Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There's no escaping me


A friend was buying a car in California and there I was, staring him in the face. The Real Deal Ref.

I knew I was on the website, but had no idea I was also at the proverbial point of sale.

I wonder sometimes if stuff like this and the commercials and other things will somehow come back to haunt me in some way. I mean, it's not like doing porn ...

I hope whoever comes across it that might have some power over my future views it in a positive light. Something fun, interesting and unique, as opposed to odd, cheesy and off-putting.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Reality Check

Over the past few months, and twice in the past weekend, I've run into people who have asked, "How's the book selling?" Which tells me two things, both of which I kinda knew, but it's good to have it vividly presented right in your face:
  1. People just aren't into your stuff and your life the way you are. There's just no getting around that. Again, I knew this, but it's useful to be reminded.
  2. A lot of people who are perfectly enthusiastic about the book are not going to buy it. They just aren't. It makes sense. For some of them, the content just isn't relevant. They're not in business. And even for those who are? Well, I rarely buy business books. Now some friends may buy the book as a favor, but most won't. I probably would not. Just like sometimes I go to friends' shows, but quite frequently I do not.
Now on the other hand? I went to a gathering and a couple of people who I thought had no interest whatsoever in the book -- mainly based on a lack of feedback online -- actually showed a lot of genuine excitement. Which felt really, really good.

But again, realistically, it's quite probable that even that enthusiasm won't translate into sales.

And that's the truth.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hacked!

I always wonder about people whose email accounts get hacked. I mean, how naive do you have to be to click on links from strangers? Or strange links from friends?

Now it's happened to me. At 4 am Sunday spam emails went out to pretty much my entire list on my old AOL account.

I swear I never clicked on any link myself. And I never got sucked in by any phishing scam where I gave up my personal info to the wrong people. I understand some of these emails just have to be opened to spread a virus or plant a worm. But I don't think that's it either.

Maybe I entered a password over an unsecured wifi network out in public? Who knows.

It was pretty embarrassing, and I spent my Sunday morning trying to lock things down and warn as many people as possible by email and Facebook. The most embarrassing thing, of course, is having an AOL account at all. But I mostly use it when I need to give an email address on some website -- so I get notifications, newsletters, retail offers, etc., through AOL.

So my clients think I suck. That's too bad. And people I haven't been in touch with for a decade got a weird reminder of my existence. One good thing, at least: the contact list was so old I got scores of bouncebacks.

Lesson: keep your contacts clean. Get rid of anybody you haven't talked to in years and have no intention of talking to. Hell, delete them all if you're using another (more reliable) provider, like I usually do.

I hope I'm out of the woods ...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

How Apple changed my life


Steve Jobs stepping down from Apple got me thinking about how he, the company, and its products have changed my life:
  • I was never a gadget person before. Probably because most gadgets presented expensive and complicated solutions to simple problems. Like multi-function watches that do everything but tell the time well or electronic rolodexes that are impossible to load. Apple's gadgets are elegant, clean, simple and beautiful.
  • I almost never listened to music. CDs were a pain to haul around and even kind of a hassle to use at home. When I got my first iPod, I never went anywhere without it. And now, thanks to the iPhone, I don't even need that anymore.
  • In my entire adult life I have purchased maybe 10 DVDs and VHS tapes. I got another handful as gifts. I hate physical media. I hate clutter. Since I started using iTunes, I've purchased hours and hours of TV shows and movies.
  • On planes, I never watched movies. Now with the iPad, that's all I do. It's amazing how much more tolerable flights are.
  • I am never at any time unconnected to the Internet. I always have at least the iPhone on me.
  • I haven't kept a physical photo album in years. I suppose I went digital before the Mac, but with the iPhoto app, storing and displaying photos is easier and more fun that ever. I can create slideshows in a minute and set them to my favorite music.
  • Related to that, when I'm on vacation, I can connect my camera directly to my iPad and view, edit, albumize and upload my photos to the Internet almost instantly. No big chore awaiting me when I get home.
  • I edited my reel all by myself on my Mac. It was easy.
  • With my phone or iPad I can get directions, check the bus schedule, show off vacation photos, access my headshots and reel as well as my business portfolio, check my calendar, access and even edit my documents, listen to music, watch movies, buy movie tickets, find a restaurant, annoy cats, do crosswords, send emails, pay bills, give a presentation, figure out if that light in the sky is a star or a planet, play games (if I was the type to play games), read books, write a book, blog, Facebook, tweet, text, get the news, check the score, write a note, dictate a voice memo, play guitar, identify birds and songs, tell the time, and a few other things. The iPhone even makes calls, though I hardly ever do that with it.
  • Speaking of phones, I no longer have a land line.
And that's just the beginning. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The royal we

It's always weird when famous actors, athletes and other celebrities seemingly refer to themselves as "we." As in, "We're considering multiple offers."

