Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Upside to Getting Fired (Life Changing Moments Series)

If there's one thing I've been observing from this Life Changing Moments series, it's that many seemingly horrible situations present us with opportunities to improve our lives. Such is the case with today's post from Sharon K. Owen. Sharon is a fiction writer, a university professor, an online writing instructor, a freelance writer, a copy editor and a consultant for social media and self-publishing projects. Her first novel: Thicker Than Water (Brands Crossing Series) was published in 2011 and the second book in the series, Whatever Goes Around, will be published in March, 2012. Sharon's short stories and poetry have been published in Descant, Concho River Review, Iron Horse, American Literary Review, Trinity Writer's Workshop newsletter and collections of Christmas stories. She shares a cozy sanctuary in a small lakeside town in North Texas with her two cats (Matt and Cinders). Learn more at her blog.

Sharon K. Owen

What a difference three years can make.

In February of 2009, I was working an 8-5, Monday-Friday job with a large company in Dallas that designed, built and managed trendy, expensive, high-rise, apartments in up-town and down-town Dallas and similar apartments near major college campuses throughout the U.S.

After completing my graduate degrees, I opted to build a corporate instead of an academic career and joined this company. During my 15-year stage, I received regular promotions with increased responsibility and salary.

Corporate Life
By 2009, I was an administrative assistant supporting two senior executives and four project managers. I scheduled their travel, managed their e-mail and correspondence, coordinated their meetings and pretty much acted as liaison between them and clients, subcontractors, lenders and public officials. I also created proposals and presentations, managed contracts and budgets, projected statistics, tracked production and handled monthly draws.

Besides my generous salary, the company matched my contributions to a 401K, provided yearly bonuses, paid my insurance, offered 4 weeks of vacations and added other perks like the opportunities to watch the Mavericks, Stars, Cowboys and Rangers from seats in company suites and box seats. There were also reserved seats at the opera, ballet, and theater productions. I went to gallery openings, parties at exclusive clubs and dinners at five star restaurants. Usually these events were part of the entertaining of clients, but still …

I lived in a spacious and elegantly furnished apartment in a nearby suburb. It included a high-tech kitchen, garden/Jacuzzi tub, a state-of-the-art office, several hundred channels of cable TV, lightening fast fios internet, a pool and fitness center and a nearby park complete with jogging trails around a small pond.

I shopped at chic boutiques or upscale malls and met friends for brunch, lunch or dinner at trendy restaurants.

During the week, I was up at 6 am, home by 7 pm, and after a few hours zoned out in front of the TV, I went to bed to recharge my batteries for the next day.

I still taught English one night per week at a community college and tried to find a few hours each week to work on my novel—the one I'd started several years before.

Except for the lengthy and stressful commute, I was satisfied with my life. My two cats seemed content as well. They never left the apartment and found "outside " to be a troubling place, one they only saw from the interior of their carriers on trips to the vet or kennel.

Then, the economy changed and I was laid-off in March of 2009.

Post-Corporate Life
As always, the company treated me very fairly with a generous severance package—but it was a scary time. It was no longer a seller's market for well-educated, experienced employees. Any available positions received hundreds of applications from qualified candidates who were willing to accept positions for a third of the salary they had previously received.

I decided to take a change of direction.

I accepted a faculty position with an on-line university, added an adjunct teaching position at the university I had once attended, signed on the as a substitute with a small town high school and moved from my upscale apartment to a small cottage on a friends' property.

I added the necessary equipment and started an online business as a copy editor and freelance writer.

And I completed and published my first novel.

Sharon's new schedule afforded her the time
to publish her first novel, Thicker Than Water.

The Upside of Downsized
Since I am basically a contractor, I only get paid when I work. If my classes don't make, I don't get paid. If I'm not needed a substitute, I don't get paid. And if I don't have copy-editing or freelance writing jobs, I don't get paid.

I pay my own insurance and, though I do have flexibility in my schedule, my work week is pretty much 24/7.

My income is approximately half of my previous salary but my expenses have also been drastically reduced. I shop at Target, Wal-Mart, Dollar Stores and resale shops. The infrequent visits to restaurants include mom-and-pop diners, and family-owned Italian, Chinese and Mexican restaurants. I have basic cable TV and a Wi-Fi card for internet connections. Jeans and T-shirts are my normal attire. I can either stay home or travel. As long as I have a laptop and a Wi-Fi card, I can work from anywhere.

I can also work in the flower and vegetable gardens I created, take long walks around the nearby lake, or sit in the shade of one of the many trees near my little house. The cats come outside as well.

So, yes, I was forced to make drastic changes when I was downsized.

But the upside is:

I am happy, fulfilled and at peace doing what I really want to do. I teach. I write. I prosper.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Monetize a Blog: How to Blog and Make Money

This post is dedicated to showing current and potential bloggers how to blog and make money in the process. That is, this post shows bloggers (new and old) how to monetize a blog. However, before bloggers get too concerned about making money, they really need to worry about ways to increase blog traffic. Without traffic, there's no way to make money blogging.

If you're already blogging, why not seek a little income?

After you've started building traffic to your blog, then it's time to consider ways to monetize your blog. Personally, I haven't put too much effort into monetization yet. Instead, I've been focused almost exclusively on providing quality content that increases traffic. Sooooo, this post is going to share links to other resources who are generous with their experiences.

