Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How to Spice Up Your Author Platform

Do you cringe when you hear the phrase “author platform”? It sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Like you might have to climb up on some vast stage, proclaiming your writerly prowess to the world. Don’t worry. It’s not scary, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

What is an author platform? It is just a way to talk about a writer’s engagement with their fans, their presence on social media and online, their connectedness to other writers, critics, etc. Agents and editors are looking to see if an author has visibility and authority, and can reach their target audience. Whether you are a beginning author or are already published, it’s necessary to have a platform.

Does that still sound a little scary? Think of it this way. It’s about connection, so instead of a platform it’s more like pathways. If you’re sitting alone in your little cottage in the woods writing your lovely heart out, it doesn’t matter how fabulous the words are flowing from your pen.

You have to put on your red cape (apparently you are Little Red Riding Hood), gather up your basket, and go visiting your neighbors down the paths in the woods. When you’ve established an excellent reputation and spread goodwill, then everyone will be eager to hear about your writing projects. And they will protect you from the Big Bad Wolf.

A bit silly, I know, but not that far off from the truth. Your platform is an extension of you. Building trust and goodwill is as important as showing the beauty and uniqueness that comes only from you.

Your author website is another extension of you. Visitors to a website decide in three seconds whether to stay on the page or leave. You have very little time to make an impression. Creating a good website shows that you take yourself and your writing seriously.

Take time on your website design so that it is a reflection of you. Any agent or publisher you query will immediately look at your website. It must look professional, but not sterile and cold. Personalize the template you use. On the other hand, don’t go overboard with too many colors and fonts, and distracting details. One idea is to go with a theme related to the type of books you write. If you write YA fiction, you might go with colors similar to the ones in the picture of a teen’s bedroom below.

The landing page of your website is kind of like a first date. You definitely want to give the important information up front, like your name and tagline. You want to dress up a bit, but not too much (you don’t want to look like a floozy, do you?) And you want to give enough details, maybe even some teasers, so that the reader wants to come back for more. You want to draw them in so they will click on your other pages, and look through your archives (like a gentleman, of course!)

You won’t get a second date, or a second visit, if you fill your landing page with anything too negative. (No one wants to date a complainer.) Avoid long blog-type posts on your first page. It’s better to have a separate page tab for your blog. Remember to give out your phone number, or in this case ask them to sign up for your email list!

Other important ingredients for your landing page are a great photo of you, social media sharing icons, and a subscription box for email sign-ups. The whole website should have a unified color scheme and look, like a well-decorated house. It can be quirky and decorated in a way that makes your heart happy, but keep a consistent flow to the overall design.

Here is a good example by Donna Kilgore, another Muser from our site: (http://dmkilgore.com/index.html) She has an amazing photo and a great teaser on her landing page. (I’d ask her out for a second date, wouldn’t you?) I love the banner at the top, which immediately gives you the flavor of her writing and editing.

Take these suggestions and be inspired! I would love to see links of your websites in the comments below.

**This post first appeared on the multi-author writing blog Read, Write, Muse, where I contributed on the subjects of author platform and social media.**

Monday, April 6, 2015

Mental Health: Facing my Monster

I was a child of the seventies and the first Sesame Street generation. One of my favorite books as a child was narrated by Grover, called “the Monster at the end of this Book.”

As you read through the book Grover begged you to stop turning pages, since he knew there was a monster at the end. He grew more and more upset as he tried to keep you from getting to the end. And what was there? Only "lovable, furry, old Grover." He sheepishly admitted the he was the monster at the end of the book. I loved this book so much that I bought it for my children, and it was a favorite of theirs as well.

mental health, depression, anxiety, healing

Recently I realized that my depression had returned. It had been growing for a while, and I had been ignoring and denying it. Finally I had to admit that three naps a day wasn’t normal behavior. (Of course, there were other symptoms as well.) I’m one of those people that likes to hide from life when I can’t cope with it. And I hate both admitting I need help and asking for it.

I've spent most of my adult years taking care of everyone else. The past few have been particularly challenging, and it's been easy to neglect my own mental and physical health while trying to make sure my children were safe and getting the help they needed. But suddenly I've found myself with more time alone since February, and less time caring for others, and the monster I had been shutting in the closet of my mind was ready to come out.

As I mentally prepared for the doctor appointment I had reluctantly made, I started thinking back into my childhood and adolescence. Although I had a loving family, my life was complicated and anxiety-ridden. When I was about four years old, I repressed all memories of a traumatic event resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder. These PTSD responses had been occurring for years without anyone realizing what was happening.

I was a master of hiding my emotions and created many ways to cope with my anxiety. Some were innocuous; some were self-harming. They were done to keep the monsters in the closet of my mind and had been successful for many years.

