I resisted podcasts for a very long time. I don’t generally like talk radio, and I can’t do audiobooks* so I didn’t think I’d like podcasts either. Turns out, I was wrong. After getting kind of sick of the songs on my iPod, I decided to try “Serial.” Remember when that was a big deal? I came into it really late, but I was hooked. And once it was over, I was desperate to find new podcasts to listen to.

I mostly like entertainment podcasts. I listen to “Pop Culture Happy Hour” most weeks and “Little Gold Men” every week. (I used to listen to PCHH every week, too, but in recent weeks I’ve found the topics less compelling, and the hosts began to get on my nerves a little? I don’t know if that’s just a result of overexposure or ???)

Other podcasts I’ve enjoyed include the now defunct “Mystery Show.” And I listen to occasional episodes of “RadioLab” and “Reply All.” I like the Crack’d podcast, too, and sometimes “Bullseye” or “Fresh Air” or “Stuff You Missed in History Class.”

Still looking for some good author/book marketing podcasts. If you know of any, please comment! (I did guest on “She Wrote a Book!” a couple times, which is a nice one, but there must be more, yes?)

So. Do you listen to podcasts? If so, which ones? If not, why not? I want to hear!

*I can’t listen to audiobooks because I find I can’t absorb the story in that form. I need to see the words.

I participated in a panel that discussed politics in science fiction and fantasy. Which books (and TV shows and movies) do it well? Which don’t? And is it always necessary to have politics in SFF world building? What do you think? Have you ever read a SFF book that didn’t have any kind of politics? (I would say The K-Pro doesn’t, but it is set in contemporary England with only fantasy underpinnings, so . . . Does that count? Or would you argue the politics in that book are more about the mythology?) Lots to think about and discuss!

So I guess the latest thing going around social media is to pick three fictional characters that you feel represent you. Well, here are mine:

macgyver-pilot-cbs methos_at_joes img_0394

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left there is MacGyver. The original, not this remake thing. “Mac” was one of my nicknames in high school because I watched MacGyver and was good at physics. In the middle is Methos from the television series Highlander. That was my college nickname: Methos. Relatively quiet and mild-mannered but mean when cornered, I guess. Finally we have Sherlock Holmes. I grew up reading Sherlock Holmes stories, watching the Jeremy Brett series, and (as many of you who frequent the blog know), Young Sherlock Holmes is my all-time favorite movie. My best friend and I would play Sherlock Holmes often, and I do know how to read people. I just never know how to behave around them. Because empathy is difficult for me, I tend to go into an analytical mode instead. Makes me come off as cold sometimes. But I’m the person my friends seek out when they need an honest opinion or a new way of looking at something.

“People don’t come to me for sympathy, John. They come to me to solve problems. I don’t have to be nice about it so long as I get the job done.”

So after some neglect, I’ve managed to dust off my author profile at Goodreads. You can view it here. This blog populates there, and you can view my books and any events I’ll be attending. Come by for a visit, ask questions, etc. See you there!

An interesting conversation—if Twitter can be said to have conversations—has popped up around the hashtag “tenqueries.” This hashtag is used by agents to go through ten queries in their slush piles and give reasons for requesting material or passing. I used to read #tenqueries regularly, but I stopped when I realized I was getting rather facile information. “This concept has been done to death.” What concept? The one-line reasons for passing on something were not helpful to me without more information. I learn by example. Show me the bad writing so I can see why it’s bad.

Of course they can’t do that. I know they can’t. They can’t share someone’s work and then point out everything wrong with it. That would be like a teacher calling a student up to the front of the classroom and then mocking the way he’s dressed or something. Maybe not mocking. But even if the teacher only pointed out everything wrong with a student’s uniform—why it wasn’t up to the dress code—that student would certainly feel bad. Just as the writer who was made an example of would, even if an example could be made.

It’s a thin line.

In the end, I found #tenqueries to be voyeuristic and not terribly helpful. To sit and wonder if the agent is writing about your manuscript . . . What would be the point? You’ll know if and when you get the rejection (or request), and you’ll still never be sure whether that one tweet was aimed at you. And if you didn’t submit to that agent, what truly useful information are you getting from, “This needs more editing”? WHY does it need more editing? SHOW ME!

That’s my two cents anyway.

Are you still with me? After Jessica Strawser’s 10 lessons, I attended a panel titled The Seven (or So) Habits of Highly Effective Social Media Stars. The panel featured Oliver Jeffers, Jordan Rosenfeld, Jessica Sinsheimer, and Dana Schwartz. The panel was moderated by Zachary Petit.

They didn’t really have a numbered list, but they were at the very least highly entertaining. When asked, “Why be on social media at all to begin with?” Dana Schwartz joked that it was for validation and attention. Which is probably true. But to know you’re not the only one out there struggling to write, or query, or land an agent, or wherever you are in the process—that has value. And then, of course, you should be adding value as well. You should be giving something to the online community, whether it be advice or support or just laughs. Something that keeps people coming back, which in the long run will benefit you and your career.

Jessica Sinsheimer reiterated what we’d heard in so many sessions already: Be genuine. Cultivate a presence. Don’t be there just to sell. Oliver Jeffers said, “You can tell when someone is faking or pretending.”

The moderator then asked about Social Media Don’ts. Dana Schwartz answered that you shouldn’t make political tweets if you’re a racist or a bad person in general. “Keep that to yourself.” Jessica Sinsheimer elaborated on that, noting that agents will look you up to see if you’re someone they want to connect and work with. If you seem angry or negative online, they’ll strike you off their list.

