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Remember back last May or June or something, when we were wondering what the fuck Dooce View definition in a new window was up to with her HGTV deal and buying a house and all that crap? And we thought maybe Dooce was going to buy a new house and HGTV would be buying it for her or paying her to fix it up or whatever, for a reality show? And then Dooce showed up on my blog and offered to invite me over for sweet tea View definition in a new window if she ever moved to LA?

Wasn’t that awesome?

What was I talking about again?

Oh yeah. Right. I still don’t know what is going on with any of that stuff.

But look, if I really wanted to be a real journalist and try to stick to stuff I knew about for sure, I’d have very little news to write about here, because very few of the people I write about will tell me anything until like 10 months after the fact. Like for example, now I know for sure that Dooce was in the market for a new house, just like we guessed she was way back in June. It turns out that it only took us a few weeks to find out that that particular wildly speculative instinct was correct, because the Armstrongs announced the fact that they had bought a house just a few weeks after that. (Go us! though.)

And hey, here’s another thing we speculated about in the comments that it turns out we were correct about — remember when Dooce cancelled her SxSw appearance to go to Los Angeles last March, but she wouldn’t say why, and we thought that perhaps it was for some kind of HGTV or otherwise entertainment-bidness related reason? Well, it turns out that it was!

If you read Jon Armstrong’s recent post, you will have noted that one of the things they did in Los Angeles was sign a deal with CAA. Now, for those of you who don’t already know, CAA stands for Creative Artists Agency, a large agency out here known for representing big time celebrities and other big shots in the entertainment industry. And because Jon Armstrong talks about CAA, links to the main page of CAA, mentions a “production company” they have started in a nearby paragraph, and talks about being relieved to finally have “professional dealmakers” at their disposal, this all points to a lot of important entertainment industry related goings on at the Blurbodoocery! So exciting.

I did a little digging, and it turns out that, while Dooce does seem to have signed signed a deal with CAA, it might be more specifically correct to say that she signed a deal to be represented by CAA Speakers, the division of CAA that handles professional speaking circuit deals. CAA Speakers represents a ton of people on the professional speaking circuit, many of whom you have heard of, and many of whom are getting extremely lucrative speaking deals on a regular basis from corporations across the country. Public speaking can be a good business to get into, particularly for people who have already made a name for themselves in other contexts, and hiring somebody to broker deals for this kind of thing seems like a good move.

Naturally, I was curious what it might cost to get Heather Armstrong View definition in a new window to come to speak at one of my (many) upcoming events. So I contacted CAA Speakers and inquired about her going rate. According to Amie Yavor, a representative at CAA Speakers, the cost to have Heather Armstrong speak would be $12,000 plus first class airfare for one to and from Salt Lake City (FYI since I live in Los Angeles, this stipulation would run me an extra couple thousand).

Heather Armstrong spoke at Hallmark Headquarters in 2008, and there is some evidence that she might have had paid speaking gigs elsewhere (Sunstone Symposium in 2008?) since then; however, I have not been able to find a reference to public speaking engagements since she signed with CAA outside of the appearance that is scheduled for later this month at Alt Summit. My assumption is that she won’t be charging her quoted fee for that conference, because to do so would in effect bankrupt the conference, unless they have far more lucrative sponsorship deals than I had imagined. On the other hand, I don’t think that all private speaking deals are necessarily going to be accessible to the public, so how many gigs and how often Dooce is speaking is anybody’s guess.

In any case, private speaking gigs can provide a good living if you can get them. This clears up a lot of questions for me, actually, about the goings on at the Blurbodoocery. Kudos to them, I hope it works out.

Here’s the way it works: when you first start blogging, you have nothing but ideas for blog posts — otherwise, you never would have started a blog in the first place. This lasts for a while, maybe even several years. Then, at some point, you will hit a wall. This might happen for any number of reasons, and none of them have to do with your value as a writer. It may just be that, after writing regularly for a few years, you are kind of tired. Or, more likely, after interacting for a few years with some of the same people, you reach a point where you cannot say the same things as you used to say with the same level of abandon as you once did. You measure things more carefully now, and what your writing has gained in polish and precision, you might have lost in inspiration. You start to feel like you are all out of ideas. Everything has already been said. But if you look around, there are still new blogs being started every day, and new topics being generated with them.

So what do you do? Do you pay somebody to tell you what to blog about when you cannot figure out what to blog about? No. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan of Chris Brogan. I think his book, Trust Agents, is awesome, and I recommend that anyone who wants to better understand how to use the social media space as a business tool should gladly pay money to read it. But if you are finding yourself in the middle of a blog topic funk, you don’t need to pay somebody to spoon feed topics to you, regardless of how great a blogger or how great a writer they may be. What you need to do is pretend like you are brand new again. Here’s how.

1. Go read and comment on ten brand new blogs in your niche.

People who are brand new in the blogosphere are writing about brand new things — they cannot help it. Oh, yes they are. Old skool bloggers like to think they know everything already, but the fact is that all knowledge is always already shared: what the new people bring is a new perspective. So go get their perspective. You should be doing this anyway, because sooner or later these guys are going to be competing with you for conference panels, sponsorship deals, ad space, and the like. Get to know them now.

What are the new bloggers talking about that you haven’t talked about in a while? Is there something they don’t know about that you do, that you can link to and help them with? Or, is there something they’ve shown you that your readers might be interested in hearing about?