How to monetize a blog:

  • Sell content. By selling content, I'm thinking of your words and/or art. These can be packaged in e-books, white papers, print books, exclusive newsletter subscriptions, etc. If you blog, you're a content creator. Why not package some of that content and make a little money from it. Of course, the more exclusive and valuable the content is to your readers, the higher the price point.
  • Offer education. Related to selling your content, you can package that content as educational opportunities through tutorials, webinars, podcasts, and videos. Btw, each of those links shows how to tackle each of those tasks. You could also offer online courses related to your specialty.
  • Write sponsored posts. Be careful if you're dealing with sponsored posts, because they're basically advertorials--or at worst, blatant advertisements--for other companies and services. As a result, these have the potential to kill traffic. If done well however, they can add value to your blog in more ways than one. Here's a list of sites that pay for blog posts.
  • Share affiliate links. I have a little experience with affiliate links--mainly through my use of Amazon Associates--and it's an easy way to bring in some extra money. Again though, an abuse of affiliate links can turn readers off fast--so only pursue this method when it adds obvious value for your readers. As far as which affiliate program is best, you can go with a general program (like the Amazon one mentioned above) or a more specific one, since many companies offer affiliate programs. For instance, my employer Writer's Digest has a writing product affiliate program.
  • Place ads. There are so many different ways to serve ads. You can use an ad service or solicit them yourself. Around the middle of this 101 Ways to Monetize Your Blog post, several advertising options (and links) are provided.
  • Provide services. I mentioned education above, and really, that does fall under providing services. But there are many other services you could provide as a blogger depending upon your specialty. For instance, some popular services include critique and consulting services. Or speaking services.
  • Sell merchandise. If your blog is truly popular and has a personality, selling blog-related merchandise might make sense--like T-shirts, coffee mugs, mouse pads, etc. Here's a list of some companies.
  • Ask for donations. Of course, there's always the option of just asking for donations. If you go this route, be sure your blog does two things: First, make sure it offers an amazing experience for readers; and second, make sure you're not monetizing in any other way. If you are, it's doubtful you'll be able to secure donations on top of those other methods.

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Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Advice for Writers: 022

Another week, another round of great advice for writers.

5 Keys to Writing for an Online Audience, by Jane Friedman. One thing that Jane often emphasizes is brevity, and I'm totally with her on that. But that's only one of the five keys, and they're all relevant.

A 4-Step Guide to Finding Freelance Clients While You Exercise, by Carol Tice. This is a fun post from successful freelancer Carol Tice. Sometimes you just need to strap on a good pair of walking shoes and hit the streets.

13 Ways to Impress an Agent, by Rachelle Gardner. Literary agent Gardner shares 13 ways to impress agents, including how to make ideas feel fresh and having an impressive platform.

New Agent Alert: Kat Salazar of Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, by Chuck Sambuchino. Every so often, Chuck learns of a new literary agent, and new agents are the hungriest for great new voices.

The Busy Writer's Guide to Time Management, by Jody Hedlund. Raise your hand if you feel strapped for time, especially if you're trying to write, build a platform, and have a life--all in the same lifetime. Here's a guide for you.


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Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers:

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Poetic Saturdays: Progress

I hope you're having a great morning. Recently, I've been thinking about time--and how it never seems to stop (as much as I wish it would). My newborn, Hannah, is now 8 months old; Baby Will is 3 years old; Reese and Jonah are 8 years old; and Ben, who I still remember holding as a baby and chasing as a toddler (seriously, he skipped walking and crawling to go straight for running), is 10 years old! With time in mind, I poem.

Progress, by Robert Lee Brewer

Before we know it
the world has done it
again. Passed us by. It
is later than we thought it
should be. It
won't stop, will it?


Newer Book:

This Clumsy Living
by Bob Hicok (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Speaking of time, it feels like just yesterday that I picked up this book at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan while courting my wife Tammy. It was actually a gift for Tammy, because one of our many shared interests is in the Hicok's poetry. I remember buying his The Legend of Light in college, and I've been a fan ever since. The reason I picked This Clumsy Living as my Hicok book is that I feel it combines Hicok's sense of humor and accessibility with a certain artistic risk taking, especially in "A poem with a poem in its belly." If you've been meaning to check out Hicok, this collection is a great place to start.


Poems Found Online:

Older Book:

Live or Die
by Anne Sexton (Houghton Mifflin)

Another poet Tammy and I enjoy reading is Anne Sexton. In fact, Tammy had a blog that took its title from Sexton's poem "Her Kind." Maybe the best place to start with Sexton is to grab her Selected Poems, but for sentimental reasons, I like Live or Die the most of her collections (followed closely by Transformations). Live or Die was my introduction to her writing, and I fell in love with her voice, especially in poems like "Menstruation at Forty" and "Wanting to Die." It's the kind of collection that strikes right at the heart of what Sexton was experiencing, but does so with a sophistication that's true art.


Note: Links in this post to books are affiliate links. However, I do not mention these books to make a profit. They are either books I'm connected to or ones I truly love. All other links in this post are not affiliate links.


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Friday, February 24, 2012

Write What YOU Want to Write!

