Navigating Rough Waters

Photo courtesy of Jim Coffey, Esprit Whitewater

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

What does whitewater rafting have to do with writing?

For one thing, rafters and writers often endure blasts of icy water in the face. For authors, the cold, wet shock is metaphoric—a stinging rejection, a hideous review, a kiss-off from a publisher.

Today’s story begins when my pal, former river ranger Susan Purvis recently sent me a link to a podcast about whitewater rafting. Susan often leads me into adventures that always pay off in unexpected rewards so when she recommends something, I listen.

That day, with a crammed to-do list, I didn’t have a spare hour for a podcast. Yet once I started to listen, I couldn’t stop.

The interviewer is Barry Kruse, entrepreneurial coach of Leading Steep, and his subject is Jim Coffey, founder and owner of Esprit Whitewater, a Canadian rafting company.

Jim’s rafting business began in 1992 and survives nearly three decades later, a rarity in the field. A seasonal operation is especially tough because he has to earn enough income in four, maybe five, months to last the entire year. Plus, recreation-oriented businesses are hit hard during recessions when people can’t afford vacation trips.

Jim believes entrepreneurs who succeed have “a high tolerance for adversity and uncertainty.” He proves his point when he relates the setbacks he’s experienced that would tank most businesses— a fire that destroyed part of his facilities, a couple of floods, the Covid shutdown, and, last summer, his own diagnosis of throat cancer.

His attitudes and coping tools struck me as helpful advice for authors. The following are a few gold nuggets from his podcast.

Jim: “You never know where that first step is going to lead.”

When you’re stuck in your writing, take a step.

Inertia is not healthy for writers, in body, mind, or word production. If you’re bogged down, take a step in a new direction.

Write a public service announcement for a charity you admire. Write ad copy for a fundraiser for a worthwhile cause.

If your own ads don’t pan out, analyze what authors with similar books do for promotion. Try new avenues.

Learn a new skill—make a video, add fresh features to your website, try a different software writing tool, create an audiobook.

First steps sometimes lead to dead ends. But they can also lead to new universes.

 

Jim: “You never know who that [most] important customer is going to be. Treat every customer as if they are that person.”

Readers are the author’s customers. Building their loyalty and trust is key to selling books.

A major breakthrough opportunity for Jim’s company occurred when a particular customer was impressed with the fledgling operation. That man turned out to be an influencer who booked more trips for large groups and retreats, as well as recommending Esprit Whitewater to colleagues. A single customer hugely expanded Jim’s business.

For authors, treat every reader as your most important customer. They might place your book in Stephen King’s hands for a blurb. Or convince Oprah to feature it in her book club. Or catch Reese Witherspoon’s attention for a new movie production.

Not likely? Okay, but how about these possibilities?

A reader invites you to speak to their book club. That results in more sales and more readers.

A reader from that book club works for a major media outlet and wants to interview you.

The leader of a civic or professional organization hears/reads your interview and invites you to talk to their 500 members.

And so it can go.

When you treat each reader as that most important customer, their reach and recommendations carry you and your books into markets you never imagined.

 

Jim: “We manufacture our own luck. Preparation collides with opportunity.”

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Preparation can mean: take a class; read a new craft book; attend a conference; research new marketing angles.

When you’re doing the work, opportunities pop up in unexpected ways in unexpected places.

 

Jim: “Be unselfish and generous with your skills and pass them on.”

Help other writers.

The writing community is a continuum of authors at different levels of accomplishment, from beginners to multi-published bestsellers. We have all been helped by authors more experienced than ourselves and, in turn, we can help others less experienced than ourselves.

Freely share what you’ve learned. Teach a workshop. Write a guest blog post. Produce a newsletter for a charitable organization. Mentor a struggling writer.

You might think you’re too new at the craft to offer anything. Not so. You can beta-read. Judge a writing contest. Offer to talk to schoolchildren—most teachers are delighted to host writers and kids are eager to learn.

 

Jim: “It’s easier to train a great person to be a great whitewater guide than to take a great whitewater guide and turn them into a great person.”

For authors, attitude is more important than skill. Approach learning as a humble student.

I’ve known many talented authors who were positive they were destined to knock Michael Connelly off bestseller lists. They were usually so busy talking about how much they knew and how great they were that, not surprisingly, I haven’t noticed any of their names in USA Today.

C.S. Lewis said: “Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears.”

That advice spans to entrepreneurs, military, industry, and, of course, writing. Nobody knows everything.

Before you become a great writer, you must first be a great student.

 

Jim: “You never know when people you’ve contributed to will come back and contribute to you.”

At the beginning of the podcast, interviewer Barry said Jim had recently undergone chemotherapy and radiation for throat cancer. While Jim was laid low during the busy summer season, his team kept the business going and took care of hundreds of happy whitewater rafting customers. He’d earned the loyalty of his staff who came through when he needed them the most.

At the very end of the podcast, Jim mentions he gave the interview while lying in bed… with a feeding tube.

