3 Productivity Tips I’m Going To Try

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. tomorrow (!!!!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

[UPDATE: I just realised, a couple of hours after I posted this, that I forgot to mention something kinda important. Today, 1 February 2017, is this blog’s 7th birthday! Yes, seven years ago today, 1 February 2010, catherineryanhoward.com was born. Time flies when you’re a very sporadic blogger. Thanks for hanging around!]

Guys, it’s the penultimate day of the DS Blogging Bonanza! Distress Signals will be out in the U.S.A. in hardcover, e-book and audio in mere hours.

In a few weeks’ time, Book 2 will (hopefully) be ready to move to the editing stage which means it’ll be time for me to get started on – GASP – Book 3. The problem is that (a) I just had a completely self-induced nightmare binge-writing the last draft of Book 2, which is something I never want to repeat again and (b) right around Book 3 Getting Started Time, I’ll have 3 x 5,000 university assignments due and an exam to study for as well. I want to be organised, relaxed and on a normal person’s sleep schedule, while also getting s–t done. There’s no point, I think, trying to change habits or implement new ones while there’s a deadline looming – now is the time to do it, pre-emptively.  So here’s a few productivity tips and ideas I’ve come across that I’m going to try…

DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN

I’ve blogged about this before, but since when I do it I find it really works, I thought it was worth mentioning again. Don’t break the chain works something like this:

  1. Get yourself a calendar, wall planner or at least something that has a box for every day, and hang it somewhere prominent
  2. Commit to writing a doable amount of words every day, e.g. 500
  3. Every day you do this, put a big red cross in the corresponding box
  4. Do this every day for at least few days and—
  5. Ta-daa! You have a chain. Now, don’t break it.

Tip: it is immensely satisfying to start this on the first of the month, on a gleaming, clean new page of a month-to-a-view calendar. I have my lovely new Parisian Life calendar all ready to go.

HAVE A CHANGE OF SCENERY

I really find it difficult to write anywhere except at home but at the same time, I realise this is just a habit. And this isn’t always a good thing, because although it’s lovely and quiet where I live, my coffee machine, Netflix and about 831 other distractions live there too.

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Do you know where this is? It’s the Swan and Dolphin! Well, the Dolphin technically – the resort where I used to work in Walt Disney World

The good news is that there’s about that many coffee shops within a twenty minute walk of my place too. This article on StylistForget working from home: coffee shops are the key to freelance success – is really food for thought. I think there’s a lot to be said for getting dressed, getting out of the house and ‘going to work’, even if it is just you and your computer in a different spot.

UNPLUGGING (A BIT)

Late one night I was watching TV with one eye on Facebook. In my absentminded scrolling, I spotted a link that said something like If you’re reading this, you’re probably depressed. Catchy title, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it piqued my interested so I clicked…

And read with horror about how the author of the piece was horrified about the fact that the average teenager spends 61 minutes on social networks a day.

Um… 61 minutes?

A day?

Dude, I start my day with 61 minutes on social media! I’ve usually clocked that during the several post-snooze, pre-alarm interludes I enjoy before I get out of bed.

Now I am not one of these people who goes on a complete digital detox for the sole purpose of returning to Twitter to smugly announce its conclusion a week or month later. Blackouts are not the answer – and they’re not practical for me. I need email, Twitter, Facebook and my blog for work, and I need the internet for college stuff and, you know, online stationery shopping (!). I don’t think the presence of the internet is the problem anyway. I think it’s that my attention span is shot.

Rather than avoid the internet, I think I just need to contain it more. Here’s three ways I think you could do this:

  • Delete all e-mail and social media apps from your phone. I have to admit, this makes me feel a bit nervous. I’m not sure about the e-mail, because I use e-mail like telephone calls and text messages, and I don’t let the idea of being out of contact all day if I’m out and about. But Twitter and Facebook? They can definitely go. Instagram really only works on your phone, but I don’t use that anywhere near as much as the others anyway.
  • Put devices out of reach. To give you an example: I am currently watching the TV while writing this post, and my phone is on the couch with me. Once I put the laptop away, I’ll have the phone in my hand. That’s just terrible, isn’t it?
  • Re-think bedtimes. The last thing I do before I go to bed is check that my alarm is set for the next morning – but it’s on my phone, so that usually means I do a quick social media account check as well. And the first thing I do when I wake up is turn off that alarm, and then… Well, you get the idea. I don’t think it’s too bad in the morning, but it can’t be good going to bed with blue light and tweets in your head, especially with all that’s going on in the world at the moment. So: must stop this.

