2014 is going to be our year to shine!

As we prepare to start a new year, I thought a crash course in my inky efforts might be useful. As I’m sure you know, one of the primary goals of Ink & Alchemy and More Ink is provide a place for writers and artists to network and show off their stuff. Another of my goals is to teach by example. I work diligently on my platform and hope that by doing so, each of you will pick up some useful ideas for strengthening your own platform.

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As I reflect on 2013 and consider how to improve I&A and MI in 2014, one fact keeps swimming to the surface. We haven’t used this platform as effectively and consistently as we could have. Much of this is my fault and I have an incredible number of ideas floating around in my brain aimed at improving in the future.

I don’t mean to point fingers here, but some of this is also your fault.
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There are many ways that you can take advantage of the free marketing I’m offering, but many people don’t. This surprises me. People are downright desperate to get their work out there, and I don’t blame them a bit. So am I. The market is tough and it’s hard to make yourself heard above the roar of the crowd.

This blog post is a friendly reminder of myriad of ways that you can take advantage of the promotional opportunities that I offer in the upcoming year. Let’s work together so that we’re more successful than ever before.

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  • My website has lots of free resources, including lists of recommended sites and a reading list, links to help you promote your ebook during your free KDP days, and a PDF describing the basics of building your social media platform.
  • I offer Featured Artist and Featured Writer programs. Submit your work. There is no cost to you and the bottom line is increased exposure for your work. Use these enthusiastically. When I feature you, you should re-post that link far and wide and comment when you can. Leverage every single bit of exposure for all it’s worth.
  • A tip about features: I do my best to give everyone a fair shake, but the bottom line is that if you regularly frequent the page, interact with others, or share my links, you’ll likely get featured more often. Reciprocity. It’s just the way it works.
  • If you have an upcoming event (book release or signing, exhibition opening, etc.), send me the info. I’ll do my best to post it throughout my platform. You can increase your odds of being promoted by sending me a well-formatted blurb complete with links and an image. Copy, paste! How much easier can it get?
  • Along the same lines at the previous bullet – I offer guest blogging or features on a regular basis but people seldom participate. This is a win-win. Fresh content for me that I didn’t work very hard to get and content for you that you can smear all over cyberspace. You can wax poetic about how incredible you are and blame it on me if you like! Just send me a piece that is publication-worthy (with links and images). Please, please, I beg you – do not send me poorly spelled and punctuated ramblings. Because I’m basically a nice person, I spent way too much time correcting and editing this kind of thing in 2013. New year, new rules. In 2014, I will do light editing, but I don’t have the time to re-write submissions.
  • Sometimes people apply to be featured and then shoot themselves in the foot. You really need to have a website or at least a FB or blog page that is regularly updated. I can’t promote what doesn’t exist. If you’re still starting out and building your platform, consider submitting a guest blog. See previous bullet.
  • I’ll admit that I like to control the content at Ink & Alchemy. It’s kind of my baby and I’m a little protective of it. Every once in a while, I open it up for link sharing (like today RIGHT NOW), but for the most part, I curate this page. More Ink is another story. You may feel free to post useful links, events, and anything else you think will energize us to greater creativity! Think of More Ink as ourpage, yours and mine. If you’re a part of Ink & Alchemy, you should probably also frequent More Ink. It’s a less formal, more open forum and I’d love to have you!
  • My platform reaches far and wide and isn’t just limited to the FB pages. Try to branch out in the upcoming year and use a new medium. How about Vimeo, Behance, or Tumblr?

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If I were going to summarize what I think successful promotion looks like, I’d say this:

Consistency

Content

Reciprocity

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What do I mean by cross-linking? Imagine that networking is…well, a gigantic net. Every single interaction that you have in cyberspace is tiny potential thread in the larger mesh. You can’t build a strong, reliable network by rushing or using a shortcut. It’s not quick because you have to earn the trust of your followers. Every little thread should be carefully placed and secured. How can you do this? The best approach is to consistently post quality content. Regularly interact with others. Be patient. Be genuine. Your network will build itself slowly. I’ve talked about this in many other places (like here, here, and here), so I’ll spare you the details.