Please welcome Marie James to the Not Bob blog! I think her topic today is perfect: write what you want—and for the love of writing. Lately Marie writes mostly about rural life and sustainable living—because she wants to. She shares slices of country life at Rural Living Today, teaches practical skills at The Homesteader School, and reviews kitchen equipment at The Homesteader Kitchen.

Marie James writes what she wants!

How many people have told you what you should write?

For most of us, it started back in elementary school. Did you write weekend stories? They were produced on paper with lines for writing what you did on the weekend and a big blank space for a crayon drawing. I actually liked writing weekend stories, but there was never enough space for everything I wanted to say. I often put more words in the picture space.

In upper grades, writing assignments included research papers, essays, and topical themes. As a member of the high school newspaper staff, I was assigned articles on various subjects. College writing classes included more assignments, often urging me to explore new techniques and genres.

I value the broad spectrum of writing experiences and exposure. But see the pattern? We were often told what to write during all our school years. Some of us also wrote on our own, choosing our methods and topics. As a teenaged girl, I wrote lots of introspective poetry inspired by my churning emotions and questions about life.

Though I loved writing, I pursued a different vocational path and prepared to become a teacher. But I always wanted to write…and I did write—a lot. I journaled for my eyes only. I served as secretary of countless organizations, writing minutes and communications. I wrote newsletter articles for church, school, and community organizations.

Finding a new direction
Some years later, I decided I'd like to have "something" published by a real publisher. I told just a few people—family members and close friends. I was thinking of a nonfiction magazine article.

At that point, I experienced a bit of schooldays déjà vu, because I started getting "assignments" again.

A few longtime friends thought I "should" write a book of poetry. Never mind that I hadn't written poetry since junior high, with the exception of required class assignments.

Someone else said I'd "have to" become comfortable writing foul language and sex scenes because that's the basis of best-selling novels. Never mind that I don't write fiction—and I'd never even thought of attempting a best-seller.

I did reach my goal of having "something" published. No, there's not a book of poetry or best-selling novel bearing my byline. Instead, I've published magazine articles—some on assignment and some submitted after speculative queries. A few anthology stories and a ghost-written book have left my desk and ended up in published form.

But I have also gotten great joy from documenting my parents' and grandparents' life histories just for our family. I really like creating newsletters and other publications for small organizations. Need a press release for a community event? I'm on it. Even technical writing like updating office procedures manuals has been fulfilling.

Following the process
In my home office, both paper files and my computer document files attest to the fact that I often write furiously to some point just short of completion, reach a point of satisfaction, and move on to the next topic on my heart.

Obviously, I don't always write complete manuscripts. Sometimes I write just to clear ideas from my brain and make room for more, and publishing is the farthest thing from my mind.

The bottom line is, I write because I love to write. And for the most part, I write what I want to write.

How about you?

Are you writing what you really want to write? Are you unwrapping whatever thoughts and ideas are bursting from your heart? Are you creating in the genre and style that flow naturally from your fingers?

Are you writing for the reasons you want to write? Are you reaching the readers you hoped to reach? Are you moving toward your goals of first publication or becoming well-known or just getting the message out there?

For me the greatest joy in writing is truly in the journey. And for a writer, that journey begins in the heart.


If you think you have a great blog post idea, click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Thursday, February 23, 2012

How to Brand Yourself (and Take Over the World)

First off, I know that personal branding is a topic that will probably turn many writers off. For one thing, many writers (including myself) like to think of themselves as unique creative talents. For another thing, isn't branding reserved for businesses (not writers)?

Good branding should not only make a person stop; it should
also effectively communicate why they have stopped.

Shocker: If you're a writer who's interested in getting published and making an income (whether supplemental or full) from your writing, then you're in the business of writing. If you are some kind of unique creative talent, then you're a perfect candidate for personal branding.


What is branding?

Many people make the mistake of thinking that a brand is the reach a company has. Like the stronger brand between Pepsi and Coca-Cola would be determined by which one sells the most soda pops. However, branding is not about who's bigger, but how well you communicate your core identity.

One of the products I work on as an editor is The brand is not its sales figures. Rather, the brand is built around the idea: Get Published and Get Paid for Your Writing. If writers identify the site with getting published, then we're doing a good job of branding. If they think it's a site for buying bubble gum, then we're failing.

What about personal branding?

As a writer, you are basically trying to accomplish the same thing when you are carving out your niche. Maybe you write science fiction novels, or specialize in medical writing. Don't let yourself just be a writer. Try to pick a few keywords to define who you are as a writer.

For instance, I don't expect people to see the name Robert Lee Brewer and think romance novelist. Instead, I'd hope most people think things like editor, poet, blogger, speaker, father, husband, and helpful person. That's who I am, who I strive to be every day.

Why is building a brand important?

Your brand defines who you are to the outside world. Carving out a niche as an editor who understands the publishing industry has afforded me several opportunities that other editors have not received. Likewise, branding myself as a poet with a popular blog has led me to be named Poet Laureate of the Blogosphere, be invited as a National Feature Poet to the 2011 Austin International Poetry Festival, and sit on a panel at the upcoming AWP Conference (where I'm referred to as "poet" in the panel description--along with a professor, journalist, and novelist).

