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#SFWC15 Closing Thoughts on Fame, Fortune and the Business of Writing


also #sfwc2015

Artsy Map of SF

Home from the 2015 San Francisco Writer’s Conference, and I have a lot to think about. This was my fourth conference as a volunteer, and it’s an impressive operation. The talent the organizers attract is top-rate, and the atmosphere is warm and convivial. I’m not wowed by celebrities just because they’re famous. I hate to admit it, but often I don’t even know who is famous until one of my friends or family tells me. Usually the expression on their faces is “Really, you’ve never heard of Famous-Person-‘X’?” I get this astonishment less often these days. But as a kid I paid no attention to movie stars and knew exactly four famous musical groups/individuals: The Beatles, Jim Croce, Neil Diamond and Gordon Lightfoot.

This confession not only shows that I was out of tune with most of the pop culture of my formative years.

It also proves that I have questionable taste in music.

I can’t deny this, and I’m still learning about groups that were prominent in the 60s and 70s. My wife helps  me with this in much the same manner a person who is color-blind may rely on a spouse to get dressed without looking like Bozo-the-Clown. She still, after almost 33 years, is amazed by how little I know about music and musicians.

In my defense, I will note that I was the oldest in a household that focused on Doris Day, Dean Martin and the Tijuana Brass. Karin, the youngest, inherited the sizeable rock-album-collection of her big sisters.

Lucky her. She still has a lot this vinyl. Alas, my Neil Diamond records are long gone. But as one friend observed, “If you’ve heard one Neil Dimond song…. you’ve heard them all.” His analysis was that Neil had, in fact, been locked in a room for several years and recorded one, Encyclopedia-Britannica-length song that was being sliced up and extruded into the marketplace one monotonously painful piece at a time.

I think this is unkind, but then I still confuse Billy Joel with Dan Fogelberg, and I continually slip up elsewhere, saying such things as: “I really liked that song by Cat Stevens.” When this happens, Karin will gently poke me and say: “That’s not his name these days.”

So my expanding knowledge of real non-Neil-Diamond rock-culture is still a work-in-progress. What I know I’ve learned mainly by leafing through Karin’s collection, asking dumb questions and making painfully uninformed observations in public. But these days I can almost carry on a conversation about the Byrds, the Doors, the Steve Miller Band and many others. All this from just looking at my wife’s somewhat-shopworn album covers.

And that’s how I know who is famous. If only there were a way of doing this when it came to writers.

Oh, yeah, I guess I could look at dust jackets. But, there again, you have to be paying attention to book displays. Maybe I need to get out more, pry myself away from, and go to Barnes and Nobles now and then.

They still exist, right?

What do I know of famous authors? Once I get past Stephen King, Asimov, Bradbury and J.R.R. Tolkein, I find I’m often out of the loop. I like goofballs like Bill Bryson, Fanny Flagg and Neil Gaiman. I just don’t like what everyone else seems to enjoy. For example, I find David Sedaris’s work hit and miss, and Dave Barry had a good-novel streak going until his joint-effort with Ian Frazier. “Lunatics.”

Yes, it won the Thurber award for 2013, but it’s not to my taste. Eliminate the “F-word,” an the thing would be no longer than a New Yorker article. But that’s what passes for humor these days, I guess.

Again, I find I’m not in tune with those who lead the cultural pack. So the SF Writer’s Conference efforts to attract famous writers are mostly wasted on me. I’d never heard of their keynote speakers and was unfamiliar with their work.

But, that said, it was interesting to hear best-selling writers talk about their paths to fame. Not always instructive, but interesting nevertheless. Take John Lescroart, Saturday’s keynote speaker, for example. He has an amazing, odd and funny story to tell. But exactly what is the take-away here? Just keep writing, and if you ever wake up from a coma and decide you can make a living as a writer… it may NOT be a sign of brain damage after all.

Alas, John is quick to note that the publishing industry has changed a lot since he broke in. This is a kind way of saying what he did really can’t happen again for anyone else.

Isn’t that helpful?