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I encourage you to take your platform seriously. Take action in 2014. Come up with a plan and hold yourself accountable. I recently started a new series designed to help you become a (social media) badass. My plan is to post practical, useful actions throughout the year that you can take to learn how to better manage your platform. Try it and let me know how it works.
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Join my mailing list or check out the archives. You’ll find lots of links and information to help you with promotion.
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This art knocks your eyeballs around a bit, doesn’t it? I adore the work of Jaeyeol Han. He’s a Korean artist who works primarily in oil bar on canvas and is part of the I&A Featured Artist Program.Pay him a visit at his website by clicking here or on any of the images in this post.

Need a creative kick in the ass? 

Pop over for a quick art or lit fix.

P.S. Wanna hear something fabulous? Sheila Cameron has made my day. She is one of my favorite artists (not to mention just a terrific and kind-hearted person) and has created a very special discount today in celebration of Ink & Alchemy.  I am beyond honored.Go to her Etsy store and enter coupon code: INKANDALCHEMY for 20% off. But you’d better hurry, because I’m heading over now and I can’t guarantee that I’ll leave anything for you.

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Losing it.

Change involves loss. 

I always forget  – or choose to ignore? –  that part. If you’ve been following me in cyberspace for any length of time, you know that I’m all about change. Growth, transformation, and all that jazz. I truly believe in it.

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But it isn’t always easy.

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I was recently reminded of one of the dirty little secrets about this kind of life-affecting change. It involves loss. There’s no way around it. Sometimes there’s just no way to move forward without lightening the load, and unfortunately, this sometimes means letting loose of people in your life. I’ve done this many times and I understand how it works, but every single time I have to learn this lesson again. I have to force myself to do it and I usually don’t get there until it’s outrageously overdue.

Why? 

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Well, I like people and I understand foibles. Oh my goodness, do I understand mistakes – I’ve made more than my fair share.  I think some of the wackiest people are some of the most interesting ones. I believe in second – and third & fourth & sixteenth –  chances.  I don’t want to judge people because I know things aren’t always what they seem from a distance.

But still. 

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Certain relationships just run their course. Not only do they not add anything to your life, they begin to detract from it. They become weighty and too complicated, loaded down with obligation and guilt. When there is no evidence, not one single shred, of positive change in a person’s life, spending time with them inevitable drags you down a wee bit. Life is too precious for that.
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Of course, my first instinct is to inspire that person. In fact, I hope to inject life and energy into everything I do and every interaction I have. I try.

But you can’t save them all. Some of them don’t even want to be saved. And who the hell am I to make that determination? I’m not in charge of anyone else but myself. It’s me I need to worry about.

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I’d been wrestling with a relationship like this for several years and last week I stopped fighting. I harbor no ill-feelings toward that person. In fact, I hope he goes on to a very happy and successful future. And of course he, like every single one of us, is free to define ‘successful’ in any way that he chooses.

But I will not be there to watch, because I’m consciously choosing to spend my time in a different way. I won’t lie and say that I’m completely alright with that. I feel like a selfish ass. I feel like I’m being judgmental. Yes, I’m still feeling some residual backlash from the decision, but I know it’s the right thing to do and I need to get better at doing it when it’s warranted.

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On another topic,I was interviewed recently via Skype for a podcast and you know what? I kind of sucked. I don’t say that in a self-deprecating way, but as a fact. I was surprised and chagrined as it unfolded to realize that I really didn’t have anything that interesting to say. Surprised because I almost always have something to say. Further, the interview was about art and creativity and these are topics that I can talk about all night long. In my sleep. (In fact, I probably do – I’m making a mental note to ask my husband about this.)

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So, what happened?

I’m not really sure, but at the very least, life has offered up yet another opportunity for growth. Funny how many of those pop up along the way, isn’t it? The tricky part is to recognize them and take action, which may require introspection. I’m just spitballing here, but it probably requires at least five freaking minutes to think about the problem and come up with some possible solutions.

