A Stoic Approach To The Inevitable
2 Days Until Roll-Out
We are getting close folks. If you were to check right now, you would see that both the paperback and kindle are live in Amazon right now. So why am I claiming the roll-out is still two days away?
On Monday, Feb. 3, my book will be free on Amazon for 3 days.
That is also the day I will make a push through my social media channels. So for all intents and purposes, Monday is the release date. I will use the KDP Select program through Amazon to make the book free for the first 3 days, and then raise the price of my book to .99 cents for Thursday and Friday, and then put it free again Saturday and Sunday. Between the two cycles, I’m hoping to chart my book on the first page of “top free” in Poetry on Amazon for about a week at least. Obviously, I will keep you posted by updating this page throughout the whole process.
How is pre-marketing going?
Pretty well. I tried a new method in the past couple of days: Giveaways. You can check out my active giveaway here if you want. In 24 hours I DOUBLED MY EMAIL LIST.
Granted, double for me is from 20 to 40, but I’m guessing some of you have a similar sized list and would love to double it in 24 hours.
So what did I do?
I’m going to warn you, I spent some money. I ran my giveaway through a site called Gleam. To get all the features I wanted (email list integration with Mailchimp, social media follows and shares) I had to pay $49/month. Of course, I will only do this 2-3 times a year, so it will work out better than the $600/year that implies.
I also spent money on some books. I bought Rupi Kaur’s Box-Set, Atticus’ newest book, The Truth About Magic, and put it together with my two books. This was about $40, but remember I get a little of that back from my own books.
I lastly spent $30 on Facebook Ads for the giveaway and targeted it as narrowly as I could. For a total of $120. If that is out of your budget, skip the $30 on Facebook, I’m not even sure that part is going to work yet. A lot of my traffic has come from posting the giveaway on free places, like Reddit (r/contest, r/giveaways, r/sweepstakes). Make sure you read the rules of these places before you post. You can also repost to Reddit every 48 hours for the length of the contest.
My give away is going to run for 10 days. I’ve already gotten 20 new signups in less than 24 hours. If that pace continues, I will have 200 new signups for $120. My aiming point was less than $1 per signup, and that would make it.
What is the strategy?
Alright, this strategy is ticking several boxes at once, so let’s break it down.
- I have associated my poetry books with the two best-selling modern poets on the market, Rupi Kaur and Atticus.
- I have singled them out in the giveaway title so I know the people signing up for the giveaway have an interest in modern poetry.
- I am giving away a free PDF of my first poetry collection to everyone who enters, so everyone comes away with some “prize” even though there will only be one winner
- My only required entry is to join my mailing list, but I’ve set up several “bonus entries”
- The bonus entries include checking out my Instagram page, and sharing the contest on their twitter, which of course brings more eyeballs to the contest.
A return to social media
I have taken all of January off of social media. I did this for two reasons:
- I needed a break, social media was becoming a problem for my productivity.
- I wanted to divorce the idea that the only way I could market was through social media.
I’ll write a post soon about some of the other outlets I found while I was off of social media, the biggest was definitely Medium.
But today, Feb. 1st, I returned to social media. I used that return to help grow my list by posting the contest on my facebook page. And posting a several-part Instagram story that enticed the reader to check out the contest.
Even if they did not sign up for the contest, I teased the idea of a new book (the chapbook I mentioned at the top of the article), so on Monday, hopefully, I can drive some traffic to free downloads.
This may be the last post before I go live on Monday.
But you should stick around. I’m going to continue to update after the book goes live. You should also check out the book on Monday-Wednesday (so you can get it for free). I am hoping that through me failing (mostly) and succeeding (a little), you and I can learn lessons that we can both apply to our next book roll-out. Because people deserve to see what we’ve been working so hard on. Art is it’s most arty when people can acknowledge it.
Keep creating cool shit. Talk soon,
3 Days Until The Book Is Live
As I mentioned in the last post, the book is actually already live, at least the paperback version is. I broke down some of the reasons for that in the last post. The kindle version will go live tomorrow, and it will be priced at $4.99. Here’s a tip if you are thinking about buying the kindle version, wait until Monday. It will be free. So why did I price it at $4.99?
Psychology is weird.
The way Amazon markets its products is by showing two things:
- How much cheaper the kindle is than the paperback. Well right now, I’d rather someone buy a paperback before I go live, so I’m not worried about using that to my advantage.
- When I do my kindle countdown deal starting Monday, Amazon will show the book as free for 5 days, and it will also show that the book is usually $4.99 with a big slash mark through it. When it stops being free, I will lower it to $.99, because I don’t really care about making money with this book. In fact, if you join my email list, I’ll give you two books for free.
You don’t want to make money?
I mean sure I want to make money, but I can be quite patient. I have a full-time job that I don’t despise; I write as a freelancer on the side, so even though I’d love to be a full-time writer, I’m not in a huge rush.
And you shouldn’t be either. Because the strategy I’m employing here is a long play, but I think it will be worth it. The number one goal of this entire project is to
This is the most important thing you can do as a blooming marketer. You need consistent eyeballs that you can control. Some of you may have seen me for the first time through this article, through a book I wrote, through Medium, or some other strange corner of the internet. Most of you will only see me once, and I’ll be lucky if you read most of the words.
