I was so happy to be able to talk with Lori Deschene. As the founder of Tiny Buddha, she’s helped more than 1,200 people (including me!) share their stories and lessons with more than 60 million readers (as of June, 2015). She’s the author of Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life’s Hard Questions, Tiny Buddha’s Guide to Loving Yourself, and her newest release: Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges.
Lori, I know you’ve written for girls’ magazines, and many of The Renegade Writer’s readers want to write for magazines themselves. How did you get into that?
I found my first magazine writing opportunity on Craigslist in the gigs section—something that doesn’t happen all that often! I didn’t actually have much professional writing experience at that time, but I did have the right experience.
The magazine was a new middle grade publication, for girls aged eight to twelve, and they were looking for witty, upbeat articles on friendship, self-esteem, and surviving embarrassing moments.
Prior to finding this opportunity, I’d worked in mobile marketing, taking promotional campaigns from city to city. My last tour was a walk across the country to promote a variety of health and fitness-related products. As the tour’s dog walker, I wrote a “dog blog” that chronicled my canine companion’s adventure.
These were all light, funny posts that fit the exact tone the magazine was looking for. They loved my writing samples and hired me to write an article for the first issue, which led to more than a dozen more.
Eventually, I submitted some of those articles to a bigger, more established middle-grade magazine and went on to contribute over fifty articles and quizzes.
I also wrote for a real estate magazine briefly that, once again, I found on Craigslist. It was also a new magazine, and I don’t actually know much about real estate. But I was looking to build a body of work, and I was open to any opportunities I could find!
In retrospect, I realize I could have been more proactive and targeted. I could have identified more magazines that I wanted to write for instead of taking any writing gig I could find on Craigslist (including a job writing travel guides for $6/hour).
But I think there’s something to be said for being hungry, and being willing to take whatever you can get to hone your craft and build your resume.
Then you started the Tiny Buddha site. What inspired you to do that?
Prior to starting the site, I’d spent more than a decade struggling with depression, bulimia, shame, and self-loathing. For years I felt alone with my challenges—like no one knew me, and no one would love me if they did.
After making tremendous progress with my personal struggles, I wanted to create a place where people could share what they’ve been through and what they’ve learned, to help themselves and others.
My hope was that this would help readers feel less alone with their challenges and more empowered to overcome them. And though I didn’t realize this at the time, I eventually recognized that starting Tiny Buddha was a big part of my own healing journey.
There’s something cathartic about leveraging your pain for something useful and valuable—and there’s little more valuable than making a positive difference in someone else’s life.
How has the Tiny Buddha blog helped your career? Do you earn money from the blog through ads, selling books…?
I earn money from a combination of:
- Banner ads
- Book/eBook sales
- eCourse sales
- Affiliate marketing
I’m also planning to launch some products soon, including journals, gratitude journals, and calendars.
I launched my first eBook roughly a year after the site launched, and it sold regularly, but I was still working another full-time online writing job. I also dabbled with blog coaching and blog review reports—something I didn’t really love and only did briefly.
It really wasn’t until the three-year mark that I felt comfortable depending solely on Tiny Buddha for my livelihood. In retrospect, I’m glad I never felt pressure to earn a specific amount from the site. If I had felt that pressure, I may have said yes to opportunities that didn’t feel right for me.
There are a lot of ways to make money online, or to leverage your online presence to make money. Not all are good for each of us individually — or for our brands.
I also see you have a forum, a widget that lets people post quotes from the site on their websites, and much more. You accept guest posts, do blog tours… that all sounds like a lot of work! How difficult is it really to start and run a successful blog? I think so many writers believe they can just start a WordPress site and start posting their thoughts, and the readers (and money) will come flying in.
It is a lot of work! And I’ve been feeling that a lot more lately, as I don’t have an assistant or any employees. That being said, it wasn’t always a lot of work.
When I first got started, I devoted just a few hours each day to running the site. At the time, it was just a quote and blog feed, and I wrote very short posts (some of which, I now realize, weren’t all that compelling).
If I’d thought to myself back then, “I have to build a site with forums, daily guest contributors, a fun & inspiring section, multiple books, a widget, an eCourse…” I likely would have felt too overwhelmed to start. But I’ve added layers to the site over time.
I think the most important thing is that you show up each day and do something. You remain consistent and keep learning.
This guarantees that you’ll keep growing, slowly, bit by bit, over time.