What do you think? Are there any productivity tips, tricks or books that you think are good? Let me know in the comments below.

Join me tomorrow for the last day of this mayhem which will include a video blog and me picking a winner for a special, signed hardcover ARC of Distress Signals. Anyone who left a comment on any post published here since January 5 is eligible to win. If you haven’t entered yet, just leave a comment on this post. One entry per post. Open globally.

See you tomorrow!

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Social Media for Publishers

This day last week I was in Dublin, talking to publishers (scary!) about how to use social media to help promote their books, and why they should. The lovely Stephanie of Publishing Ireland, who organized the seminar, wrote a blog post about it for the Publishing Ireland site, and she’s kindly let me re-post it here so non-Publishing Ireland members can read it.

Come back Monday for my thoughts on the horrifying disconnect between what ‘social media’ actually is and what some publishers/some self-publishers think it is, and more about disused and dusty treadmills… (It’ll all make sense, trust me!)

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Yes, even my Power Point presentations are pink. 

Social Media is Just Like a Treadmill Really!

Blaming social media for not coming through is like blaming an unused treadmill, said Catherine Ryan Howard, author, marketeer and social media guru extraordinaire last Friday as she explained the inevitable question of whether or not social media actually helps sell more books. ‘This is a question I get asked a lot’, she said, ‘and the answer is that it absolutely does!’ ‘Having twitter, not using it right and then blaming it for not boosting your sales is like having a treadmill, not using it and blaming it for not losing any weight!’

Social Media for Publishers kicked off last Friday with a motley crew encompassing every sector from digital projects to marketing and editorial as social media guru Catherine Ryan Howard took us through the do’s and don’ts of how to sell your books through social media.

From the inescapable growth of Facebook and Goodreads to newer kid on the block Pinterest (which is by the way the fastest growing social network ever), Catherine offered a practical and no-holes barred approach to making your books more ‘discovereable’- a word which Catherine herself admits a certain hatred of!

Among the key points to take away from the session were simple and time-effective ways to use social media tools- and the right tools!, setting the right tone for your message, and, most importantly, accepting the fact that social media, in whatever tool it comes under is here to stay!

The seminar was very helpful and informative. Catherine’s lively and engaging presentation was excellent; she helped to dispel a lot of misconceptions about social media and provided very useful examples of how different elements/formats of social media are particularly applicable to publishing and, if utilised appropriately, can have a positive impact to create engagement with the book buyers we want to appeal to.’ —Helena King, Assistant Editor, Royal Irish Academy

‘The seminar was extremely relevant- Catherine was articulate and very engaging!’ — Kitty Lyddon, Manager, Assistant Editor at The Lilliput Press

Missed this one? Never mind, we have more seminars coming up in the series over the next couple of weeks. Keep an eye out for our next sessions on Fiction Editing with Rachel Pierce on 10 and 17 May. For more information, go to the Publishing Ireland website or email stephanie@publishingireland.com.

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Thanks Stephanie! While we’re on the subject of me telling people things, if you have attended one of my talks or workshops, didn’t find it completely awful/a total snoozefest and would consider writing a little endorsement like the quotes above, please write a few lines and send it to me via the Contact page. It’s for a secret summer project of mine… (Oooh, mysterious!)

On another related note, I will be talking self-publishing at the Guardian’s Getting Your Book Published Masterclass in London on June 15-16. Details here

You can also follow Stephanie on Twitter here, and Publishing Ireland on Twitter here. To get new posts in your inbox look for the subscribe button over here —> and probably up a bit. 

Have a good weekend! 

How To Get People To Read Your Blog

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Following on from The Author Platform: Are You Being Cautious… Or Just Lazy?, a few readers commented that they’d like to know more about how to go from blogging into the void, i.e. me three years ago, to having ten thousand followers and 25-30k views a month, i.e. me today.

I’ve avoided doing this thus far because I don’t think you’re going to like my answer. It’s:

  1. Write good blog posts
  2. Don’t over-think it
  3. Wait.

That’s it.

(Sorry!)

Write Good Blog Posts

I tell writers considering self-publishing that the first thing they should do is make sure their book is good, because there’s really no point doing anything else unless it is. When I use good in this way I don’t mean the ‘Oh, the Booker prize judges said that book was really good’ because that’s mostly subjective and we all like different things. I mean good as in has appeal. As in someone else is going to want to read this. Lots of someone elses, preferably.