I kind of get it now. Lately with the book I've been saying things like, "We put together these videos," "We're working on the website," "We're launching it in a month," etc.

Not that I have an entourage or anything, but I didn't do any of these things on my own. The publisher and the people there are intimately involved in the editing, marketing and planning and all the other things that go into putting out a book.

Just like actors and athletes have agents and business managers and coaches and staff, etc., helping them with their work and career.

In any case, it's definitely preferable to the overuse of "my," as in "my staff," "my publisher," "my crew." Nobody is "yours" and it's the height of pretension to suggest otherwise.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Wire


One of the best television reviewers in the country has called the The Wire "the best drama in TV history." And someone I actually know assured me on multiple occasions that I would love the show. But I hesitated.

I don't like cop shows. "Procedural dramas." Whodonits. I rarely care who did it. I don't like mysteries because I'm not interested in unraveling them and I don't like magic shows because I hate not knowing how the trick is done.

But The Wire is none of those things. It's set in a cops and robbers environment, but it's about so much more. So much. And the characters are as real as any I've seen depicted on TV. Or the movies for that matter. You really care about them. And it breaks your heart when, because it's The Wire, bad things happen to them.

Even the "bad" people show you a human side. And the "good" ones are often very, very bad themselves. Epic stories, tremendous writing, cinematic presentation, knockout acting. I just can't say enough about it.

It took a few episodes to get into it. In fact, after watching the first episode, I didn't even get to the second one for about a month. Then I burned through three seasons in a matter of weeks.

Thankfully I have two seasons left to go, so it's not over for me.

I wish I had watched the show before writing the book. There's tons of material here. About pacing and patience, not spoon-feeding your audience, show/don't tell. Ah, well. I guess that will help keep the articles and blog posts and speeches fresh and new.

After this, I probably ought to break down and start watching the Sopranos. I know, I know. I don't get the Home Box!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Persistence

Beyond the technology issues that have been vexing me, I've been dealing with one very real and troublesome obstacle: I'm a nobody.

I don't believe that literally, but it seems to be true that experience in some areas isn't necessarily transferable to the world of this book. At least that's true in peoples' minds. Especially the editors I've been pitching my stories to.

So you could be a very good writer or have lots of relevant business experience, but what they want to see is a track record of getting articles published in other places.

This shouldn't be surprising. This attitude is rampant in business -- and life, I suppose. Potential clients always do this. Transportation industry experience is not enough. Or even airline experience. They want to see that you have done web copy for regional airlines promoting reward programs to urban couples between the ages of 26 and 34.

Anyway, I've been pounding my head against walls, making incremental progress, but everything seems to be a fight. Even the people who express interest are difficult to pin down. And, I admit, I've aimed high in certain cases, as with the blog of the Harvard Business Review.

But today I got a small breakthrough with a business website that welcomes contributors. So I'm going to start posting my stuff there, and if some of the PR trades I've been pitching want to reprint those, that's fine. I can't hold onto my A material forever on a wing and a prayer.

The site says they get 10 million visitors a month, so this could turn into a nice platform for the book and for me. We shall see.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Circuit overload

I was feeling pretty overwhelmed yesterday, with all that needs doing with the book.

The issue became a little clearer today as I was describing it to a friend. If I had written a book on, say, zoology, I'd have a fairly well-defined market. But as it is, the book is for everyone. EVERYONE.

At least everyone who at some point has to give a presentation, write a memo, send an email, conduct an interview, apply for a job or participate in a meeting, among other things. Which means ... EVERYONE!

Gah! That's a lot of people! I mean, sure, it's good to have a huge potential audience, but figuring out how best to reach them is a real pickle. I literally could spend 16 hours a day on it for six months and not be done.

As a result, I got almost nothing done yesterday until about 5 o'clock. Just the act of creating a new blog seemed nearly impossible. But I slapped myself, buckled down and, between last night and today, got really, really productive.

Including creating a new blog.

Still lots to do, but at least it seems more manageable. Tomorrow I start in on 30 or so personalized letters to people who are getting free copies of the book.

Then more outreach, more pitching, more writing ...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Making waves


I talk often about the allure of the lakefront. Honestly, if the lake wasn't here I wouldn't be here.

Without nearby water or mountains -- some form of extreme topography -- I am lost. I think that's partly why I was so miserable in Columbus.

So I'm always shocked when others don't share that viewpoint. Like the girl who had lived here a year without ever going to the lakefront. Or another who had lived here a decade and never gone in the water. Or the many Facebook friends who failed this weekend to be utterly amazed by this video:



Perhaps I oversold it. Maybe it's not truly "crazy" wave action. Maybe it's just mildly eccentric. Or maybe it just doesn't convey so well on video. (This one was sending spray 15 to 20 feet into the air. There were others that were higher.)

