Random Inspirations

Welcome to my blog, full of fun inspirations and insights on writing, self-publishing, and more!

Why Writing is Like Cooking: Make Your Words Tasty

Last week on my flight, I was reading Simple and Delicious, my favorite cooking magazine.  It’s packed with colorful recipes that are healthy, scrumptious, and relatively quick to prepare. After that, I started reading a book about self-editing for fiction writers, dozed off for a nap, and woke up thinking about how similar writing is to cooking. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is where the saying, “Sleep on it,” came from. 🙂

But, as random as the connection sounds, it makes sense; in order to master both cooking and writing, you have to practice the basics. A lot. Of course, there’s culinary school for chefs (or the occasional cooking class for the rest of us). Chefs have to spend hours learning the easy recipes verbatim. As they gradually hone their art, they discover which herbs taste best with which dishes and learn to create a rich tapestry of flavors. They experiment with colors, textures, and spices to optimize each dish, and their signature recipes evolve gradually. The best chefs are a combination of exquisitely trained and self-taught — thorough training ensures they’ve mastered the basics, while their willingness to self-teach ensures their cooking will be unique and creative. And that’s tasty.

cooking

Many authors think of writing as “a calling.” I know I’m that way — I’ve always had to write, and it comes naturally to me. We learn the basics of writing throughout our K-12 education, and continue into college to some degree.

But to take writing to the next level (i.e. professional), there’s still a lot of additional education. We must take professional creative writing courses, learn from experts at conferences, and have our work critiqued by those more experienced than ourselves. It seems daunting, especially for people who, like myself, assumed they knew everything about writing because it always came so naturally.

I think for most of us, there’s that period of self-doubt, where you say to yourself, “Whoa. I’m not as good as I originally thought.” But really, what we’re telling ourselves is, “I just have to hone my art.” And that positive spin does wonders. After all, what is life in general if not a learning experience?

And as we practice our craft, we can experiment with our story lines, descriptions, and characters. We use words much like chefs use spices, tossing them around in a way that might seem haphazard to a casual observer, but is truly methodical and deliberate. We use literary devices to create our own unique flavor, which we hope will satiate our readers.

And the last similarity between cooking and writing is that both activities are constantly evolving. After we learn the basics and grow into our own styles, we may think we’ve arrived, but we haven’t. If we’re content to stay the same, we’ll stagnate. That’s why it’s so important to stay hungry for knowledge, no matter what your field. And that’s scrumptious. 🙂

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Airplanes and Creativity: Inspiration at 40,000 Feet

It’s that time of year again: summer vacation! Time to pack up and discover new lands…or rediscover old, familiar ones. Last year, I blogged about how travel stimulates creativity, but on my last flight I realized that the mere act of flying on an airplane also seems to stimulate creativity.

I’m sure not everyone will agree with this–some people are extremely anxious about flying, and need to medicate themselves before setting foot on a plane. And then there are those who don’t really want to think on flights, they just want to be entertained.

However, I’ve  always felt that above the clouds is one of the most inspirational places ever. That’s why I prefer window seats. I love watching the landscape change far below, and admiring the way the rising or setting sun tinges the clouds with fiery shades of rose and gold. I also adore flying in the middle of the day, gazing down at the tops of the clouds. Sometimes, I think it looks just like heaven…until there’s turbulence, or a baby starts screaming, of course.

Above the clouds is one of the most inspirational places ever.

Above the clouds is one of the most inspirational places ever.

And after I admire the “airscape,” I inevitably come up with some pretty fascinating ideas. The concept for the novel I’m finishing came to me in a plane, as did the idea for my next one. It seems like the huge block of time combined with the relatively low amount of distractions allows me to have super-productive writing sessions, too. On some flights, I’ve been so absorbed in my writing that I’ve actually lost track of time.

On my most recent flight, I hashed out exactly how I’ll be making one of my wedding favors. Then, I read a cooking magazine and a book about self-editing, in that order…which gave me an idea for my next blog post. I realize that’s a random collection of influences, but it will make sense, I swear! No more hints, though. You’ll have to check it out next week. 🙂

I’m not the only one who feels more creative on flights. Antonio once wrote me a “Love Letter at 40,000 Feet,” which was one of the most beautiful, thoughtful, and insightful things he’s ever written–and, incidentally, the inspiration for the title of this blog post. And when I took a look around on my last flight, I noticed dozens of people who seemed intensely focused on the view, their laptops, their reading material, etc. A creative bunch, for sure.

So, as you board your next summer flight, remember to sit back and relax. Close your eyes and meditate, since creativity is all about the right mindset. Bring some stimulating reading material or a journal, or just gaze out the window. And the muses will come to you. Bon voyage!