The problem is that we all think someone is going to want to read what we’ve written. I mean, of course they are. Why wouldn’t they? We’re fascinating! But in the real world, that’s just not the case.

So this is where I tell you how to write blog posts people want to read, right? I really can’t do that. We’re not talking about a checklist, or a template, or a recipe of keywords and search topics that has been proven to work for others. You can either do it or you can’t. Like writing books, I believe you can learn to do it better, but ultimately you can either do it or you can’t.

It’s the same with all aspects of social media: you either are the type of person who does it well, or you’re not. If you’re the former, you can learn some tips that’ll help you improve, and you might pick up a few tricks that make your use of it more effective, but if you’re the kind of person who hates the idea of tweeting, thinks Facebook is for teenagers and has their blog posts set to private, then I can’t help you.

Let’s just all cut the crap and admit this, once and for all.

The only good things about the Irish version of The Voice are what Bressie, one of the judges, looks like, and what Eoghan McDermott, one of the presenters, says. A couple of weeks ago he told the contestants, “remember, if you don’t get through… it’s because you weren’t good enough.”

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Behold: The Bressie.

Continue reading

The Author Platform: Are You Being Cautious, Or Just Lazy?

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Welcome to the last post of Mousetrapped Madness Week!

Three years ago last Friday I self-published my first book, Mousetrapped, and set off on this misadventure. To mark the occasion I’ve made a hardcover edition of Mousetrapped, and if you leave a comment on this post by midnight tonight, Tuesday April 2nd, you might win a signed copy of it. (OR you can have a copy of Self-Printed 2.0, if you prefer.) If you really want to win you can increase your chances by leaving a comment on every Mousetrapped Madness post I’ve posted (that’s all the ones that have gone up since Friday and make some mention of the Mousetrapped giveaway), but only one comment per post will count.

Today is also the last day you can download Backpacked for Kindle for free.

While I’m on the subject, someone on the Mousetrapped Facebook page asked if there’s anywhere you can see pictures from my Central America trip. Well, my lovelies, there IS. Here, AKA The Backpacked Gallery. There’s a gallery for Mousetrapped too. Count the many hairstyles of Catherine’s Past…

Anyway, onto today’s post.

‘Tis the season of speaking engagements, when I get to crawl out of my writing cave and see what’s happening in the 3D real world of self-publishing. One thing, I’ve noticed, never changes.

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One of my favorite spots in the world, the rocking chairs by Celebration Lake in the “town that Disney built”, Celebration, Florida. It’s okay to be lazy on these. It’s mandatory, actually.

There’s always an exchange that goes something like this: Continue reading

Social Media for Authors: [Groan] Do I HAVE To?

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This week I read a really interesting interview with Gillian Flynn’s agent, Stephanie Rostan, about whether or not social media sells books.

Gillian Flynn, if you’re not familiar, is the author of the fantastic Gone Girl, frequent topper of bestseller lists worldwide and soon to be a movie David Fincher is rumored to be directing and Flynn herself is currently writing the screenplay for. (She’s also the author of Sharp Objects and Dark Places, which are even better than Gone Girl, I think.) According to Publishers Weekly, Flynn was one of the top 3 bestselling authors in the US last year, but she neither tweets nor blogs, and although her website looks cool, it’s only occasionally updated with book news and events.

So if one of 2012’s biggest selling authors has never as much as read a tweet (let’s just presume), let alone composed one, why is the internet full of people—me included—saying that if you want to sell books, social media is the way to do it?

Because, like, it takes AGES.

And it doesn’t always work.

And anyway we just want to WRITE.

If you write full-time, do it sitting down and like to reward yourself with calorific treats, then you may have a problem with the expansion rate of your arse. (I know I do.) Let’s say you do, and let’s say you want to shrink it. The internet says this will involve exercising, eating less, eating only pretend food (with labels that say “Now With a New, Improved Taste!”), drinking gallons of boring water a day, switching from caramel lattes to black coffee and getting used to the constant sound of your stomach growling. But you have a writing friend who eats only Big Macs, drinks only melted Ben & Jerry’s, snacks on butter-coated cubes of lard and writes in bed, lying down, and she hasn’t gained a pound since 1997. Do you look at her, look back at your diet plan and say with a groan, “But do I HAVE to?”

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“But I just want to WRITE!”

