Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Dreams Are Lost

The grill billowed with smoke. Your stomach growled. Children frolicked in the yard and your mouth watered as you savored the flavors of life. You could practically taste the grizzle and ketchup and hot dog bun in your mouth. Your mom threw in some chips and soda and you were in heaven.

As usual, you played until the street lights came on and when you laid in your bed at the end of the day you dreamed of who you'd become.

You were young. You were fresh. You were exactly who you were supposed to be and your dreams were bigger than life.

If you were like me, you wanted to be a stunt man and jump the Snake River like Evel Knievel, soaring by the power of your will. Or maybe you wanted to be a dancer, a drummer, or a writer.

Then life happened.

You got pregnant. You went to college. You started a career, working long hours, hoping to get ahead while you paid your bills. Sometimes, you thought about your secret dreams when no one was looking. Of course they were there, hiding, waiting, still electrified with that youthful energy you once had. But you pushed them aside.

You gave your time to your children. You gave your time to your wife or husband. You gave your time to remodeling that house and it drained the life out of you, but you wouldn't change a thing. Your family has made you who you are, loving you through the highs and lows of life.

And yet through it all, you never forgot your dreams. Thoughts of leaping the Grand Canyon and writing your magnum opus have faithfully remained at your side, calling, whispering to you, hoping that you'd drag them from your memories, and realize them for what they are.

Let me ask you a question; do you hear your dreams calling, or are you blocking out the noise with the business of life?

I hope you're listening, because your dreams will never stop calling you. They're a part of the child that still exists inside of you. Your dreams are who you're meant to be. And if you have a dream, there's no reason why it shouldn't, at the very least, be your hobby.

Of course, you've made choices and you've learned to accept them. Good for you. You did the hard thing, the important things.

But listen...for just a moment...and remember who you are. You are what you dream.

You can dream big, or you can dream small, but dreams unrealized are nothing at all.

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion at age 40.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The End of Our Innocence

The early morning couldn't have been any colder. The stars hid behind clouds that hammered me with icy bullets and I peddled as fast as I could. My shiny BMX bike was my partner, my chrome stallion, carrying me through storm, sun and snow. I shivered. I dripped. But the rain in my eyes and the water on my lips was beautiful, a fresh taste of innocence.

I had wrapped sixty-seven copies of The Cleveland Plain Dealer with care. I bound them with Kmart-issued rubber bands, slipped plastic covers over each one and then tossed them with squinted-eye accuracy.

No one knew how hard I worked except me.

On Fridays I'd come to collect. I'd walk through the front doors of pleasant grandmothers, carrying my ring of collection cards, dreaming of how I'd spend my profits. Mrs. Willis and a few of my favorite clients tipped me with cookies and a smile and watched as I rode off into the sunset. Some of my customers, however, were scary and smelled bad, likely pedophiles hoping I'd stay for candy and a movie.

I never stayed. I had plans. I was hungry for an Orange Crush and Doritos and I wasn't about to let a round-belly pervert, or rainy day, or snowdrift stop me from getting what I wanted.

I was a paperboy dagnabit!

The year was 1980 and I was ten-years old in a world that seemed to be glowing, bursting with dreams and thick with possibilities. The music was awesome and if you had a boombox on your shoulder and a bandanna wrapped around your ankle you were well on your way to stardom.

Looking back on those days I wonder how I made it unscathed and unmolested! Just two weeks ago a nine year-old girl was abducted from her bicycle not ten miles away from my home in broad daylight. They found her but she's traumatized as you can imagine. Unfortunately, her story is all too common today. Yet in 1980 I could go anywhere on my bike, wild, free and unafraid. All I needed was 50¢ for a pop and candy bar to satisfy my sugar addiction.

A lot has changed since then, don't you think? We grew up. We graduated from paperboy, to husband, to parent and landed in a world filled with busyness, stress, iPhones, iPads and everything except simplicity.

Have you noticed that people smile less and neighbors act like strangers?

We've shut ourselves in, less impressed with the wild world around us and more dazzled by larger than life personalities like Charlie Sheen and the winners on America Idol.

If we could only see life with the same eyes that witnessed 1980 from our BMX bikes, maybe we'd smile a little more and regain some of that innocence. My kids have it. I see it in their eyes. They spy a planet full of fun and freedom and summer dreams. And all I can do is worry that someone will invite them in for candy and a movie?

You know, I think its time I go for a bike ride through town with nothing more than a couple bucks to get a coke and a snickers and sit on the curb with a few buddies. The end of our innocence has come with a price, but I think we can recoup it for less than we think.

Life's too short to forget how sweet the taste of rain is on our lips.

