Monday, March 18, 2013

From Bob Mayer's mouth to my ears


First Coast Romance Writers recently hosted Bob Mayer with his "Write it forward" workshop. A NYT bestselling author, Mayer has more than 50 published books and speaks on team-building, life-change, and leadership. 


One of the first things I noticed is that Mayer's perspective on organization and effectiveness stems from his experience as a West Point graduate and a Special Forces A-Team leader. He breaks down any problem or task into doable steps, something which has served him well throughout his distinguished writing career. With my background working for the Army, his linear, spreadsheet approach to planning really hit the right note with me!

Here are a few of the things that I picked up and my take on them:

Mayer: Distribution is no longer the choke-hold in the publishing world. Now it's discoverability.
      MT: He put into words what I've been grappling with this last year. It's not enough to put a book    out. You have to let people know you've published something, and you need a marketing hook to draw them in. the trick is knowing where to spend your precious time - and figuring out where the readers are.

Mayer: Are you striving to survive or striving to succeed?
     MT: This question also provoked a gotcha moment for me. Juggling a day job, a family, writing  and promotion doesn't leave much time to look at the big picture. Most days it feels like I'm trying to survive. Success is the goal, but it often feels like I'm too far in the trenches to glimpse success. I make long term plans and set goals at the start of a project, but I only plan from project to project. If I want more out of a writing career, I have to plan for more.

Image of Bob MayerMayer: Why do you write? What do you want to achieve by writing? What do you want to do with each book? Take your eyes off the prize and put them on the goal. Write your goal in 25 words.
     MT: These are a few of the questions he posed to get us thinking about our goals. He also said perseverance is more important than talent, and that writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Ability plus zeal plus hard work trumps talent.

Mayer: With books, you're selling emotion and logic. Can you communicate the shiver?
     MT: This explains to me why a book that is poorly written is still compelling. If the shiver comes   through, that emotional connection propels the story, a lot can be forgiven. A book that reads well and communicates well will sell well, but emotion trumps logic every time.

Mayer: Anger and guilt are flashpoints that can break a character. They spring from an underlying fear. Writers should figure out what they fear (writing-wise); they should do the same for their characters - and then push them to face their fears.
     MT: Gosh. What am I afraid of? My biggest fear is that my brain won't hold out. I feel compelled  to write fast and deeper with every book I write. Scenes that used to scare the beejesus out of me are easier to write now. Big take-home moment for me: I need to make a character "fear" list as I'm creating their bios. (does anyone else include fear as part of their character-creating process?)

Mayer: Three steps to change: 1. Moment of enlightenment. 2. Making a decision. 3. Sustained Action.
     MT: This was an Aha! moment for me. Realizing something isn't working IS NOT the moment of  change. Neither is making the decision to try a different plan. The moment of change comes when you move into that broken place and start doing it a different way. Ever notice how some folks complain about this or that but they never get out of their rut? They never finish the process.

Mayer: Emotional stages of change: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
     MT: Mayer went on to say that it's hard to change behavior as habits are trained into us. But he    also said we can learn from any source, and that if something makes you angry, focus on it.

Mayer: You can't separate your writing from you. Lean into fears gradually. The goal of communication is to provoke a response.
   MT: I agree with his "can't separate writing from you" - I think that's why so many of us get emotional about those 1-star reviews and negative comments about our work. It's definitely personal, no matter how nicely you section it off. Trust yourself to provide open and honest communication and you'll have less anxiety and fear. The better you know yourself and your characters, the better you can tell those stories. We definitely filter the world through our own point of view.

Mayer: Know the rules, have a good reason for breaking them, and accept the consequences of breaking the rules.
    MT: I broke the rules with my nudist colony murder mystery, for good reason. I wanted to be  different. But different is also scary to some houses, if it's too different. I shopped around until I found the right house for Murder in the Buff. It didn't attract a NY publisher, but it accomplished my goal of writing something different - and believing in my ability to pull it off. Some chances pay off big, some you learn from. It's all to the good. Lesson: cozies are a very traditional market.

This barely scratches the surface of our Bob Mayer day, but it gives you an idea of some of the topics he covered. I have some cool new Bob Mayer reference books, and I hope to skim through them all this week. I may not be the Queen of Promo, but that's my new goal!