Wow. Just wow.

That left no doubt Jim Coffey is off the scale in his tolerance of adversity and uncertainty.

 Perhaps the most important lesson can be found in Jim’s actions:

Help others and never give up.

Works for authors, too.

~~~

Many thanks to Jim Coffey and Barry Kruse for their permission to quote and reference the interview which can be heard here: https://www.leadingsteep.com/podcast

~~~

TKZers: What is your favorite advice, touchstone, or belief that helps you over treacherous rapids and shoals encountered in your writing career?

~~~

 

In Debbie Burke’s new thriller Flight to Forever, her main character persists in spite of lots of cold water thrown in her face. Please check it out here.

+10

Writing Lessons From The Masters

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Okay, the headline is sneaky wordplay, as I am not referring to writing experts, but The Masters golf tournament recently concluded. Something shocking happened there and I think we can all learn from it, as writers and as normal folk making our way through a life that tosses out plenty of lemons.

jordan-spieth

Jordan Spieth

There is a young golfer named Jordan Spieth. He is twenty-two years old and a huge talent. He’s already won two majors (the hardest thing to do for a pro golfer), and one of those was last year’s Masters. He’s also a classy, well-spoken gentleman. And boy, do we need more of those these days.

Which is why what happened is so sad.

Jordan Spieth was set to go absolute legend. Only three players have ever won back-to-back Masters. You may have heard of these guys–Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods.

Spieth was playing lights out, leading the tournament all the way into the final round. He was up by five strokes with only seven holes left to play. All he had to do was avoid a major mistake and a second green jacket (the Masters’ cloak of honor) would be his. And then they’d begin measuring the space for Jordan Spieth on golf’s Mount Rushmore.

So as Spieth stepped up to the notorious par-3 12th, he could feel it, the victory. The crowd was with him. As were the millions watching at home.

But then the unthinkable, the shocking, the disastrous happened. Spieth hit two consecutive balls into the water. The first from 150 yards, the second from just 80. These were shots Jordan Spieth can make in his sleep, left handed. Not this time. The infamous Masters pressure caught up with him and … plop, plop.

His next shot went over the green and into a bunker. When it was all over, Jordan Spieth, one of the best players of his generation, carded a quadruple bogey.

And lost the tournament.

That, my friends, will mess with your head. To his credit, Jordan took it like a man, stood up to reporters’ questions, and made his obligatory appearance in Butler Cabin to slip the green jacket on the surprise winner, Danny Willet. Poor Jordan went through the motions, but he was clearly not there. He looked like an actor auditioning for a part in The Walking Dead.

This loss will be with Jordan forever. The only question now is, how will he handle it?

I know for sure he will hurt for a long time. But I suspect Jordan Spieth will muster his competitive spirit and play great golf again. I believe he will add several more majors to his resume before he’s done.

Which leads me to three lessons for writers:

  1. When you get knocked down, let it hurt for an hour. Then write something

Rejection. Rotten reviews. Dismal sales. They hurt. Don’t deny it. You can’t.

But after an hour (set a timer!) get yourself back to your keyboard.

If you’re on a project, write a new scene. If you’re not, write a journal entry.

Or use a writing prompt to get your creative juices flowing. (There’s a wonderful “writer igniter” over at the DIYMFA site. Check it out).

When you write, the pain of the setback begins to fade a little. It will try to reassert itself, but then you write some more. Eventually, the pain ceases to hold any power over you.

  1. Be the kind of writer that readers pull for

People like Jordan Spieth. He’s humble and positive and polite. Golf fans want to see him do well, especially now.

So show in your craft and your social media presence that you are a positive writer, someone who seeks to add value to other people’s lives. Readers who know you that way are much more likely to give you another chance should something you write fail to catch on.

  1. Don’t expect the easy road

Let me engage in a golf analogy for writers who are contemplating self-publishing. Imagine that suddenly anyone could play in The Masters. Just show up and tee off. Would being able to play mean you’d finish in the money? Of course not. The best golfers in the world would still win the prizes, with a few exceptions. Some really good amateurs would get in and maybe a handful of these would play out of their minds and make some tournament dough.

But the vast majority wouldn’t. Why not? Not because there’s a “tsunami of golfers,” but because their game is not good enough yet.

What they would need to do is go practice, get some coaching, and expect that it will take years to develop a great game. Even then, there are going to always be better golfers than you.

But if you grind and drive your beat-up Saturn from tournament to tournament, maybe you can earn enough to make it worth your while. Plus, you are playing a game you love.

Well, publishing is like that now. You don’t have to wait for an invitation from the Forbidden City. You can publish anytime you like.

But please don’t think that “getting to play” is an automatic win. You need to work on your craft, every day, just the way a pro golfer does. Think in terms of many years and many books, not just next month and your one completed novel.

Jordan Spieth will be back. And so will you, writer, because the only way to stop you is if you quit.

And you’re not going to.

So what about you? What major setback did you have to overcome, as a writer or in any other arena of life? How did you handle it?

