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.

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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.

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.

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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.

InboxWednesday – Reach, Platform, and Audience

Hello again everyone, I hope you’re doing well. How am I? Oh, not too bad thanks for asking. I spent the weekend recuperating and generally enjoying myself, and have taken advantage of the warmer temperatures to break out the lighter bathrobes. Because jobs have uniforms. #becomfortablewhileworking

So it’s Inbox Wednesday, and that means I reach into the inbox and answer questions. If you’ve got a question, and would like to see it answered on the blog, send it to me.

Today’s question is from Mike, who has actually a pile of questions all tossed together. Here I’ll just let you read it:

John, I don’t know what to do. I got my Writer’s Market, I’ve been putting out queries and getting rejected. I’ve been reading a lot of blogposts that say I need to develop my reach and use my platform to build a community and not just a consumer base. When people talk about platform, do they mean social media? Isn’t it enough that I’m blogging 4 times a week and doing videos? What exactly is a community, and how is that different than an audience? What do I do? – Mike

I will disclaim that I edited that paragraph to insert some punctuation and capitalization.

What Mike is worrying is separate from the manuscript’s completion, but isn’t necessarily contingent on the MS being done. Yes, I know, there are blogs out there that say you start building that audience after the MS is done and out the door, but I’ve always felt like doing that is like inviting people to dinner while you’re doing the dishes already.

Yes, you can’t build as strong or as large an audience mid-writing as you can post-writing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be writing while building the audience. If you’ve had three or four or two or ten books out the door already, I’m assuming there’s some measure of audience already present, so to that portion of my readership, frame this in terms of expanding the audience. For the first-time crowd, we’re coming to this without the established elements.

The tough part in publishing, be it self-publishing or tradtional publishing (though this applies also to loads of things outside of writing and publishing) is navigating the jargon and buzzwords. People love them. They dress up everything with a term like it’s a hat on Derby day, as if that’s going to give the substance of their words, their content, more importance.

Buzzwords are not fairy dust. They will not allow us to sail over the streets off to Neverland with the creepy kid in green tights. If your content is clear, actionable, and engaging, then you shouldn’t need to trot out the buzzwords to validate credibility. Speak clearly, honestly, passionately, and you don’t need to crutch on anything.

Here’s where the gasps come in, when I start talking about clarity and people start questioning things like professionalism or tone. So now we move from one minefield about buzzwords to another about tone and assumptions.

A platform is whatever medium you use to communicate whatever ideas you have to whomever listens. On the internet, there’s a gap between you the speaker and the audience, built out of time and distance. It’s totally great that people in Guam and the Seychelles can read your blog at 4 in the morning, but 4 in the morning over there may be 2 in your afternoon, when you’re out walking the aisles of the grocery store trying to choose raisins. Likewise, any comment they leave for you on the blog, even if you get a notification message on your phone, still has a gap between them expressing it and you receiving it. These gaps are baked in, and we can easily take them for granted or rage about them as it suits our purpose.

It doesn’t matter if you blog about your teacup collection, or your love of bad dye jobs, or if you write blistering thinkpieces about how what kind of breakfast you eat reflects your political views. It doesn’t matter if it’s all tweets, all Facebook updates, Peach notes, Slack channels, or whatever. What matters to you is that you use your platform and that you’re comfortable with it.

Let’s look at the other side, put on your publishing professional hat. Mine has a pom pom on it. Traditional publishing is going to look favorably on people with a large audience or a large potential audience (that’s called “reach”), because there’s a chance/hope that audience will go buy products they sell.

There’s no guarantee that if you’ve been self-published and have a large audience already, that a traditional publisher will come along and acquire the book and put their machine behind you, catapulting you to even bigger heights. Remember, we’re still wearing our publisher hats, so we need to consider the expense of working with a self-published author versus acquiring a new author and giving them a bit of direction and grooming.

Take off the hat now. Your platform is more your tool than anything else, because you can put anything on it. But the more erratic your content, the more undisciplined (and that’s not the same as scheduled) stream of material you produce is going to make it hard for the audience to get a handle and become interested. Mike, it’s great that you’re posting so much, and keep at it if you’re digging it, but don’t think that throwing a ton of all-0ver-the-place content out there is going to keep people coming back. Find your message, find the core idea you burn hot for, and focus on it.

Because you’re not out there video after video, post after post, repeating a sales link over and over, right?

Be a person. Yes, you’re a person who’s making stuff, and would love for people to buy that stuff, but I don’t know many people who feel comfortable building relationships with sales robots.

womanrobotcor_450x350

Some robots have all the luck.

The “community” buzzword is as much a group of people who regularly enjoy your content, as well as being the group of people you could reach and “convert” (meaning they’d buy a book). The more sales-y these buzzwords, the more I slink away with a sneer.