Maggie Toussaint
www.maggietoussaint.com


54 comments:

  1. I've heard Mayer speak, and he's always got lots of 'meat.' I always look forward to picking his brain, even vicariously. Thanks so much for sharing. One quote I remember is, "the publishing world is moving fast--only trouble is, nobody knows where it's going."

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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    1. Hi Terry,

      I agree that the publishing world is moving fast. I often feel like we're hurtling into cyberspace faster than a comet!

      The thing I enjoy about hearing speakers like Bob Mayer is that I come home feeling less alone, more networked, and more capable of dealing with what life will throw at me this week.

      Thanks for the visit!

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  2. Loved the bit about making readers shiver and discoverability. And some days do seem more about survival than succeeding. Thanks for providing some great points to remember.

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    1. Hi Karyn,

      I had over 6 hours of Bob Mayer snips to choose from, and it was hard to narrow the material down to a short blog post. But these were some of the points he made that resonated loud and clear. Shivers. I know when I'm watching the singing competitions on TV, I live for those shiver moments. Stands to reason readers want them too. We're all emotion junkies.

      Thanks for the visit!

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    2. Consider publishing a follow-up blog post with the snips you omitted.

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    3. I might do that, Suzanne, but I have next week's blog planned out already, a very unusual occurrence. Usually my blogging motif is "Dear God, its the day I blog. Whatever will I say?" Then I sit myself down and write something.

      Thank you for your comment. I'm glad this post has such resonance with so many people.

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  3. These are all good points. Certainly most of us are struggling to survive as writers these days. My main goal isn't for bestsellerdom. It's for my books to be read, so discoverability is a major issue. And along the way, it would be nice to make enough money to cover expenses.

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  4. I hear you, Nancy. Discoverability and fluidity would be excellent!

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  5. Hi, Maggie.
    I've taken a small class with Bob a couple of years ago--he's a great inspiration. Thanks for sharing these snippets.
    Cheers, Kelly

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    1. Hi Kelly,

      He's got longevity in the business, which says a lot about his long-term goal setting and follow through. I'm in awe of what he's accomplished and how he's been able to stay fluid through all the changes in the publishing world. He seems to be able to ride the wave and he positions himself so that he knows which way the waves are going almost before they change direction.

      Thank you so much for stopping in and leaving a comment.

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  6. Great post, Maggie! Bob Mayer spoke to our RWA chapter a few years ago along with Jennie Crusie, and they were very enlightening. Your points reminded me of several things I "know" but often forget. For example, I do include a character's fears when I'm writing my initial character sketch, but I often forget to use them in my story. Thanks for the excellent reminders.

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    1. Hi Alison,

      I love that people have Bob stories to share. And I'm hoping the points I'm buzzed about today will stay in the forefront of my mind. I'm just putting the final polish on a book I need to send my editor, then I'm off to map out character arcs for new characters for my next book. There will definitely be fear in my next leading character.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and answering my question about fear. Have a great day!

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  7. Thanks for the post! I had a great time with your group in Florida this past weekend!

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    1. ((grin)) Bob Mayer just stopped by. ((fans self)) Oh, my. ((pulls it together))

      Thank you, Bob, for taking the time to comment. I hope other writer groups may see the post and want to have you speak as well.

      I appreciate your comment. Please come again.

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  8. Thanks for sharing. The writer's journey is a long one. It is good to see there are signposts along the way and people willing to share knowledge. best, John Klawitter

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    1. Hi John,

      Those signposts are key, aren't they? Sometimes it seems like we're really stumbling around in the dark, so for me it helps to hear from folks who have a better nav system to make sure I'm on the right heading.

      Thanks for your comment. Hope you'll visit again.

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  9. Great post, Maggie. Lucky you. A whole day with Bob. I've heard him before, too, and it's like I wish I were literally a sponge to sop it all up. Like Terry says, Lots of good meat. Thanks for sharing some slices.
    Yes, my chart on characters include fears, but I haven't done enough with it after that. Need to regroup on the WIP.
    Margie Lawson helped me get to the emotion thing--the reader experiencing the shiver is an absolute must.

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    1. Hey Marsha,

      It was a great day with Bob. And I nearly didn't go. I got up that morning and my thoughts were "I could spend this whole day writing instead" but I didn't get distracted from my intent of going to the workshop.

      Professional development days are great for recharging that inner well. I'm so fired up now, sparks might be coming out of my fingertips. Wish I could bottle this feeling for later!