Of course you don’t, because you know that your friend’s metabolism is obviously an implant from an abduction experience she must have had when she was kidnapped for a night by an advanced alien race during her teenage years, and that while she can scoff Big Macs without gaining weight, you only have to glance in the general direction of a McDonald’s and your jeans start to feel tight. The same goes for waking up looking like Cindy Crawford. She just has to wake up, because looking like Cindy Crawford comes naturally to her. You, on the other hand, probably need some Touche Eclat and a blusher brush. (Again, I know I do.) And Gillian Flynn is traditionally published with two extremely well-received books already under her belt, Gone Girl was readily available on the just-inside-the-door shelves of all major bookstores in the countries it was published in, and it was positively reviewed in the New York Times, Time, The New Yorker, Publisher’s Weekly, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly and People magazine, just to name a few.

So does Gillian Flynn have to tweet?

Hell no.

Do you?

Yes, probably. Because you have to do what you have to do.

Now I’m not talking literally about tweeting, specifically, but of course you are going to have to get off your butt and do whatever you can to help sell copies of your book, and yes, that includes using social media. You have to do what you have to do. Yes, we all know of examples of self-published authors who don’t tweet or blog or use Facebook as much as we do, and they’ve sold truckloads more than us. But so bloody what? This is like the whole “JK Rowling is self-publishing” thing again. She may be, but what’s it got to do with you? Nothing, unless you are also a billionaire from your book sales, had eight movies break box office records and there’s a large section of Universal Studios devoted to the characters you created.

We all want to “just write”. But you’ll never be able to just write if what you write doesn’t bring money in, because then you’ll have to spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week doing something other than writing. You’ll only make money by selling books, and the first step in selling a book is to inform a potential reader than it exists.

For a self-published author, social media is the only gateway to a global audience that doesn’t charge a toll.

So yes, I think you have to.

At least until you’re on the bookstore shelves and reviewed in The New Yorker, anyway.

(And FYI, I discovered Flynn long before Gone Girl was even announced. I heard about Sharp Objects, looked it up, ordered it online and after devouring it, got Dark Places too. I never came across her in a bookshop or read a review in print media until Gone Girl was released, so how was it that I heard about her in the first place?

Oh, yeah. A Twitter friend was reading it and mentioned it online. So THROUGH A TWEET.)

My New Favorite Twitter Thing: Buffer

The observant among you may have noticed that in the past week I’ve been uncharacteristically tweeting at all sorts of times, e.g. very early in the GMT morning/very late in the EST night. Have I cut out my beloved sport of regular napping? No. Have I suddenly fell victim to insomnia? Chance would be a fine thing. Has my almost total immunity to caffeine undone itself? I wish. If it did, I might get some actual work done.

Was I tweeting at four am? HARDLY. And also: isn’t the headline all you need to know?

No, it’s none of the above. Instead I’ve taken the advice of Steven Lewis of Taleist and signed up for Buffer, a service that helps you to spread out your tweets. And in doing so, enables you to schedule your tweets. And which makes it super easy to tweet links in the first place. And it’s free, by the way.

I’m a little bit in love with it.

Here’s how it works (click the images for larger versions):

You sign up for Buffer and link it to your Twitter account. Create a schedule for your buffered tweets based on your own time zone. I don’t think there’s a limit on times but for a free account you can only buffer up to 10 tweets at a time.

Then put the snazzy little “Add to Buffer” button to your browser. (It’s the one that looks like a stack of three square things.)

Click it whenever you’re on a page you want to tweet a link to and then sit back and relax while Buffer sends out your tweets as per your schedule. Every time you add a tweet it’ll show you by way of a progress bar how many tweets you have waiting to go out, and if you want to tweet it right now instead, you just press the—yes, you’ve guessed it—”Post Now” button.

And you can of course also just write Buffer tweets if tweeting links aren’t your thing. You can do that from your Dashboard.

If you can’t think of anything to say, there’s even an “Inspire Me!” button that throws up all sorts of quotables. And if you use Twitter.com, you’ll see a little “Add to Buffer” button in everyone else’s tweets, so you can add a retweet to your stack of tweets-in-waiting if you’d like.

Scheduling your tweets is not something I ever really worry about, at least not in the “time zone” sense. Yes, it would be nice if someone outside of GMT was around to see one of my 140-character utterances every now and then, but I’ve never stressed about it. Worrying about things like that sounds too much like work to me. BUT my tweeting has really fallen by the wayside recently, and most days I release a clump of tweets mid-morning and then no one hears from me for the rest of the day. I’m just too busy to stop and think about spreading my tweets evenly throughout the day.

Buffer solves this problem, because with it my five minutes of writing tweets or posting links translates into up to ten tweets spread out during the day.