Think of the community as the people who you want to communicate with regularly. Treat them well, because they’re people, even if you’ve never seen their faces since you do all the word-making and they do all the reading. You grow that community not by throwing sales links out over and again, but by bringing injections of reality into your platform.

Talk about the rough writing days. Talk about the days you’re taking off to go parasailing around Costa Rica. Talk about the book fair, conference, convention you’re going to, and how you’re totally going to go all gelatinous in the knees when you meet your writing heroine. Basically, Mike, be a person who writers, not just a writer who exists among people to produce pages and receive money for them.

This isn’t to say the money isn’t there, or that it’s a hostage negotiation to liberate the dollars from wallets, but you’re going to have a way easier time doing that when you treat the audience like they’re as much a person as you are. The money will be there. I’m assuming Mike, that your MS cashes the check your query and platform write.

Everything goes out the window if that MS doesn’t work. This is why I say over and over that the MS has to be in its best shape possible before you go query, and in addition to editing and beta reading, another form of shaping up that MS is holding yourself accountable to that platform. Say you’re going to do something, then do it. No, I’m not perfect at this at all. I suck quite a bit at doing this. I say I’m going to do a ton of things, and forget about half of them until I randomly look at my Dropbox and say. “Oh yeah, I was going to break down Jessica Jones, wasn’t I?”

Here’s a great way to think about reach – Do I come across as someone who has a passion/skill to produce something that people would want to buy?

Here’s a great way to think about platform – Do I comfortably (because if you hate doing something, you won’t be likely do it often, see: holiday resolutions) discuss and share my creativity and passion in ways that encourage other people to take an interest and communicate their own creativity and passion back to me?

Here’s a great way to think about conversion – If I keep doing what I’m doing in the way I’m doing it, will people want to exchange money for what I’m doing, or do I need to change the way I get the word about what I’m doing?

Here’s a great way to think about audience – They’re people. I’m people. I can’t control how each and every person will respond, so all I can control is how well I do my work and how openly I communicate and share it. I do me, they do them, we all get together and benefit over common intersections.

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Mike, I hope that answered you question. Thanks so much for asking it. I’ll see you guys Friday for more bloggity goodness.

Happy writing.

 

InboxWednesday – Writer’s Market, Brands&Platform, and Twitter

Good morning everyone. Hope you’re doing well. Welcome back to #InboxWednesday, where I answer questions emailed or tweeted at me. Today, we’re doing 3 questions, all about things writers can do to help their writing.

If you’ve got a question, ask it.

John, what’s the Writer’s Market and is it a big deal? – Aimee

Aimee, this is the Writer’s Market.

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I’m not a fan of the mint green color.

It’s like a phone book for publication. In its 820 pages are listings for magazines, book publishers, literary agents, trade journals, and contests. In earlier editions they had a lovely chart of rates and prices for jobs, replaced now by articles about earning an income, writing queries, and book proposals. To be honest, I preferred the list of rates. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to talk costs if you’re also going to talk about income opportunities. Still, it’s a useful book for when you’re looking for destinations for that manuscript.

Now, it is the Deluxe version, which does mean there’s a not-deluxe version, and this is that moment where I point out that you want to spend the dollars for the Deluxe Version. The one-year access to the online database is critical if you’re trying to get your MS out the door. Also, it’s often more accurate than the text.

It’s not that the text is completely wrong, just remember that this book was an MS itself, and that means it’s possible that since going to print some of the people and businesses listed might not be available anymore. The online database tends to be more current and more accurate. Also, it’s 2016, an online database should be standard for any resource.

The book runs about $50 on Amazon for the Deluxe, $30 for the standard. Save your pennies and go Deluxe, your MS deserves it.

Using it is super easy: You find the appropriate section of whatever info you’re looking for (let’s say you wanted to write for Montana Magazine, because you like big Buttes and you cannot lie), and read about what they accept (non-fiction, no more than a 1000 words per piece on average it seems) and how they accept it (email, after you query with a sample and an SASE). It’s worth noting these lines: Responds in 6 months to queries & Pays $.20/word.

This knowledge allows you to bang out some simple math (an 800 word essay on rocks would pay you $160) and put together a calendar (if you submit in July while on vacation, you can get a reply when you carve your Thanksgiving turkey). Knowing how much you’ll get paid and when you can communicate with people, combined with the fact that you can do this everyday with hundreds or thousands of opportunities can pack your writing schedule and strengthen your writing ability. Also, you’ll get rhinoceros quality skin from the rejections. Big wins all around.

Hi John! I’m a new author, I mean I’m trying not to call myself aspiring, and I have been reading a lot of blogs. I see a lot of people talk about brands and platforms. I don’t know what they are, but they seem important. Do I need a platform? How do I get one?  – Mary

Mary, this question has a lot of moving parts, so let’s go step by step.