This is a universal truth of the internet. You are exposed to everyone and you are no one at the same time.
You have to find a way to keep people with you. And an email opt-in is the best way. That’s why you’ll have seen 2-3 opt-ins by now for my email list, and I’ve created a free ebook to entice. This has a two-fold function.
- You get a free thing. And it’s actually good. I spent a lot of time on the book. It was my master’s thesis.
- You get a newsletter that is actually sort of interesting. I’m not spamming anyone with a billion products or call’s to action. I just give you some fun info, and we move on with our week. But, the one or two times a year I do have a new book or something to sell, I have a list to talk to.
So what is the big strategy? How am I growing a list?
On the first and last page of my soon-to-be-free kindle book, I have an email opt-in for another free book, The Cosmic Hello.
Luckily for you, you can just click that link and get it immediately. So yes, this strategy means you have to have written 2 things at least, and that you have to be willing to give away 2 things at least. For you, it doesn’t have to be a full book. Maybe you write a book, set it for free, and then have a short story as an opt-in.
By giving away these two free things, I’m hoping I will be gaining email subscribers that I would have never been exposed to, thanks to Amazon’s search algorithm.
I have two things going for me that will help me get exposed in Amazon.
- The title of my book is full of keywords. “Poetry book” is one the most successful Amazon keywords, and already if you type “a poetry book to read” in Amazon, you’ll see my book on the first page of results. That is without making a single sale yet.
- By making my book free on kindle, more people will be willing to take a shot on it, and Amazon also pushes it up its list for the first week or so. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to make it “perma-free” though I’m leaning that direction, and I’ll tell you how you can do that soon because it’s slightly complicated.
It may be strange that I’d still like you to sign up for my list even though I’ve told you that’s what I want. We aren’t used to honesty from people trying to sell us stuff.
And I’m not sure I’m doing myself any favors, but like many artists reading this, I don’t want to be a scummy salesman. Never have. I want to create my art, and then find a way to get that art in front of as many eyes as possible. Will being upfront and honest about my strategies help or hinder me? I don’t know.
Plenty of people are making money online by lying to you. I won’t be one of them.
Until next time, keep creating cool shit, and I’ll keep experimenting on how to help you get it in front of people.
6 Days Until Air
Alright, I have 6 days left until my book will officially be live on Amazon, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It’s actually already live. At least in paperback form. Why do I already have it live if I’m not officially releasing it until next week?
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
Think about most purchases you have made before you are sure about the products, especially on Amazon. What is the first thing you do? Check out the reviews. So when I do my Kindle Countdown deal on Monday ( because it statistically gets the most downloads during the first five days) there will already be some reviews beneath the book.
Where did I get the reviews?
I told you in the first article that I’m primarily using this experiment as a way to build my email list. But I’m not starting from zero. I am starting from pretty close to zero though. I am starting with 23 subscribers on my email list. Who are these 23 people? My closest friends and family. The people I can depend on to begrudgingly give me some reviews when I beg them a week before the book goes live.
So I spent the weekend getting my book in order, and sending them a PDF version of the book for free, with one request: PLEASE LEAVE ME A REVIEW. Of the 23 people, I expect I will get about 5 reviews. That is fine. That is a good start and will at least give my page a little credibility when the book goes live Monday.
That offer is still on the table, by the way, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll gladly send you a free copy of my book if you leave me a review. At least until Monday, when I delete this part of the article.
What Have I Learned So Far?
1. Lean (only a little) on people who care about you
It is okay to call in a favor from time to time, given that you are a good friend who helps your friends out when they also ask favors. I wouldn’t beg all your friends and family to spend money on your projects, but if you are offering it to them for free, and only asking for an honest review in return, I think you’ll find that most of your real friends will answer the call.
2. Pre-order advertising isn’t working
I told you I was going to share my failures as well as my successes here, so that you won’t make the same mistakes. I have spent about $10 on Amazon Advertising for the Kindle Pre-order, and it is not really resulting in much. I have decided to back off that strategy, and send Advertising to the Paperback that is already live. I have also adjusted my AdWords to target the front page of Amazon when I search the term “poetry book.” That means I am literally typing in names like Rupi Kaur, Atticus, Mary Oliver, etc. for my keywords. I will keep you guys posted on if that strategy sees any fruit.
3. Formatting is a bitch
I wanted to avoid any timeline issues. So I finished out the 30-page chapbook over the weekend, revised heavily, sent it to a friend who also revised heavily, and then went live. I covered last time about how I made the cover. I also spent a lot of the weekend making sure the sizing fit. Luckily you can adjust the sizing in google docs (I made mine 6×9 because I want it to look like a mini-magazine), and then set the size in KDP to match exactly. Formatting for kindle was a little harder, so let me share a pro-tip.
Make sure you add a manual page-break (CTRL or Command + ENTER) between every page in your book.
This will save you a lot of headaches when kindle converts your docx file. Trust me.
