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Pitches Be Crazy: Aka How to Crush Self-Doubt & Kill It

Guest Posts, Magazine Articles, & Other Publications are Important

Any blogger will tell you that guest posts will not only help you fill your own editorial calendar in times of need but will also help you to build your presence and direct followers to your website. I’ve known this for years. I’ve asked folks to let me interview them, or if they’d want to do guest posts on this blog numerous times. (Both when I’ve wanted to fill my calendar, and when I’ve needed their input to make my site better.)

Unfortunately, I haven’t been great about sending out guest post pitches of my own, or about contacting magazines about features I’d like to write down the road.

Of course, when I say “haven’t been great” what I mean is “I hadn’t done any at all.” Not ideal.

In the last few months, I made the decision to consciously attempt to increase my visibility. I’ve done a Facebook Live presentation in an entrepreneur group with over 1,200 members. I’ve begun writing fiction for Wattpad. I have even begun content challenges for myself, like participating in NaNoWriMo. I even have plans to go way out of my shell and do a Youtube challenge for the month of December.

The one thing I haven’t been so great at in the last 24 months I’ve been copywriting for myself is pitching articles to other sites. Even though I feel comfortable talking to clients about their writing needs and sending them articles that they actually pay me real Earth money to write, I still didn’t feel comfortable contacting sites I admire to ask them if they’d like me to write something for them. I knew that had to change.

Step 1 to Conquering Self-Doubt: Talk to Your Tribe

I am lucky to have several groups of wonderful business people I can talk with whenever I’m getting down on myself or have questions about how I can improve. These aren’t folks that I know personally, but they’re folks that are happy to help when they can and always offer a compassionate listening ear. Here’s a glimpse at what I shared:pitches-be-crazy-call-for-help

In case you have difficulty reading the image or are using a screen reader, here’s what it says:

Pitches Be Crazy.

I’m a writer and editor, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten hung up by fear. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat on a goldmine post idea that could potentially bring me lots of traffic, but decided to share it on my own site rather than to apply to guest post on someone else’s blog. It’s easier to share things on my  own site and have people read it (or not) from my own social shares than to guest post and make real strides toward boosting traffic and sales.

Why Do I Do That?!

I LITERALLY write words for other people FOR A LIVING, but I still hesitate to send emails to let folks know I like what they’re putting down and that I’d like to contribute/help educate their tribe. I think the difference is that *I* am making the call about what to write about, rather than getting a topic provided to me by someone else.

Do any of you struggle with this, also? Either the pitching process or guest posting in general? I’m just wondering if I’m the only person here who hesitates with my trigger finger hesitating over the ‘submit’ or ‘send’ button. 😛

I posted that inquiry to a group hosted by my business coach Lisajane, Success Seekers, and got some great feedback from other folks who felt the same way or who had insight as to why that might be.

How That Helped

Knowing you aren’t alone when experiencing a problem can do wonders for self-esteem and mindset, and can help you conquer imposter syndrome. (You know, that pesky feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing, and that people are going to find you out.)

Step 2 to Conquering Self-Doubt: Look at Your Progress

Two years ago this month I was just beginning a copywriting business. I had done content marketing and sales writing for previous jobs, but I had never tried working for me, and only for me. I didn’t have a portfolio because I didn’t own rights to anything I had written at my previous jobs, or any of the website content I’d written in the past, so I needed to build a portfolio.

I signed up with Fiverr, a freelance work site which allowed me to list my skills and services as a copywriter and sell them for $5. You read right. I wrote website content and blog posts for Five. American. Dollars. Pumpkin-spice-latte-4.25I’m not sure where you are when you’re reading this, but if you’re thinking ‘boy, that doesn’t sound like a lot’ – you aren’t kidding.

After the Fiverr fees and the Paypal fees, before taxes I was paid in tall, specialty lattes from Starbucks. (See the chart to the left if you don’t have a reference point in USD.) – If you’re thinking ‘wow, that doesn’t sound ideal’ – you are 150% correct, but the experience allowed me to build myself a portfolio quickly and gain valuable experience learning the types of clients I did not want to work with, and the type that I absolutely did.

Why is That Important?