A brand is an image, it’s an idea packaged and presented in a particular way or with a certain sensibility. As a writer, your voice and the work you do is your brand. The Mary brand is characterized by certain things that draw an audience to you, and no matter what story you’re telling, you’ve left specific fingerprints on it. (Maybe you love sentence fragments, or all your sidekicks have eyepatches, whatever)

Mary, brands are for cattle and jeans. You can’t boil down an author to a few regular habits or pigeonhole them due to genre and expect an accurate picture of who the author is and how their work is. This isn’t like producing the same material over and over again, so that batch 10 is just like batch 573. Writing is an art with growth inherent in it, so I want to see a change in products over time. I want characters to develop. I want plots to grow complex. I want to see writers get better at what they do.

Anything you put your name on is, to some degree, your brand. You can spend an obscene amount of time thinking about it as if your brand is under fire and in need of preservation or not. (Hint: It’s not) Do the best you can do, push yourself, stretch yourself, and let someone else ascribe a “brand” to you.

A platform is the way you broadcast yourself. Maybe that’s a website. Maybe that’s a blog. Maybe that’s social media. Maybe it’s a combo platter.

Don’t panic. Platforms are for standing on, or if we’re talking video games, jumping on while trying to avoid getting attacked by stupid digital ninjas. Giving the author one more thing to worry about, one more thing to divide their attention and increase anxiety is not conducive to making the most out of what a platform can do. You just want to write and then talk about stuff.

Yes, platforms are important. But they’re not more important than the act of writing. Loads of writers fall into that rabbit hole where they spend hours and days talking about writing, talking about marketing writing, talking about critiquing writing, and critiquing the talking about marketing of writing, that they skip the part where they should be writing.

Yes, you need to tell other people that you’ve written a thing, or that you’re writing a thing currently. You need to tell people where and how they can acquire what you’ve made if your goal is to earn income from making the thing. The platform is how you do that.

Having one is easy. Blogs are free. Social media is free. You can teach yourself to write concisely for Twitter. You can connect your blog to Google+. You can make time, like that 15 minutes while you eat that muffin and drink your coffee, to tweet about what you’re going to do today. Writing a tweet is barely a few sentences, and even if you labor over them, do you really think it will take all 15 of your allotted minutes?

You can broadcast what you’re doing while you’re still doing it. I said I was going to blog, and here I am, writing this blogpost. When I’m done, I’ll tweet again. It’s up to you to define and carry out a schedule that works for you. The platform is under your control, not the other way around.

Start small. A few tweets. A simple blog you update regularly and consistently. What do you put on it? How about regular updates as to your word count, or maybe the good news that you bought a Writer’s Market and made a list of 7 publishers you want to query before the month is over? If you’re about to ask me where you find the time, I’m going to ask you if you really need to be watching that TV show, really playing that game of solitaire and/or how seriously you’re pursuing getting your MS done and out the door. Make the time, even just a few minutes. Seriously. Yes, you can tweet just before you floss. I won’t tell.

Hey John, I’m on Twitter and have no idea where to start. What do I do?

I love Twitter. I would marry Twitter and our lives would fall into a glorious debauched decay. Yes, there’s a lot of complaining about the future of Twitter, that they’ll do away with its two principle elements (concision and chronology), and maybe that will change my mind on it later, but for now, I think the world of the microblogging format.

Treat Twitter like those telegrams you see on TV. You’re writing short, tight little ideas down and broadcasting them to people. You want to tell them that you’re working on chapter 11, you want to tell people that you’re tired of feeling you’re not good enough, you want to tell people that the secret to a really good cake is slipping some instant pudding into your batter, you’ve got 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) to do so.

Twitter’s impact is not in its follower count (the number of people who will see what you tweet when you tweet it), but in its brevity. It forces strong and clear word choice. It forces punch. A weak ramble of a sentence, a mush of words, isn’t going to make sense to people, nor will it move them. It’ll just be another bit of palaver, in between all the other applesauce spit out into the world.

That said, it can be an open window into your world. It can invite creepy guys, harassment, anger, morons, hatred, bigotry, distraction, violence, or tedium. True, it doesn’t have the greatest methods for walling yourself off from that, but the whole Internet doesn’t have great walls from that. You have the ability though to do better than software – you can make active and deliberate choices to engage or ignore. You can protect yourself rather than cower. Or, my personal preference, you can not let that stop you, not assume that the worst of the universe is somehow waiting for you because you’re just you, and the world is not out to get you or silence you from all of time and space. It’s a tool, and it can be abused, by others and by yourself

Yes, you can totally misuse it. Tweet over and over that you’re selling something? People are going to get very tetchy and then choose to stop following you. Use a lot of automated software to bait people into weird salesy conversations and you’ll find that many people won’t respond. Tweet infrequently to solicit or sound desperate (often for sales, are you seeing a pattern here in this paragraph?) and you’ll have a hard time being a person people want to parlay with.