Brand identity is what helps you get to the point that clients are seeking you out, instead of the other way around.

How to build a brand

Building a brand is easy on paper, but it requires rolling up your sleeves in real life.
  1. Make a list of who you are as a person. Are you nice? Are you helpful? Are you outrageous? Are you funny? Are you authoritative? Try not to answer yes to every question you ask yourself.
  2. Make a list of who you are as a writer. Same types of questions. Hopefully, the answers align with step 1.
  3. Define how you'd like others to view you. Again, it would be nice if this aligned with steps 1 and 2.
  4. List your writing specialties and successes up to this point. It's okay if you don't have a long list. Maybe you've just finished stories that are hidden in a closet.
  5. List what you'd like to do with your writing in the short-term. Then, begin working toward these goals while keeping in mind how these goals align with steps 1-3 and/or build off step 4.
  6. List what you'd like to do with your writing in the long-term. In a perfect world, this will build off step 5.
The main thing you're trying to accomplish in this exercise is to identify who you are and who you want to be. Then, everything you do should be an extension of this identity. I would strongly advise against dramatically changing who you are to try and find success. Instead, build upon who you are by emphasizing your strengths and working on your weaknesses.

World domination

Don't worry. World domination will come, but it often takes time. If you're consistent in your approach and identity, success will rush in upon you when you least expect it. And often in ways that you'd never expect. After all, I would've never imagined being a featured poet or poet laureate of anything just a few years ago. Those honors came as a result of me working on my identity as a poet.


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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Surviving Childbirth: Putting Chaos Beneath Gratitude (Life Changing Moments Series)

Last year, three Writer's Digest editors were expecting new additions in their homes in the months of May, June, and July. Brian Klems (The Life of Dad blogger) welcomed his third girl in May; Tammy and I were blessed with Hannah in June; and today's guest blogger, Jessica Strawser, welcomed her first child into the world in July. I guess happy little bundles come in threes. Jessica is the chief editor of Writer's Digest magazine. In her 12-year career in publishing, she has held a variety of positions editing magazines and books of all sorts, dabbled in marketing and public relations, and worked as a freelance writer, editor and writing instructor, in addition to her own creative writing projects. Follow her on Twitter @jessicastrawser and look for her posts every Monday at There Are No Rules.

Jessica Strawser, editor and new mom. Photo Credit: Lindsay Hiatt.

Becoming a parent is a life-changing moment for just about everyone who's done it, so it was only a matter of time before someone wrote about it here as part of this series. As a new mom and a colleague of Robert's at Writer's Digest, I probably seem like a predictable candidate to be the first to rush to the topic.

Only this isn't exactly that story. Well, it is—and it isn't.

The birth of my son last summer and the months leading up to it were nothing if not life-changing. Everything shifted: my priorities, my worldview, my plans for the future, my caloric intake, the ease with which I would cry at sad stories on the news. I was a week past my due date, impatient, sleep deprived and badly swollen from unrelentingly hot weather when my husband and I welcomed our son with that heart-stopping mix of excitement, relief and fear that new parents come to know well. We held him; we held each other; we took pictures; we introduced him to his grandparents; we moved into the maternity ward; we stayed awake, even though it was 4 a.m., to bond with our new baby for just a few more minutes while he was alert.

And then I hemorrhaged.

Any Other Way
I'd been wondering aloud how my husband could be asking for an extra blanket even as I was peeling off my own thin sheets, sticky with salt. "You're going to sweat out all that swelling," the nurse reassured me. I said I felt sort of dizzy. "You haven’t eaten all day," I was reminded. Then I asked if it was normal to be bleeding. Of course it was. I blinked at the bright spots clouding my vision and mumbled that maybe someone should take the baby from my arms. Then I heard my husband yell, as if from a distance, "Her lips are turning blue!" Suddenly, a flurry of action: The baby whisked away. Doctors paged, orders shouted, procedures done, medications administered. From my perspective (flat on my back and semi-conscious), it went by in a painful blur. When the panic subsided and I was stabilized, I was just relieved to finally sleep.

It was only when I awoke a few hours later to the ghost-white face of the man I'd married that I began to realize the gravity of what had almost happened.

It turned out the monitor I'd been hooked up to had not been functioning properly. If we hadn't still been awake and aware of the symptoms when they began, if we hadn't persisted with questions while the nurse was still in the room, if virtually any other thing had happened any other way that day, things could have ended very differently.

If, if, if.

Glad You're OK
The conversations I had with friends and family in the days and weeks following the birth—in visits, phone calls, e-mails, texts—were not the ones I'd imagined having, with everyone cooing over how sweet our new baby was, coming by with things to eat, offering congratulations, joking about when we could finally share a glass of wine again. People did say and do all of those things. But they also said: “Wow—I'm so glad you're OK.”

I was too enamored with my new son to notice much else, but it was hard to miss the many forms I'm glad you're OK can take. Good-natured friends quipped that I was like some sort of old-time pioneer woman ("Complications from childbirth? Way to kick it old school!") and, when I returned home following a blood transfusion, my husband's refusal to leave my side in case I had a dizzy spell with the baby in my care was deemed "very Steel Magnolias." It felt good to laugh. It felt good to finally hold this miraculous little person I loved beyond words. And it felt really, really good to be surrounded by people who cared so much about us both.

