The Book Is Free, Just Leave Some Feedback On The Website

I turned 34 today. There are plenty of things to accomplish on my to-do list but I did indulge in a leisurely coffee in Durham city centre this morning.

George MacDonald writing.
George Macdonald Writing (via Wikipedia)

One of the things the preoccupies me in such moments of leisure is a personal writing project consisting of a series of “Fairy Tales for Grown Ups”. They are very loosely allegorical and heavily inspired by George Macdonald and C.S. Lewis. Robyn has kindly agreed to work with me by providing illustrations and having an element of teamwork in the project helps to keep me going and offsets the loneliness of writing. When I am not making imaginary journeys through story-land, I’m pondering how to get these stories out there. At the moment I am thinking of podcasting weekly installments and self-publishing in print and electronic format simultaneously. Another consideration is how much to give away for free.

All this was turning over in my head as I finished up my coffee and headed back out into the bustle of the city. I’m a great believer in Jung‘s synchronicity. So, I should hardly be surprised that, just at that moment, I crossed the path of a man frantically unloading books from a pile of boxes in the street and handing them out to passers by.

“The book is free, just leave some feedback on the website,” he said.

The book is “Wild Animus” by Rich Shapero, published by Outside Reading, and my curiosity is piqued about it already. Intriguingly some small print on the back cover informs me that “This novel is part of a larger storytelling experiment that includes three music CDs. Experienced as a whole, the music expresses the emotional core of the story, and the novel serves as its narrative shell.” I like the sound of a “storytelling experiment” and I’m also quite fascinated by the whole “free book” marketing strategy.

According to the blurb, Rich Shapero is something of an explorer and adventurer who is “captivated by the staggering beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.” His writing draws on this primeval landscape but is ultimately concerned with an inner journey. Wild Animus appears to be a transcendent tale of a reckless journey and an unhinged soul who identifies himself with a wild mountain ram, pursued by a pack of wolves. I have yet to read it but will be sure to review it on this blog. Will it deliver on the pitch, somewhere between Pirsig’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and William Rayner’s “Stag Boy” perhaps?

Acccording to John Hilton and David Wiley, writing in “Tech Trends”, giving books away for free has been shown not to negatively influence sales. In fact, surely it can only boost interest and widen distribution although this is almost impossible to measure. One of the authors they interviewed, Corey Doctrow, swears by it and states that “What is certain is that every writer who’s tried giving away e-books to sell books has come away satisfied and ready to do it some more.”

As I turn back to my own little project with a few fresh ideas, I wonder how the whole “Wild Animus” thing will turn out.


Interviews with 10 Authors Who Give Away Their Books

Corey Doctrow on “Giving it Away.”

Opportunities vs. Temptations

“Opportunity knocks only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.”

Can you tell the difference between an opportunity and a temptation? As a freelancing homeworker with a gazillion things clamouring for my attention and no-one telling me what to do from day to day and from hour to hour, it is really quite important that I learn to tell the difference.

I am not a “go getter” in life. I always default to passivity and it’s not something I am proud of but I also reject both go-getter-ism and let-it-happen-ism. There is a third way that assumes that everyone encounters opportunities, maybe five a day, regardless of who they are and what their circumstances. Each opportunity requires active appropriation – it’s the perfect blend of waiting for it and reaching out to grab it. It is not lazy for, as John James Ingalls said, “opportunities are usually disguised as hard work so few people recognise them”. By the slow accumulation of taken opportunities, massive change takes place.

Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915), an early thinker in the Arts and Crafts movement writes in “The Philistine” that:

” … the only place where you can get away from Opportunity is to lie down and die. Opportunity does not trouble dead men, or dead ones who flatter themselves that they are alive.”

It is simply not true for anyone to say that they do not have opportunities. It would be truer to say that we are simply quite poor at detecting their presence. Preoccupied with the demands of the rat-race and the need to maintain our standard of life and retire with a tidy sum, it is easy to think that there is nothing else for us.

Good Morning
A Window of Opportunity

Deep down, I think we all know the difference between an opportunity and a temptation and we can spot it well enough; we just want to kid ourselves that that temptation is really an opportunity.