There’s a reason it’s called “social media.” You can use it to socialize. Communicate about not just the work. Why not? Why not tell the world that in addition to writing a great action scene today, you also have a turkey roasting in the oven?

If you’re about to say, “Who cares about that?”, I shall respond with, “Who are you to determine what someone else will care about it, and who is it hurting for you to talk about dinner and how good your house smells?”

Start your Twitter adventures by following people. Follow editors (like me, or Amanda or Jeremy), follow writers (like Chuck or Delilah or Stephen King), follow whoever you want (like him or her or this guy or grape jelly or that lady). Read what they have to say, talk to other people. Communicate. Share. Repeat this process until you’re happy with who you communicate with.

You can do this.


Looking ahead to my Friday schedule,  we’re going to be talking about promoting yourself and your work. See you then. Enjoy your Wednesday.

Happy writing.

The “Are You Ready To Get Published” Checklist, John-style

There’s been a lot of talk about self-publishing about it being good or it sucking or it being the salvation of stories or the whatever-it-is-to-whomever-needs-it. And because at the moment, it’s a pretty expedient route to getting something published (in this context, I mean getting something into a format or structure where someone else can consume it, sometimes in exchange for money), that means lots of people can write something and put it out for people to come running like thirsty animals at the watering hole.

This also presents an interesting wrinkle in that when people don’t come running, as if you’re Prometheus delivering fire (as opposed to Prometheus delivering a terrible movie), you get to bitch about. Loudly. Frequently. On social media. In public. At workshops. At conventions. To your dog. To any human who lucks into your path.

Further, it gives a tease of pleasure, as if there’s more to come later, when those first sales trickle in. And then like the Muppet, you start counting sales. One, Two, Three (ah ha haa) sales. Maybe you get up to like 40 or 400 over the course of a month or a quarter or however you obsessively slam the refresh on your browser. And that pleasure is narcotic. I can speak about the joys of narcotic rushes. I can tell you just how addictive it is to feel good. I can also tell you that you will do stupid things (like bitch on twitter, or pick fights with authors or editors or agents) to get another hit. I mean, in a publishing sense. I guess you could sell your stuff for book sales, or commit sex acts in alleyways for pageviews. I never really thought about that. (Now I can’t help but think of a sign that says, “Will swallow for blog hits” and expect one of those websites to scoop it up in a hot minute)

All this is divisive and great for fomenting argument and message board chatter. And it obscures the facts:

  1. People are going to write things.
  2. Some of those things are going to exist in stages where the manuscripts are rife with errors, either within the context of the story (cliched characters, plot holes, stuff like that) and also with the words and structure (spelling, grammar and punctuation errors)
  3. People want to get published.
  4. There are lots of ways to get published, or more broadly, get people to pay for things you’ve written.
  5. Some people are going to see one way to get published as superior to another, either because of things involved in getting published that way (agents, labels on books, etc) or because of expedience (upload a file, start “selling it”) or because of some other thing I’m not aware of but I’m sure someone will tell me about once this post goes up on the blog.
  6. If you rush to publication, regardless of route, you may encounter difficulty in the form of rejections or negative feedback because your manuscript may have any/all errors described in #2.
  7. You may get your work(s) published and still require a day job.
  8. You may have to publish several books/things in order to get some sort of income that you can live on consistently without fear of financial dire straits.
  9. Not every thing you write needs to be or is going to be published.
  10. Editors who aren’t you (or aren’t immediately related to you and are therefore biased) are useful to developing your work and your ability to produce that work, even if you’re focusing on a route to publication that puts editing after a submission and acceptance process.
  11. Not many people agree on the “best” course of action.
  12. Lots of people espouse all manner of philosophy, panicked thoughts, emotional reactions and BS statistics to try and persuade or dissuade people from certain actions or avenues in publishing.

Now, I’m sure I’ve forgotten loads of things because I’m writing this late at night when I’m tired, but I think I’ve put down some nice basics there. To that end, here’s a nice checklist you can use to help you produce whatever it is you’re doing.

Question 1

Is your manuscript complete? Before we go anywhere else, the thing you’re writing has to be done. And by “done” I mean the particular manuscript has to be finished, that you’re not adding more to it or fiddling with it. Even it’s a part of a series, this book (whatever number it is) has to be a whole book. Sure, it can end on a cliffhanger. Sure, it can leave some parts of a greater plot unanswered. But by itself, it has to be a complete story. However long that is. However many words. Complete.

Sub-Questions under Question 1

Does your manuscript have a main character that we can easily pick out and follow through the course of the story? A story needs a protagonist. The audience has to have some character we follow more than all the others (yes, even in an ensemble story where you have a group of characters together), so that they can see the plot and the character(s’) response to it. If there’s no clear protagonist (as in The Phantom Menace, several films from the ’70s and anything I wrote while in college), then audience won’t have an easy access point to the story, which means they won’t be as invested as they could be, and that may mean they put the book down to pick up something else. (And that’s not ideal if you want a stable audience or good reviews or repeat sales.)