Me, I like to think people are just stupid.

Here's what I love about the lake, and why I go down there all the time: in life, we're always trying to control every little thing. But here is an example of a power so immense it's not only beyond our control, it almost exceeds our reckoning.

I would think that would just make me feel all the more puny and powerless and frustrated, but it's exactly the opposite. Maybe that's the peace some people find in religion.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Whiff

The other day I came out of an audition feeling better than I felt in all but a handful of the hundreds of auditions I've been on over the years.

The last time I remember feeling this good was when I auditioned for the Gordman's spot. I honestly didn't think I could have done a single thing more or better. And I booked it.

Same with the other day. I worked the dialogue all weekend long and had it down pat. So pat that it could come across as casual. The character was right up my alley. I gave several really solid reads, getting all the lines and the blocking just right. And the casting director -- this one not normally super-effusive -- seemed genuinely pleased with my performance.

And then? Snake eyes. Not even a callback. I didn't expect to get the job. It's a big one -- high-profile, high pay. But I felt certain I'd get the callback.

I'll probably get today's audition instead. A local spot instead of national. Shooting out of town, and over a weekend.

Argh.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Article #15

Today I wrote the 15th article based on the book's content, and it may be the best yet.

It's for a pretty major business blog. (I think I've covered the landscape -- or attempted to, at least -- with the writing and communications blogs.) I only had 700 words and the audience is pretty sophisticated, so it was a real challenge.

I pulled stuff from six different chapters, boiled the lessons down to their essence and focused on the best anecdotes. I also elevated the message a bit beyond communications to leadership, making it a little more friendly to a business audience.

We'll see if they like it. I feel like I've got something pretty good here, but if they don't want it I'll keep plugging away.

I'm just happy to have done it. And amazed at all the content potential the book and its theme continue to provide. Speeches, articles, videos -- it's a total multi-media platform!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Speech

Tonight I finished the first draft of a basic stump speech for the book.

It's about 4,500 words. Which is LONG. The average speaking rate is around 120 words a minute, give or take 20 or so. So that's almost 40 minutes. Maybe 30 if I'm speedy.

And even though I wrote it pretty tightly word-for-word for the very purpose of timing it out, there's some audience interaction stuff that I need to leave room for.

So I think I've got to do some cutting. I'll start timing it to be sure, but I think I've got to cut about a quarter of it. I want this thing to MOVE, and I want it to be the kind of speech I'd watch. Short and fun.

It's tough because I've got so much to say. I could easily do a couple of days' worth of material, which I will eventually develop for workshops/seminars, but for now I need the basic, general speech.

The ideal would be some sort of decision tree-type thing, where I would have a bunch of different modules and "turning points" every 10 minutes or so where the audience could vote, via applause, on Topic A vs. Topic B, so it's closely aligned with their actual interests. And presentation software to enable that would be good, too.

Maybe that's my million-dollar idea ...

Friday, August 05, 2011

You say McKinley, I say Denali

To Native Alaskans it was known since the time that there was language as Denali -- "the Great One."

By virtue of its location where two continental plates meet, one shoving the other upward as it plunges downward, it was by far the highest mountain in the area (and, it would turn out, the highest in North America). Denali towers thousands of feet above the surrounding peaks, which themselves stand at an impressive 10,000 to 14,000 feet of elevation.

What makes it seem even more massive is its vertical rise. Denali's base sits at just 2,000 feet, so it presents 18,000 feet of mountain. Everest is 29,000 feet, but it rises out of a 17,000-foot plateau.


Denali was eventually "discovered" by the white man, and in the 1890s a gold prospector named it for then-president McKinley. Alaskans have been trying for years to officially return the mountain to its original name, but their efforts have been blocked year after year by Ohio congressmen representing the district where McKinley's birthplace is located.

(They are no doubt unabashed and shameless supporters of states' rights.)

Most Alaskans call it Denali anyway.

As big as it is, the mountain is incredibly elusive. It creates its own weather, so it's shrouded in clouds most of the time, revealing itself to only one in three visitors to Denali National Park.

We were lucky. We didn't get to see the whole thing at once, but we caught glimpses of different parts, which was still pretty special.

A peek at the peak, viewed from the south.
Those blue mountains in front aren't it.


Closer, and less cloudy, views from the North.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Everybody loves a winner

Everyone would love to own a bunch of Apple stock. Mind you, they wouldn't necessarily want to buy it now, when it's priced at over $300 a share. No, they would have wanted to have bought a decade ago, when it was trading in the teens.