My mom refused to leave her hotel near the hospital until I was released, in spite of my assurances that we were fine. My brother and dad drove disproportionately long distances for too-short visits. My husband's relatives researched the complication and called with lists of questions to be sure to ask the doctors. Later, a friend took vacation time and crossed three state lines—on a bus—to spend days with me while I recovered. At my follow-up appointment, my obstetrician stopped on his way out of the room and gave my arm a gentle, wordless pat. "The thing about having kids is, it can kill you," my son's wise-cracking pediatrician remarked—but when I met his eyes to share the joke, I saw his expression was serious. Everywhere I went, it seemed, even people I barely knew were genuinely glad I was OK. And maybe the oddest thing of all was how much it caught me by surprise. How little it takes, I marveled, to surround one another with such a feeling of warmth. Why wouldn’t we all do more of that every day? I felt indescribably glad of everyone around me.

Two reasons to be thankful.
Photo credit: Lindsay Hiatt.

Chaos and Gratitude
I'd been warned that having a newborn is not what anyone expects. Well-meaning acquaintances are fond of telling moms-to-be that aside from being enamored with parenthood, we'd also be exhausted and overwhelmed. With you-just-wait-and-see smiles, they forecasted the inevitable day when the proud new dad would return home from work to a sink overflowing with dishes and a basket full of dirty laundry, and inquire about what I'd been doing all day while I was "just" home with the baby.

But a post-partum hemorrhage—not that I'd recommend it—is a good antidote to such troubles. Yes, life is (much) more chaotic than it used to be. Those frustrating moments did and still do happen. But when we nestled in at home as a family of three, the chaos took its rightful place beneath the gratitude that filled our house to the brim.

In the middle of the night, I'd rise to rock my son back to sleep and whisper into his tiny ear, basking in the gift of these sleepless nights together. Just when I couldn't imagine my heart feeling more full, across the room my husband would stir and flash me a bleary smile, and I'd see it there, again—I'm so glad you're here. Or maybe, on a less tranquil day: I'm so glad I'm not here without you.

And on all counts, so am I.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why Effective Headlines Are Short

In many ways, blogging is more like newspaper writing than many give it credit. The best posts are focused on one theme (as they are in newspapers). The best posts are also usually timely and/or insightful (as they are in newspapers). Finally, the top articles have killer headlines (as in newspapers).

This morning, I read Nick Usborne's free e-mail newsletter that included a piece on why short headlines win. In the article, he talks about the importance of the first five words of a headline. What's funny is that his original post is comprised of 11 words (Live or die by the first 5 words of your headline) while his newsletter had the very concise 4-worder (Why Short Headlines Win). I prefer the more concise version.

Why effective headlines are short

There are three main reasons why effective headlines are short:
  • Sharability. The shorter a headline, the easier it is for people to share your headline--as you wrote it--on social networks, especially Twitter. If the headline gets too long or cute, it becomes less sharable in its original form, and the message may get jumbled when people do try to share.
  • Scanability. I really like that Usborne brought up the idea of scanning social media feeds, because it is vitally important that people can process your headline quickly while scanning feeds and streams of information. Just think about how you swim through those waters.
  • Searchability. In the end, concise keyword-driven headlines will improve your search engine results, which can bring in significant traffic over time. Search engines like Google look to the headlines and subheads first, and they put more weight on the first 50-70 characters (even more concise than Twitter).

How to write effective headlines

Writing effective headlines is part art and part craft. I can't help with the art, because that's something unique to each of us. However, I can help with the craft. Here are my four tips.
  1. Consider your main idea. Each post should have a main idea or point. If you have several main ideas or points, then you probably have several blog posts. Break them up. Your headline should communicate your main idea or point.
  2. Think keywords. There's a great free tool for figuring out good keywords to include in your posts that is used mainly advertisers for Google's AdWords program. All you do is enter your possible headline and see if people are searching on it. The best titles have high monthly searches with low competition. But sometimes, you're just not going to find that combo--so just do the best you can.
  3. Think short. This is the main point of this post. When you're creating that killer blog post title, keep it short. Usborne suggests the first 5 words are the most important; when looking back over my top 5 posts of all time on this blog, they communicate their main idea within the first 6 words.
  4. Spend time on the headline. This might be the most important tip. Don't just dash off the first headline that pops in your head--or even the second headline. Spend at least 5 minutes thinking about the blog post title. It could mean the difference between whether people read your post or not.

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Check out previous Not Bob posts for writers:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Advice for Writers: 021

Before getting into this week's advice for writers, I just wanted to point you in the direction of an interview featuring me on conducted by Brian Klems (click here to view). You can check that out first or just jump straight into the advice below.

7 Steps to Launching Your Next Big Project, by Michael Hyatt. The steps laid out by Hyatt seem pretty true to what I go through whenever launching big projects. For instance, I always stress laying out a goal from the very beginning, because it helps you focus.

2 Ways to Make the Most of Goodreads, by Jane Friedman. If I didn't have a pocketful of excuses, I'd spend more time on Goodreads, because I've heard more than a few success stories from writers who do. Luckily, Friedman does not have pockets (or excuses) and shares a few ways to make the site work for writer goals.