Are your characters NOT stereotypes, cliches, “Mary Sues”, overpowered unchallenged uber-folk or one-dimensional cardboard? Here we can talk about the character spectrum. If you’ve got characters that are ‘too’ anything (too perfect, too beautiful, too good for the challenge of the plot, too troubled as to be unmotivated, etc), as per above, people aren’t going to have an access point into your story and created world. They don’t need to be super flawed either, it’s more about writing characters that someone somehow and in some way can relate to.

Did you spell-check it? Seriously, in my writing program of choice, spell-check is a pretty accessible, either by a menu or a keystroke. Use it. It shows respect to your readers and helps solidify the impression that you actually give a damn about what you create and didn’t just rush to stick your name on something in the hope that money would soon thereafter follow.

Is there a plot? And are you getting to that plot within the first twenty pages? A story needs a reason or a conflict or a crisis or a problem that the characters can solve. It makes the reader feel things, it creates a sense of “will this work out for our heroes” and generally gives the book a point to being read. The sooner you can introduce the plot and its effects on the protagonist(s), the sooner we can get into following their efforts to do something about it. Bloating the story up front with details because “you need to know this in order to understand stuff later” doesn’t demonstrate that you’ve paced or planned the story out, and in a way tells me that you’re more concerned with your telling the story than my liking it. (Sort of like a party where the person cares more about the praise or attention being paid to their storytelling rather than the story’s reception or the listeners’ enjoyment – are you writing just to show that you can do it?) Lastly, does this plot build to a climax and then resolve? Yes, even if you’re writing a series, each component needs an internal structure and not just act as setup to books later “when you’ll really get into it”. I don’t want to get into it later, four books from now. I bought this book, I want to get into it NOW.

Question 2

Since your manuscript is complete, have you formatted it according the particular requirements of the route it’s going to take in publishing? Just about every way to publish a story requires it be formatted a different way. Some places want it formatted with certain spacing and margins. Others want a particular file format. This isn’t just caprice. Formatting it a certain way shows that not only can you (a) follow directions but also (b) that you give a damn about the thing you’ve created, and you want to give it the best possible shot at getting out into the world. If you don’t know how to format it for your particular publishing method, ask someone affiliated with that method or check online, nearly everywhere has ‘Submission Guidelines’ or an email address where you can talk to someone about it. And when you actually get those guidelines, follow them. Being a rebel here doesn’t do you any favors, and often leads to your work being rejected since you didn’t follow directions. (For example if Company X wants the document formatted a certain way, with inches and spacing, chances are it’s for easier reading and quick printing. Not helping Company X read your thing is not going to help Company X say yes to you.)

Question 3

If you’re going to engage an agent or publisher, have you queried them? And if so, did their response say “Please send us stuff?” Again, we get to the importance of following directions and doing yourself a favor and putting your best foot forward. Imagine for a minute that we’re not talking about books, but something more practical – let’s say you’re making a snack chip. If you want me to buy your chip and tell my friends to buy your chip, are you going to let me test one chip to see if I like it, or are you going to assume that I’ll automatically like it because you (who I don’t know) made it, and you’ve gone ahead and made me a whole giant bag? The query letter is that test chip. It helps set up the dialog and relationship between agent and writer, so that communication (like spice) can flow and deals can be struck. And just like the start of any relationship, coming on too strong is a great way to get yourself rejected. Don’t throw whole bags of chips at people, invite them to make up their own mind with a test chip. Then see where things go.

Question 4

Are you on social media? Are you available somewhere on the Internet, in terms of contact information or some other repository of your thoughts and stuff? I’m not saying you need to be all up on every form of social media. You don’t need to be an Instagram junkie or go crazy with Vines and know the difference between Tinder and Tumblr. But you are going to need some kind of spot on the Internet where people (people interested in talking to you about you and your stuff) can reach you. For me, that’s Twitter and this blog. Yeah, there’s some Facebook too, but not so much anymore. Notice how I didn’t ask about your personal life or about your family or your financial habits or whether or not you’ve got pictures of your kids I can see. Having a presence on social media DOES NOT MEAN you need to show everything to everyone all the time. You choose to show and share what you want, with the caveat that it’s called “social” media and not “I only whore my work and provide links to buy things” media. Social means you can and should expect interactions with other humans, some of whom you’ll agree with and some you won’t, and some of whom will like your work and some who won’t. Growing some thick skin isn’t a bad idea, but it’s applesauce if you think you need to wear plate armor against everyone. The nice thing is that a lot of social media is free (and this blog isn’t all that pricey either, I think it’s like $18 a year or so.)