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I don’t allow myself enough of this kind of time.
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I’m one of those insane people who are always doing something. Seriously, unless I’m sleeping, I’m engaged in some activity and my life is carefully planned to make sure everything fits. What this plan fails to account for is unplanned time. (Ha! I’d better plan in some unplanned time!)

Time to just sit around and think about the world. Ducks. Time loops. How to draw flowers. Maybe I could just sit around and think about nothing. Nah. That’s crazy talk.

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Hey, you know what? Maybe I’m just not good at interviews. It’s okay to not be good at everything, isn’t it?

(Ouch! That was even difficult to type. I’m gonna admit that I may not be completely buying that last bit, but it’s a start. I’ve got a long way to go.)

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I’ll probably set some specific goals this year related to my career, my relationships, and my creative endeavors. I just can’t help myself. But the most important resolution that I will strive toward in 2014 is to be a little kinder to myself. Control my life such that the negative is minimized. Stop being such a perfectionist. Take time to enjoy the world. How about you? Got any big plans for the upcoming year?

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Simon Birch is a Featured Artist at Ink & Alchemy and it is his art you see sprinkled throughout this post. Incredible, huh? See more at his website or Facebook page. And as always, you are invited to visit me for art and inspiration.

Happy holidays from Ink & Alchemy!

Worse Than it Looks, a post by Tom Janikowski

I recently made the acquaintance of Tom Janikowski and it has been a distinct pleasure. What I love about him the most was best expressed by a recent visitor to his website:
 
“He is deranged.” – Penny Watson
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His newly released collection of poetry, Worse Than It Looks, is exactly the kind of gritty midwestern darkness in which I revel. This collection was drawn from his experiences working with people who have made bad choices – addicts, convicts, users, and the like. Written over the span of two years on the streets of the Quad Cities of Illinois and Iowa, the poems include many that appeared at his collaborative poetry site, “the lost beat,” where he writes with his cousin, the poet Denise Janikowski-Krewal. Worse Than It Looks available in both paperback and epub formats. I opted for a paperback and my copy is winging its way to me as we speak. I just hope the UPS truck isn’t highjacked by a drug-crazed maniac during its journey, because I WANT THAT BOOK.

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Because Tom is freaking terrific, he agreed to a guest post on my blog. I cannot thank him enough. And now, I shall let Tom speak:
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The American Shakespeare – Mr. William Faulkner – once said “don’t be a writer, be writing.” Truthfully, I do not know if he said it once, twice, or a hundred times, but I have tried to follow his advice. I have been writing since about the age of eight or nine, but I have always seen myself as one who is just about the business of writing – it is only what I do and not who I am. I hear from a lot of folks who say things like “I am a writer – that’s just who I am,” and I used to think that perhaps I was less of a writer because I defined myself differently, but I have grown out of that. It only took me forty years to do so.

I write, I write, and then I write some more. Sometimes I take breaks and don’t write for a bit, but then I start writing again. I have a very simple process, I suppose you might say. I like to drink lots of coffee and put words together so as to give shape to the world that I take in throughout the day and though all the days past. Like most writers, I read a lot, and sometimes I find myself crafting something that comes out a bit more like something that I have read than I would have expected. There you have it.

My absolute rule is that I never write less than 1,000 words at a sitting, and I try to sit down as often as I can. My exception to this is when I get something of an itchy feeling in my brain and I know in my gut that I cannot work on fiction at a given moment. At those times I allow myself to sit down and write poetry. That usually seems to work like a dose of extra-strength caustic drain cleaner. All the crap gets flushed out, the pipes get cleaned, and the waters start to flow again. Most of the time this works.

I love to write flash fiction and “prosetry” on a regular basis, as it keeps me from getting overly flowery with my language. I love economy of expression, especially when it can be hard, gritty and abrasive without being explicit, vulgar, or cheap. I had a professor during my undergraduate work in philosophy who was absolute death on non-essentials, and he left a mark on me. Give it to me straight. Tell me what is going on. If I rely upon symbolism, I try to make it powerful, or at the very least succinct. Sometimes it works.

