Mumbo Jumbo OR the Answers to Everything an Author Needs

space 2Have you ever tried to take a subject or thought as absolutely far as your mind can take it? I’m talking getting-a headache-but-can’t-stop far? I’m talking if-you-can-bend-the-light-there-is-no-spoon far? I’m talking down-the-rabbit-hole far? 

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, this may be a good time to tune out. This isn’t stuff for the faint of heart. In my humble opinion, this is the stuff of true creative minds and like a gorgeous hard body with a perfect six pack and glistening muscles, it takes a mess of focus, commitment and hard work to get there. In this case, imagination work. NOTE: I didn’t say physical work or brain work. I said IMAGINATION WORK. 

About twenty years ago I taught a “Thinking” class at a kids club. My students were inner-city children between 12 and 15 years old. An unruly gathering of young people so settled into their reality, anyone could see that without an imagination shake-up they were going nowhere. Their lives, values, expectations and emotions were limited to what they saw and heard everyday. My idea was to make them see past it, beneath it, around it and beyond it. High hopes, right? But I’m no expert at any of those things so I dug into my own reality to envision the turning points in my life that could have changed everything. I got a headache, couldn’t find the spoon and dropped like a rock into the rabbit abyss. Determining how to teach the class took longer than actually doing it. 

There are benefits to every endeavor and I often wonder about those kids, where they are, if they ever thought twice about the classes after I left and if they learned anything. Here’s the kicker, I did. I discovered a whole world of metaphysical awareness I only imagined existed for other, more blessed and gifted people. And … I use that world in my practical life all the time. 

Many of my classes had a basic structure, a direction or goal in mind but I determined early that how we’d get there was going to be revealed as we explored. Sounds like mayhem and it could have been but I didn’t introduce this concept until we’d gotten a few interesting classes under our belts and noticed that the faces walking into my classroom were bright and focused and ready for more. Then I just let the energy take over. For example, at the time, I had very long hair and a favorite fuchsia scrunchie I used to pull it up into a ponytail. 

They sat, quiet and waiting (a rarity for 12 to 15 years olds), watching me with open interest. I simply tugged the scrunchie out and dropped it onto the table. “Teach is missing. She’s not here. The only clue you have is this. What happened to Teach?” 

What followed was the most intriguing mystery I ever heard; Sherlock Holmes meets the Hardy Boys in the back streets of any dingy town. It encompassed their truths and realities with the spice of unexpected creativity. From there it flowed into the next class where the students arrived with a concept for a board game based on the mystery. Art supplies were provided and my class grew in number and inspired ideas. That concept expanded from board games to hand-drawn comic books to a novella plotted, written, typed and bound by the students. The power is inside the freedom and those students had a blast. For twelve weeks while they conceptualized and created their products, they explored various ideas and venues to sell them. And every phase of this process was NOT guided by me; it grew organically from expanding young imagination. I’m not sure, but I think I unleashed the next generation of marketing experts. 

The end profits were born in the original passion. Their class experience wasn’t an instruction of techniques and skills to perfect, it was the growth of unique ideas and elements to support something they were proud of and loved. 

Aren’t we all like that? 

In this time of shifting economy and the added marketing workloads falling on an author’s shoulders, I think sometimes we miss the point. With my students, I never once said “create a product and I’ll teach you how to sell it”. I never told them that once their product was developed they’d be responsible for making it successful. Hell, I never even told them to create anything. The natural progression of logic, excitement and imagination made wonderful things happen. 

We’re all kids. Writers dabble around the rabbit hole, explore characters and concepts and boldly, courageously, write them, pitch them and hopefully publish them. Then what do we do? We freeze. Our reality limits us, tells us we’re writers and that’s all we can or should do. It tells us that publishers do the marketing, someone else does the legwork and all we need to do is write. 

When a concept germinates and develops we’re so excited! We know this is it, the one that’ll sell a million books. We feel the passions and even get glimpses of where the book should be, who will own it, love it and cherish it on their personal shelves. Then we nip that in the bud and move on. After all … someone else is supposed to do that stuff, right? Get the book into that reader’s hands? So, all our fleeting brilliance that should be part and parcel of the creation of the book and extend to how and where to make it visible, gets locked away. 