Question 5

Did you get some people to look at your work? Did “some people” include professionals who can point out errors and issues with your creation? When you write a thing, people are excited. Maybe they’re a little envious. Maybe they just want to see you do well. Who knows. Their reasons are their own. And chances are it’s not hard to find people who want to read your stuff. Friends. Family. Relationships. Co-workers. Maybe you expand by getting librarians or bloggers. Maybe you have a writing group and you take their feedback weekly or monthly. They’re all great resources for encouragement and on-the-spot help. But have you considered getting a professional to help you? Sure, those other people are giving you free advice on some night or an afternoon, and the professional is going to cost you money, but remember how we’ve been talking about doing all you can to put your best foot forward? Getting an editor (and later, beta readers) to apply their expertise (that’s what you’re paying for with professionals) to help your work be the best it can be?

Sub-Question under Question 5

Are you relying too heavily on the editorial process after an expected acceptance? Yes, if you go by some routes in publishing, the editing of your manuscript happens after you sign some paperwork and have been accepted as an author-under-contract. It can really tempting to hold off on editing your manuscript until that part, because it’s going to a pro, and that’s they’re job and it’s out of your hands. Yes, it is out of your hands. But do you think your work is the only thing they’re doing? That they don’t have deadlines or pressure from their bosses to get a certain amount done? And do you think that even at that level they can’t say no to you and say, “This thing is a mess and a nightmare, let’s go back to like square 2”? Publishing in its many incarnations is a marathon, not a windsprint. The better condition your work is in before the race kicks off, the better it’ll hold up to all the rigors your work is going to face.

Question 6

Are you prepared to handle the numbers? I don’t often talk about my own numbers, but I’ll give you some here. I have a series of small monographs available on Smashwords, and to date, they’ve earned me about $34. Thirty-four dollars. Contrast that to my editing income, which is about three thousand times times greater (tax brackets kicked my ass), give or take a percent. Granted, I talk way more about editing novels and games and content than I do about writing my own stuff, and even my own fiction production has slowed since more and more I’m editing to pay bills and live, but thirty-four dollars fills my car up with gas ONCE, or buys me 5 burritos. That’s not a lot, but I’m grateful for it. Writing, in terms of being a writer that produces book upon book, that’s a job, and that means contending with things like sales numbers and expectations and the cost of living or what you’re comfortable owning or not owning.

Question 7

Can you do it more than once? Maybe writing is just something you want to say you tried one time. Maybe it’s to honor a promise or just a goofy thing you started ages ago and now you’re just seeing where it goes. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe you’re writing things because that’s your retirement. Or because your career is going to put your kids through college. Or because this is what you’ve always wanted to do, so out of your apartment in your city, you write ferociously and still make time to do things like go grocery shopping. Chances are that once you’re published, someone somewhere is going to ask or expect you to do it again. Now if you’re planning a series of books, this is a given. But if you’re just lobbing one word-grenade out there, someone’s going to want you to have extras handy. Which means writing more, possibly faster than you did the first time, and possibly on a schedule and deadline other than your own (especially if you didn’t read that contract you signed too carefully). Ready to do it again?

* * *

I write this not to draw a line in any sand and say “Publish this way and not that way.” I think the “hybrid” model, where you do whatever works best for the project is ideal, even if it means you straddle “fences”. I do think that even work that goes out to agents and publishers can stand to edited, and I do think it’s critical we start pointing out emperors that have no clothes on and talking more about what makes for good writing and not just good sales. I do think sales are a consequence of a well-made product, and I know you can point to tons of material that’s well-made but sold poorly, but I think it’s also time we change our collective thinking about how we perceive writing as art and craft. I think we need to do all we can to produce the best not so that we can demand fat checks, but so that we can bring our stories to people who want them, and we do so with the best polish and construction possible.

I take a lot of heat for saying “You should be writing everyday.” and I’m still going to say it. Because I do think ANYONE can take ten minutes to write down an idea so they don’t forget, then take ten minutes the next day to write a little more, and then a little more the next day. Some people get on my about my privilege, that I’m discounting peoples’ responsibilities. I’m not. I don’t have the same responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean I’m not cognizant of the fact that hours of a person’s day gets consumed by other things. I’m not asking for hours a day. It’d be nice, I think practicing a craft works best when you devote time to it, but even ten minutes regularly counts. 10 minutes. That’s not much. Can you do more? Then do it. Write. Create. A little at a time. If you feel that it deserves more, or that you should be giving it more because 10 minutes is unfair or sounds like I’m yanking your chain, that’s on you. I do think it deserves more. I do think you should do it at least an hour as often as possible. I do think it should be taught more (and better) in schools, and I do think that words can elevate and change minds. I don’t understand how people can ask me “to understand”, when they just tell me I’m being privileged or I don’t know what it’s like. I admit I don’t. Now just tell me how you can say writing or making a thing is as important as you claim when you’re not regularly making time to do it?

Go write things. Produce art. Art hard.

Happy writing.

The Self-Promotion Waltz

Good morning. 

I’ve stared at the screen long enough, toying between two posts – one about myself, which I don’t really think I’m able to get out for public consumption yet, and this one, something more focused on work. Later today or tomorrow, I’ll put up my Metatopia schedule (which will include some panels I think you should attend, even if they’re not mine). 

Today, I want to talk more about promoting yourself. Sure, you can call it “talking about your work” or “hyping your creating” or whatever, but no matter the subject of your creation, it comes down to the fact that at some point, either someone is going to ask what you’re doing, or if you want to make a sale of something you’ve created, you’re going to have to tell people what you’ve done. 

First, let’s come at this from a really broad perspective – is it selfish? Is it vain or arrogant to “take over” a conversation and “make it all about you”? 

Wait, let’s look at your word choice, because in those words you have expressed some powerful assumptions. Just because you’re talking about what you do, you can’t assume you’re going to monopolize whatever conversation, any more than if you normally hog the chatty spotlight when discussing anything else (though if you are a spotlight hog, practice your listening skills). And just because you’re talking about what you do or have done, doesn’t mean it’s all about YOU. Because you’re not speaking at length about the arduous process, how you taxed yourself and how hard you struggled and art-ed, and instead are keeping the focus on the item produced, right? If you’re saying all that you’re saying to curry sympathy or pity or attention, then yes, you’re just being arrogant. Get out of your own way and talk about what you did, not who you are. The work itself will reveal who you are as people read, observe and appreciate/dissect it. 

With that out of the way, let’s talk about crunch. Let’s look at where you do these things, and how you do them. 

I list now for you my favorite places to promote my work, in my order of preference. And the only reason I prefer them in this order is because this is a rank of how frequently I check them. 

Twitter. The microblogging potential of a real-time conversation, even if your messages are at most 140 characters, is astounding. You can get nearly real-time feedback, and easily start or perpetuate conversations with all manner of people, professional and otherwise across a huge number of fields. (My twitter stream, readable thanks to a program called Janetter, is packed with game designers, authors, video game people, celebrities, chefs, and alt-models. You can get really diverse in who you read.) 

Signing up is easy and free, and if you don’t know what to talk about, I recommend you start by following people who you later want to talk to – or who you’d ideally like to talk to once you’re a much bigger deal than you already are. Who would you love to talk to about anything? Want to occasionally swap recipes or snarky comments with authors you respect? Want to argue about the merits of Batman with giant nerds? Want to enjoy a spirited discussion of writing tips? Twitter is wide open for that. 

But who to follow? Follow who you want. Start with me, if you don’t know where to start, and I can turn you on to some other people. 

But what to say? Well, 140 characters is pretty good at teaching you concision. And you learn quickly what you can fit into a single tweet, and what you need to spread out over a couple. You can talk about anything you want, just understand that people can see it, so maybe Twitter isn’t the best place for you to vent any sort of -ist (racist, sexist, etc) thoughts. 

Interesting anecdote: When I first started using Twitter, I thought it was an extension of text messaging. I’d tag a single person and say something like “I’m down at the bar.”, completely oblivious to the fact that I had (at the time) 300+ followers who often made comments to me like, “Reading your tweets is like reading half a conversation from a really interesting book.” I quickly learned not to do that. 

How do you use Twitter? Is there a “best practice”? No, that’s really up to you. But I can tell you want to avoid:

a) Do not only use twitter to drop links to sell your stuff. The purpose of social media is to partner your creative efforts with your personality and to put a text-face to your work. If all you do is tweet a link over and over again, it’s harder to get followed, engage you in conversation or consider you anything more than a tacky shill.

b) Do not use when you’re really upset. Okay, so I have mental health issues. I don’t hide them. I don’t run from discussing them. And from time to time, either because of the issues or because of how the issues impact and frame my experience, I get upset. And upset leads sometimes to rather dark and morose thoughts or intense skeins of paranoia. Either of those two elements are not really conducive to social media discussions. So when I’m feeling way down or absolutely terrified (regardless of its rationality), I don’t really tweet. Caveat: I suck at following this rule sometimes, and when I get really angry about something, I will jump on twitter and vent. And yes, I know, sometimes that bites me in the ass. I am working on it, and I do appreciate my friends who will politely but firmly remind me to get off social media when I’m feeling that way.  