But he does still have suggestions.  For example, DON’T follow his lead when it comes to taking career advice from your father. Even though John’s dad liked a novel John wrote in college, Lescroart left it in dresser drawer for 14 years because his dad said “you can’t make a living as a writer.”

So John formed a band and spent the next 10 years as a working musician-and-house painter. The band never became famous, but no matter. I wouldn’t have known them anyway.

After hearing his witty presentation and panel sessions, I’ve decided to put Lescroart on my “must read” list, and you can see the rest of John’s story elsewhere on this blog. Look for the #sfwc15 hashtag.

Yes, the SF Writer’s Conference attracts the biggies. Lescroart “dresser-drawer” manuscript eventually got a six-figure advance for that book. But what most impresses me about this event is the breadth and mix of the “lesser known” talent it attracts.

There are plenty of not-so-famous authors making a decent living at this crazy business. This I find even more inspiring. There also are publishers, editors and agents galore. Some big and some small… as are the businesses they represent.  Without exception they are generous with their wisdom and advice. I found it credible, sound, and at times contradictory.

Isn’t that life all over again?

I have summarized their comments here, and their suggestions and resources are well worth chasing down. They have websites and, in many cases, free books and videos telling you how to most effectively approach the marketplace or develop your talents. I’ve watched these pros handle long Q and A sessions with patience, grace and even kindness when answering sometimes-inane questions from newbies and wannabies… like me.

The SF Writer’s Conference is an event that is committed to developing the “craft, commerce and art of writing.” It’s a great place to go and dream big.

The presentations I attended appear here on this blog, but with 100+ sessions, you really ought to check out the listing of CDs and MP3 recordings. You can select from different areas of emphasis. No matter if you’re a poet, screenwriting or aspiring YA author, there’s something for you.

Here’s a link to the CDs.

My favorite sessions this term focused on blogging-into-books, marketing, and the changing nature of writing for an online audience. I learned about new tools, heard that big changes are in store for Facebook, and got re-acquainted with professionals that have become my friends.

I’d like to hear from others who attended what they liked, or if you listen to recording or two, drop back by and let me know what you think.

Maybe you can let me know who your favorite author is too. I’m still learning….

In closing, I’d like to thank Michael Larsen, one of the key organizers and the man who first brought my attention to the SF Writer’s Conference, Linda Lee the volunteer coordinator who allows me to help out and meet the pros behind the scenes, and author, blogger and professional coach Nina Amir, who inspired me to try blogging as a path to write a book.

Three books later, I’m still finding my way.

But the experiences that have come from this journey have been gratifying. No fame or fortune yet, and who knows if they will ever come. But no matter, even if I were to become a publishing rock-star I can rest assured there will always be a culturally-impaired person, like me, who will look at my book, see the mug shot on the dust jacket, and say:

“I don’t know about your book, Gordon, but I really like the way you play a 12-string.”

And to that fictional, future person, I hope to have the patience to say: “Thanks. But that’s not my name these days.”

Blog Your Way To A Book Deal: Writing & Promoting Your Book One Post At A Time



Photo of Nina Amir speaking an the SFWC15

Nina Amir – Blog Your Way To A Book Deal

Nina Amir tells her story. Her story and success began here at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference.

Her book on Blog Your Book gave suggestions, but she still had to answer the question on how you still have the time to sell your book.  You want to get your book out there being read. Most writers dislike building platforms.

A platform is your built-in readership for your book. You develop reach across all your social media and the authority to be credible. To do this, you need to blog your book. Simply, you write-publish-promote at the same thing. You do this one post at a time.

Why does blogging a book work?

In the past, websites there were static. They were like brochures in cyberspace. Google didn’t do anything with them because they were not adding terms in webspace. But when Google comes along with it’s spiders and crawlers. So, when Nina wrote intensively for five months, she rose up in the search rankings. This was because she was diffigent and because no one else, then, was doing this. This discoverability doesn’t happen on a static website.

So, as you blog you are putting content that will ultimately be in your book.