4. Lastly, Hustle Is Hard
I really want to make this work this time. Which means I am hustling out there. My goal is to propose 100 podcasts, and/or blogs to see if they’d like to talk to me about this project, and the advertising successes and failures. Writing and selling poetry is not for the faint of heart, and I would love to inspire another poet to keep going, or find an easier path to success. So hopefully, you’ll see and hear me soon on other blogs.
In addition, I’m reaching out to 50+ venues in my area to try to arrange readings in the next year. It is time to show my face, get out there, and sell some books. This strategy should allow my success to not entirely depend on the first week of sales (though I will share with you how that goes as well). If I keep hustling and keep up the belief that my audience is out there, I just need to find them, then I know I will be able to define this project as a success, regardless of the dollars and cents it makes.
Let me leave you with two mantras.
I have been saying these two phrases to myself every day throughout this process. They are nothing groundbreaking, but maybe they will help inspire you.
- You deserve to see what you could do if you work hard. There has to be a path. Keep searching.
- “Rejection is a myth, you never had it in the first place.” -Jack Canfield
Until next time, keep writing, keep working,
9 Days Until Launch
I have about 10 more poems to write in the next 9 days in order to fill out this book. So I obviously am spending all of my time writing and perfecting these poems right? Well, about that…
You guessed it. Instead, I decided to jump ahead to cover design. Why? Well, like I mentioned in the last post, I am an artist, not a marketer. I must follow my heart, and today my heart told me to design my book cover. What do you think? The pre-order is live now if you want to click the picture. And yes, you can make a pre-order go live even if you don’t have the book content finished yet. Which is a handy tip if you trust yourself to finish by the time the pre-order is over. I gave myself until Feb. 3, which is…9 days from now. Fingers crossed.
Now let’s get into the useful things that you can use for your own book.
How did I create this book cover in just a few hours?
I did it myself using canva.com.
They have a free trial for 30 days for their premium package (which I needed to resize the image to the appropriate size). You also can get by using their free package for quite a lot of things. I’ve used the free service for a while for my Pinterest pins.
One of the things I’m attempting in this particular experiment is to do everything for free
(except AMS and Pinterest ads which I will talk about later). So that means that even though I’m not really a designer; I needed to design my own title.
If you’re wondering where the title itself came from, it is twofold:
- I am a cheeky bastard, and I thought it was really funny to be so meta about the title.
- Through my past keyword research with my first book, The Cosmic Hello, I realized that most people that found my book organically found it through the term “poetry book.” If you don’t know what keyword research is yet, that’s fine, we will get there in the marketing section, but it basically is how people find you on google and amazon. So I am interested if putting “poetry book” in the title of this book will allow it to rank higher in searches. I will let you know the results right here. So stay tuned.
After I came up with the glorious title. I used a free background from canva, darkened it a little bit, and found a font thought I liked. On the suggestion of a friend, I made the parentheses a little smaller, which was sort of a pain because I had to create 3 separate text boxes to make it work, but Canva is really good at helping you resize and recenter if you play with it a bit.
I don’t care if you use Canva or not, and in fact, if I wasn’t trying to keep everything free for this experiment, I wouldn’t be designing anything myself at all. The other two books, I spent money on the designs and I’m very pleased with the results. The first book, The Cosmic Hello was designed by someone on Fiverr.com for pretty cheap. I think $20 or so. And the second one was designed by a connection I made on Instagram, and it cost me $50.
(I can’t show you Islands and Men’s cover until the pre-sale for it starts, but trust me, it’s cool).
I would recommend finding someone with design experience if you have none because it is essential to get the book cover right. Everyone loves to say, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” but that’s pretty much exactly what everyone does when it comes to actual books.
So there you have it. We went a little bit out of order, but it actually served a purpose, because now I have a pre-order up. Ideally, this means that I will get more traffic on day one of my book when it goes live, which is essential to rank high on Amazon.
If you are crafting your book with me, make you have all of your content created and start shopping around for someone to create the perfect cover for me. I think you can get a decent looking cover for under $50 if you look around on Fiverr or Upwork, or just know someone who is a good designer.
Next time, we are going to talk about formatting the content for a paper copy and for Kindle, but for now. Just get your cover set up, and if you’d like, start filling out the details for Amazon’s KDP program. You’ll find that you can set up a Kindle pre-order without uploading the manuscript just yet.
I hope this was helpful for you. See you soon with more details and advice.
The Trials and Tribulations Of An Artist Who Hates Marketing
So it begins. The grand experiment. As some of you know, I have self-published one poetry book, The Cosmic Hello: Lessons in Codependence if you click that link it will allow you download that book for free, and join my email list. Or if you really want a paper copy, you can find it on Amazon here.
Which will be a whole new adventure. If you think I’ve made it to the mountain top and a traditional publisher is going to take care of all of my marketing, guess again. Unless you got picked up by a major NY agency like Harper Collins, it’s still going to mostly fall on you.
If I’m honest, I didn’t really put much effort into marketing the first book, and so far, I haven’t really put much effort into marketing the second one either. I, and I’m assuming many of my fellow artists, get kind of skeeved out by marketing.
