgiven. It’s pretty middle of nowhere.

Which is why they call their Kickstarter project the “Middle of Nowhere Sessions.”

Here’s the thing. In an attempt to bring in more customers to a bar that belongs in a city but is situated in a town where everything is within walking distance, Reggie and Beth have brought in musical acts from all over the Pacific Northwest. The bands have brought customers, some of whom come back. They want to expand on this model, specifically by

• Building a stage in their back room for better events
• Adding acoustic tile
• Buying sound equipment to record the concerts
• General publicity and word-getting-outness

It’s a good idea, but with 5 days to go they’re at just over 50% of their goal. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that might be:

The Good

  • Excellent video quality. Beth and Reggie put together a high quality video with a fun, conversational description and appeal. They added interesting, dynamic captions and apparently shot most of it in one take. It’s compelling and informative, though it does run a little long to hold the interest of casual potential backers.
  • Audience focused and unique backer rewards. They were really thinking about who would back their project and why they might contribute. Check them out on the site. We’re not dealing with your generic signed photos and “Ask me about” buttons. They’re providing trips, unique vinyl albums and other goodies intelligently targeted for folks who are audiophiles, lovers of the local area, or both.
  • Large existing audience. This is less of something they did right than a serious factor in their favor. By virtue of being a bar that hosts concerts and makes contacts in the regional music community, Beth and Reggie have a huge mailing list consisting of exactly the sort of people who might back their project. Not exactly something you can mimic for an existing project, but a factor to keep in mind while planning your next campaign.

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The Bad

  • Very niche. Maybe even very, very niche. This project appeals to the very small – if passionate – community of folks who love local music and will go out of their way to hear it played live. Worse (for successful funding purposes), they’re also in a small geographic niche. To really get value from this campaign, a backer would need to live within an hour’s drive of Mace Mead Works. I visit that town several times per year, and I’m here to tell you that there is almost nothing within an hour’s drive of that bar.
  • Unspecific Finances. Kickstarter is still kind of new, but it’s been demonstrated that backers like to know what their funding is going towards. In the video and on the site, they describe in general terms what they need, but it wouldn’t hurt to post a breakdown update describing just where the budget is going. Even their asking price: $11,111.11 suggests their goal is fundamentally arbitrary. This might turn some prospective backers off.

The Ugly

The bad news for the Middle of Nowhere Sessions is that local project funding is an as-of-yet unproven model for Kickstarter. As I touched on when talking about niches, any project that benefits people within a limited geographic area is less likely to be backed by people who don’t live in that area. This isn’t their fault….but it is definitely a challenge they will have to deal with. It’s possible that this alone is responsible for the disappointing funding as of this writing.

image-345692-full Reggie and Beth tell me they have some high-end backers waiting for the last moments to make their pledges, and that they have some events planned for this week to bring in more small donations. We’ll find out by the end of this week.

If you like music, and small businesses, and cool people with cool ideas, follow this link and donate.

MIDDLE OF NOWHERE SESSIONS KICKSTARTER

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Kickstarter Month Post #1: April Huneycutt

april_210.large I’ve spoken to a lot of writers about Kickstarter lately. Some had advice. Many had questions. One of my colleagues — a client who has me do some research and structural coaching for her — recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for her memoir.

To really get the rest of today’s post, you need to follow this link and view the campaign. It has some good and some not-so-good that will help for you to understand. Plus, it’s a pretty cool campaign all things considered.

 

The Big Picture

April spent most of her late teens and twenties as a stripper, with some entrepreneurial ventures including large music festivals, real estate speculation and being a madame. Lots of strippers, hookers and madames have written memoirs, and the world probably doesn’t need another of them, but this one is different.

Other such memoirs are about stripping. This one is about using stripping to fund small business ventures. April grossed over 2 million dollars during her 20s, and applied that income to her next project. The book tells that story.

The Good

If you take a close look at the campaign, you’ll see several strong aspects:

  • High production value. The videos are professionally shot, the photo is high quality and a professional writer produced the copy.
  • Targeted backer rewards. April clearly understands who her best clients are, and has created several rewards that serve that particular demographic. She’s also made the book collectible to create additional backer levels, and made one reward that specifically serves her current career as a spokesmodel.
  • Complete project. My own Kickstarter campaign has gotten some negative attention because I’m seeking funding to let me complete the project with high quality. Aprils is a complete concept, just waiting for funding to create a print run and pay for the other expenses of publishing.

The Bad

April’s campaign is solid, and I think you should fund it, but like all things it has room for improvement.

  • Needs more outreach. The page isn’t updated as frequently as it should be, and hasn’t been shopped to the reviewers and communities that can really make it succeed.
  • Slightly off target. The book has lots of sex scenes and sordid details, but what makes it unique is April’s story of becoming an entrepreneur and avoiding the victim state that is part of existence for many sex workers. However, most of the ad copy stresses the sexy stuff. As I mentioned in a May posting, this could create disgruntled customers by leading them to expect something different from what they are getting.

The Ugly

My analysis gives this campaign about a 65% chance of funding outright, up to 75% if April gets really busy during the final weeks of the run. Part of my job as her coach will be to help her increase those odds.

As writers, this gives us some food for thought. 

Kickstarter is a way to manufacture your own advance to write a book, without all the gatekeeping and hearing “no” associated with a traditional publishing deal. However — like so many alternative publishing models — it puts the responsibility directly on the author’s plate.