      I'm a Margie Lawson fan as well. I've got a huge binder on my shelf that says: Margie Lawson's Empowering Character Emotions. Her course was also a "moment" for me where not just one light bulb went on, but the entire building lit up.

      Now the trick is to keep remembering what I know...

      Thanks for the visit!

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    2. I took that course from Margie, too, and often refer to notes in my huge binder. ;-) Yes, every light bulb in the building came on for me with that course. Margie rocks.

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    3. Maybe we're course junkies, Suzanne, or maybe we're dedicated to improving our craft and marketability. Either way, I'm in a different place than I was before taking either of those courses.

      Margie's EDITS system is now part of my editing regime for every book I write. It helps to have something solid if you know how to take it apart and put it back together again.

      Thanks for your comments!

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  10. Replies
    1. thanks for stopping in Kathryn. Hope some of the material spoke to you as well!

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  11. Great post, Maggie. I've also heard Mayer at a conference. He's right. Publishing is changing fast, and writers need to anticipate not only where publishing is going but where we're going with it. Discoverability of our work is the most difficult part, especially for those of us doing fairly well with self-publishing. The task of getting our work out to the public will become harder and harder as venues close, which I believe they're already starting to do. Amazon, as the 800 pound gorilla, is changing their business model, and that will affect everyone who writes, reads, and publishes. Best of luck to us all.

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  12. Great post. It was fine to get all your take aways. I'll bet it was a fascinating workshp.

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    1. Hi Karla, I'm so glad our chapter organizers arranged for this session. Mayer really spoke from experience and his words conveyed authority. I've been guilty of listening to too many people before, and this talk gave me a reality check. Listen to your gut. That's important. thanks for stopping by!

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  13. Nice tips, and I love the point that shiver sells whether or not the quality is there. However, if you put the two together, then you really have something. :)

    Also, I agree that different is both scary and good. Murder in the Buff was well worth the risk!

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    1. Hi Ella, I appreciate your visit. I know you've been busy with the launch of your Pier Lights!

      Different is definitely scary, but now I know I can do something different and come out fine on the other end, LOL.

      Thanks for the visit.

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  14. Hi Maggie, I too heard Mayer speak, but it's good to read a refresher here. I believe what stays with a reader are the characters. I often forget the title of a book, but remember the H/h's names when I like them. As for long term goals, they are like a dark tunnel. I'm trying to survive day by day. I'm happy with good days and depressed with bad ones. If we all knew the secret of visibility I guess we would jump at it to sell more books.

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    1. Hi Mona,

      Sounds like he really gets around! One of the things that really stuck with me was how few people follow through. The fact that you heard him speak before and are still in the business tells me that you are someone who follows through and that's not easy to do in these changing times.

      Yes. The secret of visibility. I know how to be invisible. Now to flip that around and become fully visible. That would be marvelous.

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  15. Maggie,

    You certainly drew a lot of comments! Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hey Jacquie,

      Bob Mayer seems to be quite popular. I'm lucky to have had such a great topic this week! Glad you could stop by.

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    1. Thanks, Morgan. I appreciate your comment!

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  17. Maggie, thanks for sharing this. I particularly like his advice to create a 25 word goal statement for my career, and for each book. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Leslie,

      I have been able to do the 25-word thing for my books, but I'm not as able to hit on the career statement. I waffle a bit on my goals. NYT list would be a great accolade, but it would also come with a lot of performance pressure. I'd like to be successful, develop a loyal following in mystery and romance (& science fiction if that series sees daylight), and continue to write at least one book a year for the next twenty years. How many words is that?

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  18. I totally agree with the emotional connection in a story really grabbing a reader. I can tell when an author really connects with his/her characters and cares deeply about them. I can feel it in my own work. Sometimes I'm just going through the motions. Technically correct but disconnected from the characters.
    Great blog filled with wonderful pointers and suggestions.

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    1. Hi Sarah,

      I always notice a ray of sunshine when you pop in. Thank you so much for your kind comments. Characters who pop off the page are truly a work of art and should be admired. As a reader, I've often noticed that I remember a secondary character as much if not more than the protagonist. When that happens, I think the secondary character is saying "hey, where's my book?" Please come again soon.

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  19. Excellent article, Maggie. Thank you for sharing. I had some Ah ha moments myself.