I always think of a slick snake-oil salesman type character in a cheap, striped suit. But the more I write, and the more I think about it, the more I find myself wondering why I put so much effort into the art if I’m not going to put any effort into having my art seen by others.
Not that there is some huge problem with creating for yourself; I did that for a decade before I ever tried to show it to anyone really, but now I want my art and my writing to have an impact. Maybe it’s because I’m about to be 30 and I feel responsible adult things encroaching far too fast.
So who is this blog series for?
It’s for you of course. Okay, and maybe a little bit for me. But in the past few months, as I’ve read books on Guerilla marketing, and blogs on marketing, and listened to podcasts on marketing, I haven’t seen very many that focus on poetry or really creative writing in general (except quite a bit on erotic novels).
So this series is to document my attempts to create, edit, publish, and market a chapbook as an experiment to learn what does and does not work for marketing poetry. Some people might say there is not a market for poetry out there, but that is just not true. In fact, there has been a resurgence of enthusiasm for poetry lately.
So I’m going to walk you through every step of my process, why I am taking those specific steps, and what works and does not work along the way. My hope is that this helps someone who might find themselves in a similar position, now, or someday in the future.
So let’s talk about the first steps. I will write subsequent blog posts on each of these steps and go into detail about how to do every part, even the writing because as you are about to see, I still need to write more poems. Oh yeah, I’m trying to release this 10 days from now, while keeping up with the blog, my full-time job, and my part-time freelance writing job. It’s going to be quite an adventure. Let’s get to it.
Step by Step Overview
1. Write a chapbook (or full collection like I did for the first two).
You have to have a collection of poems to publish in the first place. Most chapbooks are around 25-40 pages in length. And full collections are between 60-100 pages. My first book, The Cosmic Hello was somewhere around 75, and my newest book, Islands and Men is somewhere in the mid 60 range. As yet untitled Poetry Book #3 is sitting at 15 pages right now. I have to fill out at least 10 more pages before I even begin the next step, and I’m aiming for 30 pages so that it at least has the ability to get a paper printing on Amazon’s KDP Print on Demand service.
2. Edit, Edit, Edit, find a friend to Edit
This whole experiment will be to find a way to get this book on the market for free (-ish, I’m going to spend some on marketing, but we will get to that later). So that means I will be editing it heavily myself, and reaching out to talented friends with promises of undying affection, an editing credit in the front cover, and maybe a nice beer.
Do not put a book out that you haven’t gone over with a fine-tooth comb. As John Proctor would say in The Crucible, “because it’s my name, it’s the only one I have.” Sure, Amazon makes it pretty easy to upload a corrected copy later, but don’t let any stranger see, let alone potentially pay for shoddy work. Take your time getting it right.
3. Publish On Amazon KDP (formerly known as CreateSpace) or Send It To Publishers
I will show you exactly how to self-publish on Amazon KDP, and I promise it’s easier than you think. The most important thing for poetry is just getting the formatting the way you want it. For the ebook portion, it’s a little tricky, because kindle users can change text size at will, but there are some handy tools to make this work.
If you’d like to send it off to try to get it traditionally published, I will show you some resources to find it, and talk about best practices for your cover letter, and which markets to target.
This is the section that is going to be the most experimental for me. Let me tell you a little bit about what I plan to do, and we will find out together what works.
- Set up a blog and email list. If you are reading this, step 1 was successful, and I hope you joined my email list and got your free download of my first poetry collection.
- Write blog posts consistently and push them out to social media channels, my strongest ones are Instagram and Pinterest, but find what works for you.
- Cold-email podcasts, blogs, and magazines about my roll-out plan. If I can get 1 out of 30 to work with me, and I send out 300, we will be in business.
- Make the book perma-free. Or at least free until Summer 2020. I will show you how to do this during the publishing phase. Why am I making it free? Because my actual goal is to sell my next book; this book is to build an email list.
- Use AMS ads to rank in Amazon’s bestseller list for a long as possible and let organic traffic flow from there.
I hope you will find some value in following me along this journey, and hopefully, it will set off some ideas for your own writing journey. Check back here soon for the next installment of this fun experiment. Whether I fail or succeed, I’m betting we learn some valuable lessons together to make us better writers, publishers, and marketers in the future.
Whether You Want To Self or Traditionally Publish These People Will Help You On Your Journey
I’m in the process of publishing my 2nd book this year. The first one, which was self-published is available for free download by signing up for my email newsletter.
The second book, which is traditionally published through Finishing Line Press, will be available for pre-order soon, but since I’m sure you signed up for that newsletter, you’ll know about that as soon as it is live.
The point is, I devoured a ton of information over the past few years to reach my publishing goals.
6 years ago, I had no idea what to do with my writing goals. I had been writing since I was a kid, but had never been published, aside from a high school magazine or local journal. I was sure I was doomed to leave my writing collecting dust in various journals, never to see the light of day.