Google Plus. Not limited by 140 characters. Google Plus (or G+) is a great place to have some incredible conversations. Again, it’s free and easy to sign up. The same sort of method you apply to twitter applies here as well – follow people who you’d like to talk to, follow people who are relevant to you, have constructive discussions, don’t only offer links to your work, don’t do it when you’re super emotional. But here you can talk at length. Write paragraphs. Get all your thoughts out. I’ve found it to be a remarkable resource for communication because it also offers Hangouts, free video chats that you can record and put up on Youtube. I’ve used them to be interviewed, give workshops, play games and watch seminars about everything for racial and gender inclusion to an ardent discussion about cooking. 

A blog. Consider a blog to be your home base, the beating heart of your media presence. No, don’t you dare call it a platform or a brand. You’re a person, and these are just places where people can go to see what you have to say and interact with you because of it. Blogs are, for the most part, free and require only regular upkeep (but that’s not a problem, because you’re used to writing regularly, right?). This blog used to be hosted on Blogger, and I’ve recently moved it to WordPress, mainly because I wanted a new look and a few new bells and whistles. But I could have just as easily kept it on Blogger. 

By this point someone has asked me, “But how do I build an audience?” Here’s how:

1. Write something on your blog. Get it in the best shape possible. Fix the typos, check your grammar, make sure aesthetically, it looks the way you want. 

2. Depending on the blog, you can have it automatically push the link to other sites (When I was on Blogger, it pushed to G+). There are options, likely within a Settings or Preferences or Options menu that can help you do that. Or just Google it.

2b. If you don’t auto-push content, copy and paste the link into a tweet or a post in other social media. BUT DO NOT JUST PASTE IT AND HIT THE BUTTON. Write something along with it. “Today I talk about XYZ on my blog [LINK]” and maybe if you have more space, say more. Nothing fancy, nothing outlandish. Just dependable, consistent action. 

3. Since you’re already using social media to do more than just post links, it won’t feel stiff and stilted to just drop one now and then and continue conversing or commenting as you did before. 

4. Go back to Step 1 regularly. 

So maybe now you’re saying “But John, when do the hordes of people come flocking to me? When will I get a million views and companies will send me products and I can quit my job as a whatever-it-is-you-do and just blog all the time?” 

Is that why you’re blogging? Are you just churning out thoughts, however rough, just so that you’ll get attention or so that you can give up one practice for another that you perceive to be less work? Do you think that if you somehow earn enough money or sponsorship or “credit” or whatever that writing full time (even on a blog) won’t be a job? Remember last week when I picked Agents of SHIELD apart? Those posts took HOURS to create, and that’s in addition to the editing, consulting and writing I was doing. Social media is not my replacement for work, it’s to supplement my work. Social media earns me about 80% of my jobs, with the other 20% coming from in-person networking at conventions and e-mails. 

Basically, I don’t care if I get a million hits, or a hundred, or ten. I write what I do because I have thoughts to express, and maybe someone somewhere will agree or disagree or at the very least read them. 

You may have noticed I didn’t talk about Facebook. And that’s for a couple reasons.

1) Lately, I can’t seem to get Facebook to load properly.

2) I’m not on Facebook as often or as intensely as I used to be. 

3) Facebook I really only use to communicate personally (not really work things) with my friends and family. 

I’ve also never had any great responses to calls I put out for work, or links I used for sales. I get support and encouragement, sure, but not so much on the income. So, I don’t recommend it. But, if you want to learn social media’s ins and out, Facebook can be a great training space for you to get comfortable in talking about your work or linking to your blog or whatever. Maybe your experience will be better than mine, and you can write a post about how you use Facebook to your advantage. 

Also, side note – I really hate the memes and chain messages that proliferate it. I don’t want to share a post about how great my grandmother was, I don’t really give a rat’s ass about whatever conspiracy theory a political nutjob has cooked up (there are computer chips inside vaccines that will turn us all into robots one day?), and I have no patience for cute cat photos. I don’t really even like cats. 

Do other forms of social media exist? Absolutely! There are video sites like Vine and SocialCam. There are photo sites like Instagram. All can be used in one way or another to create a conversation about what’s going on in your life, professional and otherwise. The same rules as above apply. 

Self-Promotion isn’t a crime. It doesn’t objectify or devalue you. I know some people grew up in cultures and atmospheres where you don’t talk about yourself, or worse, were made to feel that you were worthless or that you couldn’t contribute for any number of reasons, but now is a great time to change that definition, and challenge yourself to give it a try. The things I’ve referenced are free, so it’s not like you’re losing money. And if you try something, and don’t like it, stop using it. 

Sure there are tons of books about how to promote yourself, but I’m not entirely sure you need them. Social media functions best when individuated, when you learn what you’re comfortable with, when you use it in ways that feel the most supportive and encouraging. Maybe your ways aren’t my ways, and that’s awesome. 

And really, if you don’t know where to start, find me on social media (I’m on Twitter and G+) and let’s talk. 

My Metatopia schedule will be up either this afternoon or tomorrow, depending on today’s workload. 

 

Happy writing.