Social Media for the New & Anxious, Part 3

Good morning. Here we are on Friday, the day that for some will end with margaritas, pantslessness, and a few “Woo”s. If you’re among that number, I wish you and your liver all the very best. If you’re not going to Señorita Yolanda’s for their 9 shots for $2 happiest of happy hours, I’ve got some potato skins we can share.

Before we rim our glasses with salt and get ready to shout over Tex-Mex techno (this imaginary bar is of course infamous for Selena remixes), let’s continue our series on social media. I mean, we’re here, we might as well talk about something while we sit in offices and wait for the end of the day.

We’ve talked so far about being new, we’ve talked about what goes into a message, so let’s look at another thing that happens with social media – mistakes.

We all make them. And when we do, we’re all sure that death by immediate asteroid impact to the face would be preferable.

See, I don’t mean the mistakes where you accidentally send an email to Tom A when you meant Tom B, and they’re just too close together in your Gmail. And I don’t even mean the time you spelled a person’s name wrong, because those are trivial mistakes in the grand scheme of things, and they’re easy accidents. Any apology would be quick and simple.

No, I’m talking about the times you really step in it. Like when you write that email in anger and in that automatic way you click ‘send’ rather than delete. Or when you suggest that the someone enjoys sexual relations with their mother. Or when you pointedly tell someone to savor the flavor of your genitals to the point of orgasm in their mouth. You know, good proper gut-wrenching mistakes that can dog you.

Did you know I used to use Twitter as a fancy text messaging service?

Did you know that I once told a room full of actors they could all go have violent sex with themselves using broken objects because I didn’t like what they were doing to the genius I had spewed onto the page?

Did you know I once sent all the angry emails I used to store in my Drafts folder to all their respective addressees?

I bring these things up because I own doing them. Even if I don’t remember writing the tweets, and only have a hazy recollection of telling actors what to do (interesting – one of them went on to do several years on a hit TV show), I did these things. There’s no doubt. I wasn’t hacked by Russians or Republicans. I didn’t leave my computer on so my wacky roommate could take over. I straight up did really stupid shit that affected me personally and professionally for months and years after.

I say this because you’re going to make mistakes. Own them. You don’t have to flail and objurgate afterward, you don’t need to withdraw for a 60-day isolation period. No, you’ve got to one harder – admit you were wrong and sincerely make an effort not to do it again.

And no, it’s not easy. Responsibility is not always easy. But it’s the better path to take if you want to move forward and onward in a better way towards your goals and towards repairing relationships. Hashtag realtalk. Hashtag adultmoment. Hashtag burritoface.

See, here’s the thing about mistakes. Saying, “Yes I did this, and I’m sorry I did” (or the like) is actually a good thing. Yeah, there are consequences, and even after you handle them, some people might not be so willing to change their minds about you, but then again, you’re not in charge of how they think and you can’t control how they think. So, politely, tell that bit of anxiety it too can go have sex with itself on this Friday morning.

One of the problems with mistakes I’ve seen people make and am guilty of myself is that we sometimes inflate them to Macy’s Thanksgiving proportions. We enlarge and engorge what we did wrong, the assumptions we make about how the fallout will be, and what the appropriate punishment and restitution might be. It’s really hard to put a mistake into  perspective, because there’s an emotional component (“I can’t believe I did that!”) we need to first contend with – yeah, you did do that – before you can work the problem into a solution.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are going to be people out there who will spend a great deal of time, energy, and emotion giving you a lecture about what you did wrong, so that you understand the depth of your wrongness presumably so that you feel informed/guilty as to never do that sort of thing again. Rather than take a tolerant position that if you know it’s wrong you won’t do it again because you’re a human capable of understanding error, they break out a soapbox or pulpit to tell you what’s wrong while implying their fecal matter is without odor, or that they’re a better brand of person who could never make the same mistake as lowly you. This, to me, is applesauce and horsefeathers. We all make mistakes. The lectures can be spared and people can trust each other to do what’s right.

There’s a side note here that sometimes those corrective lectures come from an opinion, and we might not all agree with all opinions, but there’s a difference between recognizing that two people have differing views, and one person telling the other person that they’re subjectively wrong because reasons great and small. There’s nothing wrong with correcting an error, provided there are grounds and substantiated ideas to prove it was an error. (Again, we’re talking bigger problems not typos.)

Lastly, and often accompanying the lecture is someone saying publicly that they’re unsubsctibing, blocking, unfollowing or otherwise not engaging with a person who’s made a mistake. The publicity of their statement is often the telling element – why do they have to make a show of their action? What’s to be gained other than adding potential fear and shame to the mix? You, as the creative on social media who made the mistake in the first place, cannot control what other people do. You cannot and should not sweat the loss of one person because for all you know, people come and go without saying a word. Social media is a river with a current, and sometimes people float away. You’re not responsible for their actions or decisions, and you’re under zero obligations to keep them around. They want to go, let them go. Others will come. (Also, if these people are leaving over a mistake that other people have forgiven, and the majority of people have moved on, are you really concerned?)