I’m not writing for lattes anymore. I’m not writing for lattes anymore. I’m working on projects for clients that I LOVE, and I’m being compensated more fairly for my time, effort, and skill set. I know what I’m doing, and I’m doing well. Websites would love to have my contribute my knowledge because I have been doing this for a while and I am seasoned and experienced.

Oh hey, ego boost. How you doin’?

It doesn’t matter if you’re just getting started. Wherever you are right now, you’re further than you were yesterday. If you’re not, then sending pitches will get you further than you were yesterday, so the end game is still the same.

Step 3 Take Some Deep Breaths & Remind Yourself You Got This

It’s hard to remember in the moment, but you absolutely can do this. Whatever “this” happens to be right now, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t take a crack at whatever your business dreams are made of. Even failures and rejections are learning experiences, so there’s no reason not to suck it up and take on the world. Don’t feel like you’re going to kick ass? That’s cool. Have a friend read over your pitches and see if you sound unsure of yourself or if you aren’t committed to the project. Editors can smell fear. (I know, I am one. *sniff sniff*) Don’t let them sense yours before they’ve had a chance to sample your work.

Step 4 Success!

After chatting with my cohorts, remembering that I’m basically a million times further along now than I was when I started out, and spending time counseling myself about how essential sending pitches to magazines, literary magazines, and blogs/websites is to success as a writer, I sent out 4 pitches for article ideas. Four. It’s not an earth shattering number, but it’s reasonable based on my blogging and copywriting deadlines.

How many of my pitches were accepted?

FOUR.

pitches-be-crazySo go get your dreams, you badass.

 

Let me know how it goes, or what you’re trying to do. Need help writing pitches? Let me know in the comments and I’ll make sure to tackle that topic, soon.

Writing a Memoir: Lesson Four – How to Write a Book Blurb

book-blurbWhy Book Descriptions Matter

To fully understand and appreciate this post, you’ll need to think about why book descriptions matter. Often it seems like the book blurb is an afterthought. It’s not the fault of the writer, after spending weeks, months, or years on producing memoir content including researching, writing, revising, and editing – it makes sense that they might not want to spend more time trying to concisely break down the contents of their book. The belief seems to be that if they vaguely summarize the content that the work will speak for itself.

In a perfect world, that would be true of all books. While nice in theory, it is pitiful in practice. It simply doesn’t work. That is why crafting a book blurb, though it may turn out to be somewhat time consuming, is absolutely vital.

At some point I’m confident you’ve heard of the “elevator pitch“. These succinct sales pitches are supposed to convince companies to hire you, buy your products, or utilize your services over the course of sixty seconds. The intention is the same as a book blurb – to pique the potential boss/client’s attention. (Though in our case, they are the reader.) Think of the book blurb not as an annoying step between you and self-publishing, but instead as an opportunity. It is your sales page, your elevator pitch, and your best shot at making a potential reader click the “buy it now” button rather than darting off to something else.

The Hard Part: Writing it Out
Fortunately for the fiction writers out there, writing a book blurb for a memoir is incredibly similar to writing a description for a fictional story. You should have the following goals and ideas in mind:

  1. Introduce the situation and characters
    In the case of a memoir, you are likely to be the main character. Refer to yourself in the third person, and let the readers know who you are and what to expect. Make sure you’re setting the stage and preparing readers for what’s beyond the cover of your book.
  2. What is the conflict or problem?
    Although this is some part of your life, ideally there is some moment, scenario, or circumstance which is the focal point or theme of the book. Share it with your potential reader in the blurb. Don’t make them dig for reasons to read your book – put it out in the open! You’ll lose readers more times than you’ll keep them if you make it hard work to understand the theme.
  3. Leave them hopeful and wanting more
    Offer the reader a glimmer of hope that whatever your conflict is will be resolved, and that everything will turn out okay. Does everything need to work out? Not at all, but the hope needs to be there to offset the conflict. By doing this you’re making readers care about the outcome of your memoir. People who care are people who act.
  4. Be sure the tone is right
    Are you telling the story of a scrappy underdog overcoming the odds? Are you sharing how you triumphed in spite of a troubled childhood, lousy career, bitter divorce, or terrible illness? Do you want to educate, empower, or entertain your audience? Keep these questions in mind when reviewing your potential blurb. If the description doesn’t match the book, you’ll end up with unhappy readers and negative reviews. You’re setting the expectation for the book in the blurb, so make sure that your themes, ideas, and issues match.