As I waited for the doctor, who was 40 minutes late, the monster started to forcefully break out of its prison. I had my first panic attack. Awful. At least I recognized what it was and was able to breathe my way through it.

Thankfully, my doctor listened with empathy and professionalism to my hurried description of years of anxiety, depression, PTSD symptoms, and self-harm. He thanked me for sharing and suggested that anxiety was causing the depression. I am now on new medication and am in the process of looking for a counselor. He requested I approach my healing both ways and I agree completely.

Like Grover, I have been approaching the monster at the end of the book with fear and trepidation. I have been holding it back, nailing the pages of my life story down, building walls, and looking for ways to avoid getting to the end.

Now it’s time to face the monster. Know what? It’s just me. Not so scary after all.

If you have a story to share about your journey, please tell me in the comments. 

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Suicide: thoughts from those left behind to those who are struggling

Beautiful necklace, isn’t it? It’s my favorite, made by my lovely, quirky, tender-hearted, eccentric cousin Kelly. I wear it at least once a week to honor her memory.

Kelly killed herself on November 25th, 2014, one month before Christmas. She was one of two children, the only daughter, and much-loved by her family. She was gifted at making jewelry and loved to give it away, so her parents asked us to take home pieces from her memorial service to remember her. Two Christmas trees at the front of the hall sparkled and glittered with the beautiful reminders – gorgeous and heartbreaking.

Earlier in the year I thought the untimely loss of Robin Williams would be the closest brush with suicide my immediate family would have. My children deal with anxiety disorders and depression, but overall things for them are improving. There have been times where I have walked them through suicide attempts and suicidal ideation, but we have come through it. A high-profile suicide of a beloved figure is alarming, since it can be a trigger for those very sensitive already.

Depression is one of the most insidious diseases. It constantly natters in your ear, filling your head with hopeless thoughts. And many sufferers are able to “present well.” They are able to hide their symptoms while with other people or their doctors, only to have the hopelessness come back full force when they are alone.

photo via pixabay

I don’t agree with those who say that people who commit suicide are being selfish. The deeply depressed person is so trapped and so deceived that they truly feel that it is the best option for everyone. They see themselves as a burden. With his or her death, everyone will be free. They don’t see the aftermath: the parents finding their beloved child, the paroxysms of tears and grief, or the packing up of all the belongings of the now lost child. They don’t think about all the Christmases and birthdays and holidays where they will be missed. They can’t see past their own pain and hopelessness.

My sweet cousin had her own struggles with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and a recent accident requiring surgery and painful recovery. Somehow she managed to hide from us just how hopeless she had become. We didn’t see it coming.

photo via flickr

The questions from those of us left behind, both in the commentary about Robin Williams and looking back at my cousin’s life, are remarkably similar: “Was he/she on medication?” (Yes.) “Was he/she in counseling or treatment?” (Yes.) So we are left wondering how we didn’t see it. The meds seemed to be helping. She seemed to be getting better. The ultimate and most heart-wrenching question: “Couldn’t I have done more? Something, anything? Couldn’t I have seen this coming?”

At Kelly’s memorial service I heard about all the wonderful things she did in her life: traveled to Africa to build orphanages, volunteered for years at the Salvation Army, volunteered at a hospice to feed those who were unable to feed themselves. There were many people I had never seen before coming up to share how Kelly touched their lives and encouraged them. It made me happy that they came to honor her, but so sad at the same time. How many of these people would have dropped what they were doing and spent time with Kelly that night if any of us had known her plans or how hopeless she was? I know I would have dropped everything.

photo via flickr

I know there are so, so many people of all ages gripped by that same hopelessness and depression. Know this:

There are more people who care about you than you realize. More than you will ever know.

Don’t just listen to the voice of depression. Reach out and talk to someone: online, by text, or by phone. If you don’t have a friend or family member that you trust to talk to about your feelings, there are networks of caring people who are ready to listen. They care about you. I care. You matter.

photo via flickr 

If you are having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please use one of these links below.


Kids Help Phone for people in crisis under age 20: 1-800-668-6868, toll-free 24/7 access: http://org.kidshelpphone.ca/en

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), toll-free 24/7 access 

Resources on understanding, coping, intervening, preventing, grieving, and advocating:

An interactive map to find a local crisis centre in your province:

United States:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), toll-free 24/7 access 

The Trevor Project Lifeline for LGBTQ in crisis or feeling suicidal: 1-866-488-7386, toll-free 24/7 access

United Kingdom:

Samaritans have online and phone counseling 24/7

And here is an image I found online, but can't find the original source to credit. It has a list of worldwide suicide hotlines which seems to be current. 

If you have something you would like to share, please do so in the comments. I would love to hear from you. If you would like to read more about my struggle with depresssion, click here for the link.

Talk to someone. Ask for help. It gets better.