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Knowing Your Audience: How to Do It and Why It’s Important

So you’ve self-published an eBook. Woohoo! Now comes the fun part: selling some copies.

But who will buy your eBook? Your family and friends, of course, although they will not be the primary determinants of your sales. They may help to drive your sales in the beginning, but in the long run, the primary purchasers of your eBook will be people you don’t know at all, although you may have interacted with them via social media. They’re your target audience.

But how to reach them? Well, first you have to know them. My short story on Amazon has ranked at the top of the Teen Short Stories category for four weeks and counting, in large part because I have begun to reach my target audience. To reach them, though, I had to know them.

My target audience is YA: tweens and teens between the ages of nine and seventeen, although I tend to write for the middle of this range, a precocious ten-year-old or a reluctant-reading fifteen-year-old, for example. This audience, especially the younger end, devours books, as well as movies, TV shows, magazines, and music, so they’re a very easy audience to identify with.

A very diverse and interesting audience!

A very diverse and interesting audience … but rather challenging to identify with. Thankfully, mine is slightly easier. 🙂

Here are five ways I got to know my audience.

  1. Twitter – I searched popular hash tags for teens, then followed some users who tweeted about these trends. I also added some followers of YA reading groups, like Epic Reads and Harper Teen. And, of course, I added some followers of other popular teen phenomena: authors like Suzanne Collins, and celebrities like Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, for example. Many of the users followed me back, and voila … many of my Tweeps are now teens in my target audience!
  2. Facebook ads – Antonio and I launched three Facebook ad campaigns: the first to mothers throughout the US, Canada, and the UK who had kids in the YA age range, and the second and third to teens in select states who liked reading and Amazon. My Facebook page gained many “likes” from the target audience, and substantially less from their mothers. I realized that Facebook ad campaigns are a great way to know your audience, because you can see which users “like” your content. This gives you a better idea of who your audience is and what their interests are, which in turn allows you to write about the things that they’re passionate about.
  3.  Magazines – I went to the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago this week, and perused some teen magazines to better understand my target audience. I enjoy doing this periodically so I can stay in touch with my audience, how they talk and dress, what their biggest fears are, what their most embarrassing moments are, etc. One magazine even advertised a “Summer Reading” section, so I was able to see what books they’re reading.
  4. Popular TV Shows / Movies – This goes along with #3. I’m always on the lookout for fun YA movies and TV shows, so I can better relate to my audience. One word of caution, though: I sometimes use trendy teen slang in “current” activities (i.e. social media, conversations, and even ad campaigns), but when I’m writing my short stories and novels, I steer clear of it. I don’t want to date my stories, and keeping out the slang ensures that teens will enjoy them for years to come.
  5. Real-life Interaction – Mingling with your target audience in real life is priceless. I know some teens through work, and I’ve met many more while handing out flyers to promote my short story. Interacting with your target audience benefits your readers because they can finally put a face and voice with your name, and it benefits you because you can get to know your audience firsthand! How’s that for win-win?

So those are my tips for knowing your audience. I also found a very relevant Facebook post from my author-hero Joanna Penn that addresses this subject even more. Enjoy!

http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/06/13/identify-your-target-audience/

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How to Create 207 High Quality Book Flyers for $20

Today, I have a special treat for you: our first-ever guest blog post! My fiance and #1 supporter Antonio Challita will tell you how to create high-quality cost-effective flyers to get the word out about your book or your product. He talks about combining online marketing with real world marketing to take your sales to the next level. Antonio has a computer engineering background, has worked in technical marketing, and is now a product manager at a major technology company.

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Flyers for my YA book on Amazon Kindle

Flyers for my YA book on Amazon Kindle

Last Saturday morning, I woke up and saw hundreds of people outside of our house. There was a big street festival in Chicago, and the games section of the festival was set up right outside our doorstep.

I saw mothers and fathers and teens and tweens lined up to play games, watch bands, and enjoy what the food stands and merchants had to offer …. And that’s when it hit me! The target audience for Kristina’s new eBook was right there, in massive quantities. It was time to augment online marketing with real-world marketing. It was now or never. All we needed was to find an effective and unintrusive way to spread the word about “A First Time for Everything”.

After a quick breakfast, I decided I must create quality flyers and I must create them fast. I sprung into action.

Step 1: I found a packet of thick glossy A4 sized papers that we had and decided to use them. The papers had a professional feel to them.

Step 2: I am by no means a graphic design expert, and decided to use Microsoft Word for the project. I imported the book cover into a document.

Step 3: I decided to make the flyers pocket-sized. I used narrow page margins (0.2 inches) and shrunk the picture to the top left corner of the page.

My thinking was that smaller flyers would increase the likelihood of people placing the flyer in their pockets, purses or wallets, and then of looking at it again when they got home. If the flyer was bigger than that and took up an entire page, or 1/2 the page, then people would be more likely to toss it away.