But it also just makes it easier to post links to Twitter, because all I have to do is click twice. Once on the Buffer button in my browser, and then “Add to Buffer” in the window that appears. So the hours of my day set aside for staring out the window and other procrastination activities are safe for now…

Sign-Up for Buffer! (And Help Me!)

I’m not sure if this link will work (I think they intend for you to tweet this link once or twice, not blog it, but anyway…) but if I refer people to Buffer and they sign up, both they and I get extra space for buffered tweets. Try signing up here and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, just sign-up by yourself; I’ll get over it. But whatever you do, do sign-up!

[UPDATE: It’s totally working. Woo-hoo!]

Bring Your Book To Market: An Ickle Reminder

I was super busy this weekend what with X-Factor USA, the Strictly Come Dancing semi-final, four hours—FOUR HOURS!—of an X-Factor UK final that would’ve been about 25 minutes if you took any the ad breaks, Westlife and interviews with the screaming mobs of “friends and family” in the audience (but left the Coldplay performance which, thanks to those wristband light thingys and the fact that it was in Wembley Arena, looked AMAZING) and writing. Yes, I’ve my priorities straight. So busy was I that I didn’t have time to write the post I was intending to publish today, so instead here’s an ickle reminder about Bring Your Book to Market, the self-publishing and social media for authors course Ben Johncock and I are running at Faber Academy in February.

These are the details in a nutshell:

On Friday 17th-Sunday 19th February 2012, Faber Academy, London, are running a 3-day course called BRING YOUR BOOK TO MARKET, and I’m delighted to say that none other than yours truly will be leading the self-publishing session.

About Bring Your Book to Market:

The digital publishing revolution has transformed self-publishing from a last resort into an ever-expanding world of opportunity that writers at all stages of their career can take advantage of. This hands-on, three-day course is aimed at writers who want to take the first step towards finding their readership through digital self-publishing, and then market their work online. First you’ll learn how to prepare your manuscript for publication, to a professional standard, and decide which of the many options out there is best for you. Successfully self-published author Catherine Ryan Howard will explain – in practical terms – the steps to self-publishing a finished work through print-on-demand and e-book websites. At the end of day one, a Faber editor will also outline golden rules for authors – and the most common pitfalls to avoid. Then, on days two and three, equip yourself with the skills and confidence to build an author platform across the main social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and so on) with the help of social media consultant Ben Johncock. Ben will cover everything from setting up accounts to building your online profile, showing you how to use your author platform effectively to promote and sell yourself and your work. So if you want to build a readership, showcase your work, publish high quality books and – if you’re pursuing traditional publication – build the kind of online platform, fan base and sales record that will convince an editor to say ‘yes!’, this could be the course for you.

About Faber Academy:

Drawing on Faber’s 80 years of publishing experience, Faber Academy offers the best tuition from hand-picked authors, editors and agents, on focussed, practical writing courses. One of the original publishing houses to be founded in London’s famous literary quarter, Bloomsbury, Faber remains family-owned and fiercely independent. Today it is a thoroughly modern business, still based off Bloomsbury Square, still finding, developing and promoting the best new writing. As one of the great publishers, there is no one better placed to understand what a writer needs. We know that what writers want to do is to write. They want support and they want structure, but all to one end: to write more, and write better. That’s why, on a Faber Academy course, you will always be focused on your own work. Because you have your own voice and your own stories, your own aims and experiences.

(And remember a while back I reviewed the fantastic Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson? Well, Faber Academy helped him write that by way of their Write a Novel course.)

A self-publisher, an editor who works for Faber & Faber and a social media expert – this course is really everything you need to self-publish professionally and build a readership using social media, and in doing so lay the foundations for a great writing career. Whether you intend to focus solely on releasing your own books or have it as a sideline to traditional publishing, this weekend is going to give you all the knowledge, tools and advice that you’ll need to move forward confidently and successfully.

And if you’re anything like me, i.e. if you think one of the biggest bonuses of being a traditionally published author is that you get to hang around publishing houses every once in a while, you might like to know that the course takes place in Bloomsbury House, London, the offices of Faber & Faber.

And if all that wasn’t enough to convince you, like, hello? It has me!

So now you know what to ask Santa for.

Click here to read more about BRING YOUR BOOK TO MARKET.

(Or, HINT HINT, book your place – there’s only 15* of them!)

*There was 15 of them when this post was first published, back in the week the course was announced. There’s fewer places available than that now, so get booking!