Summer reading list tradition continues

My summer reading awaits. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

My summer reading awaits. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

One of my favorite ways to unwind throughout summer is to sit poolside with a good mystery and a stack of magazines.

But I can’t quite escape the idea of summer reading lists. I always had one in high school and so each summer I make a list of books I should read – and want to read. It forces me to read outside my favorite genre.

Here is my list for the summer –

All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doer’s novel has been on The New York Times bestseller list for a year. It’s about the lives of a blind French girl and a gadget-obsessed Germ boy before and during World War II. I’ve been on the waiting list at my library for a few months. I’m now 34th on the list. At one point I was 117 so I am making progress.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed For the past three years, Jon Ronson has travelled the world meeting recipients of high-profile public shamings. The book is “a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and the very scary part we all play in it.” I read a review of it and was intriqued by it. I don’t know if I will read it in its entirety, but I’m definitely going to heavily skim it.

The World Between Two Covers A beguiling exploration of the joys of reading across boundaries, inspired by the author’s year-long journey through a book from every country. Ann Morgan writes in the opening, “I glanced up at my bookshelves… The awful truth dawned. I was a literary xenophobe.” The book “welcomes us into the global community of stories,” and I’m looking forward to exploring from my armchair.

You will notice it’s shorter than in past years. It’s summertime, and I don’t want to be overly ambitious. Plus, too many of my favorite mystery writers have new books. I’ll see you at the pool.

And if you have a suggestion for a book, please post it as a comment or share it with me on Twitter @PriceCynthia.

Create your own recombobulation area

One of the challenging parts of airport security is making sure you keep track of your personal items. You have to take off your shoes and jacket and place them in a bin. Your laptop needs to come out of the suitcase and into a bin. Your keys can’t be in your pocket. Your mobile goes into a bin, too.

Once you clear the checkpoint, you have to put it all back together. It leaves one feeling discombobulated.

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The Milwaukee airport features a Recombobulation Area (Photo by Cynthia Price).

At the Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, just past security, is an area that solves the problem. It’s the “recombobulation area.”

The sign hangs above the checkpoint. I saw it on a recent trip, and realized that I could use such a space at home and work.

Soon after the trip, I created the spaces, which enable me to put order back into my life. At home I’ve designated a spot for my keys and work bag. Anything that needs to go to work, goes in the bag, which sits beside a foyer table. The table has room on top to set the mail that needs to be posted and the library books that need to be returned. A small bowl collects my keys. Everything in its place. I am now recombobulated and ready for work.

The same holds true at work, where I have set aside a corner of my desk for work that needs to come home or articles I want to read at home. At day’s end, I know exactly what to grab.

Often travel is hectic. But when a recombobulation area exists, suddenly travel – and life – seems less harried.

5 tips to promote yourself as an author

The mystery writers group to which I belong (Sisters in Crime, Central Virginia chapter) received some great marketing advice from Rachel Thompson. She has 17 years of marketing experience and four books on Amazon. You can find her on Twitter @BadRedheadMedia.

A lament of everyone on the call was that the marketing effort we put forward has to be effective because an author’s time needs to be spent writing.

Here are five tips –

  1. If you are on Twitter, use the appropriate hashtag. Choose one that is a term that people are likely to search on. For example, in our group, it would be #mystery.
  2. Often on social sharing sites, as authors we reach out to other authors. That’s fine, but Thompson said, “Really, we want to connect with readers and book bloggers.” In other words, we need to reach those who are going to read our books.
  3. Passively sell your books. To do this, change the header of your website or any of your social sites to show your books. You can take it a step further and include a link to where your books are sold.
  4. Create a schedule so you stay on top of sharing content. “In order to sell books, there has to be a consistent presence,” Thompson said.
  5. Brand the author, not the book. You will write many books, so it’s important to focus on you as an author and not on your latest book.

“We want to connect with readers and book bloggers.”

Lessons from an inchworm

This inchworm knew that if he kept moving forward he would reach his destination.

This inchworm knew that if he kept moving forward he would reach his destination.

An inchworm landed on my conference table as I was meeting with a colleague.

Despite its size, this inchworm was determined. My colleague and I became distracted from our agenda as we watched the inchworm make its way across the table. We even put an obstacle in its way to slow it down. This inchworm was too smart, and went around it.

My colleague and I laughed and said the inchworm had some lessons to teach us. In exchange for the wisdom, we carefully carried it back outside.

Lesson 1: It’s true that slow and steady will get you to your destination. The inchworm was determined to get to the other side of the table most likely thinking it was his ticket to the great outdoors. Given the distance and its size, it took the inchworm almost 20 minutes, but it made it.

My colleague and I were working on a project plan. We knew we should not rush the plan but rather break it into small, manageable tasks to keep it moving forward.

Lesson 2: Obstacles will appear, and it’s how you approach them that matters. For the inchworm, knocking the obstacle over was not an option. Calmly and deliberately going around it was. The same holds true in life. When an obstacle appears, how will you address it? There are always options. You need to choose the one that works for you.

Lesson 3: Sometimes we all need some help. Despite all of its efforts, the inchworm was not going to make it back outside without some help. We gladly assisted. Don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or a friend for help when you need it.

My colleague and I still chuckle over the distraction the inchworm provided us in our meeting. We won’t forget the lessons, however.

In fact, there was one last one.