+9

Perseverance

By Jordan Dane

For my last post in 2011 with TKZ, I found a Wall Street Journal article on self-publishing that offered something a little different. We’ve all heard the big blockbuster sales of a precious few who have seen sales of more than a million books, but who can really relate to that? We can all hope lightning will strike and we’ll be the one benefiting from that good fortune, but I picked out the elements of this article that addressed the digital trend, growing successes that have not gotten much highlight, and what one author—Darcie Chan—did to grow her self-pub sales.



Many have heard about Amanda Hocking and John Locke’s stories of hitting it big. These stories represent a miniscule fraction of independent authors, but success is still being found. According to Amazon, 30 authors have sold in excess of 100,000 copies of their books through Amazon’s self-pub Kindle program and a dozen more have seen sales of 200,000+ — a program started in 2007 that allows authors to upload their own books, set prices, and publish in multiple languages. Barnes & Noble have their own version for their Nook readers.


Self-published books have fueled the surge in digital sales from $287 million in 2009 to $878 million in 2010, according to the Association of American Publishers. Analysts speculate that e-book sales will pass $2 billion in 2013. We’ve all seen how the publishing industry (authors, agents, publishers, stores, etc) are scrambling to figure out how to capitalize on this exploding trend.


So here is one author’s story about how she stuck to her dream of writing a book she believed in and took the plunge.


It took Darcie Chan two and a half years to write her book during the hours she wasn’t working her day job of drafting environmental legislation. After getting feedback from friends and family, she sent queries to more than 100 agents, but since it was a cross genre story (with elements of romance, suspense and mystery), it didn’t fit neatly on retail book shelves and got rejected as a “tough sell.” She eventually landed an agent who submitted her book to over a dozen publishers, they all rejected it for the same reason, so the book of her dreams landed in a drawer and Darcie got on with her life. FIVE YEARS LATER, she read about the rise in e-book sales and self-publishing and decided to do something about her dream. Here is what she did:


She made her own cover for THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE (about an agoraphobic philanthropist) from a photo her sister had taken of an old mansion and added Photoshop graphic elements to make it look gloomy.


She uploaded her book into the Amazon Kindle self-publishing program and sold a trickle of copies. A few weeks later, she loaded it onto Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple’s iBookstore, Sony, and Kobo.


Her first royalty check was $39. That’s when she noticed that popular e-books were priced at $0.99 and immediately dropped her price from $2.99 to $0.99. (That cut her royalty percentage under Amazon rules from 70% on books priced at $2.99+ to 35% for novels priced below that threshold.) But sales picked up immediately for her and she found new readers who liked her book.


During the first month at her lower price, she sold 100 copies. She was thrilled with this, but by the end of June, her book got mentioned on a site called Ereader News Today, that posts tips for Kindle readers. Over the next two day period, she sold another 600 copies, giving her hope that she could drive her own sales.


She spent $1,000 on marketing, buying banner ads on websites and blogs devoted to Kindle readers and also bought a spot on Goodreads.com with its more than 6.6 million members.


She also learned that self-published authors could pay to have their book reviewed by some sites. She paid $35 for a review on IndieReader.com (who no longer offers paid reviews) and she paid $575 for an expedited review from Kirkus Reviews, a notable book review journal and website. (The Kirkus review service, launched in 2005, gives self-published authors the option to review privately if the review is negative. Darcie opted to have her book reviewed on Kirkus’s website and Kirkus called the novel “a comforting book about the random acts of kindness that hold communities together.” Darcie used quotes from the review and other reviews on Amazon and B&N for publicity purposes, to encourage more reviewers to try her book.


By July, she had sold more than 14,000 copies and got her noticed and featured on two of the biggest sites for e-book readers, which generated more sales. In August, she had sold more than 77,000 copies and had hit the New York Times and USA Today e-book bestsellers lists—and later she landed on the Wall Street Journal’s list too. In September, it sold more than 159,000 copies and 413,000 copies have sold to date.


Darcie and her agent have since offered her book to traditional publishers, but none have matched her royalty rates of 35-40% that she gets from Amazon and B&N. (Average print royalties range 10-15% with digital royalties usually set at 25%.) Simon and Schuster offered to distribute the book—as is—but Darcie wants the book professionally edited and marketed. So as of now, she is staying the course, content with how well her book is selling. She made an estimated $130,000 before taxes PLUS she’s getting a steady royalty check every month.


And from her success, she’s seeing interest from other parties. Foreign rights and audio book publishers have made offers and six movie companies have inquired about film rights.


Bottom line is that Darcie didn’t give up, even when everyone told her “NO.” No matter how you’re published, I think we can all learn from this woman’s perseverance.


This is my last post for 2011 since TKZ will be on our 2-week hiatus starting Dec 19th—the day my virtual tour starts with YA Bound. Happy holidays to our TKZ family and have a great 2012.

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