Opportunities have a different flavour to them, they are like the hint of a scent in the breeze. They are a time-limited phenomenon that catches your attention for a moment, just like that knock on the door. I have a friend who has no qualms about politely addressing strangers on the train, “Please excuse me, but I couldn’t help overhearing you talking about … X … and I happen to be quite interested in that area, myself.” Conversation ensues, contacts are exchanged, connections are made. I envy that ability, but it is a highly developed instinctive recognition of the scent of opportunity. Opportunity, hangs momentarily in the air and then it is gone.

I see opportunities as doorways that stand open for a short time before closing and disappearing. They are always portals to a whole host of further possibilities. They often catch us on the hop and we never have enough time to weigh them before we need to decide. Because they are so transient, we have to prepare ourselves mentally to capitalise on opportunities and this involves being very aware, listening for that timid knock above the incessant, buzz of temptations.

Temptation is less delicate, in fact it is downright rude and it capitalises on missed opportunities saying, “I’m still here, you know … if that other thing doesn’t work out for you, you can always try me.” These nagging possibilities are often the good that is the enemy of the best if they are not monstrous time sinks with rapidly diminishing returns. An opportunity can take a few seconds to engage with and bring massive returns. A temptation sucks everything you have got and when you have finally extricated yourself from it, it sits in the corner making faces at you.

“I knock unbidden once at every gate — If sleeping, wake — if feasting, rise before I turn away — it is the hour of fate, And they who follow me reach every state Mortals desire, and conquer every foe Save death, but those who doubt of hesitate, Condemned to failure, penury and woe, Seek me in vain and uselessly implore, I answer not, and I return no more.” (John James Ingalls, 1833-1900)

I wish the reader all the best in staying awake and saying “yes” and “no” to the right things today.

Two Little Time Management Tips

Being self employed very quickly becomes extremely sucky if the whole question of time management is not brought under control. For me,the quest to manage my time well is ongoing and I expect I will never arrive at an ideal place. Lots of people are on hand with plenty of advice but I think time management strategies need to be as unique as every individual so: I take what I can from others and learn by trying and adapting things.

Here’s a couple of things that work for me:

Do One Thing at a Time

Staying on one task in a discrete time period is more likely to get it finished. I have tried multitasking as a strategy and I have drifted into multitasking as an effect of not having a clear idea about what I want to do – neither were very productive. As a great philosopher once said, “if you do this, you can’t do that.” When I am writing, that’s what I need to be doing, not writing and … answering emails, baking bread and tweeting. To achieve this it really helps to have an egg timer. While that timer is ticking, I’m doing this one thing, be it for 20 minutes or 45 minutes. Only when the buzzer goes, to tell me the time is up, can I change my activity.

Egg Timer
Timed discrete tasks

Hint (for writers): Separate “writing” from “research”. Do all your research and take notes, then do the writing, then go back and plug in more research if needed but if the lines between writing and research get blurry so does everything else in your life – you have been warned!

Get a timer and experiment with different ways to use it. You can check out the “Pomodoro Technique” for one approach, but I am indebted to Mark Forster’s book “Get Everything Done and Still Have Time to Play” for introducing me to a great system based on timers that I have adapted for myself.

Plan the Following Day Before you Sleep

When I wake up there is a pretty direct correlation between how soon I start productive work and how focussed and useful the rest of the day is. I started out by having a board meeting with myself every morning to plan the goals for the day but this could get into a lot of cups of coffee and daydreaming that might go on until lunch time.

It is better to wake up and have your marching orders straight away to get going with. Make a list each evening of the priorities for the following day. This works better for me because:

  • Usually I have a better idea come the end of the day of what needs to be the priority tomorrow which will include stuff I didn’t finish today or other stuff that came up during the day’s work.
  • Thinking about what to do tomorrow will be less likely to keep me awake because it is already written down.
  • Actually being vaguely aware of what is planned for tomorrow is great because my mind quietly turns it over and works on it while I am asleep so I am more mentally prepared for it on waking and my brain is ahead of me already.
  • I can start work pretty much as soon as I’m up so there’s less chance of driving the day into a wall of time wasting and writing it off in the first hour or so.

I think these two simple things have gone a long way to helping me. Anyone else have any suggestions?