Joel.

I’ve mentioned before my college schoolmate Joel Derfner. When I was in college, I often felt like I had all the emotional shielding of a Disney cartoon character.** But not Joel. Joel was a 45-year-old jaded sophisticate in a college sophomore’s body. Sort of like Noel Coward with a yarmulke . . . a fetching burgundy velvet yarmulke specifically chosen to set off his red hair.

When I told Joel I was taking Ancient Greek, he said, “Oh, I took accelerated Greek. The only thing I can remember now is ‘F*** me until I am penis-mad.’

Clearly, I was in the wrong Greek class.

When Joel spent the summer abroad studying French, he met a nice 43-year-old man in his German class. He described their relationship thusly: “…And then he complimented me on my use of the subjunctive. So of course I had to sleep with him.”

After college, Joel was one of the first people I knew who really saw the potential of the internet. “I’ve started a blog! I write all about my love life on it!” (“Why would anybody want to do that?” I thought.)

His blog has been quite successful, and has spawned several books as well. Makes me happy. In this crazy world, it’s nice to see something turn out kinda how you thought it would.

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** And I don’t mean Belle, or Jasmine, or someone with common sense. I mean Bambi.

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By Sofia Echegaray Posted in Funny

“The Dip” by Seth Godin

I’ve been reading some books on marketing, business, and promotion.  Here’s my 5 minute summary of Seth Godin’s The Dip

  • We now live in a winner-take-all economy – in other words, the top search for a product, service, doctor in Google is going to have the lion’s share of the business. It’s no longer enough to be #4, you’ve got to be at the top of your market to succeed. (I think this is super depressing but it may also be true.)
  • The top of your market could be “The Best Pediatrician in Poughkeepsie” or “The Best Bagel Place in LA.” Know your market and be the best in that market.
  • “The Dip” = the long hard slog that weeds out the many from the few superstars. Examples of this could be: Organic Chemistry, Law School, a rigorous exercise program that gives you washboard abs – anything that is a barrier to excellence.
  • Looked at correctly, “The Dip” is your friend, because it weeds out the competition for you. If you’re willing to get through it – with creativity, etc. – it will protect your status when you get to the other side.
  • There is a difference between “The Dip” and dead-end, pointless, or diminishing-returns pursuits. Successful people know the difference. Successful people quit things that are pointless to continue, and double down on difficult activities that will eventually pan out. He gives examples to differentiate the two.

Go Where You’re the Only One

I’ve been reading a lot about marketing and promotion lately. So, here’s my first marketing post, about my personal experience in the world of music promotion.

Before my Lyme-tastic hiatus, as a singer-songwriter I frequently attended music conferences like SXSW and Folk Alliance.  Every March during SXSW, all of the musicians schlepped all their gear around Austin, trying to get heard over the din of 1,000 other bands, and hoping against hope that “somebody” would make it to their showcase. I found experiences like this very frustrating; the headache and expense of attending the conference was high, the ratio of musicians to industry folks was 10 to 1, and most industry folks already had a list of bands they wanted to see. The chances that your music would be “discovered” were really quite tiny.

If I’d been smart, I would’ve avoided the music conferences completely. Instead, I would have gone to the SXSW Interactive conference, where hundreds of bloggers and technorati all assemble, hungry for new content. One tweet or mention from a well-known blogger could easily be worth the price of admission in terms of web traffic and promotion. And there’s much less competition to hand your CD to a blogger than there is to hand it to a DJ.

So, one trick in marketing and promotion is to approach your target audience using a method where there’s much less competition. For example:

  • A musician at a tech blogger’s conference.
  • An artist who creates space-themed art at an astrophysics conference. Wear a t-shirt of your own design to the conference, and when every astrophysict says, “Wow, that’s a great design! Where did you get that?” you tell them it’s your own design. Orders will come pouring in…and it’s way less competitive than an art show.
  • A writer with a PhD, writing for Oprah Magazine. A layman-level article about important scientific findings in Oprah Magazine, Parade, or another “déclassé” publication would reach millions of readers and further the public discussion more than another dry academic journal article.
  • A scientist at a Science Fiction writer’s convention. You could collaborate with one of the writers by providing them with the nuts-and-bolts science to back up their futuristic story.

So, in sum:

Go where you’re the only writer, artist, musician, quilter, massage therapist in that space.

Go where they need you.

Go where there’s not a lot of you.

Go where you’re the only one.

How to Be a Grownup: Getting Rid of Stuff

If my experiences growing up with two packrats have been useful in any way, it’s that I have learned, internalized, and then unlearned a whole bunch of excuses for holding onto crap.

If you’ve ever thought, “Hrmm, I appear to be living in squalor“. . . some of these excuse-busters may be useful.

1. But it’s an Heirloom! 

No, sweetie. An “heirloom” is something that is kept by several generations and cherished. You’ll know it’s an heirloom because you love it, you use it, and you want to show it off.

That horrible, heavy old piece of furniture? The one with the smell? The one that’s stuck in the basement because you don’t want it around? That’s called a “burden.” 

Keep the heirlooms. Lose the burdens.

2. Aunt Gladys gave this ugly thing to me, and now she’s dead! So I have to keep it forever!

No. No, you don’t.

Aunt Gladys probably gave you many things throughout your life. Really nice things like that sweet 16 necklace, and really forgettable things, like weird fruitcake tins. And then she died and you thought, “I can never get rid of these fruitcake tins because AUNT GLADYS DIED and if I get rid of them it’s like I’m Killing her Again! AAAUGGGHHH!!!”…then you hide the tins in a drawer and feel weird about them.

Did your Aunt love you? Do you think her last wish for you was, “I hope she keeps those fruitcake tins….Forever! May They Haunt Her Dreams! Bwah haha hah aha ha!” 

Probably not.

The trick is: “Keep the memories, Lose the stuff.” If you find it hard, you can take a picture to remember it by. You’ll never look at that picture again, of course, because you don’t want to.

3. But Invisible People Will Judge Me!

For years, I carted around loads of books I didn’t like and hadn’t read, because I was afraid some mysterious judge would pop out of the woodwork at any moment:

“You only kept the copies of that series that you like? How dare you break up the set!”

“You got rid of your Algebra II textbook?! But what if there’s an emergency, and you have to factor a polynomial?!?”**

“How can you possibly think of getting rid of your copy of Godel, Escher, Bach? Even though no one you know has ever made it through the whole thing, you just won’t be intellectual without a copy silently glaring at you from the bookcase!”

In short, I feared some friend, acquiantance, or family member would come and insult my book collection if I pared it down only to the books I truly loved and used. But after I pared it down, no one came over to my place to get on my case about getting rid of Coriolanus.***

Oh, and libraries have been invented. So that helps.  

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** We all felt foolish during The Great Polynomial Apocalypse.

*** Or Titus Andronicus. That is one weird-ass play.