Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing Coach

How Stacy Hawkins Adams Stays Afloat Amid Media Sea Change

by Maya Payne Smart, WritingCoach.com

"Typical" days don't exist for writer Stacy Hawkins Adams -- she has too much going on. Her sixth novel comes out this month, and her first nonfiction book is due in March. Then there's her monthly column for SusieMag.com, her biweekly parenting column for The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, her weekly writing projects for local nonprofits and her numerous volunteer pursuits. And did I mention that she's the mother of two very active children?

While the content of her days varies dramatically, she has a consistent start time daily--4:30 a.m. (Talk about motivation.) This gives her an hour and a half before the kids wake up to tackle her week's goal with the hyper-intense focus of a metro reporter on deadline. Last week, she corresponded with Facebook fans to publicize the launch of her novel. This week, she's using that time slot to get new book proposals to her agent. But no matter what disruptions may emerge during the day, she knows she's pushed her business forward, bit by bit.


The range and volume of material that Adams produces is staggering -- and it's also increasingly common among successful freelance writers. Those who are sailing ahead amid media industry sea changes understand that agility, variety and vigilance are essential.

"It's wise to keep your hands in various things that work well together because of the ebb and flow of book sales and publishing trends," Adams said. "When I left my full-time newspaper job, I had my speaking and freelancing [gigs] solidified. I built the nonprofit marketing piece into it as I went along. Very few authors solely focus on just writing novels or just freelancing."

As Adams notes, diversification doesn't mean pursuing totally unrelated projects. She produces high-quality work quickly by sticking with topics that she knows well and cares about. The social themes, familial issues and spiritual journeys she documents for periodicals also appear in her books. In her latest novel, "Dreams That Won't Let Go," she explores family members' ability to love unconditionally and release one another to live their dreams. Her first nonfiction book, "Who Speaks to Your Heart,"explores how to connect more often and more deeply with God, a challenge her fictional characters often face. Adams has thus positioned herself as a heart and mind specialist of sorts -- and, in doing so, created a very strong brand.

Transparency Rules

While a common thread runs through her patchwork of working relationships, the diversity of her work has ethical implications that she's sensitive to as one who earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and spent 10 years as a staff newspaper reporter before going freelance. For example, she wondered if serving on community boards or helping nonprofits with marketing disqualified her from writing for newspapers. "When I was on staff at the newspaper, the lines were rigid," she said, "and later I found that the rest of the world doesn't work that way."

Her policy is to disclose any relationships or affiliations that might be perceived as conflicts of interest -- and to let her editor make the call about whether the topic is off-limits. "I go to my editor and say, 'I know this person' or 'I serve on this board' or 'I've helped with this endeavor.'" So far, she said, nothing's been deemed off limits.


In addition to her professionalism, Adams' visibility across many platforms -- books, magazines, online, in the community -- also makes her a valuable contributor, because she brings her followers with her wherever she goes. This is a bonus for any media outlet that's struggling to hold onto readers.

In fact, Adams says she spends more time marketing her work to readers than she does writing it. "I thought you write the book, birth the book, hand it over and say, 'Take care of my baby,' " she said. "But the more time I put into trying to explore new marketing ideas and opportunities, the more willing my publisher is to put dollars and support behind the effort."

Michele Misiak, marketing manager for the Revell Division of Baker Publishing Group, says Adams is the rare author who understands how to write--and how to sell. "Stacy is one of the most determined people I know in terms of always rethinking things," Misiak said. "She's never satisfied with great; she pushes herself to be awesome."

Law of Attraction

Her willingness to experiment also means that when her fiction publisher has new promotional ideas, they often test them out on Adams. Blog tours, hair salon signings and elaborate launch fetes, she's tried them all -- with great success. Rather than do a signing at a chain bookstore that draws maybe 10 people, Adams has created elaborate events around her novels' themes and gathered crowds that celebrated much more than the books.

She honored her mentor and a local community group during the launch of "Watercolored Pearls," a novel about women coming into their own. And when "The Someday List" was released, she invited two celebrities, an actress and a recently retired broadcaster, to share their someday lists with attendees. On Saturday she debuted her novel with an hourlong Facebook chat that included free giveaways and music releases--all tied to the latest book's theme of dream fulfillment. Fans bought the book online, emailed Stacy their receipts and created some buzz that will likely fuel future sales.

"The book is all about people who are trying to find themselves and their purpose," Misiak said, "and Stacy used the launch to inspire people to chase their dreams this year."

One would expect no less from an optimist who describes herself as "one who sees a brick wall and instead of giving up, prays about whether to climb it, walk around it or find a way to burrow through it to the blessings on the other side."

Maya Payne Smart is a freelance business journalist who has written hundreds of articles and how-to guides for newspapers, magazines and websites including Black Enterprise, CNNMoney.com and Heart & Soul. She is also the editor of WritingCoach.com, a site that offers insights and inspiration for freelance writers. Sign up for our biweekly newsletter at WritingCoach.com to learn how to create wealth and enjoy the writing life.

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