This post ran a little long, so let me break out a TL;DR – you’re going to make mistakes. Own up when you do. Make the apologies and amends where possible, and move forward making every effort to be better. You can do this. I believe in you.

See you guys next week. Happy writing.

Social Media for the Anxious & New, part 2

Welcome back to Monday. I keep trying to develop portal technology so that we live in a reality where it’s only ever Thursday and then there’s always a 3-day weekend, but all my efforts get thwarted somewhere around the moment I realize I only know about advanced math from Futurama and Rick and Morty.

Let’s get back to work then, okay?

The series on social media use continues today. On Friday, we talked about how mistakes are gonna happen, and how I really believe you can do this, and today we’re going to get detailed about what exactly goes into a tweet, a blog post, and a status update.

Before we get into this, I want to point out that if you’re thinking someone else (from a publisher let’s say) is going to handle all this for you so that you don’t have to, even if you pursue the most traditional route of publishing possible, you’re going to be in for a huge shock – the publisher’s marketing department does not solely exist to relieve you of the burden of being an author, and yes, in (insert current year here), part of being an author is being able to interact with an audience in an actionable way. Let me further burst that bubble by saying that writing is a part of what an author does, and reaching out and informing/building an audience is another part of the author-effort.

Sure, yes, you can farm this out via some services where you pay a person half a world away to tweet for you or update your blog for you (a lot of “work few hours make bank” systems operate this way), but when you farm off part of what can help you connect with an audience, how is that going to help your audience see you as more than a book dispensary?

Audiences want and have come to expect more than just the author-machine who cranks out somewhat formulaic books and slaps a name on it without breaking new and interesting mental ground, treading forever on their name and established reputation rather than doing what got them their name and reputation, the writing interesting stuff part of author-effort.

I think by breaking down good composition of social media elements, it can demystify them, and it can make it easier to do and more relevant to an author, even one who is still working on book one or someone who’s stuck a few books in when their publisher folded up their tent.

This doesn’t have to be scary. This doesn’t have to be burdensome. Also, assume in every one of these cases that communication is a two-way street. You do your part by bringing information and personality, the audience can do their part by responding. You can encourage that response, but you can’t force it. And when you’re just starting out, yes I know, it’ll feel like you’re talking to nobody, but keep at it. Like a corn field and Ray Liotta, people will show up.

We’ll go one step at a time through this:

A Tweet

I’m a huge fan of Twitter for getting out morsels of information at a good pace. I think it’s great warm-up for writing the longer things I do throughout the day, and I like the gratification of seeing people respond in near-realtime.

Because a tweet is capped at 140 characters, concision becomes the chief constructive element – and that 140 count includes spaces and punctuation and links to things, so first and foremost any tweet that builds around a link (whether that’s to a blog post or an Amazon page or whatever) has to more substantial than just the naked link dangling out there.

Before the link, include some words so that your audience knows this isn’t spam from a Nigerian who’s happy to part with gold he can’t show you in exchange for all the banking information you can manage. The act of being personable in a concise way, ahead of the link, renders the overall effect of the tweet to not be blatant in its salesmanship. Look, selling and linking are part of getting eyes on product, we all know it, but we don’t need to do it in some cold and dry way.

Putting your personality into even a few words, and making sure that you don’t repeat that every few hours once you figure out what that string of words is, will go a long way to conveying to the audience that yes, in fact, you are a real person, really trying to do a real task while appearing really vulnerable.

What words, you might ask? The ones that sound like you. The ones that you say, the ones you think. And while there do exist plenty of books of words about selling things, and some of them are even worth reading, any word that sounds like you and is an honest expression of who and what you’re doing is going to beat out any magic sales-word. In fact, it’s the melding of the sales stuff and your own stuff that’s going to help you establish your non-authorial author voice, which is the voice you’ll use when you’re talking about what you’ve done or what you’re doing.

And here we get to the part of the text where I tell you to tweet often. And not just the sales opportunities, I mean the life stuff too. About your dog, about your dinner, about your feelings on dystopic pudding. The caution here is that while dispensing what I imagine  are your numerous opinions and 140-character rants, be mindful of who’s seeing that stuff. Just because you only have 4 followers, don’t think that the word can’t travel to those people you’re cattily talking about. This is not a schoolyard, you do not need to assert dominance with virtual urine so that someone will take you seriously.

A Status Update

In other forms of social media, you’ve got much more space to operate in, and depending on your relationship with that medium, you can easily use it to blog. I’m not a huge fan of the practice, because I have this blog, but things like Facebook and Googe+ are other tools in the toolbox that can make social media a bit less ornery and a bit more mainstream for your creative life.

It’s important to remember here that you’re working with a signal-to-noise ratio that’s different than what you see in Twitter. The pace of Twitter turns its messages into burst transmissions and you can easily blink and miss things. In other media, there’s a volume of information happening simultaneously and it’s easy to get lost in the tide. When the world is a awash in Pokemon, political memes, and those photos from last week’s party, it’s hard to stand out.