But over the last 6 years, I’ve gotten an MFA in Poetry, I’ve published two books, been published in various magazines, and even released two music EPs. Now, I want to help those of you that were sitting in my place a few years back; let’s start by looking at some of the resources I read that helped me with motivation, craft, marketing, and all the other in’s and out’s in this crazy industry.
If you follow the advice in these books, I’m sure you will be well on your way to being published yourself sooner rather than later.
This is the quintessential guide to writing practice. I’ve never been a huge fan of Mr. King’s fiction, but there is no doubt that the man is prolific and successful. This book explores how to build a daily writing practice, stay motivated, and learn to love rejection. It will inspire you, no matter what genre or type of writing you do.
This book taught me discipline. It spends much of the book talking about “the creative muse” and how to create the right scenario to coax her out of her shell. At times he gets a little too spiritual with it, but the basics of creating the art that you were made to create, and working hard to make sure it’s the best version of that, are invaluable.
This book takes the discipline from the previous two books and really focuses in on inspiration and how to get creative ideas. The biggest takeaway for me is you don’t have to be a genius to create good art, you just have to be yourself. Stop spending so much time trying to create a once in a lifetime masterpiece, and just create. Have more fun with it. Life is short.
These next two are specifically for poets because that’s my specialty. I mostly write free verse poetry, but this book helped me see the beauty in form. It’s been one of the most essential elements of me finding rhythm and structure in my free verse, and it’s a must-read for any aspiring poet who is still searching for their specific style.
Like the previous book, this book is for getting in the weeds about what makes good poetry. Mary Oliver is the queen of imagery, and this book is taught in college creative writing classes across the country. There’s so much to learn here and it is a resource I have constantly turned back to for the last 10 years of my writing career.
This one is a little strange. Part writing advice, part rant, part disconnected fact book, this book attempts to bring writing to the 21st century. Shields emphasizes that there are a million ways to be creative, and will get your brain thinking about modern ways to do so, but he also correctly points out that all good art is authentic. We crave realness.
7. The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano
The title is pretty self-explanatory. This has just been a handy resource for those days that inspiration is lacking. I’ve actually turned out some really cool pieces from using these writing prompts, and they are often a lot different than something I normally would’ve written, which is a great creative exercise.
8. Guerrilla Marketing for Writers: 100 No-Cost, Low-Cost Weapons for Selling Your Work by Jay Conrad Levinson, Rick Frishman, Michael Larsen, and David L. Hancock
Alright. This one is a little more business oriented. The truth is, there is an audience for modern poetry, but it is difficult to find it. Whether you are self-publishing or traditional publishing, you are probably going to have to do quite a bit of your own marketing, and if you are like me two things are true.
1. You don’t really want or know how to market.
2. You don’t have a large marketing budget.
This book teaches you how to bootstrap your marketing efforts, and even if a few items are outdated, there is a lot of actionable advice.
9. Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories by Maria Mazziotti Gillan
One of the hardest things about releasing your private thoughts is how revealing it can be. I’ve written poems about past relationships, childhood abuse, mental health issues, and all of it can make you feel a bit exposed. This book is great at showing you that your vulnerability is actually your strength. And being authentic is so important for being an artist.
Joanna Penn’s blog is probably one of the most diverse and informational resources on the web for modern creative writers. She’s had so many guests on her podcast and has a wealth of different experiences to draw from. This is a must read blog if you are looking for information on how other people have walked this path before.
This is another resource with a wealth of information. Jane has been in the publishing industry for 20 years and she shares a wealth of industry secrets on her blog.
This blog is interesting because for a long time no one knew who ran it. Passive Guy is an attorney by day, and didn’t want people to know that he was the one typing the blog if it ever came up in court. But now he’s focusing more on the blog and revealed himself. Passive Guy has prompt posts, grammar posts, and strange rants. It’s really entertaining and helpful to see someone be successful just being themselves. Or I guess a fictional version of themselves.
This is a smaller site, and it won’t wow you with its graphic design (sorry Jason), but sometimes you can get a lot of value out of smaller sites because they will give you a lot of information without charging you a premium. Jason Matthews does a great job of walking you through how to create an e-book and make it a success, and you can see that he has a lot of practice self-publishing himself.
This blog puts self-publishing on easy mode. Maybe the thought of doing all the work yourself is a bit intimidating. This blog will help ease the struggle and get your a product you can be proud of.
This has been one of my favorite podcasts for a while, and it has just started its second season. Early in this season Derek talks in depth about motivation, and I came away from the episode feeling like it was my moral imperative to create art.
16. Hashtag: No Filter: Episode 157 11 Solid Reasons You Should Consider Using Instagram For Business
This is a podcast I’ve only recently started listening to, but it’s very helpful when it comes to navigating one of a poets best friends and worst nightmares, Instagram. This particular episode is just an appeal for why Instagram is an important tool for your business, and even though I’m really trying to avoid spending more time on social media, she makes some compelling points.
This show is really motivating if you are trying to make more money on the side and are looking for ideas. The host, Nick Loper, has interviewed people from a ton of different niches that are making money on the side. This episode explores how to self-publish on Amazon, and make a decent income.