With or without a big publishing house behind your book, you instinctively know things about publicity and marketing. It ain’t brain surgery. It’s only a meatball. The process is woven into the chapters, laced through the characters’ dialog and painted into the book cover image you have in mind. Why do authors abandon this essential extention of creation? 

You know I’m a writer, but I’m also a publicist. When I write, I let the concepts for the book’s future flow through me and onto a cool little note pad I keep to the side. Those thoughts are vital, they will plot the road to success. I’m receiving those thoughts because they are elemental to the creative project at hand. 

When I am functioning as a publicist, the process is surprisingly the same … but I have rules. 

For example, I will not take on a client (especially of the author persuasion) unless they already understand their role in making a book successful. I’m not talking about authors who say “tell me where and when and I’ll be there with book sighing pen in hand”. Not interested in that author at all. 

Here’s a truth all authors must swallow. Publicity and marketing are already structured into your project and you already know it. An author who calls me, tells me their story with passion and direction then blurts out strange ideas for marketing the book … now that’s my perfect client. I have practical and professional tools to implement a great idea. I do not work for a client … I work with them. Don’t give me your book, ask me to read it then tell you how I’ll publicize or market it. That’s when I use my favorite four letter word … N E X T. Do convey your passions about the story, the characters and the reader you want to speak to. Any good publicist can help you take your voice and put in traditional venues as well as off-the-wall places you instinctively knew to reach. 

A good publicist/author relationship is about synergy. And a good author/imagination relationship should never be stifled just because it seems like someone else’s job. If it came to you, it’s yours. Own the idea, set it aside while you write, then bring it to the light to start the marketing and publicity ball rolling. Respect the ideas. If you don’t, who knows, someday they may just stop coming. 

Just as you enjoyed the rabbit hole to create your wonderful book, take some time to look through those fleeting marketing ideas that you randomly jotted down. Go back to the rabbit hole again, go ahead, leap. Take the freefall and discover all the bizarre and unique solutions that drift past. When you land you’ll be right back where you started, only a whole lot more clear on your personal journey toward publishing and marketing success

Now, while you do that … somewhere I have a spoon to bend. Oh, right, there is no spoon. 

rabbit 2

About Deborah Riley-Magnus

Deborah Riley-Magnus is an author and an Author Success Coach. She has a twenty-seven year professional background in marketing, advertising, and public relations as a writer for print, television, and radio. She writes fiction and non-fiction. Since 2010, she had two novels released. In 2013 her nonfiction, Finding Author Success (Second Edition), and Cross Marketing Magic for Authors were released. Her newest book, Write Brain/Left Brain, focuses on bridging the gap between the creative writer and the marketing author. Deborah produces several pieces monthly for various websites and online publications. She writes an author industry blog and teaches online and live workshops as The Author Success Coach. She belongs to several writing and professional organizations. Deborah has lived on both the east and west coast of the United States and has traveled the country widely. She is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and recently returned after living in Los Angeles, California for several years. View all posts by Deborah Riley-Magnus

11 responses to “Mumbo Jumbo OR the Answers to Everything an Author Needs

  • yearzerowriters

    I agree with you to a certain extent. 1) Writers have to market for we are now virtually solely responsible for our own marketing in the current economic climate & state of marketing 2) We know our books better than anyone, we know its angles and we know its creative origins.

    However, it is a different creativity involved in marketing from literary writing. If I could or wanted to sum my book up in a pithy 15 word strapline, I probably wouldn’t have needed to write a novel in the first place. What works within the carefully structured narrative of the novel has to be gutted into punchy, attention grabbing slices that totally wrenches them away from their original context. My novel for example, probably has about 20 different themes in it, any of which could probably enflesh a tag to bait a search engine, but none of them themselves drive the whole book. But give me a platform to wax lyrical and passionate about the book’s themes and I could do it standing on my head.