Stand out by having something to say that’s more interesting and communicative than provocative. Anyone can write a few hundred words of hypersensitive invective, anyone can erect a soapbox in the center of a three-ring circus. Don’t fall prey to the temptation of attention-grabbing like it’s some rare and finite thing we’re all competing for. When you put your guts on the page, when you say what you need to and don’t churn up people just to churn them up “because even bad attention is attention”, you’ll build that audience out of sterner stuff than people who check you out to see what the latest outrage, tragedy, arrogance, whining, or problem-you-have-with-the-world-that-demands-it-change-not-you is.

Again, this is authorial voice on display. Talk about your work. Talk about the work-in-progress. Talk about the strides and stumbles. Don’t think the audience will run at the first sign of things getting tough for you, people love a good success story as much as they love to be supportive.

A Blog Post

We conclude today with the largest of the three pieces of social media – the blog post. Loads of people write them. You’re reading one right now, if you hadn’t noticed. (Or maybe you got this emailed to you thanks to the signup box over on the right)

Here’s an entire blank canvas, available for free, to do with as you like (okay, I’m paying for this site so I can get the dot-com I want, and so I can get some bells and whistles that help me, and there are some restrictions on content if you use a host like WordPress or Blogspot).

So what do you write about? My answer to this when it gets asked on panels is, “Yes,” because you can write about anything. Look at  this blog – I talk about mental health, addiction, semicolons, recipes and kitchen stuff in between all the posts on queries and publishing and motivation.

There’s no wrong answer here, so long as you’re sharing your worldview and your creativity in an active way. Yes, you can use a blog to track the dates on a book tour, or as a respository for your guest posts and snapchat takeovers. But if you want to do more than just archive your efforts, an audience is built out of the breadth of content partnered with a voice and perspective broadcasting it.

You’ll develop that voice, that perspective, and ultimately that audience through consistency. Post often, post authentically. Practice, just like the tweets and status updates above. It does get easier.

And to answer the question of “How long should a post be?” I have no good answer for you. I’ve written posts that are a few hundred words and had a huge reception. I’ve written super long posts and had an equal reception. I’m starting to think that even though a shorter post is easier to knock out, like so many other things in life, it’s not the size, it’s what you do with it.

*

I encourage all of you, and I believe in all of you. You can do this. Keep at it, even when it’s tough. Even when you’re sure that no one is reading. (Small note: one of the ways you can have people reading is by telling them that you have something they can read – they won’t know you’ve done a thing otherwise.)

You can always find me on social media (on Twitter, on Google+), and I’ll be your audience.

Let’s meet back up here on Wednesday when we’ll do part 3 of this series – what to do when you make a mistake.

 

See you then. Happy writing.

Social Media For The Anxious & New, part 1

Good morning. Welcome back to the blog. (I’m saying that as much for myself as for you)

As promised on Twitter, today we start a new series: Social Media for the Anxious & New, where we’re going to talk about how authors can use social media in productive proactive ways without sinking hours they may or may not have into it. We’ll also look at some pitfalls and strategies for avoiding them.

Now this post came about in the wake of the ‘Getting Rejected’ series, and was further germinated by my week at GenCon, where I talked to rooms full of writers who thought social media was about as easy to do or as necessary as brain surgery in the dark with your eyes closed.

Previously, I’ve talked a bit about social media, but it was brought to my attention that in that discussion I forgot a significant element – that people aren’t as ready to go running out into oncoming verbal traffic and build their own place to work from. I will admit now that I usually make a conscious effort to look past that part, because getting wrapped up in the assumption that people won’t easily take to a new tool in their writer toolbox is a great way to kill creative inertia and get aimless really fast.

I don’t want people to feel overwhelmed, but that does not mean the only prevention means the tiniest of baby steps. That’s a gross simplification and misjudgment of people’s talents, and I just won’t do it. So, here, writers, this is what I’m saying:

You can do this. You can get better at it if you’re doing it already. You can start if you haven’t already. Yes, it’s important. Yes, you should be doing this. Let’s talk about how to do this.

Take a deep breath, and we’ll get into the first part of this.

Item 1 – Making Mistakes

The first thing we’re going to talk about can be summed up with this image:

LEARNMISTAKESPNG

I bet you didn’t know I had access to outdated Adobe products.

There’s no shame in making mistakes. We talk about this up front, because a lot of writers assume that when they do something involving social media, because of that pesky word ‘social’, that whatever they do has to be PERFECT. Like flawless. Like it should be a model for all future generations and species.

It doesn’t. It can’t. Do not pressure yourself by thinking that every missive is the perfect embodiment of information. You’re not perfect. It’s not perfect. There is no perfect.

What you’re doing instead is communicating. Openly. Messily. Honestly. Imperfectly.

And because it’s imperfect, there are going to be mistakes. You’ll have a typo. You’ll skip a word in a sentence because you’re typing too quickly. Autocorrect will turn your statement into some bizarre mention of camels (or something).

But mistakes are not where we stop and give. They’re where we stop, regroup, repair, and try again.