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    1. Hi Marian,

      Those Aha moments are major, aren't they? When I have them, I truly go stock still because I'm thinking with everything I've got. Yes sir, buddy, the light is definitely on. I hope the bulb is one of those long-life ones...

      Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

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  20. Maggie: I won't be able to make it to his talk for WRW this weekend, so I appreciate this little taste of what I'm missing. Thanks!

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    1. Hi Gwen,

      I nearly missed his workshop too. Seems like I always have so much writing and promo backlogged, but I pushed through the sludge and went anyway. And I'm glad I did, for myself but also for all the folks who've visited the blog and left these great comments.

      Wishing you all the best - and thanks for stopping by.

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  21. Excellent post. I heard Bob years ago, but would love to listen to him again. I'd love to learn what books he recommended.

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    1. Hi Pepper! I have the books he recommended around here somewhere. Give me a sec. Okay. He recommended The Gift of Fear, don't know the author. And he also recommended Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks. I picked up his Write it Forward and his How we made our first million on Kindle, as well as We are not alone, the writer's guide to social media by Kristen Lamb.

      You know what else was great? Everything rang true. He has the chops to speak on writing and promotion with sincere authority.

      Great to have you stop in!

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    2. Maggie, The Gift of Fear is by Gavin de Becker. It's a chilling look at sociopaths and how, equally chilling, we ignore our primal instincts and fall into traps set by sociopaths.

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    3. Thanks for the author's name Suzanne. I've been thinking about gut instinct a lot lately. Sometimes I will do things seemingly on a whim, but I realize later that I was getting that nudge from deep inside. Just something as simple as glancing around the parking lot when we're headed to the car. Some folks put their heads down and plod on. Others are so engaged in their phone conversation they nearly get run down. All of those people are easy prey because they aren't paying attention.

      I used to worry that it didn't look cool to scope out my surroundings. Then I decided to treat it like a bathroom. No way would I use a bathroom that looked or smelled bad. In the same vein, I want to be vigilant about my personal safety. That's gut instinct - being aware of what's going on.

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    4. I definitely pay attention to my instincts. Too many close calls. Living in South, don't you hate the underlying assertion that women are supposed to be polite (ie. ignore their instincts)? De Becker talks about that, too.

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  22. Thanks so much for sharing this. We need all the help we can get when it comes to marketing.

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    1. Hey Maryann,

      You said it! Marketing seems deceptively easy in some ways but extremely time consuming. I'd love to have great relationships with all the authors, readers, friends, and fans - but it's a daunting task. Networking the sites is a very good way to keep up.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to visit me at Mudpies.

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  23. WOW Maggie! I envy you! That must have been some workshop. And you put so many of his good points in your blog and gave personal examples as they pertain to you--that helps me a lot. Thanks so much for sharing this. I think my hero always starts out with nothing to fear because he is usually at a point where he has already lost everything. It makes him dangerous. When he discovers he DOES care about someone (the heroine) it puts fear in him because now he has something to lose again, and he knows how that feels. I'm really thinking about all these points you made.
    Cheryl

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    1. Hey Cheryl,

      You write really great heroes. Having nothing to fear is a dangerous place indeed. And I love your point about the vulnerability of caring.

      Mayer's workshop was well worth the investment of my time. I highly recommend folks look for a talk near you on his appearance calendar and make the drive. The way he puts things helps you to connect the dots in your own head, about writing, and about your career.

      Cheryl, thanks for stopping in.

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  24. Maggie, what an opportunity to visit Bob's workshop. Your points address a lot of the same concerns I have. I've got my fingers in so many pies that my marketing efforts suffer. This is a bit broken and I need to focus on it. Again, a challenge. Thanks so much for sharing. Lots of food for thought for me to mull about.

    Smiles
    Steph

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    1. You do have your fingers in a lot of pies, Steph, but you have a lot of drive too, so I know you'll pull away from the pack. You are doing all the right social media stuff - blogging, tweeting, writing, and your FB contests - those are many of the tools he said would help with discoverability.

      Thanks for stopping by Mudpies. It's always good to see you!

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  25. Maggie, I think there's little fear of your brain not holding out since it's so very active and I can imagine you'll keep it that way. :-)

    I have a lot of fears, some fairly disabling, that I have to struggle with on a constant basis, so yes, I tend to give my characters a lot of fears, as well. Sometimes much of the story line centers on that. I think that's a good thing for writers to do because it helps readers deal with their own, with any luck.

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