2. Go read and comment on ten brand new blogs in a totally different niche.

Sometimes what you need isn’t just a new perspective from people talking about the same topic — sometimes an interdisciplinary approach is necessary. What other niches can you expand into in order to make your blog writing more dynamic? Why not go check out those niches? For example: design bloggers tend to also read fashion blogs and vice versa because the disciplines speak to each other. If you are a personal finance blogger, you might also read business or marketing blogs. But the most interesting discussions stem from the fusion of two passions of a blogger that do not necessarily go together intuitively — for example, Design Mom grew out of Gabrielle Blair’s passion for design and for parenthood, and her blog is an intersection between both of the parenting and design niches. What other niches can you explore?

3. Allow yourself one afternoon to go “down the rabbit hole.”

I usually spend most of my time in Google Reader to discourage what I call “time spent down the rabbit hole,” or what happens when I end up reading comments on a blog and clicking through to blogs, reading more comments, clicking through, reading more comments, clicking more links, and so on. But the truth is, sometimes you find some interesting stuff this way. If you use a program like Evernote to make notes about it, your thoughts about it, and where you found it, it can also lead to some interesting blog posts at some later date. So every once in a while, allow yourself some time to explore on the web as if you were brand new again.

4. Use mind mapping to fully explore every last idea before you reject it.

After you’ve been blogging for a while, you begin to edit your topic choices more than beginning bloggers do. Topics that you might have immediately used in the beginning will not make it past your editor now, and though sometimes this is a good thing, there are times when this can cause you to overlook perfectly good topics.

One way to get access to these topics is to use a mind-mapping technique to brainstorm topic ideas. There are various software options you can use for mind-mapping, but the old school way is just to do it on paper, taking a topic on which you’ve written and you feel like you need to expand more, or one of your more popular posts and writing various ways in which it could be expanded.

I’m going to use the mind-mapping technique for bloggers that Darren Rowse demonstrates here. So, for example, my post on building your blog’s story was a hit with readers and I want to figure out a way to make that material more useful for people. So I’m going to build a mind map of material of possible post ideas using that original post as an inspiration. Each branch represents another idea that can possibly be expanded into another post.

Bear in mind that not all the ideas I come up with will actually be useful, but using this technique encourages me to not just reject things wholesale without fully exploring them, which I am likely to do without the mind map process.

What about you kids? What do you do to find inspiration?

The holy grail for bloggers is still the book deal from a traditional publisher. This dream persists, in spite of all of the reports of how bad the prospects for the publishing industry have become, and how dismal sales are for everything other than the ebooks of already extremely well known authors. I think this may have something to do with the credibility that getting a deal with an established publisher carries with it, and admittedly this is not an idea from which I’ve even been able to easily wean myself. Below I’ve listed some of the pointers about the current realities of the publishing industry that I’ve gathered from attending conferences and talking to people who have managed to get book deals in the current climate.

1. Your book needs to have a market — and that probably means you are going to have to bring it with you.

These days, publishers expect authors to bring a ready made sales platform with them. This means that you need to have a market for your book that you are bringing with you to the publisher as a means of convincing them that you are worth the gamble. As a blogger with an established, audience you have a head start in this area, but simply maintaining a blog is not likely to be enough unless your blog is extraordinarily popular (in the millions of pageviews per month). Most mommybloggers do not (and likely will not ever) have that kind of traffic because the niche is just not big enough to support that kind of traffic (at least not right now, at least not for that many of us).

So what can you do? Think about what makes your book salable. Not only do you need to have a group of people who are your fans and who are likely to buy anything you write, you also need to figure out if there is even a market for what you are writing. If your book were to be published, where would it be shelved in a bookstore? What books would be in competition with it? Why is yours better than those? What does it have that those others do not? What are the sales records like for those other books that are comparable to it? Do they suggest that there is a viable market for this kind of a thing right now? These are the kinds of questions you need to ask long before you approach a publisher — ideally, you would be asking them long before you even start writing the book.

2. You need to have a marketing plan ready before you even approach a publisher with a pitch.

People like to think that bookselling is all about the love of writing and all that crap, but it’s a business just like anything else. Actually, it’s a business more than other businesses lately, because it’s been losing money for so long. Your marketing plan is really important to how your pitch is evaluated by the publisher, so you need to give this a lot of thought. Do you have an email list? Do you have the resources to start one, or to go on publicity tours? Because the publisher is not always going to be able to fund these things for you in the current climate. Be prepared to not only map out exactly how you are going to write the book but how you are going to sell it in your pitch — because even if you do manage to get a deal from a publisher, there’s a good chance that you will have to do most of your own marketing.

3. Right now, a traditionally published book is the best $25 business card you cannot buy. By next year, even that might not be true anymore.

The above is a cliche that you hear from writers all of the time: after your first book has been published, the main thing you gain is just the ability to say that you have a book published by a mainstream publisher. This gives you street cred and helps you get other gigs, but it doesn’t usually translate into a lot of money, particularly if it was a nonfiction book. Because of the need for publishers to have their own platforms these days, the power of publishing houses to help authors the way they once did is greatly diminished — the tools are all available to all of us, and though working with a publisher can make certain things easier, the tradeoff is not always going to be worth it.

This is why you will see, more and more frequently, established authors opting to go the self-publishing route (recent notables to have chosen the self-publishing route include Seth Godin and Leo Babauta.) I suspect that this move will become more and more popular with the more entrepreneurial-minded bloggers over the course of the next year. Financially speaking, there is no question that this is the right move for bloggers who have anything like a substantial audience, given the state of the publishing industry and the popularity of ebooks. The question will simply be how many people cling to the idea of having a book published by an old school publishing house, and for how long.

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