Item 2 – Being A Person

I don’t know how to explain this to you, but if you want to make the most of your social media experience, you need to be a person. I mean, you need to share your human experience with other humans, and not just spit out “Buy my book” every 8 hours as automated by some scheduler.

We’re all tired of reading spam, we are all annoyed by bots and form letters, so why would you resort to those tactics to get attention?

rock-1996-movie-review-nicolas-cage-goodspeed-flares-ending

Yeah, I know, it can feel like this.

Before I try and tell you that you’re going to get something something flies and honey, let me point out that it’s not a fast process. You have to know this going in. It’s going to take time. I’ve got 1667 followers, and I’m far from a celebrity or even a “known” commodity in writing. I do what I do in a little corner of the internet, and I am always thankful when someone likes it or shares it or replies to it.

That encourages me to keep doing what I do, which I can summarize the following way:

a) Share my life, however imperfect, even when it’s not just about editing or coaching or publishing
b) Make sure that the words sound like me. No fancy polish. No trying too hard to be anything other than me.
c) Use social media often (and yes there are times when I’m more comfortable with it than in conversation, and no I don’t think that’s inherently a sign of the end times)

My challenge to you is commit thirty days to social media, and I’m going to put together this series of posts on how you can punch, strangle, and chase off the anxiety and put a really strong and versatile tool in your writing toolbox.

See you next week. Enjoy your weekend. Happy writing.

Why Am I Getting Rejected? Part 3

Today we conclude the series on rejection. We’ve talked about rejection from the query, we’ve talked about rejection from the manuscript, and today, we’re going to look at rejection caused by other things, because yes, there are other sources of rejection that aren’t the query or the manuscript.

It’s unfortunate, and this is the part about rejection that’s really difficult – some of this stuff is under your control, and some of this stuff isn’t. The big giant red flag here is that people often read the “some stuff isn’t” and take that as a permission slip to blame their rejection on somebody-else’s-problems and not address any of their errors that might actually be in the query or MS.

This is where I propose a bold step – ask for feedback on the query or manuscript following rejection. Maybe you won’t get it from every publisher, but there are those of us who will. And yeah, it’s an emotional risk to take, since you’re admitting you missed the mark, but I see it also as a huge point of courage and strength – yeah, you missed the mark, but you don’t want to miss it again. You’re going to try again, you’re not going to give up.

Don’t let what I’m sure may be quite a few voices saying publishers don’t have time or that feedback is not in their job description be a reason you won’t take a bold step forward in producing your MS and getting it out into the world. Yes, a lot of people are going to just say the query and MS aren’t for them, say something dismissive, and leave you hanging. But there are going to be publishers and individuals (hello!) who would be happy to work with you to take a look at what you’re doing and give you pointers. You’re not going to know until you ask. And you are good enough, and you should believe enough in your work, to ask.

Now, onto our list of 5 things that aren’t your MS or your query that can get you rejected.

Issue 1 – Your query and/or MS is good, but it’s not what someone is looking for.
This might be the most discouraging issue in the list, because there’s no explicitly wrong thing to point out. It’s not that the query was vague or the manuscript was too wordy, it just didn’t meet the other person’s criteria. Criteria, I should point out, that you as the author aren’t going to know and couldn’t possibly predict.

Yes, you can write in-genre, your story can be well-constructed, the query can be gold star material, and the other person can still say no. And that’s on them, not you. Maybe they don’t think they can sell it. Maybe they just got a directive from their superiors that they need to look for submissions going in a different direction. Maybe they read your MS and query about 15 minutes after they spilled coffee and cherries on their only good top and they have less than 6 minutes to send an intern to the bodega for club soda. Who knows … but it means they can’t say yes right now to that manuscript.

It sucks, but it happens.

Issue 2- Your social media presence is very controversial (due to an agenda or attitude)
Okay, here’s a Johnfession: I spend a good deal of time on social media. Usually that’s Twitter, and when I’m having a good hair day and don’t feel like I should climb back under a bridge to harangue goats, I’m on Snapchat (johnwritesstuff). And because I’m on Twitter so much, I say a lot (at the time I’m writing this paragraph I’ve got 55.3k tweets). Some of what I’ve said, and some of what I’ll likely say isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I don’t agree with some ideas, be they professional or social. I have thoughts and ideas about a whole lot of stuff, and social media gives me an outlet to express those thoughts. I don’t do it with the express intention to be shocking (my shock-jock era was over at least a decade ago), but I know that I can’t control, nor do I want to control, how other people perceive my expressions. Other people’s outrage is not my flock to shepherd.

This means that there are times in my life where what I’ve said has cost me friendships, jobs, relationships great and small, and even (gasp!) opportunities for free swag. And I’m okay with that. I don’t muzzle well, and I think I’m actually getting better at expressing myself with slightly fewer daisy chains of profanity.

I’m willing to stand by what I say, what I think, and what I’ve written in places. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It might controversial. And it’s the bed I made, so I shall be laying in it.