Lesson 4: Sometimes it’s good to relax with a friend or a colleague and take a break. That’s exactly what we did as we watched the inchworm make its way across the table.

Now that it is safely back outside, it’s time to return to my project list.

5 things to do instead of checking email

It’s easy for me to get distracted by emails. When I have a few minutes, I gravitate toward the inbox thinking I’ll clear a few more emails. Most of the time, I simply re-read them and take no action.

Capture_Email iconThat’s why sometimes it’s best to ignore emails, which can easily become a distraction. I would venture that a person could spend all day on email and not accomplish much.

Instead of skimming emails, I set aside time when I can focus on emails and respond appropriately. When I do have a few minutes and need a break, instead of checking email I do the following:

  1. Walk. It’s good to stand up and stretch. I usually do a lap around the office floor.
  2. Drink water. We’re supposed to drink eight glasses a day, and I’m usually short of that. If I need a break, I walk to the water cooler and get another glass.
  3. Read an article. I almost always have a pile of magazines with sticky notes sticking out, indicating there is an article to read. If I need a break, I’ll read one of the articles, which usually provides me with inspiration.
  4. Make a to-do list. When I am feeling overwhelmed, it helps if I list everything I need to do. That keeps me from fretting that I will forget something.
  5. Clean your desk. By week’s end, I like to have the piles put away and the folders filed. Sometimes on a mini break I will dust the desk or sharpen my pencils.

What do you recommend doing instead of checking emails?

6 ways to learn

Keep growing is a piece of advice Joel Osteen offers in his book, “You Can, You Will.” He notes that we have 86,400 seconds each day, and urges us “Redeem the time.”

One way to do that is to create a personal growth plan. You don’t need to attend a conference to learn new skills or sharpen the ones you have, although if you can, it’s a good way to grow professionally and also network and gain a fresh perspective.

Here are six other ways to help you grow and learn:

Start by signing up for free webinars through companies such as Cision or Ragan Communications. I recently watched a great one about PR pitching by Michael Smart. The catch is that you may receive emails from the companies pitching their products. It’s a small price to pay and, sometimes, you’ll discover that you would benefit from the product or service.

TED Talks also are free and you can view them anytime. I’ll often watch a few while on the treadmill or elliptical. Of course, it’s a challenge when I want to take notes! If you are fortunate to live someplace where TED Talks are being offered, I would encourage you to attend. Not only will you learn about interesting topics, you will discover different presentation styles. Two of my favorites (and that of many others are “The Power of Introverts” with Susan Cain and “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” with Amy Cuddy.

Another great way to find speakers is through the business calendar of your local newspaper. The one I read publishes such a calendar each Monday. Organizations provide details about their speakers, and, you can usually attend as a guest for a fee.

If you are looking for tutorials, one of my favorite sites is Lynda.com. This site provides web tutorials on hundreds of topics. You can subscribe for a month or a year. I subscribe for a month when I realize I need to learn about a specific topic. I spend a few hours learning through the site.

Another great resource is your local university or community college. Check their online calendars for guest speakers. Often the lectures are open to the public at no cost. I have heard the author of Berkshire Beyond Buffet, a POW, and a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. (Full disclosure: I work for a university so I receive notifications automatically.)

One last suggestion is to schedule learning interviews. You can do this with a colleague or through an introduction. It’s a great way to learn more about a person’s position and specific responsibilities. I reach out to the person via email and request a meeting. If I don’t know the person, I may ask for a 20-minute coffee meeting. If I know the person, I might suggest lunch or drinks after work. I always explain that I’m interested in learning more about their work and that I have no hidden agenda. I find the conversations insightful and energizing, and I think the other person does, too.

Handling high visibility environments, aka a crisis

What most people call a crisis, Jim Vance refers to as a “high visibility environment.”

He should know. He was on the DC sniper task force and assisted with Hurricane Katrina. He also was the media & communications specialist and spokesperson for the FBI in Washington, D.C. Today he is a highly sought after media trainer.

Vance told a group of PR practitioners that he focuses on being prepared. Learning by experience, he said, is often brutal.

Some of the common management mistakes that occur during a crisis include:

Hesitation: If one hesitates when speaking to the media, others may perceive it as confusion and incompetence.

Obfuscation: When you attempt to confuse the message, you create a perception of dishonesty and insensitivity.

Revelation: One of the biggest mistakes, Vance said, is the failure to understand that revelation is inevitable. “Your actions will be revealed sooner or later,” he said.

Prevarication: “There is no substitute for the absolute truth,” Vance said.

In preparing for the worst, Vance said to take into account

–Dueling egos

–Political interference

–Media persistence

He offered tips to effectively work with the media and handle a crisis. His tips include:

–Be calm and then speak. The public is expecting leadership, Vance said, so it’s important that the spokesperson is able to speak without emotion and with clarity.

–Acknowledge what you know and don’t know. Vance noted that 90 percent of all first accounts are wrong. “It’s important to say things like, ‘Based on what we know at this time,’” which allows the speaker to update the information later.

–“You can’t have enough resources against the backdrop of bad news,” he said.

In all planning, remember that critics need a target. That leaves you with two crisis options.

  1. Clam up
  2. Mess Up, Fess Up, Clean Up

The first scenario guarantees “your side won’t be heard,” Vance said. “Critics are lashing out with unchallenged statements.”

Instead, Vance said to look at crisis situations as powerful communications opportunities – if management is prepared to engage and seize the opportunity.