Jeff Bennington
Author of Reunion

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Letter to the Beginning Indie Author

Dear Indie Author,
Over the last two years, I’ve learned so much about publishing and marketing, but more importantly, I’ve learned that I’ve had expectations of an industry that does not bend to my wishes. Without boring you with the usual “get edited and a good book cover” redundancy, I’d like to share 5-Fascinating Facts I’ve learned that might help you with your book launch, and prepare you for an industry that’s filled with vipers and wild stallions.

1.     A Crash is Coming! If you’re a new or newer author without a platform, be prepared for a sales crash soon after your release. No matter how hard you market your book before you let that baby fly, you will only be able to reach so many people. Think about your family, friends, twitterverse, and facebook cult members. You may have hundreds or even thousands of peeps cheering for you, but they will only take your sales so far. A couple hundred sales on day one are great, but they will not keep your sales rolling. The rest is up to you. The days or weeks after a book launch to a newer author can feel like you’re the Grand Marshall of a parade who walked ten miles into an uninhabited desert, only to discover that you’re waving and smiling at no one. 

I don’t mean to discourage or scare you away from publishing your work. I do, however, want to prepare you for the rocky road ahead. Just be tough, and wait. There are a few affordable and effective marketing tools, but that’s another post all together.

2.     Dig Deep. If you’re an indie author or published with a small press, remember that you will be responsible for almost all of your marketing. There will be no paid book tours, no TV ads, and little to no internet marketing other than your publishers web page, mostly viewed by other authors looking to publish their book.  Dig your heels in deep, and plan to work hard, filling every extra minute of your time doing something to promote your novel while simultaneously writing your next book.

3.     Grow Gator Skin. No matter what your expectations are, be prepared for a let down. Grrrr. I hate to say that, especially because I’m usually very positive, but I have to be honest about this. I can’t be sure, but I’d bet that most authors have dreams and fantasies about the sales of their book and how much everyone is going to love it. But when the reviews and sales trickle in slower and less enthusiastic than expected, we can hit a wall…a very hard and dark wall, bringing some to the point of depression.

My point is this: Adjust your expectations and remember that you’re one of thousands of authors who picked that special day to publish and you will be competing against all of them, like a single droplet of water floating amidst Niagara Falls. Don’t take it personal. That’s just the way it is. Most writers begin to grow a hardened layer of skin at this point, an undesirable yet necessary part of authorship.

4.     More is Merrier. Prepare for the long haul. As you may have read, J.A. Konrath, Scott Nicholson and other successful indie authors agree that the key to indie success is having a damn good book, and having lots of them. As a newer author you generally have two choices: market yourself into a bestseller (i.e. going broke on an ad campaign), or prepare for the long haul. Many of these bestselling indie authors did not enjoy their successes until they had several books out. This is the “Getting more shelf space” concept, which means the more books you have on the digital bookshelf, the more visible you will become. Again, that will take time. Plan on this when you begin publishing that first or second novel. It will save you a lot of pain and Prozac.

5.     Build a Scaffold. Remember that your first book is an opportunity to build your platform, a scaffold to reach your dreams, not necessarily a shortcut to fortune and fame. Just because Joanna Penn wrote a top rated fiction on her first try, doesn’t mean you will, even if your book is head and shoulders better than Pentecost.

Joanna has put in her time blogging, guest blogging, videoing, writing non-fiction and developing literary relationships for years. Respect that. And know that if you are just joining the battle against the gatekeepers of the publishing world, you will have to put in your time, build an audience and continue to master the craft of writing. I am of the opinion that guest blogging is a great tool to accomplish this (I’ll address this later at my post-blog tour guest spots). For now, plan to schedule a blog tour, blog blitz, or guest blog anywhere you can to share your experiences and talk about your book.

This won’t be the last time you hear me say this, but I think writing is one of the most demanding professions around.  Writing and publishing is tough and it will test your character. As I stated in an article I wrote for The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog, Many great books have risen to the top and then sank to the bottom of the literary ocean, rusting and watching the crabs walk over their pages.

All I’m saying is… it’s best to prepare yourself for the ups and downs of the publishing experience before you come buzzing into an empty circus arena. And it is a circus. There are wonderful people who will help you along your journey, but also a few mean spirited folks as well. So wrap yourself with a breathable coat of thick skin and get that book published! But don’t stop there; write the next one and the next one and the next one until publishing becomes more about your full line of books than your breakout novel.

Of course there’s always room for a literary anomaly, and I hope you are that author. For the rest of us, as in the hundreds of thousands of the rest of us, we must ride our books like wild stallions, not knowing which way they may go, but carefully plotting the course for the long ride ahead. BOOM!

-Jeff Bennington
Author of REUNION