When I go check out an author, before I go send the MS up whatever food chain, I check to see if the author is on social media and if they’re active. Are they active enough that I can trust them to do their own promotion of their book? Are they active enough that they’ve built an audience? Are they saying anything particularly -ist or -phobic that I might need to damage control or is it bad enough to disqualify them? Looking for those red flags is a pain, and honestly yes, there are times when I wish I didn’t have to, but to ignore the potential means I be having to spend more time fixing situations rather than doing what I’m paid to do, which is helping make books happen.

A controversial social media presence can give a publisher some pause. How you define “controversial” is subjective, and I’m probably one of the more permissive people, because I don’t want a silent author but also don’t need one advocating for the abject murder of people based on gender, race, orientation or identity for instance.

Issue 3 – The author has zero social media presence and (bonus!) an active disinterest in using it.
I think this one bothers me moreso than the previous issue. This seems so outdated, so out of touch, especially when some of the best ways to fix the problem are free and don’t take more than a few minutes a day.

Maybe this stems from the idea that there’s an expectation that the publisher will just pay the author to sit somewhere and sippy froo-froo drinks while they do “their part” and promote the books that the author churns out from various bungalows on various tropical beaches. Maybe it comes from the idea that because building an audience takes time and isn’t automatic or easy then it shouldn’t be done. Maybe it comes from a fear that someone doesn’t know how to do it. Whatever the case, I run into a LOT of people who want to be traditionally published while remaining wholly averse to the idea of promoting any percentage of what they’ve done.

No, the audience doesn’t immediately come running. No, they’re not going to suddenly ‘just know’ that you’ve done a thing and it’s available without you saying something. No, marketing and audience development is not a part of the writing job/career that you can afford to skip out on.

Pushing back on using social media and doing anything other than dropping a sales link in a tweet every other day (the old “Buy my book LINK HERE” sales tactic) can very often sound like you’re just about to join the Old Person Doesn’t Want Kids On Lawn Club or you just got your subscription to the Back In My Day newsletter. Social media isn’t scary. That fear that you’ll be exposed and shamed or ignored? We all have that. We use the media anyway.

That audience gets built because you sound like a person, preferably you sound like yourself, and you start talking to people and interacting over and over, regularly and naturally. You can do this.

Issue 4 – The market is saturated in material that looks a lot like the manuscript.
Faerie courts. Werewolves. Zombies. Grizzled soldiers back from war to avenge dead brides. Long lost heirs to kingdoms and riches. Prophecies about one person making a global difference because of some very small character trait they have. The market is cyclical, and eventually everything swings back around.

Sometimes, people are ahead of that curve, so it doesn’t look like they’re catching trends. Other times, they’re adding one more manuscript to a caravan en route to inboxes already full of the same material.

The author has zero control over the cyclical life of trends. Even without meaning to, even while working in secret, late at night while the house sleeps or in the wee hours while it’s just you and a cat, you can be writing X right alongside a ton of writers also writing X. And then you all finish at the same time, and you send the manuscripts off at the same time, and then the publishers have stacks and stacks of X. How can they differentiate? What’s going to make yours stand out?

If you said “Query letter!” and “A strong engaging manuscript!”, thanks for paying attention, but let’s suppose that everyone else also said it too. In a big pool of X, X-number-81 or X-number-23 are going to get rejected, even if they’re not bad. Because there’s a load of factors outside authorial control and market saturation and the affect of a bloated inbox on a reader are two things that no amount of great chapter 1s can fix.

No, that doesn’t mean you have to give yourself aneurysms trying to make the most original original-thing possible so that there’s no doubt that you’re not chasing a trend or being routine. It means you need to get comfortable with your craft and your voice and make decisions that put your creative self into situations where your work is going to stand out when it’s in the big pool of X.

Issue 5 – There’s no reader checking the inbox where the MS and query are sent.
This happens a lot with smaller publishers, and you wouldn’t think that would be the case, because you’d think a smaller publisher would be super pumped to see any submissions. And small publishers are pumped for submissions, but there are some small publishers who don’t have any interest in publishing, they just want to say they’re a publisher, all while engaging in predatory behavior that colors part of the industry as a crooked bunch of wheeler-dealers, while forcing authors to be overly cautious and assume that the bad folk outnumber the good.

The bad folk exist, just like they exist outside of publishing (like those mall kiosks that wash your hands with salt), and you should try and avoid eye contact (this also applies to the salt kiosk people), but you can’t assume that everyone out there is coming to get you and your manuscript too.

Sending your work out into the world and not hearing back even a “Thanks so much for submitting” or a “Expect a reply from us within # of days” can be disheartening, but like everything else in this series, don’t take that as a permission slip to give up.

Yes, it’s possible that you send your MS and query to a dead mailbox. Maybe the contact info changed, maybe no one thinks to check it because it’s an off-week and the boss is away, maybe it’s pushed off for someone else to handle “later.” But none of that should stop you. Keep writing, keep submitting. Keep persisting.

Track who you send it to, track the response, and follow the hell up. Seizing that initiative is going to have way more and larger benefits than passivity or negativity.

