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Friday, July 17, 2009

Killer Campaign: Volunteerism

I think of all the marketing venues available, volunteerism is the most useful, yet the least understood.

Call it New Age fandango or remnants of my radical youth, but I deeply believe in Karma. I believe that what goes around comes around. Maybe not right away--and maybe not even in this life.

I believe what you do in this world (either good or bad) affects those around you directly or indirectly.

Negativity is a cancer, and if you go out of your way to spew poison, it poisons you as well as your victim. But good Karma, particularly the stuff you do when no one is looking, replenishes your soul in ways you can never realize except in retrospect. And for a writer, it pays dividends.

It wasn't very long ago when I decided to make writing a profession. It was a ludicrous idea. Even my husband, ever the supportive soul, gently asked if I wasn't spitting in the wind this go round. He knew I had a penchant for lost causes. And to make matters worse, I started from the dung pile.

I had never written fiction before and I had funny writing quirks, telltales that hinted English was not my first language. To correct my deficiencies, I joined a writers' critique group and lurked on the accompanying forum where I could read and reread the endless discussions on craft.

It occurred to me that the lessons I was getting for free were acts of kindness, good Karma paid forward by the published veterans in the group.

Now, I was savvy enough to understand that some of those veterans were only offering their help when they had books coming out. They would come out of lurkdom just in time to pitch their latest, answer the prevailing discussion question and then dissolve into the fabric once more.

But there were others; people who truly did want to help and teach, people who gave of themselves without any conscious expectation of reward.

These writers gained both my respect and admiration.

As I immersed myself in more activities, such as conferences, live writer groups, and crit partners, I witnessed more of these good Samaritan acts, and I promised myself that I would reach out to others wherever I could in whatever capacity I could. I wanted to be an active participant in the writing community. They had given me so much, and I always pay my debts. But where to start?

I have an advertising background, so I used that as my springboard, but that doesn't mean I haven't done my share of putting out chairs, baking cookies, or simply handing out name tags. There is no such thing as a task beneath your station.

Does that mean people remembered my name or my face? Did they Google me and see that I had a book out? Probably not, but maybe I made someone's life a little easier that day. Maybe the fact that I stopped to chat with a newcomer changed her mind about giving up writing all together.

The truth is, most of the time we don't know how our actions affect others.

A couple of years ago I was at an out of town conference and completely lost (my usual state of being). This very kind lady, who was doing nothing more than putting out swag, took the time to help me orient myself in this strange hotel. I thanked her kindly and went on my way. But I met her again only a couple of hours later when she was giving a workshop on craft.

As soon as it was over, I stopped at the book room and bought one of her novels. I didn't have to do it. I wanted to do it.

At a different conference, a young man joked and teased throughout his talk on craft. I was so impressed with him, I stopped him after the session and asked if he'd let me interview him for my website. We chatted for several minutes and then he begged me to wait a moment while he rushed back for his box of goods. He not only gave me two of his books, but one of his doodles (which I still have).

You bet I bought more of his books. Even now, whenever I see his name, I wish him nothing but good Karma.

You do not have to be a big name author or even published to volunteer. Volunteerism is made up of little steps. It's the accumulation of these steps that not only raises your credibility within the publishing community, but also embeds you in the center of the action.

I learned more about local writers, the events in our area, and the future of our writing group as a whole when I volunteered to put out a quarterly newsletter.

Networking is a natural offshoot of volunteerism. I have met so many wondrous authors, editors and agents simply because I was at the right place at the right time. Who cares if the only thing in my hands was a tray of glasses or a chair? I was there.

If you are looking for a quick-get-noticed marketing scheme, volunteerism isn’t for you. It's long term and there are no guarantees for reward. But volunteering in and of itself is extremely rewarding.

Looking for ways to volunteer? Try some of these.

• If you have a specific talent, use that first. For example: If you have a day job as an accountant, offer tax tips. Lawyer? Explain contract legalese. Baker? Blog about your expertise. (Foodie novels seem all the rage now.)

• When you join a writers' group, ask the group's president how you can best help. Some of the things our group always needed was someone to greet members, make coffee, take meeting notes when the secretary was out, collate handouts, or stack chairs when the meeting was over. There is always something to do.

• Most conferences have a link for people who want to volunteer. All you have to do is sign up and show up. Most of the time it will be grunge work, but you will definitely be in the thick of things.

• Help your peers. Host a launch party for a new author. Critique query letters and synopses.

• Have a blog? Share information. Don't assume what you know is common knowledge.

• Ezines: If you're not submitting, see if the editor is looking for slush readers.

• Handy with desktop publishing? Offer to do a newsletter for your group.

• Book Clubs: Offer to host a meeting at your place.

• Moderate chat rooms, contests and online workshops.

Volunteerism is the most gratifying of any self-promotion you can do. It might not pay you back in immediate sales, but your credibility will be golden, and you can't buy that for any money.

For more articles in the Killer Campaign series, go here.


Remember that I will choose one winner from this week's comments for a print copy of Touch Of Fire. Winner will be chosen this Sunday, July 19.

Copyright © 2009 Maria Zannini --

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Red Garnier said...

These are excellent tips, Maria!! I love helping my peers by critiquing and I definitely believe blogs are a powerful promotional tool. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Red! So nice to see you back on the web.

Michelle McLean said...

Wonderful post, and I couldn't agree with you more. When I joined my first writing group, badly in need of help, I met several kind people who helped me out. But one lady in particular really took me under her wing, spent hours helping me revise my ms, pointing out the mistakes I was making, and spending a great deal of time helping me correct them.

When I thanked her, she told me that it was her pleasure...that when she had first started, a more experienced author had helped her out and she was glad to do the same for me.

Because of her kindness and generosity, I would gladly do anything I can to help her out. She is linked on my blog (Jeannie Reusch) and when her book came out, I shouted it to the hills :) I would love to repay her in any way I can for the kindness she showed me.

And it is my great pleasure, now that I've been around the writing block a few times, to help others who are just starting out - and I've met many other writers who do the same. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Michelle,

What a heartwarming story! I think there is a special place in heaven for those authors who take us under their wings when we need it most.

Sherri said...

Applies to all areas of ones life. Thanks for another excellent post.

Maria Zannini said...

That is true, isn't it? Thanks for coming over, Sherri.

LJCohen said...

I also believe in karma, and have taught my kids something I live by: at any moment, you have a choice to act in a positive way or a negative way. No matter what life throws at you, you have a choice. In fact, how you react to live events may be the *only* choice you do have.