You create a foundation of avid readers. You have a platform. So, if you get 1k unique visitors a day, this is something you can tell a potential publisher. This makes you work smarter and not harder. If your blog is well designed, there is a place to sign up and get the yuckky stuff done. You can attract agents and publishers. The fact is that tons of bloggers have gotten book deals.

Christian Landers – Stuff White People Like  -got a 6-figure book deal. He and his friends were hanging out and decided like other cultures, white people are different. He thought this was funny, and started sharing it with friends. The rest is history.

Julie and Julia

Escape from Cubicle Nation

The Puppy Diaries – Blogging about a puppy while recooperating from a serious accident. Helped that she was with the NYTimes.

101 Uses for my Ex-Wife’s Wedding Dress – He was dumped and the only thing she left was with her wedding dress.

Hack – a cabbie who writes and draws about what he sees and hears in his cab

Fed Up With Lunch

Design Sponge at Home

All these titles were bloggers and self-publish your book.

More and more blog-to-book deals.

At the height of this in 2009, experts claimed 50-60 blog-to-book deals were made that year.

Blog a book – you intentionally write a book on the net with a content plan

Book a blog – you repurpose content.


10 reasons to consider bloggig your book ino existence:


1. A blog allows you to publish as you go

2. gives you exposure and builds platform. The average print book sells 250 copies, ebook 560, but active blogs get much more exposure.

3. Blog helps you establish status. 56% of bloggers can attest to this.

4. A blogged book gets your writing read. Keep blogging an they will come.

5. A blogged book allows you to test-market your book. Effective and cheap way to test a book idea.

6. Blogged book provides a daily writing commitment. Must write regularly. Create a schedule and stick to it. Basis of practice.

7. A blogged book allows you to get  feedback on your writing. Comments from actual readers. Surveys, Forms.

8. Blogged book insures you create your project. Readers become accountability partners. Readers are waiting. If you stop before you finish, you’ve failed publicly.

9. Blogged book lets you show what you’ve got. You want to give away great content. BUT DON’T GIVE IT ALL AWAY. Let people get to know, like and trust you. You leave a slice of cake out.

10. Blog book lets you and your blog get discovered. You can be found by readers and publishers.

More and more people are blogging books. Check Nina’s site.

7 Things You Need to do Before You Blog a Book.

1. Choose a subject. Keep in mind when you pick a topic you’ll have to keep blogging even after you finish the book. You’re not done. If you quit, your traffic will drop off as your readers go away. She had to figure this out. So you need a planned future. She had to figure out how to blog for a LONG TIME.

You need to be passionate about this topic.

2. Create a business plan for your book. This is why she wrote Author Training Model

3. Hone your subject

4. Plan your book

5. Map out your book’s content

6. Break your content into post-sized content

She showed the tree of a mind-map to dial it down to a posting size

photo of Nina Amir speaking

Nina shows how to plan your posts

You need to hold back 20-30% of your book.

You need to be discovered. Be ready for this moment.

Necessities for discovery

1.Write great content. Know what people are searching for

2. Drive Traffic to your website. Use social networks, go offline to conference, write titles that include keywords, write valuable content, use the tools

3. Write often and consistently. Blog 7-12 times a weeks for the first 6 months. Otherwise, you won’t get traffic. You may have to keep this up for a year.

Nina sent out a mailing list for people to opt-in.

Q and A

If you do fiction to blog, what about editing?

A-You must still revise. But this is your second draft. You can try You can drop and paste this back into the blog.

Novelists – don’t do this unless you are willing to give away your first book being blogged and self-published.

Q – But I am doing a novel. What do I write about?

A- Do the blogging about your character. This then becomes about branding. You blog about your passions, topics, themes. You still want the key words, but it’s an umbrella approach.

Discussion – She wrote the Author Training Manual and then blogged it. This wasn’t as much fun.

Q-What about the comments if you want to publish.

A-You can write about the ideas and improve your book with the comments. But to quote them you need permission.