To wrap up this series, I want to say that in no way have I covered the whole of the bell curve as to why manuscripts and queries get rejected. But I wanted to at least point out the big ticket items, and maybe hopefully help you with a map through somewhat otherwise hazy territory.

The response I’ve gotten to this series is huge, and not just in terms of number of readers, but also who has been reading it. Editors, publishers, published authors (all of whom I’d get super nauseous and panicky about saying hello to if not for the comfort of social media), as well as writers who wouldn’t speak up normally have all checked out these posts, and I’m grateful. It’s a big deal, and I hope that some of you out there stick around to see what’s coming, and go check out the archives to see what else I’ve done. Thanks for taking the time to read my words.

I’ll see you guys next for more. Happy writing.

InboxWednesday – Social Media

Holy mother of chicken fingers, Wednesday crept up on us pretty quick there. Next thing you know, it’ll be Friday and I’ll get a tweet from someone about to get turnt up for the weekend. (The first time I heard that phrase, I thought someone said turnips, and pictured someone having a really good weekend playing Stardew Valley.)

But we’re not there yet, creatives. So until then, let’s do what we do on Wednesdays and grab a question from my inbox. Remember, you can ask me any question you want, because even the ones that don’t go on the blog get answered.

Let’s do this.

John, I’m a 57-year-old man writing his first novel. My two kids are in college, my wife works full-time. I am financially stable, and I thought writing would be a good thing to do. My question is: what’s the point of social media? What good does it do me, when I’m not a teenager or not really good at it, and what platforms should I use for what purpose? My schedule in the evenings and weekends is open, so time is not a problem, but how do I best use these apps? – J.

J. (you asked not to use your real name, no sweat), thanks so much for your question. Congrats on taking the dive into writing. What you’re asking is big and good and it’s got some moving parts, so let’s do this in pieces.

These are my opinions, other people may disagree, and that’s totally alright. I want you to first know that you need social media. NEED it, like critical in the modern day NEED, because the traditional publishers aren’t going to dump buckets of money at your door to do the marketing for you. You know your book, and you know who you are way better than they ever will, so there’s freedom to being your own marketing machine. You can develop a system that’s custom  to you, and because it’s playing to your strengths, you’ll use it with less difficulty.

What I’ll do is breakdown each platform with a definition, an example where I can, and the pros and cons. Then I’ll use my social media as a case study. J., follow me on this, this is gonna be a lot of words, but you can do this, it’s just one step at a time, it’s not overwhelming unless you let it be. Don’t quit on this, let’s rock and roll.

Can I give you two ground rules? These are important. Write this on a post-it note. Carve them into the foreheads of your enemies:

1. Social media IS NOT just sales link spam. There’s a reason it’s called “social” media – being a person who does X (in your case, writes books) is the honey to the sales spam vinegar when you’re building a group of people you interact with.

2. Practice using it. Regular use, even if you’re just goofing around with filters or hashtags or puns or whatever will help you get better when you do have something important, like links to a blog post or a fundraising page or a promo for an event you’re attending.

Primary Platforms
What I call a “primary platform” is the social media where you’re the most comfortable. Maybe you’ll develop more than one of these, and that’s awesome. A primary platform is where you can reach a certain number of people, and you’ll know you can reach them without having to do anything that you haven’t already done before.

Secondary Platforms
A secondary platform is social media that’s new to you. You’ve never used it before, or you barely use it, and if you gave it more time, and did a little research, you could get better at it, but you’re maybe okay with it being more on the perimeter of your social media stuff.

I’m going to spot you one free primary platform – email. You’ve written emails before. It’s pretty comfortable. And along with the ability to write emails, you’ve got a list of people to sends email to, so that’s a prepped audience. I know what you’re thinking, “John I can’t email these people that I’m writing a book.” And I’ll go ahead and ask you what about being creative is so bad that these people would run from you like your a clown on fire handing out mayonnaise and guacamole? It’s okay to let the world know you’re creative.

With me so far? Let’s look at specific platforms then. Each platform is going to take some time, especially when you’re just learning how to use it. No, you don’t have to be perfect at it, there is no perfect at it, but you’re going to need to take seconds/minutes to write things occasionally. Even if/when they’re wholly unrelated to the specifics of the book you’re writing.

Facebook
For me, professionally, Facebook isn’t my best option. It’s great when I want to tell people about work like we’re sitting on the porch with drinks and I’m just chatting about the day, or I want rant a little about video games or my weird neighbors, but I have a hard time turning that into sales. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do it, I know plenty of people who make that happen, but I know just as many people who keep the sales off Facebook, and use it more as a social pool for communication – one more way they can be a person first and a selling entity second.

The Pros: Everyone’s on it. Okay, not my mom, not that one guy I know who believes in chemtrails, lizard people, and nanochips inside vaccines that will one day activate and subjugate us, but like, loads of other people. Whether you just have an account for yourself, or you get a Page together where you specifically interact with an audience because of something you do or a way you identify (an author, a publisher, a whatever-er), you can communicate with other humans. It’s pretty easy to use, you just type in a box at the top of the page, you click Post, and boom, done.