You Can Do This, by Rachelle Gardner. A nice pep talk from literary agent Gardner as the publishing landscape continues to shift in dramatic ways. You can do this.

Stewarding Your Career and Your Agent, by Greg Johnson. Jumping from one literary agent to another, Johnson shares some tips on how to get attention from agents and work well with them.

How I Became a More Productive Writer by Doing This One, Simple Thing, by Carol Tice. While this isn't how I usually work, I have employed this strategy with great success in the past. After reading this post, I may use try it more consistently in the future.


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Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Poetic Saturdays: As the Sun Set in the Forest

This week, I tried my hand at a new type of poetry form: the quatern. It's a French form that uses a refrain (imagine that!), but has no set iambic or rhyme scheme. The lines should have eight syllables, which is like a triolet. Anyway, it was fun.

as the sun set in the forest, by Robert Lee Brewer

as the sun set in the forest,
she slipped out of her slip. she left
it on a branch and then asked me
to follow. her bells became stars.

when the boomerang moon melted,
as the sun set in the forest,
her trail went cold. i tried to find
which way but only the raven

knows. the moon caught a glimpse of sun
but shadow clouds surrounded her
as the sun set. in the forest,
there was nothing i could explain.

she was naked and i was scared
of not having her promises,
not that i could ever keep them,
as the sun set in the forest.


Newer Book:

by Denise Duhamel (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Maybe the best book to present with a new (to me anyway) form is Denise Duhamel's Ka-Ching! It doesn't include a quatern, but it does play with forms, including 10 prose poems in the form of play money, eBay sonnets, a sestina to Sean Penn, and that's just the first 22 pages (seriously). I first became a fan of Duhamel's after reading Queen for a Day (Pittsburgh), because she had an instantly lovable voice. This collection combines that captivating voice with a poetic playfulness that will left me saying, "Ka-ching!"


Poems Found Online:
  • Oh Summer, Look, by Clifford Hunt from Mudlark
  • 5 Poems, by Angie Macri from Escape Into Life
  • Message, by Sandra Kohler from The Pedestal Magazine
  • The Canal, by Brian Simoneau from Hobble Creek Review
  • 5 Poems, by Jill Jones from Otoliths

Older Book:

Settling Down
by Ira Sadoff (Houghton Mifflin)

"A change comes over me. / My wife and I no longer speak." So begins the title and introductory poem to this collection, which was a used book store find a while back. I'd never heard of Sadoff before this collection, but Settling Down is brilliant. I can't even pick a favorite poem, because every line seems so important and stripped to the bone. For instance, "Everything was barren before I met you. / I could hardly use a napkin, wash my face. / Who knew the difference between a fork / and a plate? So you taught me how to speak / and I didn't have to move my lips," is how "Love Poem for Imperialists" begins, and as with all of these poems I just want to settle down and read on.


Note: Links in this post to books are affiliate links. However, I do not mention these books to make a profit. They are either books I'm connected to or ones I truly love. All other links in this post are not affiliate links.


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Check out previous Poetic Saturdays posts:

Friday, February 17, 2012

How Writers Can Benefit From a Publishing Internship

My career at F+W Media (then F&W Publishing) began as an unpaid intern during the middle of my senior year at the University of Cincinnati. I was basically forced to get a 10-week internship to earn my Professional Writing certificate. In my case, it was the best thing that ever happened to my career. I ended up working my dream job as the editor of Writer's Market and have been on the front lines of watching the publishing industry convert into the media industry.

As a result, I'm pleased that Dianna L. Gunn proposed writing up two posts on internships (the other is due out in the beginning of March) for the Not Bob blog. If you're not familiar with her already, Gunn is a young writer, student, blogger, and intern. She writes primarily fantasy--both short and long--and she blogs in the hopes of helping other writers along the same journey on her site, She can usually be found hiding somewhere in the west end of Toronto with a big mug of chocolate milk and an endless list of intern duties.

Dianna L. Gunn on a bridge. Photo credit: Alex Kennedy.

After reading the title of this post, you might be wondering what an intern is. Interns—at least in most creative fields of work—are the unpaid grunts who make coffee for the creative geniuses, give them occasional feedback on their ideas, photocopy their scripts and generally do their dirty work. Rather than getting paid, they offer all these services for the ability to work with said creative geniuses and to get their foot in the door of a competitive industry.

You might, of course, be thinking that all these intern folks are crazy. After all, why would anybody want to run around making someone else's coffee and photocopies for free?

Well, I've been an intern for Musa Publishing since late September, and I've been working on our eMagazine Penumbra since late October. Of course, I'd love to get paid, but I've found interning with Musa to be one of the most educational experiences of my young lifetime and, quite frankly, to be a lot of fun. It's all online so I don't make anyone's coffee—probably a good thing because I don't drink it and I imagine if I made it it would taste awful—and I've learned so much.

What are some of the great things I've learned or experienced since I became an intern for Musa?
First off, I've learned a lot about how publishing works. A lot of the things I've encountered—long speeches in our e-mail group about respecting editors, for example—are things I kind of knew in theory but am now directly learning from the wonderful Musa staff. When I was just starting out, I read a couple of submitted novels. I learned that they really aren't lying when they talk about those beautiful stories just riddled with basic errors or about the stories that sound too much like everything else on the market.