You’ll notice I mentioned Joanna Penn’s blog above. Her podcast is an excellent resource as well. This episode explores how to make the muse work for you, rather than the other way around and how to set the stage for good luck.
I told you I liked this show. These two episodes are Part 1 and 2 of a deep dive into the process of self-publishing. If you are thinking of self-publishing, I would honestly start here before I bought any of the books or anything on the list. This is the most important episode you can listen to if you are starting from nothing.
This podcast is useful in the same way as the prompts book. With really short episodes and constant prompts, this podcast will have you completing small, actionable writing goals, every single day.
Well that’s it. My 20 helpful books, blogs, and podcasts to get you started on your publishing journey. Which ones did I miss? What media have you encountered that helped your writing, marketing, or creativity?
Want more helpful articles about writing, culture, and poetry? Subscribe to my email list and get a free PDF of The Cosmic Hello, my first poetry collection.
If you want more personalized help with your publishing journey, be sure to check out my coaching services, where I will walk you step by step through publishing your next book.
Until next time,
Modern Poetry Books I Can’t Put Down This January
Clementine Von Radics is one of my favorite modern poets, and she’s also a great social media follow. This collection came out in 2015, and it’s full of some of the most haunting imagery of any poetry book I read in my 20s. Filled with simplistic but crushing language that spills out the darkest corners of relationships, depression, and the sometimes pain of existence, this book is sure to leave you feeling emotionally exhausted when you’re done.
Set up in a seasonal structure that begins in winter and ends with spring, Newman explores natural beauty and ugliness with breathtaking imagery. The thing that stands out most to me about this collection is how often an ugly scene is described so beautifully that I have nostalgia for a place that probably no one really wants to be. I think that’s the point. How many moments of beauty do we allow to slip by like they are mundane? If we could just wrap our heads around the way ugly things really do have intrinsic value, we might open ourselves to an entirely new world.
“The difference between a garden and a graveyard is only what you choose to put in the ground” – Rudy Francisco
Rudy has seen a lot of success through Button Poetry’s youtube channel and live performances, which sometimes doesn’t translate well to book form, but Helium makes the transition flawlessly. This collection discusses love, self-reflection, but the most intriguing parts to me are the deep cultural critiques that focus on class, race, and gender that finds shared humanity between all of us.
If you liked this list. I’ll be back soon to give you more suggestions, as I try to read my way through 2020.
Get Yourself Off The Hedonic Treadmill
“Most people are like all stomachs: they cannot remain satisfied for a long time.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
When I was getting my undergrad in English, I was not always the most studious member of my university. I wrote recently on the ways I’ve had to trick the laziness out of myself, and honestly, it has always been a struggle. One year, I was on the brink of losing my scholarship if I didn’t make an A in a summer class, so what did I do? I took the easiest sounding class I could, of course. That happened to be a psychology class on happiness. How hard could a class about being happy really be?
Which mentioned this thing called the hedonic treadmill. I’ll explain more about that soon. It’s a really interesting book overall that I highly recommend.
It turns out, I didn’t lose my scholarship, so I guess the class wasn’t that hard, but attaining actual happiness seems to be quite difficult for most of us. That’s because we are trained to base our happiness on goals and success, and we’ve got it all wrong.
What Is The Hedonic Treadmill?
Let’s define this sinister-sounding workout routine.
The hedonic treadmill (also known as hedonic adaptation) is a theory positing that people repeatedly return to their baseline level of happiness, regardless of what happens to them. — Seph Fontane Pennock, BBA
In some ways, this treadmill can be a sign of hope; if something bad happens, you generally, with enough time, return to your general level of happiness that you had before.
It can also put us on a hamster wheel of achievement, where we forever put off our happiness for someplace just over the horizon line. Let me emphasize this with a fictional story with a guy we will call John.
John is doing okay. He isn’t depressed or anything, but he has his struggles. He believes if he can just get his raise at work, he will be happy. He can pay off some debts he shouldn’t have accrued, and take his wife on a vacation.
John gets his raise, and he is ecstatic. He pays off his debts and takes his wife on a weekend getaway to a cabin in the mountains. After a couple of months, John finds himself daydreaming at work of a new job at a new company; his current job is fine, but it is holding him back. This new job will make him happy for sure.
John gets a new job across town and another small raise. He is so excited. He spends the first couple of weeks feeling valued in ways that he never did at his last job. After a couple of months, John finds himself daydreaming at work, this time he wants to put a hot tub in the back yard. If he could just relax in his hot tub after a long day at work, he would be so much happier.
John gets the hot tub. The first couple of months he spends every evening relaxing with a beer and even sets up an outdoor television to watch. After a couple of months…
Okay, you get it right? John is basing his happiness on an external goal: a raise, a new job, a hot tub, etc. It is good to have goals, but if we know that our external experiences have little to do with our overall happiness, why do we continue to think that new external experiences and objects are going bring us happiness?
“Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
How Do I Get Off The Hedonic Treadmill?
You must throw away the idea that you can earn your way to happiness. Most of us know that you can’t buy happiness, but we still try to earn it through some external goal.
I know I said earlier that people return to their baseline of happiness regardless of what happens to them, but that only accounts for external factors. You can change your happiness level, but it has to be an internal change.