The Cons: There’s a lot of people on it, and they’re going to talk about everything from politics to babies to work complaints to strange anime references to screeds about how they deserve preferential treatment to questions about robot apocalypses. That signal-to-noise ratio can be tough to parse through, and something as earnest and interesting as your “Hey I started writing a book” can totally get blown out of the water by your friend Sharon going on a rant about how the brown people are ruining this country and how we need to feel guilty about something that happened three hundred years ago that started our alleged national dumpster fire rolling down a hill.

Twitter
Twitter is my jam. I love Twitter. Each tweet is 140 characters, and that includes spaces. Yeah I know, there’s talk about expanding that, but even if they did, I’d keep it to 140. The concision Twitter has trained me to develop is critical when I’m speaking and editing – words are potent, and having to pick and choose how I describe something means I put a premium on clarity over flashy vocabulary.

The Pros: You can find a lot of like-minded people on it. I follow a heap of writers, creatives, editors, agents and people whose opinions and ideas interest and encourage me. Also, because of its fluid nature, I can jump into conversations or start my own pretty easily.

The Cons: It can feel like you’re shouting into the Grand Canyon while standing in London fog. You may have no idea that your words are reaching anyone, and especially at the beginning, it can be discouraging. But every once in a while, you may get surprised about who reads what you’re saying, who replies, or who shares what you say with their heap of people. (I have had a few “Oh shit, that person knows what I write!?” moments in the last year, they’re awesome).

If you do go with Twitter, and need a person to start with, start with me

Google+ (Google Plus, G+)
I have to admit J., I fell out of love with Google+. We grew apart because we both changed – G+ changed its layout, I found my groove with Twitter and other platforms. But Google+ is a viable longer form platform that you can use and build circles of people with. These communities share interest (you can build a writing circle), and there are large and active groups of people doing the same stuff you do, but as with any large mass of people, check that signal to noise ratio and don’t let the negative people poison your progress.

The Pros: It doesn’t have the glut of extraneous content the way Facebook does. It isn’t capped at 140 characters the way Twitter is. You can say a lot on a topic, you can read a lot about a topic, and you can get eyes on what you say. It sounds ideal, right? But …

The Cons: In a world where you’ve got other, more visual social media popping up, where there’s more immediacy and speed and interest, G+ can become an afterthought. Even with this blog, G+ is just one more place where I put posts, and occasionally chime in to specific groups, but otherwise, my attention is elsewhere.

Snapchat
This is a new one for me, as in I really started getting serious about it less than a week ago. This is the first of three platforms I’m going to talk about where you can use stills, video, and audio to get a concise message across. I’m hugely in love with the concept, and it’s easy to use once you check out how other people are using it.

The Pros: Again, concision is valuable. Short video can be personal and effective. Captions and filters can help put together an idea and package it for the current moment.

The Cons: A lot of snapchat is aimed at fashion or celebrity, and a lot of snapchat (at least when you google people you should follow on snapchat) skews younger than you or I, J. But don’t let that throw you off, because you don’t have to interact with that userbase if you don’t want to. It’s not the most intuitive interface, so you might have to fumble a bit early on to get a handle on it, but the good news is that the snaps you do send out only last 24 hours, and so there’s no great lasting shame in the snap of the inside of your pocket while you went to the grocery store, as happened to me earlier this week.

Instagram
There’s an intimacy possible in the visuals we present to the world. They’re a glimpse into our lives that goes beyond “buy my thing”, and I think the sharing of you-see-what=I-see is super important if you want show that what you do is not mysticism or impossible, and that you’re grateful for life. Instagram is tons of photos, it’s primarily visual, and it’s a great tool for showing (literally) more than telling.

The Pros: The peek behind the curtain is interesting. It’s honest, or at least it should be. It’s got a great interface, you can knock it out with a few clicks on your phone. Getting comfortable with hashtags (think of them as indexing tools) will make your production that much easier.

The Cons: If you’re like me, you suck at taking photos you’d call interesting. This is in part due to a lack of practice, and also due to a pressure I feel from the signal-to-noise discussion that Instagram is “supposed to be” all pictures of lunches and random bragging selfies of people better looking than me doing things I can neither afford nor have the means to do.

Periscope
Here now we’re at the fringe of my expertise. Periscope is a video broadcasting tool, that allows you to stream video to an audience. It’s not something I’ve really gotten my hands dirty with yet, but I’m going to be changing that over the course of this week.

The Pros: Streaming video! Live broadcasts! That’s huge. Gone are the static walls of text (said the guy writing the blogpost), and interactivity is at a premium. This is a big deal if you have something to say and want to get it out with immediacy and emotion. But …

The Cons: Building an audience to check out the broadcast takes time, as it does for any of these platforms. Also, given the projected nature of this content, you’ll need something to say or show – a lot of “Uhh” and “Um” won’t hold an audience’s attention. No, I’m not talking production values, I mean pure content. Figuring out what your content is goes a long way to helping steer it out of your head and to other people.