A smaller flyer would also make it cost efficient to print more flyers per page.

Step 4: I added an Amazon-style label in an Orange-ish Yellow color to point out this is a story on Amazon.

Step 5: I made 9 copies of the flyer on the page and meticulously checked that the spacing between each image and the borders were equal. Here is how they looked like on the page.

The front side of the page

The front side of the page

Step 6: I decided to take advantage of the back side of the flyer, and added a brief description of what Kristina stands for, and where can people find her online. So I came up with a box.

Step 7: I replicated the box 9 times, carefully checking the spacing. Here is how the second page of my document looked.

The back side of the page

The back side of the page

Step 8: I walked to the nearest FedEx Kinkos, with the glossy papers in my hand.

Step 9: In a matter of minutes I had 23 double-sided printed papers. They looked gorgeous, and they cost just a little over $20.

Step 10: I used the big professional paper cutter at Fedex Kinkos to cut up the flyers. I took my time to cut straight lines between the flyers, and the result was rewarding. I had 207 flyers (23 pages x 9 on each page) that were ready to go! All this in about an hour and a half of work.

Step 11: It was time to execute. I went back home and met with Kristina. The thought was at first intimidating. How do we just go up to strangers and hand them flyers? What do we say? How do we open the conversation?

Step 12: We set a goal. Each one of us had to hand out 10 flyers in the next 45 minutes. We focused on making quality hand-outs instead of quantity hand-outs.

Step 13: Luckily the first group of people we encountered were a friendly couple who had YA tween girls. Out of the blue we asked the parents, do your kids like to read? They responded that they love to read, and it turned out the mom is a librarian. Kristina then smoothly pulled out a flyer and handed it to the mom who was very excited.

Step 14: We moved to a nearby stand were a young lady was advertising memorabilias & necklaces. It turns out that the necklaces were made by teenagers in an after school program. They were affordable & colorful and we each bought one. While checking out, we mentioned that we are also advertising a product for teens: A new & clean ebook on Amazon. The girl saw the flyer and loved it. She took one, and asked us for extras to put in her store. We happily complied.

Step 15: The two encounters built our confidence, and things flowed nicely after that. We handed out more and more flyers. At one point it started to rain, and we ran for cover under a tree where 5 girls were standing. It was a perfect encounter. We had a fun and genuine conversation with them and made 5 more quality hand-outs.

Step 16: Measure. We ended up making about 50 hand-outs that day, and on Saturday night we were in for a nice surprise. We checked our book ranking on Amazon which was hovering near 20,000 that week, and it was up to 12,000. A new record for us!

In conclusion: Always be prepared to do real-world marketing to complement your online marketing. I now carry flyers with me at all times. Your target audience is out there in the real world at networking events, festivals, gatherings, libraries, malls, and so on. You never know when opportunity comes knocking on your door. The question is, will you seize it?

ps: If you are interested in reusing our template to create your own flyers, please leave us a comment and let us know. We will be happy to send you our exact template and save you time.

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Vlogging for Authors

Authors today have to be really techy — creating a successful platform demands it. Not only should we be blogging and connecting with our readers and fellow writers via Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Google+, we should also be posting videos on YouTube and doing video blogs, aka vlogs.

Vlogs are a great way to connect with your audience. People love videos, especially ones that are quick, useful, and fun to watch.

Luckily, shooting videos can be super fun if you’re prepared. To make sure you have an enjoyable experience shooting your video, it’s as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Prep Your Environment: Your background should be uncluttered, so viewers focus on you, not the pile of dirty socks or random oddities behind you. Online video expert Gideon Shalwick has a helpful video on how to create the ultimate clean, white, Apple-style background…in a garage! Watch his video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZP0qKVJOlc And don’t limit yourself to an indoor environment — parks or other picturesque outdoor venues work well too. Want an interesting change? Try shooting the video in a library with a bookshelf as your backdrop — very studious. 🙂
  2. Write Your Speech: Okay, so you’re not making a real speech, but you still want to know what you’re going to say, so you don’t freeze, deer-in-headlights-style, as soon as the “record” light goes on. I prefer to make a brief outline before shooting a video so I will remember the most essential points.
  3. Rehearse: Don’t expect a perfect video the first time. Do a few trial runs. If you rehearse your video two to three times with the camera on, you’ll find that you don’t even need to refer to your outline anymore. The words will flow out of your mouth naturally. Rehearsing will allow you to be more spontaneous and confident when you shoot the actual video.

Here’s my first-ever vlog. It’s an author introduction video I made with the generous help of my business partner and fiance Antonio. In it, you’ll learn a little about me and my mission to help other writers achieve their dreams.

Hope you enjoy it! 🙂

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