Everybody loves Lady Gaga. But how many people thought she was great in 2005 when she was Stefani Germanotta, toiling away in clubs in New York's Lower East Side?

Seinfeld is renowned as one of television's great comedies. But how many people can say they were there, watching those first few awkward episodes when NBC picked it up by the skin of its teeth?

People like winners, and they don't like taking chances on unknown quantities.

Now I'm not comparing myself to any of these phenomena, but with this book, and all the activities attendant to it, it's a real hard slog. Because I'm a nobody. I haven't had a book published before. I don't have a long track record of articles published either (at least recently and under my own name). Or a long history of speaking engagements. Or a blog with 10,000 followers.

As a result, it's like starting over. And every day is a battle to get people's attention. Like getting these articles I've written published. I thought I'd get some early wins by approaching publications in my own industry. But it's been tough getting editors' attention. And PR is my business!

I emailed this one editor with a story idea and got a fairly positive acknowledgement right away. Then nothing. So I followed up with a couple of other ideas. Nothing. So I started calling. Not harassing, not leaving voicemails, just trying to get him live. I called a half-dozen times. Nothing. I left a message before going on vacation. Nothing.

Then when I got back I emailed a copy of the other article I just got published. A couple of days later, lo and behold, I get an email back. He's interested but busy. Eureka! Same with a second editor. Same process, same sudden interest this week.

The key was showing them that someone else had already taken a chance on/interest in my stuff. It's odd that all my other experience -- my work history, client list, awards, stage time, etc., seem to count for very little. Or less than I thought, at least.

People aren't into making connections or thinking abstractly. If you want to do a speech they want to see that you've done other speeches. Same for articles, and for books and for everything else. To get those things you need the experience, and to get the experience you need to do those things. It's a crazy chicken-or-egg doom loop.

It's hard. It's just a constant struggle, a constant hustle. And almost all of your motivation and drive has to come from within. Nobody's going to hand you anything.

Writing the book was the easy part.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Third time's the charm




I missed a couple of audition and booking opportunities due to vacation, but I hit the ground (kinda) running this week with an audition first thing Monday morning (Alaska time, that is) and a booking today.

Part of the reason I'm having trouble tallying my bookings this year (13 or 11?) is that I have now taped this one project THREE times. They just keep revising it.

I like it the way it is. Okay, it may be a little long, and there are parts, as a writer, that I would have done differently, but there are some definite goosebump moments. And not just the ones I'm in.

At the end of the session today I told them that I hope, for their sake, that they don't have to see me again. It's obvious that the nice people I'm dealing with aren't the ones ordering up all these changes and additions. I hope their suffering ends soon.

I will also say, humbly, that I think I'm one of the better ones in the video, which may be why I got the first and last line. (They had all the actors perform all the lines and they decided in the editing room who would end up saying what.)

The good news is, what started as a modest-paying gig turned into something moderately lucrative. Huzzah!

Monday, August 01, 2011

10 Fun Facts About Bears


We saw 11 bears in Alaska. Some a mile or two away and through binoculars. Others running across the road. And several from just steps away, in Denali National Park, which was breathtaking.

Following last year's tutorial on salmon, here some fun facts about bears:
  • In Alaska, they're either blacks or browns. The rest of us know browns as grizzlies, but calling them that in Alaska marks you as a tourist. We saw 6 browns and 5 blacks.
  • Another thing that marks you as an outsider is wearing "bear bells" on your shoes, which offer some -- but not the best -- protection from bear attacks.
  • Browns and blacks don't regard people as food. So generally they will avoid humans.
  • The best way to encourage a bear attack is to get between a mother (sow) and her cubs.
  • The second best way is to surprise them. Bears do not like surprises. So you should be making a lot of noise as you hike. When they hear you coming, they will generally leave the area.
  • Talking loudly is the best way to warn bears of your approach. Human voices are foreign to wild bears. To keep it that way, human contact should be limited. When our bus stopped for these bears near the road, we were told to keep quiet.
  • Most bears are carnivores. After the last ice age, the bears in Denali were cut off from a key food source, salmon. So now the Denali bears are omnivores, eating small mammals and lots and lots of vegetation, including berries in season.
  • A brown bear can eat 200,000 berries in a single season.
  • Like humans, bears will take the path of least resistance. We took a long hike along a rock-strewn river bed, which was kind of a hassle to navigate. I found an easier path near the bushes and we quickly noticed a trail of fresh bear scat. So we went back to the difficult path.
  • One reason sows are so protective of their cubs is that male bears will try to kill them so that the female bear will go back into heat and be ready for mating. The mother and her cubs pictured above crossed precariously close to a male bear feeding in the bushes (see below). We thought there might be a confrontation but they appeared not to notice each other.
Bears in the wild. One more thing checked off the bucket list. Alaska is generous that way.