Anchor
Another new one for me, it’s an audio platform where you record short notes and receive other short notes or responses in return (they’re called waves, because nautical theme). I have barely tried this once, and haven’t even set myself up yet, but that’ll change over this week too.

The Pros: If you’re like me, you tend to have a logjam of thoughts that sear your mind and need to be let out, and quick bursts of audio are great for me when I’m feeling particularly laden with urgent purpose. And because you don’t have to see me, I don’t have to feel as awful about being one of the not-pretty people as I do what I do (note: this discomfort comes up for me on Snapchat something fierce) I need to play around with this more.

The Cons: If you’re like me, as you talk, you gesture. You work in the visual space in front of you, making air quotes and hand-based diagrams. They don’t always translate to audio, because despite allegedly having moves like Jagger, you can’t hear my hands make the “so this is like this and that’s like that” gesture.

Pinterest
Pinterest is a repository for static content (like blogposts), where you can collate information about a particular topic. You can have a board (a group) of pins (links) about whatever topic you want, although I have to say they’re a little draconian about butts, curves and intimacies.

The Pros: If you’ve got a lot of blog content to give out, if you want a lot of content to read, Pinterest can be a gold mine. With one of the big two browsers (Chrome, Firefox), you can get an extension to allow you to pin stuff through a simple right-click context menu, and it is an easy way to have a lot of resources at hand.

The Cons: It can be a swallower of your time. There’s so much stuff out there, and so much of it more signal than noise that you can blow a day pinning material one thing after another, stepping away from that writing that needs to happen because “just one more Pin” turns into “three hours later” pretty quick.

Blogging
I was on the fence about calling blogging a form of social media, because social media is becoming more and more conversational and concise, and blogging can range in length and frequency of use. But blogging has a communal aspect, so it’s social media for our discussion.

The Pros: You can say what you want, how you want, as often as you want. Your blog can be a home base for what you’re doing, giving you an unfettered and uninterrupted space to paint your internet real estate how you like.

The Cons: Audience growth is slow, and you can get discouraged by staring at views and thinking you’ll never get past ten or thirty or whatever. You can, you will, you just need to consistently put out good ideas in clear ways. Good content gets read, so make stuff that expresses clearly what you want to say and how you feel.

*

So let’s use me as a case study. Out of the nine social media platforms I just talked about, I’ve got accounts on all nine, but I would call Twitter and this blog my primary platforms. I’m more comfortable here and at 140 characters professionally than anywhere else. Facebook sees daily use, but that’s more personal or anecdotal. I talk about what I do, but I don’t really do what I do with the people on Facebook. It feels weird to me, like I’m asking my family if they want to help me out, and I suppose that idea will need to change, but right now, I like this divide between pro-John and off-hours-John.

Snapchat has been my new vector for socializing, and my small as all get out following is clients, friends, a few celebrities who don’t get annoying, and professionals I learn from. My goal there is to get better at using the service, and I’m not going to do that without giving it a go myself. If you want to find me on Snapchat, I’m at johnwritesstuff.

Instagram and I don’t really know what to do with each other. It’s there, I am following some interesting people, but I don’t post much, mainly because I don’t know what to post. I don’t work visually, so I struggle to put up anything other than various doughnuts or foods I’ve eaten, which perpetuate that social pressure and make me feel bad, so then I use it less, and onward and onward that cycles. But I’ve got a youtube video queued up to watch after I write this post, so maybe I’ll learn some new stuff.

Pinterest is my recipe and idea hole. It doesn’t seem very conversational, but it’s a great education tool for me. Want to learn about business strategies,  enchiladas, candle-making, and old movie posters? I can do that all in one fell swoop.

The remaining platforms are on my “To check out” list, and I said on Twitter the other day that I wanted to try Periscope later this week, I’m thinking Friday. Hmmm.

On the whole, I divide part of my workday into check the various feeds, but not all at once. I’m on twitter throughout the day, I check Facebook in the morning and while I eat lunch, I snapchat now when an idea hits. I blog three times a week. I pinterest or read pinterest usually after work, because some of that relaxes me.

Because time is the most precious business commodity, I’m picky about allocating it. Were I new and starting out, I’d pick one or two platforms and get comfortable. I’d give myself a wide deadline of like 3 months with daily experimentation to see how it fits for me. If a platform didn’t work out, I wouldn’t go back. You don’t need to have all of them going in order to market your work successfully, and you certainly don’t want a pile of responsibilities that take you away from the writing when they’re supposed to be supporting it. So, J., you do what works for you, and if that’s one thing, awesome, if it’s eight or more (because there are more platforms I didn’t cover), awesome too.

I believe you (and anyone regardless of age or gender or genre or whatever) can learn to use this stuff and connect with other people both professionally and personally. It might not be instantaneous, but it can be done.

Hope that answers your question J.

I’ll see you guys on Friday for more blog times. Have a great middle of your week, don’t let the jerks get you down.

Happy writing.