The researchers found that even though there was significant stability in the happiness assessments, 24% of participants still experienced a significant change to their happiness level, and 9% of participants changed by two standard deviations or more. It seems that long-lasting change is possible.
“The very good news is there is quite a number of internal circumstances . . . under your voluntary control. If you decide to change them (none of these changes come without real effort), your level of happiness is likely to increase lastingly.” — Martin Seligman
That begins with finding happiness where you are. If you are not happy at $30,000 a year, you aren’t going to be happy at $100,000 a year, if the only thing that changes is your income.
One of the biggest factors of finding happiness where you are comes down to practicing gratitude.
“A study by Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues Cohn, Coffey, Pek, and Finkel showed that the stream of positive emotions induced through loving-kindness meditation can outpace the effects of the hedonic treadmill (2008).”
Instead of thinking that the bench you are sitting on is dreary, or uncomfortable, just take it in for what it is. If you can begin to practice this with small scenarios, you can begin to work on your self-talk when it comes to your life too. Instead of a work assignment being stressful, or a family member being dramatic; they just are what they are.
This takes some serious rewiring of the brain and a lot of time. It’s okay though, you don’t have to be rewired to make progress. So where do you begin? Try to write down 5 things you are grateful for every day. It can be simple. Here are my 5 for today:
- I am grateful that my fiancé made kale and sausage soup
- I am grateful that I ran a new personal record pace on my run today.
- I am grateful my dog is snuggled at my feet while I am writing this.
- I am grateful I no longer have the cold I was struggling with last week.
- I am grateful I spent time with a friend earlier today.
What about you? What are you grateful for today? How can you use that gratefulness to step off of the hedonic treadmill? It’s funny, but I guess I should be grateful for a couple of things that at the time I thought were quite negative. I am grateful I was so lazy that my GPA dropped into critical territory. I am grateful that I thought a class on happiness would be easy.
And I am grateful that you are reading this right now, and hope that we can learn more together in the future.
What Ancient Greek Tragedies Can Teach Us Today
“He who climbs upon the highest mountains laughs at all tragedies, real or imaginary.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
I’m an English teacher at an all-boys school, and sometimes it’s my job to make high school boys interested in literature that was written thousands of years ago. It’s not always easy, especially because sometimes I’m not particularly interested myself (looking at you Gilgamesh; sure, I’m glad you learned some lessons after being a serial rapist, but you were still a serial rapist bro.)
When it comes to the Greek tragedies, specifically Sophocles’ most famous of his Theban Plays, Oedipus Rex, there are still many relevant lessons for us here at the dawn of 2020. But first, a one paragraph plot summary for those of you who haven’t been in a literature class in a while:
Oedipus opens the play having saved Thebes from the Sphinx by risking his own life and using his clever wisdom to solve the Sphinx’s riddle. He then becomes king, and attempts to find out who killed the previous king, Laius, only for it to slowly be revealed that an angry old man he killed at a crossroads years before, was, in fact, Laius. He later comes to find out that Laius was actually his birth father, and Oedipus’ wife(and mother of his 4 children), Jocasta, was actually his birth mother (she didn’t know either). He gouges his eyes out with Jocasta’s brooches, and then goes into exile after learning the shameful truth.
So what can we learn from such an antiquated and sorrowful tale?
1. Past Success Does Not Guarantee Good Leadership In The Future
At the beginning of the play, Oedipus has everyone’s trust as a leader, and he’s earned it. He saved Thebes from a Sphinx that was terrorizing the city, by solving a riddle: The riddle was: “What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?” Can you figure it out?
It’s man. Four feet: baby, two feet: most of life, three feet: old age with a cane. Many people had tried to answer the riddle before Oedipus, and the Spinx killed everyone who got it wrong, which discouraged most people from even trying at all.
So before the play begins, Oedipus has proven himself wise, self-sacrificing, confident and personable; he is all the things we tend to look for in a leader, even today. When Oedipus finds out that the city is still under a curse because the killer of the previous king, Laius, still resides in the city, he makes it his mission to find out who the killer is, and banish him.
The real point here though is the people trust him. The “Chorus” in a classical tragedy, represents the crowd. Sometimes they sound like the audience watching they play, and sometimes they sound like an audience within the play, like the people of Thebes when the chorus says:
I will not approve of any man who censures Oedipus, for it was clear when that winged Sphinx went after him he was a wise man then. We witnessed it. He passed the test and endeared himself to all the city. So in my thinking now he never will be guilty of a crime. (Sophocles, 605–611)
This comes after the first person, a blind seer has told Oedipus that he should look at himself for the killer of the previous king. It sounds awfully familiar in American politics today. Maybe the stakes aren’t quite as extreme, but the basic idea of: there is a problem, we look to a politician to solve that problem based on what we believe about their past, that politician promises to solve the problem, sometimes earnestly, and then, regardless of the result, regardless of if the politician is actually part of the problem, we trust them still.