Since I've been working specifically on Penumbra, I've learned a lot about what it takes to make a magazine run. I've had the privilege to read many amazing stories in our final rounds of publication, and I've seen first hand what it takes to get into a speculative fiction magazine—because no matter how different our magazine is from the norm, I assure you that our Editorial Director, Celina, demands excellence in everything we do.

Almost more important than the things I've actually learned are the friends I've made and relationships I've formed. Since joining up with Musa, I've had the opportunity to meet and interview over a dozen great authors, most of them on my blog and a couple for Penumbra itself. I've had a lot of fun interviewing them and I've made a few friends along the way. One of Musa's authors has even offered to read and give me an opinion on the next draft of my Novel of a Thousand Drafts.

The Musa team is really something special. My internship is based solely online, but I still feel like these people are my family. It's been great working with and getting to know our ED, our marketing director, and all the other interns.

So why should writers consider internships in the publishing industry?
Because it's a learning experience. Because you can make great friends who love the same things you do. Most importantly, because an internship is a great way to start or build your writing career—after all, a writer can never know too much about the publishing industry or have too many friends in it.


If you think you have a great blog post idea, click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Raise Your Hand: Overcoming the Fear of Failure

Yesterday, I made a big mistake on MNINB. I had a typo, spelling "loose" as "lose" for the title of the post. In fact, you'll notice the URL for that post is now permanently "lose." I totally dropped the ball, and my day job title is Senior Content Editor. Ugh!

Lose or loose? I can learn (and sometimes) fix my failures online.

Around the same time the mistake was brought to my attention yesterday, I was also suffering through a stomach bug that gave me a fever and knocked me out last night. But one of the last things I did before throwing in the towel last night was to fix that typo. I just had to.

Raise Your Hand If You Know the Answer
Back in my school days, I was pretty smart, but I had a confidence problem. My tests almost always came back with perfect grades. On standardized tests, my scores were always high. The only knock on my grades was usually due to my slacker attitude when it came to homework.

That said, I usually knew the answer whenever teachers would inevitably prompt, "Raise your hand if you know the answer." But I wouldn't raise my hand.

My reason was simple: I thought I knew the answer, but what if I was actually wrong. What if everyone laughed at me?

Overcoming the Fear of Failure
Sometimes, my fear of failure keeps me from finding success. The teacher asks who knows the answer and someone else raises their hand moments after I could've--if I'd been brave. Or I don't make a blog post, because I'm afraid the topic might not be received well. Or I don't suggest an idea at work, because people might think it's crazy.

Many people deal with these fears. Maybe it's because we're all trying to be exceptional while still fitting in with everyone else. We might not find success at what we love, but at least, we don't have to go through the process of facing failure or rejection.

Over the years--and it's been tough (with much backsliding)--I've found the courage to go for it, despite the possibility of failure. Just over the past five years, I can see there have been a number of failures. But I've found far more successes than I would've ever dreamed when I was that young boy thinking of raising his hand, but ultimately not doing so.

If you're struggling to find the courage to try something new or amazing, what's holding you back? Don't be afraid to raise your hand.


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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

When All Hell Broke Loose, and I Got My Life Back (Life Changing Moments Series)

I first met Christina Katz at a Writer's Digest Conference in New York City. In fact, her room was next door to the one I shared with WD trade book editor Scott Francis. She's not only smart and inspirational, but she's also very nice. By the way, I'll be speaking with Christina and Jane Friedman in a few weeks at the 2012 AWP Conference in Chicago. So in addition to being cool, Christina writes books, coaches writers, and follows her creative instincts. Before she started writing productively, it took her a decade to find her creative center and learn how to direct it wisely and prosperously. During that time, some days were more challenging than others. This is a story about one of those days. Learn more at

Christina Katz in the mid-90s

Like most people, I have had many life-changing moments. But probably the biggest was the time I was not sure I could go on living. My despair wasn't sparked by the loss of a job, a dramatic breakup, or a major humiliation, although, I've had my fair share of those. My life-changing moment occurred in a high-rise apartment building community room in Chicago in the fall of 1996, where I was attending a small, all-day meditation workshop.

The first thing that might be hard to accept is the idea that Chicago, Illinois is a spiritual place. I am not sure about the cause and effect of how so many spiritual communities and teachers were attracted to Chicago in the first place. But when you consider the city's reputation as Carl Sandburg described it in his poem "Chicago," "Stormy, husky, brawling / City of Big Shoulders," it makes perfect sense that a more spiritual feminine energy would spiral up to balance out the grid-like, mundane, masculine grind you can feel bearing down on you in the windy city's downtown.

There's a surface to Chicago and then there's a depth to Chicago. There was a surface and a depth to my life back then, as well. By day, I worked as the assistant to a real estate entrepreneur who had lost almost everything in the early nineties recession and was plotting his comeback in a small office in Streeterville. By night and by weekend, I spent my time dabbling in the esoteric arts in my violet-walled bedroom at the top of a spiral staircase in a Wrigleyville coach house with a roommate, who worked at REI, and her Siberian Husky, Harley.

