Friday, September 23, 2011

Blogging and Social Media: Principles in Action

Last week, I attended some professional blog training sponsored by my company in preparation to launch a new blog in November. The speaker was Bernie Borges, professional author, speaker and social media specialist. The half day training session gave me a lot of information to absorb and made me think to myself: Why wait until November to give some of these ideas a try when I can see how they work with my personal blog?

The first idea I wanted to test was that of commenting on posts from blogs of similar topics to raise your own blog’s credibility. So, I scrolled through the list of blogs that I follow and landed on a headline called Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers At Page One posted by Kristen Skunza at

That sounded like an interesting title to me, so I clicked on the link and discovered the article was for a book review. The book’s title immediately grabbed my eye, reminding me of another principle that Borges spoke about: the importance of visuals. Talk about a book cover that scores high marks for visual appeal: A bright blue watery backdrop puts the focus on a sole goldfish eyeing a small shiny hook – right underneath the title HOOKED in a crisp serif font.

By the end of Skunza’s review, I found myself making my way over to Amazon to add the book to my wish list.

That’s when I scrolled down to the reviews. The first review stopped me. The title read “Not So Great” and only gave the book 2 stars. Intrigued, I started reading.

The reviewer gave a thoughtful, in-depth explanation for the poor review, and by the time I finished reading the exposé, I decided not to add the book to my wish list after all.

That’s when I realized that I had just put into action another principle that Borges had discussed: the power of peers on our decisions in the age of social media. The irony of the situation is that these peers, sometimes referred to as “friends,” are people we will probably never meet, and yet we value their opinions because they share a common perspective. In this case, the reviewer and I shared the commonality of consumers – we both want to spend our money on something of value.

That’s not to say that the reviewer is necessarily “right”; I may thoroughly enjoy the book. What’s significant is that I may never buy the book in the first place, because of the reviewer’s opinion.

As I wrap up this exercise, a final principle specific to blogging comes to mind: conclude each post with a call to action. Borges clarified that the call to action doesn’t have to be of heroic proportions. It just needs to involve the reader.

So here it is: The next time you’re online, ask yourself how you’re influencing and being influenced by social media. The answer may surprise you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Defeating the Writing Dull Drums, Part 2: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

As we saw last time, finding a physical activity to recharge our creativity and put our day job behind us is important to writing on a disciplined basis.
In addition to daily booster charges, we also need to look for opportunities that afford the chance to gain a new perspective – and new writing material.
This summer, I went to Nicaragua with a team of amazing, diverse people from my church Spring Hill Baptist Church and two other like-minded churches. Our three churches partnered with Chosen Children Ministries to go to Nicaragua and support their national team in any way we could.
Going on a mission trip will ultimately challenge your definition of what relying on God means – and open your eyes to see all the blessings we have back home. On a less serious note, it will also teach you that flexibility is essential and new experiences are not optional.
Be warned that you may not enjoy all of them. During the course of the week, I tried goat cheese and soggy plantains. I’m not going to sugarcoat: I strongly disliked them both.
I also learned how to communicate Christ’s love to people through an interpreter, explain games with a limited knowledge of Spanish, mix mortar, and organize crafts without tables, chairs and the smallest semblance of structure. And yet, I can’t even begin to explain how energy and enthusiasm soar – and yet they do! – even when air conditioning means pushing down the windows and roommates include ants, lizzards and roaches (thankfully, no bed bugs).
Going to Nicaragua is a big commitment and something that requires months of planning. The trip definitely challenged my comfort zone and introduced me to an abundant number of new experiences.
However, you don’t have to jump continents or cross language barriers to challenge your comfort zone. Little steps and decisions, like volunteering or trying something you don’t think you’ll necessarily enjoy, can afford the same kind of eye-opening results.
Challenge yourself to break out of your routine – maybe once a week or at least one a month. You may find the experience to be like my encounter with goat cheese: pungent and repulsive. Regardless whether you decide to go back for seconds, the experience will have taught you something about yourself and perhaps given you new inspiration for writing material.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Defeating the Writing Dull Drums, Part 1: Get Out of Your Cubicle

If you’re like me, you spend 40 hours a week in an office, working at a computer. For most writers, the art of writing alone doesn’t pay the bills (at least not initially), so we keep other jobs to support ourselves. The rhythm of a steady job can be comfortable and enjoyable. However, the repetition can also become mind-numbing.
After staring at a computer most of the day, the last thing I often feel like doing is sitting down in front of my laptop and writing. My day job has exhausted the creativity of a fresh mind, and I feel as though I’m in the “dull drums” – my analogy for writer’s block.
Self-starting writers realize that discipline is essential if their writing career is going to clear the runway. But the question remains: How do we keep ourselves motivated? How do we peel back the glaze from tired eyes and press through the mental fatigue?
Getting out of the cubicle is the first step. It’s not just the physical relocation of your body; it’s the mental reorientation your mind. Coming home, turning on the TV and being a couch potato is not the solution.
Find a physical hobby that can stimulate your energy and help shake off the lethargy. I like to take a bike ride around my neighborhood or sit down at the piano to practice. You many enjoy playing a few games of tennis or shooting basketball hoops. Sometimes, we have to settle for mowing the lawn or making the best of our household chores.
Whatever the task, it needs to help refocus your energy so that you shake off the cubicle mentality and arouse your creativity. Then, you can return to your desk less mentally fatigued and more focused on what you are truly passionate about: writing.
Next time, we’ll look at how getting out of your comfort zone can give you a new perspective and some fresh ideas for writing.

Monday, September 5, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Promote Your Book by Writing Your Own Press Release

Being self-published holds its fair share of challenges. One question that often comes to mind: How can I self-promote my book without spending a lot of money?

Free press release services are a good place to start. Having a "professional" write your press release can cost you over a hundred dollars, so therein lies a motivation to write your own.

Type in “How to Write a Press Release” in your search engine, and you’ll find dozens of articles full of samples and tips. That being the case, I am not going to repeat how to write a press release.

However, if you’re looking for a place to get started, I’d like to recommend an article I found helpful when writing my first press release. In her post on The Writer’s Edge blog called “The Nuts and Bolts of Writing a Press Release,” Paula Margulies outlines key points for writing a good press release for your book.

To summarize, your press release should contain the following:
1.   First line: Your press release should begin with the words “For Immediate Release,” followed by the full date (month, day, year). 
2.   Headline: Think of the headline as the title of your press release. It should state in as few words as possible what is most interesting or exciting about your book.
3.   First Paragraph: Begin with the city and state where the content of your release is taking place, followed by the author's name, "hook" for your book and ISBN. Use active voice, and answer the 5 W’s. In short, give people a reason to want to keep reading.
4.   Informational paragraph: Provide a general summary and setting for your book.
5.   Quote (optional)
6.   Brief biography

There are dozens of free distribution sites available, but the one I’ve found easy to use is

You simply have to create a user name and password to set up your account and opt for the “free” service. (Of course, you can upgrade for a fee.) Once you have submitted your press release, it is easy and painless to edit it and view the number of hits.

So far, I’ve used this service to submit two press releases on my book Wings of the Dawn, Book 1. If you’re looking for some press release samples, you might be interested in these two:

If you are willing to invest some time and thought, you'll be able to write your own press release and use services like to self-promote your book without spending a dime.