In addition to the example provided in Lesson One of a well-written book blurb, I’m including a few examples from best-selling memoirs which have their blurbs perfected.

Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

Kimberly Rae Miller is an immaculately put-together woman with a great career, a loving boyfriend, and a beautifully tidy apartment in Brooklyn. You would never guess that behind the closed doors of her family’s idyllic Long Island house hid teetering stacks of aging newspaper, broken computers, and boxes upon boxes of unused junk festering in every room — the product of her father’s painful and unending struggle with hoarding.

In this dazzling memoir, Miller brings to life her experience growing up in a rat-infested home, hiding her father’s shameful secret from friends for years, and the emotional burden that ultimately led to her suicide attempt. In beautiful prose, Miller sheds light on her complicated yet loving relationship with her parents, which has thrived in spite of the odds.

Coming Clean is a story about recognizing where you come from and understanding the relationships that define you. It is also a powerful story of recovery and redemption.

Breaking it Down: We know who the narrator is, we know what the circumstances are that she’s facing as well as the primary conflict, and it’s obvious what the tone is. The promise that the reader will find a better understanding of how to recognize where they, themselves come from and witness a powerful recovery and redemption fits the bill for not only offering a glimpse of hope, but sets the tone for the book in a meaningful way.

A House in the Sky: A Memoir by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

BREAKING NEWS: Amanda Lindhout’s lead kidnapper, Ali Omar Ader, has been caught.

Amanda Lindhout wrote about her fifteen month abduction in Somalia in A House in the Sky. It is the New York Times bestselling memoir of a woman whose curiosity led her to the world’s most remote places and then into captivity: “Exquisitely told…A young woman’s harrowing coming-of-age story and an extraordinary narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph” (The New York Times Book Review).

As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a violent household by paging through issues of National Geographic and imagining herself visiting its exotic locales. At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.

Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark.

Vivid and suspenseful, as artfully written as the finest novel, A House in the Sky is “a searingly unsentimental account. Ultimately it is compassion—for her naïve younger self, for her kidnappers—that becomes the key to Lindhout’s survival” (O, The Oprah Magazine).

Breaking it Down: This book description takes a unique approach, did you catch it? It has a micro-description, within the description. We learn about the main character, main conflict, are offered some hope and learn the tone of the book all within the first paragraph. The writer opted to elaborate more, but the mini lead in description is a great tactic to catch even the most impatient readers. Are they likely to finish your manuscript? Well, that depends on how effectively you hook them in after they begin to actually read your book.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story. A regular contributor to MSNBC.com, she lives in New York and Long Island and is married to the writer John Taylor.

Breaking it Down: This description introduces several main characters and describes each of them effectively. It represents not only the negative sides, but embraces the positive and offers hope where there might not have been any, otherwise. It captures the spirit of Jeanette Walls when it goes on to describe a woman who is committed to regarding her parents with affection despite her upbringing.

Still Not Sure You Have it Down?

It’s okay if you aren’t feeling confident about your blurb yet. It can be difficult to let a book go out into the world to fend for itself, especially when it features such intensely personal subject matter. Have friends, family, and any fellow writers you know look over it for you and evaluate it. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your support network and tribe.

Alternately, if you aren’t sure that your friends and colleagues will provide thorough feedback, I am willing to evaluate book reviews and provide detailed, constructive book blurb feedback for a small, $15.00 flat fee. — Sometimes all it takes is another set of eyes to look over your content in an objective way. I’d love to help you iron the kinks out of your book description.

Click Here to Pay for a Book Blurb Review via Paypal

Then Click Here to email me [foxemmwrites (at) gmail.com ] your book blurb.

So What’s Left?
We’re coming to the close of this post series, which means that an ebook with additional content is in our future. The final post that I have planned as of right now is on why outlining is important when constructing a memoir. Why is this last? Well, I bumped the blurbs post up because of a comment from a reader which said they were delaying publication until they read this post (talk about pressure!), but I do want to highlight the importance of developing a cohesive chain of events and thoughts in a memoir. Sometimes following the natural progression of time just doesn’t cut it, and an outline will help you see that before most of the manuscript is written.