Let’s take the easiest example, Donald Trump. Most of us know that he is not as successful as he claims. He has a string of failed business and lawsuits. It is unlikely he is a billionaire, or at least to the degree that he claims. “Mr. Trump told Deutsche Bank his net worth was about $3 billion, but when bank employees reviewed his finances, they concluded he was worth about $788 million” (New York Times). Yet, his supporters elected him on the narrative that he was a successful billionaire. He carries himself as a successful billionaire; his television show, The Apprentice helped fully establish that successful persona in the public’s eye.
So regardless of the truth, in a lot of people’s eyes he has a history of financial success, and he carries himself with confidence and charisma. The problem isn’t whether or not that is a truthful image (although the truth is always helpful); the problem is: maybe past success doesn’t lead to future success anyway. That includes whoever you want to win the 2020 election. Maybe we, the chorus, shouldn’t be looking to leaders to solve all our problems and be our saviors. They don’t really care about your problems anyway.
I’m not going to spend the rest of the article bashing Trump and politics. 1. That’s too easy. 2. There’s plenty of places to go if you want that catharsis (hey, another word that comes from Greek tragedy). Instead, I want to focus on the ways we are like Oedipus.
2. How We Feel About Our Situation Is Mostly Just Narrative
One of the most interesting things about Oedipus Rex, is that nothing actually happens. All of the events in the play take place before the play begins. King Laius has already been killed. Oedipus has already married Jocasta. The only thing that happens in the play is that information is revealed. At the beginning of the play, Oedipus is an adored King, with a wife he loves, 4 kids, and a loving constituency. During the course of the play, he doesn’t really do anything to lose all of that, but he finds out he’s already done everything to lose all of that. That old man he killed on the road years ago? That was the previous king, who was also his father. That woman you’ve been making babies with? That was actually your mother. Who you thought was your mother and father? They actually adopted you and didn’t tell you.
The interesting thing to think about is how this applies to our own lives. How have our past actions shaped our present or future in ways we cannot possibly change or suspect? How much of our happiness, security, and sense of self is based on a narrative that has not been fully revealed? The play ends on a pretty dark note; a tragic one, you might say. After seeing Oedipus, blinded and exiled, the Chorus says, “So while we wait to see that final day, we cannot call a mortal being happy before he’s passed beyond life free from pain.” (Sophocles, 1812–1814). They also mention being uncomfortable looking at Oedipus because he is a reminder of their own fragility, of status, happiness, and ignorance (and I imagine the rain of blood coming from his eye sockets doesn’t help).
There is still a way to spin that positively. Everything changes. Do not get too comfortable when things are good. Do not get too down when things are bad. Life is not a constant plateau of happiness, and all we can do is keep fighting towards the peaks. The uncomfortable truth is, sometimes….
3. Tragedy Is Reality
We are so used to stories with happy endings. Even the sad ones try to create something bittersweet. I get it. Reality can be depressing enough. When Oedipus first shows himself to the crowd with his eyes gouged out, the Chorus exclaims that they can’t bear to look at him. Here, the chorus stands in as our usual reaction to uncomfortable truths.
A few weeks ago, I found out a friend from high school died. You guys know the sort of situation; we were fairly close as teenagers, but saw each other less than a handful of times after graduation. He was a good kid. He got good grades, participated in the youth group at his church, and generally kept his nose clean. After he left for college he started to party, like pretty much all of us do, but he lost control, and spiraled into addiction with various substances. At one point I heard that he was homeless, a thousand miles away from home, and no one knew where to find him. Eventually, an organization found him, contacted his parents, and he moved home and attempted to rehabilitate.
That was, maybe, two years ago or so. If this was a conventional fiction, that would be the start of his redemption arc. As far as I’ve heard, he did take some steps in the right direction; he got a job, and stayed sober for a bit, until he didn’t. He stole some money from his job, and got fired, and kicked out of his house. He died walking beside a highway at night, where he was struck by a vehicle.
Oedpius and other tragic stories remind us that life is not a story book with a happy ending. It is uncomfortable to be reminded of this. Why am I focusing on something so depressing, when life bleak is enough? But should we be afraid to look tragedy in the face? Does tragedy, pain, and sadness, continue to keep its power if we make attempts to familiarize ourselves with it? If we accept that the natural order of things is tragedy, people die, we lose our jobs, natural disasters happen, could that help us appreciate the non-tragic moments even more?
The god’s know what the final score of the football game will be, but we still have to play it. — A.W. Gomme
I hope this doesn’t come off as calloused. I’m not saying you should not be sad when tragedy strikes. We are human, and it is not weak or wrong to feel emotions. I have experienced loss, and I have been devastated by it.
All I’m saying is we should not be surprised by tragedy. I will feel loss again. This is one of the core tenets of Stoicism (which I will talk about in another article soon.) Stoicism was another Greek philosophy that still applies to humans today. We do not, and can not control external events, and perhaps they are even pre-determined, but we do have a modicum of control over our reactions and responses to the external. This does not mean you should not feel sadness, or empathy, or pain, but if you can train yourself to not be surprised when tragedy strikes, you can appreciate when times are good, and cope when times are not.
“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on us, it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.” -Seneca