30 Days To A Book: Writing Your Nonfiction Book in a Month


Photo of Grant Faulkner

Grant Faulkner

Grant Faulkner

NaNoWriMo – Founded by Chris Beatty. Literally woke up one morning and wanted to do it. Didn’t want to read a bunch of how-to books. He went down to the library and looked about, picking up Catcher In The Rye, about 50k. And thought he could do that in a month.

Then he called some friends and met. This is one of the traditions. It’s like losing weight. Your friends will ask you if you’re not there. They would drink a lot of coffee and not let anyone go to the bathroom without their word quota. Of 21, 6 succeeded. They also do word sprints and the one who writes the most gets a small prize

He found that the biggest barrier separating people from their artistic dreams isn’t a lack of talent, it’s the lack of a deadline.

Writing for quantity instead of qualiy brings about both. Every draft is a shitty first draft.

3. Enlightenment is overrated: it’s not worth waiting around for.

4. The #1 excuse is being too busy. Being busy is good for your writing.

5. Plot happens: “You intuition knows what it wants to write, so get out of the way.” Ray Bradbury

6. Writing is it’s on reward

Photo of Nina Amir

Nina Amir


Wanted to write novels, but had a pratical mother who insisted that she learn to write well, AKA get in as a non-fiction writer. She started as a magazine writer.

Nina has done NaNoWriMo, but wanted to keep writing in the off season. So she created a nonfiction challenge to write nonfiction in November. She wanted to have a deadline. Deadlines are your friend.

Nina has found if you plan it goes faster


Write Daily

Make up Missed time

Eliminate distractions

Leave additional research for later, just make a note and do NOT go on the internet. Researching is not writing.

take advantage of group energy

Take advantage of accountability – FB page, Forum, Buddies

Dont think you need to write for long periods, short periods work, 1,500 words a day, 45k a month.

Consider writing a short book

Stay inspiried, read the blog,

Check Nina’s blog for ideas and inspiration. You can get her book for free at Smashwords – EN73H at Smashwords. You can search her name at


The Write Nonfiction NOW! Guide to Writing ….

Q and A – Kate Chynoweth moderating. She asked how you can tell when it is time to change direction if you hit a slump?

Photo of Kate Chynoweth

Kate Chynoweth moderates 30 Days to a Book

Grant – good question. The first week is fun, and many hit a wall in week 2. This is the lesson of writing. You must show up even if you are not inspired. This has value beyond the month of November. What happens is that you clench-you start the day with no idea. But this is the time to be playful, get away from your ego, the word sprints are helpful. You have to write for 10 mintues and it’s amazing what happens when you write fast. It’s like improv. You get a word and just write on it.

Nina – Agrees. Now, with Nonfiction you have a lot of choices. You have the opportunity to change to another chapter or subheading. This is the big advantage of working on a planned structure. But she gives herself permission to write crap and finish a section. Just plow through it and come back later. Your mind is taking over, and it may be better than you know. You may be surprised when you come back later. Stopping does not help. This is what you do at any other time. This is what you don’t want to do. You want to make yourself work through it. Think about it, When you get a publishing deal, you have a deadline. It’s about getting out of your way and getting the words down on paper.

Kate – I want to speak a few minutes from an editing perspecitive. You don’t want to censor and over think. But when you get started, respect the basics of writing. For example, just use the word “said.” Don’t write in purple prose. Use basic terms. Don’t get hyperbolic.

Secondly, have basic notes on the characters as they come together over the months. Scrivner has a template. Even the basic character traits can shift if you’re not mindful. The voice and physical traits, the personality and emotional makeup, don’t go all over the place. If you have something explained in dialog, don’t explain it in narrative later. Be sure when you move forward quickly, don’t tell what is being said. Top tips.

Kate helps with the next stage when they have their draft. But before you get to that stage, look at the work. What does NaNoWriMo suggest?

Grant. Yes. The people who are most successful are somewhere in the middle. The people who have thought about it a bit and some character notes. And what you produce is just a rough draft and it must be revised.

Kate – Q and A


50 Shades of Pay – How to Monetize Your Books


Nina Amir speak at #SFWC15


Turn your course into a book.
Leveraging your content into multiple streams of income.
Building a business.