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs :: Lesson 5 – Recalling Memories

Writing a Memoir: Lesson Three – Audience

Determine Your Audience
memoirs-3-audienceWe have talked briefly about how important it is to decide on memoir content and purpose, but you cannot escape the need to define your target audience. Every piece of writing from the ad on the bus stop bench to the poetry of e. e. cummings has an intended audience as well as a purpose. Your target audience has to fall in the middle ground between too vague and too specific. The fabled “just right” is where you’ll need your manuscript to reside in order to succeed.

The question you’re likely asking now is “What does just right look like?” An extreme example would be the following:

My audience: middle aged women with three children who have lost one parent to cancer.

The above example is far too specific. Although there are surely hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of women out there who meet your criteria — if you choose this audience you may find that you struggle to find a market or platform for your finished product. Wide appeal is the goal… So long as it isn’t too wide, like the below example.

My audience: women

While it’s certainly a great idea to write memoirs targeted at women, this generalized target is far too broad. Adding a qualifier such as “over 40” or “who are unemployed” or “whose names are hard to spell” are all qualifiers that will help you to narrow down your scope and produce a high quality, marketable, memoir manuscript. Of course, it would probably be easier to write a blog post about women with names which are difficult to spell rather than a complete memoir, but I’m sure someone could do it!

My audience: middle aged women who have suffered a loss.

This target audience falls in the realm of happy medium. It clearly defined a specific but large group of women. Now, just because you “aim” your book at middle aged women who have suffered a loss (or whatever your audience may be), it doesn’t mean that your book will not be useful to other people. All that it means is that you should work hard to achieve a manuscript that those you’re targeting will care about and benefit from. Think of the others as sprinkles on ice cream. Definitely nice, but not entirely necessary.

So How Do We Determine Your Audience?
The next big question is how to decide what audience is most appropriate. If you already have a clear purpose, it’s possible that the idea of who you want to read your memoir will be obvious. If not, then you may want to brainstorm the ideas you already have for stories you would like to include, and try to determine who they would be most appropriate for. I’m including two printable resources that you may find helpful as you work your way through the planning stages. (I was probably the only kid to enjoy worksheets ever, so I’m throwing my own at you now that I have the chance.) You might need both of these or you might not want either of these, but in the off chance they help you I wanted to provide workable examples of how I roughly plan memoirs.

brainstorm-guide

 

 

The Brainstorm Guide (pictured, left) is designed to let you fill in any number of ideas you have for stories to include, for general themes to include, and anything else that might help you as you make the journey through planning your memoir.

The box at the bottom is where you can fill in your purpose, either to refer to as you plan out the events you wish to cover in your memoir, or to fill in once the information you want to include gives you a clearer picture of what your memoir will be about.

 

audience-guideThe Audience Guide is something you should work on once you have a clear purpose and know vaguely what you would like to include in your memoir. This will help you determine your voice. First, you’ll need to fill in some basic demographic information about your imaginary (but soon to be very real!) readers. Some outlines I have seen go so far as to try and parse out a ridiculous amount of detail about readers. That isn’t necessary, or ideal for a lengthy project, so I’ve just included the basics.

The “Your Memoir Purpose” box should be filled in with the same content from the Brainstorm guide, should you choose to use it. I like keeping your purpose handy at all times so you can maintain the focus that is so necessary while working. The final box is “why it works”. Essentially, once you have an idea of who you’re writing for, you want to make sure it’s in line with your purpose. Write out just why the demographic you outlined would be interested in your memoir, and what you plan on offering them. This will be a GREAT resource when you’re working through the editing phase. You can always monitor whether or not a particular part of the memoir draft is actually relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish. With personal writing, it is entirely possible to get so wrapped up in telling stories that you forget exactly where you were going. (A la grandpa Simpson from the last lesson.)

If you would like to download both worksheets, you can do so by clicking here.

PLEASE let me know if you find the downloads useful, or if you have suggestions of how they can be improved. In the next lesson we’ll talk about how to write killer intros and book blurbs which can be useful for all types of blog and book writing, so please stay tuned!

Additional Posts in this Series:

Introduction :: Lesson 1 – Content :: Lesson 2 – Purpose :: Lesson 3 – Audience :: Lesson 4 – Blurbs :: Lesson 5 – Recalling Memories