Writers are always asking me, “I want to start a blog, but I don’t know what to write about.” I think you’re living proof that you don’t decide to start a blog and then cast about for a topic…you have something burning in you that you want to share so much that it can sustain thousands of posts and years of work. Do you agree?
Yes, absolutely! This comes back to what I wrote before, about having a mission. You have to have a compelling “why” behind your blog—some reason you have to explore this topic. Otherwise, you likely won’t have a reason to stick with it if and when progress seems slow. And you’re absolutely right—you likely won’t be able to write for years on the topic.
Every now and then, someone submits a post to Tiny Buddha starting with “I wasn’t sure what to write about this week…” Those are usually the least compelling posts because it’s clear the writer was looking for something to say, as opposed to having something to say.
If you don’t have something you have to say, readers won’t feel compelled to listen.
What are your top three tips for writers on how to build a successful blog?
1. Consistently publish value-packed, personally relatable posts.
I believe you need all three to build and maintain an audience—you need to deliver with consistency, solve problems readers are facing, and reveal your own humanity in doing so.
2. Foster a sense of community.
We all want to be part of something larger than ourselves, and we want to be where other people are congregating and connecting.
The first step in building a community is to have a compelling reason for its existence. People can “hang out” on any site—why yours specifically? What’s the movement they’re joining?
Is it a group of people committed to changing the world through meaningful work? Is it a group committed to sharing themselves vulnerably and learning from each other? When you have a strong mission for your site, community engagement becomes more than comments on isolated posts. It becomes about people supporting each other in working toward a common goal.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to end posts with questions. And if you can involve the community in a post in any way, that always helps.
Formerly, I asked questions on Facebook (such as “How do you help people who won’t help themselves?”) and then incorporated the responses into posts. I’ve also asked readers to submit pictures and videos for different purposes. An involved community is an engaged community!
3. Focus on building relationships.
Behind the most popular blogs you’ll find people who weren’t afraid to reach out to more established bloggers to learn from them, and to other new bloggers to work with them.
This might mean asking to guest post on a larger site to introduce new readers to your blog. It might mean working on a product with another blogger to launch to both of your communities simultaneously. It might mean building a blog support network with lots of bloggers in the same niche.
The more people you connect with, the greater the odds your blog will grow. And the more people you help, the more people will want to help you.
And you’re the author of three traditionally published books too! How did you get into writing books? Did you find an agent, or were you approached by one? Did you have to write a proposal?
I first started working on a proposal a year after I launched the site, and I sent that to an agent who’d reached out to me. He wasn’t thrilled with my idea, but he gave me some feedback that helped me come up with a new one. Shortly after, a small publisher contacted me after seeing me speak at a conference.
I published two books with them, without an agent. And then for my most recent book, Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges, I got an agent and attracted a larger publisher.
The most helpful advice I got when writing my first proposal was to ask myself, “Why would readers buy this book from me specifically?” My first idea was something anyone could have written, and I didn’t have anything in my background that would have positioned me as an authority on this topic.
Each of my three books makes sense from me specifically, because they’re all extensions of Tiny Buddha, including both my own personal experience and insights from the community.
So you’ve written for magazines, and you run a blog AND write books. Do you find there’s some value for writers in diversifying? If so, what is it?
I’ve enjoyed the variety because I find it more stimulating—and challenging. Whereas I could write a blog post in a couple hours, a book is clearly a long-term project. And it’s something that’s far more involved, especially when you’re working with dozens of contributors, like I do.
There’s also a certain level of satisfaction that comes from stretching yourself and trying to do something new. Especially if you’re writing about the same topic every day or every other day, it can help tremendously to mix things up.
What are your top two tips for writers who would like to write traditionally published books?
Aside from answering the question “Why me for this book?”:
Get an agent with success in your niche.
While you could send your proposal to smaller publishers without representation, an agent knows what makes a strong proposal, and which publishers would be best for your book. As I mentioned before, I’ve gotten a book deal with and without one, and the latter was a far superior experience, on every level, and totally worth the money.
Create a solid marketing plan for your proposal.
Publishers are looking to work with authors who can sell books. If you have an established platform, great! If not, do you know any other high-profile bloggers who will help promote your book? Are you willing to invest your money in a book trailer, a blog tour, or a publicist? Do you have any ideas for creative social media campaigns?