When I get on a roll and start writing like mad, I try to make hay while the sun shines, as the old saying goes. I wrote a 70,000 word novella last year in just a few days this way. I was taking prednisone for a bronchial infection at the time, and it gave me loads of energy, kept me awake at nights, and got me up early in the mornings. The result was a rather cohesive (albeit strange) story. My agent is still trying to find a home for that little devil.

During these writing benders I like to eat apples in the mornings and stale pretzels in the evenings. When I am done, I cap the session with a very dry martini and try to sleep. I will take walks with my dogs to clear my head and I listen to Hoagy Carmichael and Smashing Pumpkins to get me ready for the next session.

How is that for creative method?

I find myself silently muttering about interesting things that I see taking place, and this is usually where the writing really begins. I might see a really dirty car pull up, the door open, and an angry man get out, shouting at his companion something about a sandwich. I might start saying “gimme’ my damn sammich…damn sammich…gimme gimme damn sammich…” over and over to myself as I listen to similar words coming out of his mouth. I then start to make up a story about why it was that someone else had his sandwich. What kind of sandwich? Was it partially eaten? Was it rancid? Was it stolen? What kind of bread was it on? You know the sort of internal dialogue – I assume that this is the same sort of thing that all writers do.

The most underestimated tool in my writing toolbox is my attention to synchronicity. I try to watch for examples of the universal unconscious mind or whatever you might want to call it, and I am making an effort to do even more of this, as I am convinced that I currently miss a lot of answers. Invariably I will be writing about something – cream cheese, for instance – and, without fail, all sorts of references to cream cheese start popping up in the world around me. Often these are in the most unlikely situations, and they tend to answer a lot of questions that I am facing in writing a given story.

What does it mean to write? It means, I firmly believe, to give some shape to what we experience – whether or not it is in the physical world. When Kurt Vonnegut said that in writing we are continually jumping off of cliffs and growing wings on the way down, I don’t think he could have been closer to the truth. Jump, and you jump into the world of what is. Grow your wings, and you might just make some sense out of it all.

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Tom Janikowski was born in 1968 in Cudahy, Wisconsin, the grandson of Pomeranian and Carpathian immigrants who left Poland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Janikowski studied English and philosophy at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and eventually at the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, where he studied fiction under author Larry Watson (Let Him Go, Montana 1948, Orchard) and poetry under William L.M.H. Clark. Graduating in 1994 with a philosophy degree, Janikowski’s professional writing for a long time consisted of strictly non-fiction endeavors, including book reviews for GP Light, the English supplement to Gwiazda Polarna – the nation’s largest Polish-language newspaper.
 
After lengthy forays into songwriting, bartending, and the self-publishing of poetry chapbooks, Janikowski continued his studies and earned a Master’s Degree in 2002. Despite this setback, he is still able to write in complete sentences and in the past several years has focused almost exclusively on writing fiction. His flashes and short stories have appeared online and in print on both sides of the Atlantic. Now represented by Monika Luukkonen of Oulu, Finland, he has begun working in longer forms and his forthcoming Crawford County Sketchbook (due out late in 2014 from Red Hen Press of Pasadena, CA) is a collection of tales set in a rural county somewhere in the deep South.
 
Janikowski has been greatly influenced by “Lost Generation” authors such as William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, but he also admits long-standing love affairs with the writing of Kurt Vonnegut and John Updike. Formerly a resident of Upstate New York and a frequenter of several speakeasies inthe Catskills, he currently works, posts at http://www.martinipen.com, and mixes cocktails in Davenport, Iowa, where he lives with Shelly, his best friend and beloved wife of 15 years.
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As always, you can find a list of featured writers and artists on my website, Ink & Alchemy. If you enjoyed this post, pop over and give Tom a little cyber snuzzle. You can find him all over the web: