Onward and upward – fun with mind manipulation

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. You train and train, conditioning your body through smaller “fun” runs as you gradually build up some confidence and stamina. Then it is the day of the event, the thing you have been training toward for the last several weeks if not months. A crowd surrounds you. Their excitement is contagious. “See you on the other side!” and “Let’s do this!” You are anxious, but anything is possible. You take off.

Then, six miles later or so, you see that the course contains a hill (not to mention another ~twenty miles) and you start questioning why in the world you ever thought this was a novel idea (pun intended). You start contemplating veering off with the half marathoners, but that still means you have to somehow find it in you to run another ~seven miles. Ugh.

At this point, you realize you are thoroughly outta luck, so you might as well keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Image courtesy of Imgur
Image courtesy of Imgur

You adjust your pace and trick your mind into ignoring things like mile markers while instead focusing on smaller, more achievable goals. I just have to make it to that street sign or the next water station without walking. You look around and see spectator signs like “If this were easy, it would be called your mom,” or “remember you paid for this.” You’d laugh if it didn’t make you wheeze (or puke), but it is exactly the reminder you needed.

You may not get a spot on the podium, but you know that as long as you finish, even if you wind up crawling across the line, you are still getting a medal for your effort. It hurts to go forward, but you also know it just might kill you at this point to go back empty-handed.

I am at the base of that hill with my current work in process. Day job, illness, and life in general, knocked me off schedule. Even worse, as much as I want to push my characters forward, they seem equally determined to catch their breath. I am tempted to write in some zombies or talking animals from another dimension just to mix it up, except I’m pretty sure I would ultimately have to cut the scene out. I can feel my will to continue begin to be tested (oh, why didn’t I set out to write a short story, or at most, a novella?) But as starting another project (with zombies… no…, dragon zombies… from space!) or taking an indefinite hiatus (don’t even think it) are equally unacceptable options, I’ve come to the realization that it is time to start utilizing the tricks that kept me motivated two times before. It is time to pull out the signs.

In my case, that usually means mocking up a cover or two as I have an easier time visualizing my goal if I have an idea of what it might look like when I cross the finish line. Which brings me to cover design.

I am always on the lookout for ways to improve any aspect of my authorprenuerism and recently watched a special on the topic of something called the golden ratio, 1.618, or phi. Supposedly this near mystic ratio can be found among plants and shells almost as if the natural world was actually planned by mathematics. It is repeated in architecture such as the Parthenon and its proportions found in art like the Mona Lisa.

To create it, you draw a rectangle (one size is 1x, the other side is 0.618x). Then while keeping the rectangle’s proportions the same, rotate and resize the rectangle so that its longest side now fits within its shortest side (or… you can simply find a ready-made golden ratio template on the internet).

Golden Ratio
Golden Ratio (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Its use is also suggested to be a form of mind manipulation. There are those in the marketing world who believe that design based on this ratio is also more appealing to consumers that designs that do not. Intrigued, I decided to first test out how well my existing covers conformed to this ratio.

Golden-ratio-UFGolden-ratio-FFAccording to the theory, a consumer’s eyes are expected to naturally follow a line of curvature within the golden rectangle. The rectangles should then act as a guide for the placement of design elements.

I was somewhat shocked but overall pleased to see that both of my covers roughly fit within the design rules I hadn’t previously known existed. For example, if the theory is true, a would-be reader’s eye is drawn to the chasm beneath the woman in An Uncertain Faith suggesting my main character’s trying situation while on The Fair & Foul, a reader’s eyes are drawn to my name which will help achieve brand recognition.

Of course there are others who believe that the golden ratio is purely a myth or that there are other more appealing rectangle sizes, but considering how important cover design can be to the success of a book, it is definitely something I will be keeping in mind moving forward.

And move forward I will.

Guest Post – Allie Potts #amwriter #nanowrimo #humor #thestruggle

To all of you participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! Thank you again, Kristin for hosting. Here’s to finishing those novels.

My top secret 2014 performance review

It’s that time of year again. Time for me to sit down and analyze the performance of staff at the day job in painstaking detail. I look forward to the process as eagerly as they do. Who doesn’t love to see in writing the ways in which their work can improve even if the words are no real surprise? I know I sure do when it’s my turn. That’s totally why I’ve been having a virtual argument debate with my editor’s notes over the last several weeks.

One of the biggest upsides about being an independent author is the ability to be in control of everything (except forcing people to buy your book). I’ve often heard it compared to going into business for one’s self. We are the authorpreneurs! YAY!

So, if this is truly a business and not just a hobby, perhaps it is time to schedule a performance review with my staff.

Please come in Allie.  Would you shut the door and have a seat?

Now, I’ve been looking at your annual report and while you’ve done a great job gaining additional exposure on WordPress when comparing 2013 to 2014, but you haven’t pulled in nearly the numbers as some of your counterparts at other firms. Why do you think that is?

Hmmm…. Likely it is because I am terrible at writing eye-catching titles.

How can you improve this?

Phone a friend? No? Well then maybe I will start trying out some of the hundreds of catchy title formulas out there in 2015 and see how that works out for me.

Well that can’t hurt. Seriously, your titles have been atrocious at times. I mean ‘Is that a fire hydrant or a really odd garden gnome?‘ Really?

Umm… we agree, that wasn’t my best work. In my defense, I had spent on my creativity on content that day. The tank was dry.

What about social media? What are you doing to improve your exposure in that area?

I’m actually advertising my blog less on Twitter, and interacting more. I told myself that for every tweet I send out, I would find at least four by others to favorite, retweet, or reply to.  I’ve made some really enjoyable connections and now I barely pay attention to my follower count, and yet on the occasions I do, I see it continues to grow.

How about Facebook?

Facebook doesn’t always show my updates in feeds, even if a person has liked my page. There is little I can do there except hope that the handful of people who actually see my updates feel like sharing them with their network. Therefore I don’t see myself spending more energy there than I already have been.

Looking over your other marketing efforts, I see that you tried out a number of things early in the year like paid ads, a Goodreads giveaway, and review exchanges, but your efforts dropped off mid year. Are you planning on trying any of these things again this year?

I ran a second Goodreads give away toward the end of the year when An Uncertain Faith was re-released as well as a free promotion of the book. I used paid ads at the beginning of the year and didn’t use paid ads at the end. Interestingly enough I received an almost identical number of entries in the Goodreads give away each time with about as many resulting reviews. So no, I don’t think I will be using paid ads again.

What about the review exchanges?

I learned that review exchanges are not for me. I’d rather my book was reviewed by someone who was interested enough in my blurb or my blog to pick it up rather than someone who is just reviewing it because they feel obligated to.  I worry too much that my book might get lampooned or insincerely praised just because of how I liked theirs. It feels like being in an old Western gun duel. I am however making a point of reviewing the books that I’ve picked out of my own free will more often.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. You know that the best way to be successful in this business is to release more books. Why then is your second project taking so long to release?

I could blame it on a number of things. My day job changed mid-year. I had to make significant changes to the structure, etc. But I boils down to one thing. I forgot how to properly manage my time. I’ve already taken major steps to address this. Now I only have a few chapters left to rewrite before it can be sent out for another round of complaints critique. I’ve also entered a few short story contests. Hopefully as a result I will have something else out there with my name on it in 2015.

Do you have any questions for me?

Will I be getting a raise this year?

You didn’t tell me you dabbled in writing humor.

Is that a no?

Good luck with the contests.

Mock report card
All type and no play make Allie an out of shape girl




Once stung, twice equipped with repellent

Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!)
Meet Mr. Yellow Jacket (129 of 365) (EXPLORED!) (Photo credit: rimblas)

When I was a teenager, I was attacked by a swarm of ground hornets while hiking with a group of friends. I never even saw their nest. Someone ahead of me must have inadvertently stepped where he or she shouldn’t have and by the time they had flown to the surface in a rage I was the closest target.

A very short time later, areas of my body had swollen up like baseballs. I found my way on an express route to the emergency room.

I have a healthy respect for stinging insects of all kinds. I don’t squish them just for the crime of being bugs. I understand that the outdoors is their world. I try to remain calm and motionless when they are near, or avoid them altogether if I see them in the distance. I don’t bother them if they don’t bother me.

But when they try to build a nest in my porch, or more recently, move in underneath my children’s sandbox, I have to do something about it. I am no longer passive or kind. I don’t want to find out the hard way that my allergy has been passed on to my children. Or worse, that their reaction might be more than moderate.

At that point I have to make it clear to those insects that their continued presence will not be tolerated. Those that survive the lesson should move on to more welcoming ground.

“Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness. I am kind to everyone, but when someone unkind to me, weak is not what you are going to remember about me.” – Al Capone.

I self published my first novel, and have been debating whether or not this was a path I would like to take again for my second. I’ve been reading about how little new authors can expect from large publishers and how aspiring authors are now asked to provide some potential publishers with a business plan and marketing plan in addition to the manuscript. I recently read an article entitled Publishing 3.0 detailing the rise of the authorpreneur. While the term authorpreneur may sound like one of those celebrity mash-up names, I find that it is completely appropriate in this instance. To be a successful self published or indie author, you do have to have an understanding as to what it takes to be an entrepreneur.

Like writing professionally, entrepreneurship is hard work. It too requires sacrifice and long hours, but with different results. Purchase orders are rarely aesthetically pleasing. But for an entrepreneur that first order is a work of art, one as beautiful to behold as a published novel with its glossy cover. It gets framed and permanently mounted on the wall for all the world to see.

Entrepreneurship can be at times a wonderful thing. There is something deeply satisfying about watching the business that you helped start grow and thrive. Whether you are your only employee or have a larger staff, it is both rewarding and terrifying to know that their ability to care for their families is because of what you’ve put in place.

But unfortunately, an entrepreneur is still not entirely in control of his/her own destiny. There are always going to be people out there who look upon your success with envy. They either want what you have, or are afraid that you have the ability to take something away from them. They will attack in ways you never saw coming, especially if they believe you aren’t paying attention.

During this time you have to keep in mind that these attacks are actually compliments. They are a testament to your ability and your achievements. They are recognition that what you have done has been noticed. You have to be the bigger person. Stay true to your values and out of their domain. Walk away if you can. Ignore them if you can’t.

That is until you have been stung one too many times and they mistake your kindness as weakness, your willingness to turn the other cheek as acceptance, and they threaten your baby’s life.

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”
― Patrick RothfussThe Wise Man’s Fear

At that point, let them keep their compliments. It is time to hire the exterminator and bring out the bug spray.