April’s book will succeed or fail largely on its own merits, April’s ability to market and promote her idea, and April’s skill at executing that ability. If she succeeds, she’ll have a $15,000 advance for her book. If she fails, she’s spent time and money to not get funded.

If you’re thinking about Kickstarter as a way to fund your own writing, you will need to learn the skills associated with marketing a crowdfunding campaign. That’s on top of the writing, rewriting, plotting, characterizing, spelling, grammar, schmoozing, submitting, querying and banging-your-head-against-your-desk-because-you-don’t-want-to-break-your-monitor skills you already have or need to develop.

Scary?

Sure. But what really worth doing isn’t a little bit terrifying?

For the next four weeks or so, I’ll be posting a series on Kickstarter for authors. Stay tuned for reviews, advice, information and status reports for both April’s project and mine. Meanwhle, comment below with any questions you might have. I’ll do my best to come up with some great answers.

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Listening to Your Elders

getoffmylawn I spent the past five days in a whirlwind of speaking, transit and moderately heavy drinking…all thanks to having been invited to give four presentations in three days at two conferences in Northern Washington.

They were great cons: Write on the River in Wenatchee and the Northwest Travel Writers’ Conference in Spokane.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn I like cons. They’re a chance to talk shop and visit in a job where we spend most of our time by ourselves. They’re also a source of real inspiration as you talk to other people who are doing it right.

But my favorite part is talking with the elders. Like any other tribe, our clan of writers includes those who have gone further, done more and been around longer than me. When I can find a quiet corner and a few pints with one of these people, I do not miss the opportunity. Here are a few hints that have worked for me for making the most of these conversations.

1. Don’t Be Shy

It doesn’t matter how big a shot this person is, he or she is at a conference and fully prepared to talk with people lower on the totem pole. Walk up, say “Hi, I’m Jason.” See what develops. Unless your name isn’t Jason. You should never lie to these people.

2. Be Prepared

Know a little bit about that person before coming up to talk. It’s common courtesy, and lets you ask specific questions about their expertise and experience. No, looking this person up on your phone during a break isn’t cheating.

3. Stop Talking About Yourself

You love talking about yourself, but so does this other person. Ask five or six questions for every statement you make. The target will like you better and more of the conversation will be about stuff you don’t know rather than stuff you already do know.

4. Compliment (Without Kissing Ass)

Say kind, sincere things once in a while. If he gave a presentation you attended, mention a specific useful fact you gleaned from it. If she wrote a cool blog post, mention why you thought it was cool. Compliments are also a great way of transitioning into asking for advice — “Hey, I loved your article in National Geographic. How did you break in?”

5. Buy a Round

It’s the rules. Mentee pays for the drinks.

6. Ask for Mentoring

Don’t take up somebody’s total time and attention at a con. Make your interaction short and sweet, and end it with asking for a business card and permission to reach out for advice in the future. Everybody successful in writing is in part successful because somebody mentored him earlier in his career. Most are happy to pay it forward.

What’s the best/most interesting/weirdest mentoring story you’ve heard or had? Talk about it in the comments. 

 

 

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Getting Started: Try This

The first step in becoming a professional writer is deciding you want to be a professional writer. The second step is developing a small body of work. If you want to write fiction, you need some short stories to sell to print and online magazines. If you want to write nonfiction or ad copy, you need a few articles or blurbs to show what you can do.

I’m going to assume that, if you want to become a professional writer, you aren’t one yet. This likely means you have a regular job. Maybe a wife, kids, commute and house to take care of. You can’t devote all your time to making this happen. That’s life…but it doesn’t mean you can’t make your portfolio happen.

Try this.

On Monday of next week, sketch a simple outline of a story or article. For fiction, write a sentence or two about each character and each major part of the tale. For nonfiction, write a note describing each paragraph in your essay or copy structure, and some lines about where you’ll go for further research.

On Tuesday, write the “sketch draft.” This is the simplest written form of the story. Any time you get stuck, write in parenthesis a note about what you want to have happen and move on. “John looked into Stella’s eyes and said (something eloquent about loving her).” or “(Put actual statistic here) out of 100 Americans say they fear a terrorist strike in their local area within the next 10 years.” Get it all down.

On Wednesday,

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focus your efforts on filling in those parts you skipped the day before. Look up the the statistics, scan through scenes in books and movies you liked for inspiration about how to handle those tricky scenes. At the end of the day, you’ll have a working rough draft.

On Thursday, rewrite the whole thing by looking at the printed rough draft and retyping from scratch. This process lets you look at each sentence, tweaking and repolishing as you go. When you’re finished, read the story out loud to yourself. Take notes about spots that were jarring, repetitive or weak. Sleep on it.

On Friday, fix the things you noticed when you read it aloud the night before. Once you’re finished, run a spell check and have somebody else proofread it.

On Saturday, walk away. You’re done. If you want, have a friend critique it…but no more fiddling until somebody else suggests something concrete.

Each day should take no more than an hour or two — time you can give yourself if you really want it. If you do this each week for a month, or every other week for two, you’ll have a body of four respectable pieces. Most writing

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clients want just two samples when considering you for a job. Fiction magazines want you to send just one.

Presto…instant portfolio.

Thanks for listening.

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