    I guess what I’m saying is marketing is reductive, necessarily so. That is a very different creativity from the creativity of a novel that unfurls itself in its own time to the reader.

    That doesn’t mean to say I haven’t got 10 or 12 different killer straplines all ready to go. Or that I can’t riff off somebody else’s Twitter post to refer it back to my novel at the drop of a hat. I shhot videos to promote a piece of prose, so I’m not totally down on technology either. Just don’t ask me to hold it up in comparalbe esteem with the book itself that’s all. In a way, it’s a post-production final draft, thats’ all.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Marc, it’s all a necessary evil unfortunately, but I propose that the core ideas, the seeds for promoting, marketing or publicizing an author’s book(s) is already inside of that author, waiting to be accepted and explored. I’m being metaphysical here, LOL. AND … I truly believe it.

      We never get anything without receiving some ability to put it out there.


  • Teel McClanahan III

    And what if I don’t “instinctively know things about publicity and marketing”? Different people are creative and imaginative in a variety of different ways. Just as some people will never write a book worth reading, some people aren’t gifted “instinctively” with marketing creativity.

    Personally, 95% of my thoughts that connect in any way with sales/marketing/promotion are only in my head because I sat down and forced myself to think about how to sell. Five years ago it was 100%. For me, marketing is a *skill* that I have to *learn* and even as I learn it, it remains hard work. It doesn’t flow naturally – which, for me, writing does. I have that kind of creativity, I have an instinct for storytelling

    I don’t have a publicist bone in my body.

    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Ah Grasshopper, you are a nonbeliever.

      I’m honestly am not talking about the “skill” or “talent” for implimenting a marketing strategy … I’m simply proposing that within the creative threads of writing your book are the seeds for marketing it.

      I’m not saying you should sit and “THINK” about marketing your book, I’m suggesting that if you jot down those stray ideas that passed across your mind during the writing of the book, they just may benefit down the road.

      For example, if your book is about a murder in a professional kitchen, specialty food or cooking doo-dad stores might really love to carry it. It’s an idea that may twinkle while you’re writing, you may even see the book on the shelf. These concepts pop in and you might immediately evict them as unimportant or interruptions. If you write them down and look later, they may feed into a real viable solution down the road.

      The mind works on hundreds of levels at once, Teel. I only suggest that when a thought slips to the forefront, we don’t instantly discount it.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Teel McClanahan III

        I’m saying that while that may be YOUR experience, it isn’t mine. I don’t have stray marketing ideas pop up, and I certainly write down all the little things that occur to me while writing; during my last novel I got great ideas for 3 more novels & 2 short stories & a few essays. I have story ideas, naturally.

        I’ve been working for several years to try to learn marketing. To develop the mental muscles for it. Without having spent hundreds of hours thinking about marketing, I wouldn’t have had the few occasional occurances of what you describe. I’m certainly not saying it doesn’t happen. I’m saying that, for some people, it isn’t natural or instinctive. Different minds’ hundreds of levels of activity may not ever happen to hit a marketing thought.

  • Sensei J. Richard Kirkham B.Sc.

    Writers and black belts have one thing in common. Their expected to be able to do everything from run a business to teach their skills and they’re not automatically qualified to do this


    • Deborah Riley-Magnus

      Sensei! Welcome. No, not always qualified, but always responsible. Before I bacame a chef I had to promote my coffee shop, deal with my pastry chef brother, and run the business. I was a PR expert! What did I know about cappuccino machines or register drawer balances, but I got through.

      The industry is making writers think marketing. What do we know from outlet venues and press release distribution packages? But … we’ll get through.

      With the great little sparks of brilliance.


  • I’ve Been Thinking Again « Anthony Stevens’ Weblog

    […] when I was introduced to another writer’s blog, where she discusses the exact same thing. Debrah Riley-Magnus […]

  • Carol Silvis

    Hi, Deb,

    You have me thinking about ways I have “thought” about marketing my book but actually did not carry through. I’m going to re-think and react a little more.

    P.S. Did you get the two emails I sent you?

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