Think if there is a system that can be turned into something else. A class you can teach or a speech you can give.

Can each chapter in your book be something you can speak on, teach a course on.

Every chapter has sub headings, a video where you’re teaching something.

You can start small. Nina started at a small church where she could not repeat herself.

Do a teleseminar. The audio is something you can sell. Get a transcript. You can sell it or give it away to get people on your mailing list.

Video – you can do Google webinars or a YouTube video. Do a product. Get a transcript. You now have a valuable, valuable course.

You can combine all this into our course. It can be a home-study course. It can be a retreat, a conference, a virtual site. You can do a membership site that people pay a subscription to see. You can create a consulting business. You want to think about this. You can coach it.

Start with a minimum viable product. It is the audio, very simple, or video.

Create a course. She loves to do this. You combine audio and video. You can take people so much deeper into the content. People read a book, but often they want more hand-holding and people want to go deeper. You can create a course based on this. It all goes together. You can have “done for you” services. You can have people blog for others, produce ebooks. It’s a service. They come to you and you do it. Or you can do “done with you” services.

You teach a course and the material you accumulate becomes the manuscript for your book. You may be putting information on a blog. The course becomes the book, an then you can create more books and more courses. People in your courses will give you ideas and material to work with. Spin off books and sequels. Each book becomes a revenue center for you. You can create an integrated suite of products.


Lee Foster Travel Writer

He writes and does photography. He licenses content.

Develop a strong and robust website. You can sell your content and range of product. Consumers will spend a lot of time in looking at your content and ads. They may be more interesting doing this than to buy. He gets about $5 for every 1k of visitors from ad revenue.

There are many other ways to monetize. You need a range of product. He has 18 books on his Amazon author page. Most of these are ebooks. If you are you just thinking of traditional publishing, Lee urges you to think of Indie publishing. He said that he earns more per sale for the cheaper indie, Ebooks. He earns about 85% on ebooks. He gets about 25% on the traditional sales. Indie is much more profitable.

Become more familiar with the rewards beyond money. Content, design, forms of your book all are at your control.

Indie – you control the price. The books that sell are priced at $2.99. In the Smash Words world 20 of the 25 top sellers were $2.99 books.

Make sure you print on demand with Create Space and Ingram Lightening Source or Spark to get into Libraries.

“Northern California Travel” the 30 chapters are also 30 articles on the website. This increases your licensing opportunities. He just had a 4-year license on his website for 100 articles for the uniglobe travel agency. This netted him thousands of dollars.

This leads to other contacts.

Items 8-9-10 – Experiment with new forms.

Get your books for sale in China. Soon his material will be out in ebook form there.

It’s good to have some social media efforts.

Q and A

How do you get your books into China – Fiberee – approached him (a Chinese company).


Question – Getting word out means marketing. How do you pay for this?

Nina talked about virtual book tours, reviews, interviews and such. She uses her blog and social media. She tried a publicist and it didn’t go well. She knows good publicist, but prefers to do her own. Facebook ads are not expensive.

You can get a virtual book tour for $250-$1,000 for a virtual book tour.

If you plan to monetize and make money as an author. You need to know your ideal reader and know what else is out there and how your book is different. You take this competitive analysis and market analysis and you begin to craft your idea and making an niche. She suggests that everyone do this before they write a word.


Test market. Try different teleseminars and see which ones hit. Look at how many emails you capture.

You can put up a blog for very little. Don’t give up after just six months. You may find that you have viewers.

Also, if you are a novelist, publishers don’t like this and won’t pick up your novel so it becomes a trial. Self-publish your first and then you can go traditional from there if that’s what you want.

Question about Google AD Words – Google’s ads are good. You are allowed three ads on a page, and you may need to work with a designer. He has one on top, one on bottom, and then in recent articles, the most volatile.

Lee said you also get Google analytics, and you can get fixed ads. He has one for on his page.

You may also want an affiliate relationship with Amazon.

My questions – Rodert, Coots, Library job servers – Use Ingram, pay the fee for an ad, Librarians prefer jobbers, Ingram is big with librarians.