When All Hell Broke Loose
These were the spiritual topics in which I was fairly well-versed at the time: Astrology, Tarot, Reiki, Shamanism, Angels, Past-life Regression, Kriya Yoga, the 12 Steps, Living In Process, The Artist’s Way, Jungian Psychology, Art Therapy, The Divine Feminine, Feng shui, Mythology, and Divination.

You might have thought, with all this esoteric dabbling, that I'd be ready for some type of enlightenment experience. But I wasn't. I was about as prepared as the female New Age version of Forrest Gump doe-doe-dodying my way along from spiritual experience to spiritual experience. I always wanted more and there was always a steady stream of workshops or retreats or presentations to attend.

This would probably be a good time to discuss what I mean by spiritual experience. One of the definitions of enlightenment is a fundamentally changed consciousness whereby everything is perceived as a unity. That sounds really neat and tidy, but it's not really communicating the terror of having your consciousness suddenly and radically wiped clean and then being thrust right back into your normal, everyday life.

It was there, at the all-day meditation workshop, when I broke through the veil without trumpets blowing or fanfare. I just popped right through in my mind's eye while my physical body sat, cross-legged, in a community room in a Chicago high rise staring at a point on the wall. And that's when all hell broke loose, so to speak. But actually it was quite the opposite. It was the day I got my life back.

The Curtain Came Down
What happened is that all of my everything—my life, my world, my personal history—was obliterated in the span of a moment. Just gone. Completely shattered and replaced by what I was experiencing. And it wasn't just bright white light, like we always get in the movies. I mean it was somewhat like that, but that image really pales in comparison to the actual feeling. It's more the positive equivalent of a nuclear bomb and equally as annihilating.

Ka-boom! And you are done. Next?

Beyond that there were none of the usual clichés. There was no white-bearded old man pointing a finger at me. There were no picturesque choirs of angels lifting me up. No dramatic Last Supper images like you see in stained glass windows. I distinctly did not hear a movie soundtrack crescendo in the background.

Instead, the crescendo was silently going on inside of my every cell. All of my senses felt like they would burst from overuse. I perceived everything. There it was, all at once, burning hot ecstatic white without any sign of ever waning or running out. I felt like I would implode from my own incredulity.

The enormity of what I was taking in at once is unworthy of words. Words cheapen the experience in every way. And then BAM! Before you know it, it's over, because these kinds of things never last very long. The door closed. The curtain came down. We were moving on in the workshop to the next exercise. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position of that community room and never get up. I wanted to lie there until I melted from decay. The unbearable heaviness of living was suddenly pushing down on me like it only has when I have been deathly ill. Somehow I went through the motions of being present for the rest of the workshop, which was thankfully beginning to wrap up.

24 Hours to Live or Die
There is a bargaining period of about 24 hours, when you are keenly aware that the power to be there and not here is quite possibly in your hands. But instead of contemplating my own power to end my life, which I would never do, I spent most of my time on wishful thinking. Hoping beyond hope that I would go to sleep and be there, or that I would go to sleep and never wake up, because I would be dead, and then I would be there.

I have never wished for anything as much as I wished to just be done with all of this. And I felt angry that I would be given such a tiny taste of the infinite only to have it all yanked away so quickly and abruptly. I was furious. Enraged. Who the hell thought that this was a good idea?

Of course, it was me, all along, who thought it sounded like a good idea. And as soon as you realize this, you can really curse yourself up and down and back and forth for a good long while. In the meantime, you do what you have to do to carry on until you can, Humpty-Dumpty like, pick up all the pieces of your consciousness and pull them back together.

On that day, I did what I had to do, which was get my coat and my hat and my scarf and my bag, and stagger home through the cold, loud, blustering, jackhammer-obsessed city that is Chicago. First down to the subway, then up to the El train, and then, after what seemed like a lifetime, I was finally home.


If you think you have a great life changing moment to share (and you probably have several), click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


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Check out previous posts from the Life Changing Moments Series:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

3 Tips on How to Get Published if You're a Writer

As the editor of and several Market Books, I know entire books are dedicated to the subject of getting published. Plus, there are plenty more that are aimed at helping writers make money from their writing (which isn't exclusive to getting published).

For more on getting published, check out the WD
Squidoo page on How to Get Published.

That said, there are three tips that will significantly improve any writer's chances of getting published, whether they're writing a book, magazine article, or blog post.
  1. Figure out query letters. I actually wrote a piece on query letters for a Squidoo page put together by the Writer's Digest team on how to get published. For me, the most important elements are focusing your pitch, keeping it concise, and sending it to the right person--all without raising red flags on yourself.
  2. Build a writing platform. Whether you're self-publishing your work or find traditional publication is a better fit, writers in the 21st Century need a platform to find their audience. There are many ways to build a writing platform--and not all of them involve social media (believe it or not).
  3. Be motivated. All the talent in the world is not going to write your manuscript for you or pitch agents for you or keep records (of submissions, payments, deadlines, etc.) for you. All the hard work of being a successful writer, whether freelance, staff, or self-published, comes from being motivated. If you need to, listen to this song (just don't watch the video, because it's kind of goofy) whenever your motivation starts to dip.
Yes, there are a million other tips out there that will help writers get published, including working on the craft. But like I said above, talent will only get a writer so far. Beyond that, writers need to dedicate themselves to business end of getting published.


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Check out these other Not Bob posts for writers: