Do you ever get those days when you take one look at the weather and think you’re destined for a rubbish day? Read my column at The Hague Online to see why every cloud has a silver lining when you are a writer.

Ideas. I’m filled with them. They woke me up at 4.30 this morning and they keep on coming all day. But even I get stuck for inspiration now and again. Learn how I get my fix of ideas in my column for The Hague Online where I am Writer in Residence. Read more here

Writing saved my life

November 9, 2009

Thank goodness I am a writer. If I weren’t then I doubt I’d have survived this merrygoround they call a mobile life. In the last 28 years I’ve lived in 6 different countries with four different languages, lost my identity and found it again. Boy, am I glad I ‘saved’ my life. Not only in the form of my memoir, a Moving Landscape, but using writing as a form of therapy has been a godsend. Read my post on the superb Expat Harem blog here and be sure to have your say . . .

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Why you need to be famous

November 1, 2009

The following is my column from my November Inspirer newsletter, now in its seventh year. To subscribe and pick up a copy of ’50 Steps to a Book in Your Hand’ please go to my website www.joparfitt.com

I often tell my students and clients that they need to be Googleable if they are to impress a publisher. I recommend that they start a blog, give talks, use social media tools and go the extra mile towards growing their network. Publishers are interested in authors with a following. If you self-publish you need an even bigger network if you are to sell your book once you have written it. You need to be famous in your field. A bit of a celebrity. Whichever route you take to market it is clear that the bigger your network the more chance there is that your contacts will buy your books. Let me tell you about two people who do this brilliantly.

Andrea Martins, founder of the fabulous free website ExpatWomen.com, flew here to the Netherlands this week from Kuala Lumpur. A long haul in many senses of the word, but one that she felt was worth the effort. Andrea came to attend, have a stand and present a workshop at the Expatica, I Am Not a Tourist fair in Amsterdam. I went along to present a workshop of my own and to help out on her stand. The fair was attended by thousands and we talked ourselves hoarse, and yes, it was worth it. As a result, hundreds of people signed up to Expatwomen, a website that supports and inspires women overseas with its success stories, features, reviews and its hugely popular confessions section. Andrea also keeps an active blog that she uses simply to ‘shout out’ about people she meets or things she learns along the way that she knows will interest her thousands of subscribers.

I only went to the fair to help out, but Andrea allowed me to take my marketing materials along and so I made some pretty decent connections myself. One of whom was the hugely inspiring Melody Biringer, who runs The Crave Company and publishes books about the things women crave in the major cities of the world. She came to Amsterdam from her usual home in Seattle, to bring the concept here. Melody attended my workshop on writing life stories and within minutes had taken out her iphone and sent a tweet to her followers about me. Melody has sent over 6000 tweets to her 2000 followers since she joined Twitter just over a year ago. But in addition, within hours she had posted a blog about what she learned at my workshop too. And tweeted about that, of course.

Sorry, have I lost you? Are you wondering what the point of this may be? It’s simple . . . Andrea and Melody are role models. They want to promote their businesses to as many people as possible, use every means they can and their effort pays dividends. As a result both are well known in their fields. Let me just remind you what it is they do to deserve such status:

Ten Steps to Celebrity Status

1. Attend an expo or conference
2. Run a workshop at said expo or conference
3. Find places to hand out marketing materials
4. Have a website
5. Keep a blog
6. Use Twitter and other social media tools and share stuff regularly
7. Network like crazy both on and offline, talk yourself hoarse
8. Travel if you have to
9. Offer something that people want to sign up to
10. Share what you have with others

But do you really need to be famous if you want to write a book? Isn’t that a bit over the top? No, it isn’t. You see, two days ago I was sitting drinking a rather overstrong coffee in the office of a major UK publisher, in London, talking about the ‘front list’ – the books that are in the front of bookshops, newly published and being promoted like crazy.

’95 per cent of the front list is written by celebrities,’ he said, laying both hands on the table and looking me in the eye.

‘Seriously?’ I said. ‘You are exaggerating, right?’

‘Hum,’ he pondered for a split second. ‘Actually, this time of year, it’s closer to 100 per cent.’ He leaned back in his chair and I blanched. If bookshops favour the front list then publishers favour the front list ergo we need to be famous if we are to stand a chance.

So, there you have it, from the horse’s mouth. If you want to get published you need to become a celebrity, or failing that, just famous in your field. I hope my ten tips above will help to get you started.

Warmly

Jo

The following article also appears in my monthly Inspirer newsletter, designed to inspire, support and inform writers. If you would like to receive your copy each month please sign up at my website www.joparfitt.com and pick up a copy of 50 Steps to a Book in Your Hand at the same time.

Here goes:

When it’s time to leave home

I’ll cut straight to the chase and tell you about the thing that has dominated my thoughts since my last newsletter. My son has left home. It was not unexpected. It was inevitable, anticipated, we were prepared. Last year he completed his A levels and the year before he had applied to university in London and been accepted. He started packing the moment he heard he’d got the grades he needed. But when it was time to wave him off, two days ago, it was no less heartbreaking for me. Sam, on the other hand, had a new life to lead, alone, without me to wash his clothes and check he had enough to eat. But even as we drove off through the streets of Islington, back to the Eurotunnel, I could not suppress a slight smile of recognition, that this sweet sorrow mirrors my life as a writer.

You see, they say that a painting, like a piece of writing, is never finished, it just stops in an interesting place. They say that there comes a time when the editing must stop. A time when you actually make things worse by over-refining them. A time when you have to let them go. There comes a time when you must admit you have done your bit leave your work to find its own way.

A couple of weeks before Sam left, I had a day when the enormity of the hole his departure would leave in my life and my nest kept creeping up on me, like the children tiptoeing behind me in a game of What’s the Time Mr Wolf? I had climbed into bed with sinking heart and picked up the copy of The Muses Among Us, by Kim Stafford, that lay on my bedside table. It opened on page 38. I read:

‘One day, it is time for the child to leave home. To remain longer would reverse the principle of healthy growth. That day comes when the child is mature enough to go out into the world, and the parent has other things to do. In the terrifying words of Donald Graves, we should not linger so long with a piece of writing that we begin “giving a manicure to a corpse.”‘

Since reading those lines my feelings about the departure of my firstborn became calmer. If could totally empathise with Stafford’s beliefs as a writer then it followed that if it was time to let go of my son, it was time to let go.

Back in May I had finally finished my novel and realized that it was time I stopped trying to improve it and let it go, too. I printed out a synopsis, cover letter and three sample chapters, put it in a padded bag and sent it out into the world. It is now doing the rounds of the agents. Sure, I keep thinking about it, missing the days I spent writing it, lost in a parallel universe with my characters. But I know I was right to let it leave home.

In my experience as a writer’s mentor, I have seen many instances where overworking ends up spoiling a very good piece of writing. Sure, you have to ‘murder your children’, as they say, and cut some of the best bits. Sure, you have to cut superfluous or empty words, repetition and to keep things simple. But there comes a time when you can cut too much and may have nothing left. I am also a firm believer in the principle that often the thing you think of first may be the best and that, as Hamlet says in the ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy: ‘the native hue of resolution //is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.’ It can be dangerous to think about something too much or too long.

And so, as I sit at my desk in the knowledge that we now have a spare bedroom again, I ask you to think about your writing, to let it flow, to try not to stunt its growth and to recognise when it is time to let it go.

Jo

If you like this, and would like more of the same, take a look at the Publishing Academy, where I am a faculty member. It is packed with information and inspiration for writers, just like this.

Writing in times of change

September 14, 2009

As summer gives way to autumn and children go back to school, or off to university, it’s a time of change. For the writer, times of change are huge sources of inspiration. Read my September column at The Hague Online, where I am Writer in Residence, to find out why.

Go the extra mile

September 1, 2009

This post also appears as part of The Inspirer, my monthly newsletter, that you can sign up for at my website www.joparfitt.com.

Go the extra mile

My inspiration for this month’s article only came to me a few hours ago when I received an email from an ex-student of mine, Amanda van Mulligen. Amanda had got in touch to send me the link to an article she had written called A World of Inspiration and in which, she said, I featured. I clicked on the link and was faced not only a super piece of writing, but also an article that described how many connections and referrals I had given Amanda since we first met almost four years ago. It went on to describe how each of those contacts had become so much more, how they had enriched her life, inspired her, and even made her money. I was delighted. But my happiness was not so much for the fact that Amanda had written about me but that she had gone to the effort of letting me know. She had gone the extra mile.

And as I thought about that for a moment I realised that these days, when competition is tough, we can all do with finding ways to go the extra mile. Here are my top ten ways:

Top ten ways to go the extra mile

1 When you write an article, try to add a box of resources and further reading to the end, so that the readers know where to go to find out more.

2 When you write a book, add a substantial and useful resources section, an appendix, a bibliography and see if you can also add the URLs of all the people, organisations and websites you mention too.

3 Forging a career as a paid writer can be tough, so make it easy for those who may commission you and have your portfolio available online.

4 Publisher like to commission new authors who are more than just writers, people with a presence, a following, a route to market. So start a blog, send a newsletter, build a portfolio of other published work, poetry, articles, reviews, so that you already have Googlability.

5 When I teach, I always give my students handouts and reading lists and in my Life Story classes I now edit all their homework for them, which I then offer to share with the entire class, so that all the students can learn from it. What added bonus can you give?

6 People buy from people they have already worked with, so why not offer your potential clients something for free so they get to see you in action

7 If you coach or mentor, as I do, see if you can give your clients as much extra as you can. I always connect mine to editors, suggest magazines they could write for and introduce them to the people they need to interview for their books or articles.

8 Look out for opportunities to connect other people at all times and then do so. A simple email is all it takes.

9 Develop a ‘paying it forward’ mindset. Remember, the adage: give and you will receive.

10 Say thank you. Thank people for referrals, for work you pass their way, connections, ideas. A simple thank you encourages those people to give again.

One other person has gone the extra mile for me this month and I would like to thank her here, partly because she deserve thanks, but mostly because I think you will benefit from knowing her too.

Meet Sheila Bender

Firstly, I have long admired the work of writer, Sheila Bender. She wrote ‘Keeping a Journal You Love’ and ‘Writing in a New Convertible with the Top Down’ among many others, and my copies of her books are peppered with Post-it notes as I refer back to them again and again. I decided I wanted to connect with Sheila, to ask if I might use an extract from her books in my Life Story online program. I found her at her website Writing it Real and sent her an email. Not only did Sheila reply to me, and fast, but she invited me to write for her newsletter too, and then, knowing that many of my Inspirer recipients do not subscribe to it, she made a special link so that you could all read my article, about The Greatest Block of All. That was going the extra mile. People normally pay for her newsletter, so this was a big favour. Thank you Sheila.

I hope that this month’s offering has inspired you. I wonder how you could you go the extra mile? Perhaps you’d like to tell me by visiting this article on my blog and adding a comment? I know it would mean you had to go the extra mile, but that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Til next month

Jo