Since the Tiny Buddha blog is all about topics like happiness, motivation, inspiration, and letting go…I’d like to talk about two emotions writers feel a lot — fear and stress. Do you have any advice for writers on getting over their fears of rejection, failure, and even success so they can start pitching and writing?
As someone who’s pursued both theater and writing—two incredibly competitive industries—I know all about rejection! Three things that have helped me are:
Not taking rejection personally.
It can be tough to do this when you put your heart into your writing. But agents and publishers aren’t rejecting you. They’re rejecting the idea—and at that specific time.
There are plenty of times when contributors submit posts to Tiny Buddha and they’re very similar to posts I’ve recently accepted. That actually means they’re strong posts, but my job as a site editor is to offer variety and look for varied themes and perspectives.
I always encourage writers to submit again. Not all editors do this, but submit again anyways.
Think of it as a numbers game.
When I worked as a telemarketer, I knew that every twenty calls would likely lead to one sale. Knowing this made it easier to face those nineteen rejections because I knew I was getting closer to closing a deal.
It’s not quite the same with writing, but it can help tremendously to think of every “no” as one step closer to a “yes.” Challenge the belief that “no” is proof you’re not good enough. If you need a reason to believe you can still succeed, despite rejection, check out this article or this one or this one.
Realize you have far more options now than writers once did.
If you have something to say, you can find a way to put it out there. You can start a blog. You can write an eBook. You can self-publish a print book. And if you do self-publish a print book, you could then leverage that to get a deal with a traditional publisher. (I know several authors who’ve done this!)
We’re fortunate to have so many options available us writers today. Knowing this somehow takes the sting out of rejection because you know that no isolated rejection can crush your dream, or prevent you from honing your craft and getting your work out there.
I absolutely hate sending rejection emails because I’m both sensitive and empathetic, and I never want anyone to think I don’t admire and respect both them and their work. If I’ve rejected posts from the same writer a few times, I might offer extra feedback and end the email with “I hope I’m not discouraging you!”
Not too long ago, a writer responded, “No worries—you’re not! I have a whole list of sites I submit to, so I’ll just submit this to one of them.”
It’s something I’ll remember next time I’m feeling rejected. There are other sites. There are other magazines. There are lots of other ways to get my work out there.
And stress…we writers feel that a lot! We’re running our butts off pitching, interviewing, networking, writing. We have tons of deadlines, client demands, and other stressors. How can writers become more calm and centered so they can work more productively?
The best advice I can offer any writer is to get out of your head. There were many times in the past when I sat at my computer for ten+ hours, when on a deadline, with only short breaks to eat or use the restroom. This was a surefire path to stress and burnout!
I used to think taking a break for a walk or a quick meditation was wasting time, but I’ve since learned than fifteen to thirty rejuvenating minutes are actually huge time savers. I come back to my work refreshed, recharged—and in some cases, particularly if I’ve been in nature, inspired.
Then I have much calmer, and much more positive energy, to bring to my work.
Some ways to clear your head:
- Meditation/listening to guided meditations (you can find a ton of free ones on YouTube) [Note from Linda: Or the Positive Thinking for Writers guided meditation, which is Pay What It’s Worth in the Renegade Writer Store?]
- Yoga or Tai Chi
- Deep breathing
- Taking a walk outside
- Doing something childlike, like hopping on a swing
- Dancing to your favorite music and releasing pent up energy
Tell us about your latest book, Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges. What inspired you to write it, and where can readers buy the book?
As someone who’s felt alone at various points in my life, I understand the value of strong relationships. I also know we’re living in an increasingly disconnected world, despite being more connected than ever.
We all need to feel seen, valued, appreciated, and loved. We’re social creatures, and we need to feel like we belong, like people get us and will be there for us. We also need to know people trust us and depend on us to be there for them.
Of course, these things are far more easily said than done. Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges can help.
The book offers a year’s worth of simple daily challenges to help people give more love in their relationships, treat themselves more lovingly, and put more love into the world.
Some of the challenges are active, some are reflective, some involve having conversations with other people, and some are writing exercises.
Each month has a different theme, including:
- Kindness and Thoughtfulness
- Compassion and Understanding
- Authenticity and Vulnerability
- Releasing Anger and Forgiving
- Attention and Listening
- Honesty and Trust
- Kindness and Thoughtfulness
- Acceptance and Non-Judgment
- Releasing Comparisons and Competition
- Support and Encouragement
- Admiration and Appreciation
- Giving and Receiving
And every week starts with a relevant story or two from members of the Tiny Buddha community, illustrating the power of applying these principles in daily life.
The challenges are all little things, and some might seem simple, but the simplest things are often the hardest to do consistently—like putting your phone down and giving someone your full attention, or looking a stranger in the eye and smiling.
Relationships have never been my strong suit, but I feel much closer to people, and much better equipped to give them the love they deserve, since incorporating these tiny actions into my daily life.
Readers can learn more about the book at http://tinybuddha.com/love-book.
Today is my golden blog birthday! Twelve years of blogging is ancient in internet time but I can honestly say I am surprised because it doesn’t feel like I have been doing this crazy thing for that long. When I began I just thought I’d try out a new thing called blogging and see what happened, I had no long-term plan. But it was fun so I kept at it. The years passed and sometimes I would wonder just how long I could possibly keep this up? I told myself, and I still do, that the day is ceases to be fun is the day I hang up my blog hat. Since I am still here you know I am still having fun. Quite a lot of that fun is because of all of you, leaving comments, telling stories, and sharing the marvelous obsession of books and reading we all have.
So thank you. You could all be in a gazillion other places, but for this little bit of time you have chosen to be here. I am honored and grateful and convinced that I must be one of the luckiest people in the world.
Maybe it is only appropriate that I tell you about my NerdCon Stories weekend. This was not a comic convention, this was a storytelling convention. It was organized by Hank and John Green. You may recognize the name John Green, yup, he’s the very same who wrote The Fault in Our Stars. Nearly 3,000 people turned out for this first ever event. There were nerds of all stripes and ages and from all over. I met a mother and daughter who had driven up from Georgia. There were lots of awesome nerd t-shirts, many of them book related, hair colors from every spectrum of the rainbow, a TARDIS dress, lots of fun shoes and boots that I coveted and I don’t even especially like shoes. There were a few people who arrived in costume but not many.
The days began and ended with main stage events that included various presentations on why stories matter. Some were funny and some were serious. There were storytelling games, rapid fires questions to a panel of writers, a mock debate on sock sock shoe shoe v. sock shoe sock shoe, some puppet theater, and musical entertainment and a little sing along.
There were breakout session panels throughout the day both days on a variety topics from adaptation to alternate media, activism and narrative, oral storytelling, storytelling through song, and writing about sex. There were so many people wanting to see this last panel that there were disappointed people who didn’t make it into the room including myself.
A little blurry Telling the Truth panel
The panels I did make it to were mostly pretty interesting. One was called “Telling the Truth.” It was moderated by Hank Green and the panelists were Paolo Bacigalupi, Leslie Datsis, Jaqueline Woodson, Ana Adlerstein and Nalo Hopkinson. All of the panelists talked about how, fiction or nonfiction, they try to tell the truth as they see it. Bacigalupi put it best when he said fiction is facts that become a beautiful lie.
Another panel I attended was called “Honing Your Craft: Embettering Your Word-Doing.” Moderated by Holly Black, the panelists were Paolo Bacigalupi, Stephanie Perkins, Lev Grossman, and Nalo Hopkinson. Grossman works full time as an editor at Time Magazine and I was surprised to learn that he did most of his fiction writing on the New York subway to and from work. They all commented on how each book requires a different writing process and it never actually gets easier. One of the most interesting things about this session was how these obviously successful writers all mentioned at one point or another how afraid they are to show their work to other people and how their fear of looking stupid drove them to revise and revise and make their work the best they could. They all had strategies for overcoming their fears of writing badly. And while they all talked about being afraid, it also struck me that they were all quite brave as well. Both Grossman and Bacigalupi remarked that they had each just called it quits on books they had been writing for months that were not working and how they put all that work aside and started over.
One of my favorite sessions was “The Benefits of Diverse Stories.” The moderator was Liz Hara and the panelists were Desiree Burch, Jacqueline Woodson, Dylan Marron and Jacqueline Carey. They all stressed the importance of not having a single narrative to represent an entire group of people as if a gay man or a black woman could only have one kind of story. All of them talked about looking past the marginalized to the general and finding the humanity and the things that connect us all. Dylan Marron suggested that if you are telling a universal story you should use universal bodies to tell that story instead of defaulting to straight white man. It was all very inspiring!
This is starting to get really long so I will save a few more bits for tomorrow. Something to look forward to I hope!
Filed under: Blogging
Tagged: NerdCon Stories