At the same time, Jordan Rosenfeld said, “People go online to escape, so don’t be too real.” It seems to be a fine line.

Oliver Jeffers said, “Don’t get in public arguments, and don’t tweet while drunk.”

So what are some Best Practices then?

Per Jordan Rosenfeld: Follow back. Make various lists to keep up with all the different people. And do LitChat (which is both an account you can follow on Twitter as well as a hashtag).

Jessica Sinsheimer said to only do the things you’re genuinely excited to do. If Twitter isn’t it, don’t be on Twitter. And she said to be a good Internet citizen. Help people out. People might not remember exactly what you say, but they’ll remember how you make them feel (to paraphrase a famous quote).

Nothing surprising in all this, really, but reminders never hurt.

The Friday sessions were over, and I took my overstuffed head up to my room to freshen up before going in search of dinner. On the way back down, I ran into author/presenter Steven James in the elevator. I asked him how the conference was going, and he gave me a curious look. It was then I realized I was no longer wearing my badge. I told him I was done for the night; he admitted he’d hidden for a good part of the day himself, only appearing for his panels, and was now on the way down to the mixer. As we were chatting, another attendee got into the elevator and immediately began gushing when she saw Mr. James. Wow, I thought, I hope someone is that excited to see me one day.

I mentioned to Mr. James that I myself would be doing a couple panels in October. “My first time on the other side of the table,” I said. He was happy to give some advice. “Be funny,” he told me. “The audience wants the interaction, so entertain them.” Sure enough, I heard from other conference goers later in the weekend that Mr. James had been so funny on his panels.

He left to brave the crowds, and I went out to buy a hairbrush (because I’d forgotten to pack mine) and a burrito from a local food cart. Was a really good dinner. I ate it in my room while watching lightning play over Central Park.

Okay, but you’re here for more tidbits from the sessions, right. Well I started Saturday with Fauzia Burke, who spoke on Three Ways to Build a Successful Author Platform. She’s the founder of FSB Associates, which funnily enough is one of the companies that sometimes sends me books to review.

First off, Ms. Burke noted you need to know where your audience is online. For example, when considering my YA fantasy Manifesting Destiny, I need to figure out where readers of YA fantasy are hanging out online. Which blogs do they frequent? Which social media platforms do they use? (I suspect this is one reason it’s been so difficult to get The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller off the ground; those readers aren’t really hanging out on Twitter.)

Ms. Burke also did a nice job of defining author platform, which sounds much scarier than it is. She says, “It’s a way of showing a publisher or agent that you can bring readers to your book.” So yes, those numbers of Likes and Followers are important. However, every publisher and agent has a different idea of how many are enough, and even if you don’t have many, if you write a great book they’re not necessarily going to turn it down just because you aren’t on Snapchat.

Here, then, is Fauzia Burke’s Formula for Success:

Design + Engagement + Visibility = Book Marketing Success

And you have to do it in that order! So let’s break it down.

Design

This is how we represent ourselves without words. Authors are word people, so this can be tricky for them. But a Princeton study showed that people take only 1/10th of a second to form a first impression about something or someone, and there are no words involved in that! Your author photo, your book jacket, your website all need to make a great first impression.

Engagement

This is about being likable online and building trust with potential readers. According to Burke, likable people do these things:

  • Ask questions
  • Are honest
  • Don’t seek attention
  • Are consistent
  • Smile

One thing I heard repeatedly over the weekend is that you need to be genuine online. People can always sniff out when you’re being fake. Now that doesn’t mean spew acid when you’re having a bad day, but it’s important to come across as human.

Quality is more important than quantity, too. If you post every hour but it’s all junk, no one will want to follow you. If you only post a couple times a week but it’s quality information or very entertaining, you’ll win a lot of readers.

“Seek connection, not attention,” one attendee noted. There is a difference! You’re not a one-person show, even if you feel like the limelight is on you. You’re more a moderator or a nexus, a place where things and people come together. It’s a conversation, not a lecture.

As for consistency, the key is not to disappear between book releases. You can’t just pop up to demand that people buy your book and then disappear again. You shouldn’t be demanding that people buy your book in any case. Be a regular presence and maintain a posting schedule for your blog and newsletter. You may post more frequently around a book launch, but don’t inundate either.

In short, a smaller community that is active and engaged is way more valuable than a bunch of empty Likes and Follows that don’t actually connect.

Visibility

  • Blogs
  • Publicity/Advertising
  • Distribution
  • Events

You need to begin building your platform the moment you have an idea for a book. But if you already have books out, never fear. You can still build on that.

Start a blog before the book is out. Your blog will actually be a writing sample of sorts, proving to readers that you know how to write and showcasing your style. Posts of 700–1000 words are shown to be most effective. And don’t just post on your personal site; try to get clips and essays posted elsewhere, too. That will help drive readers to your page as they discover you in various other places.

The publicity and advertising steps up in the months prior to book release. Spread the word! And continue to do so once the book is out.

Distribution and events are for when the book is out as well. Figure out what works and focus on those things. Re-assess your efforts every three months so they don’t grow stale.

At this point the Q&A began. Someone asked about writing under various pen names for different genres. Burke advises against it. She says it quickly becomes too much for any one person to keep up with. “It’s amazing that you’re able to do so many different things! Embrace it!”

And regarding keeping up with social media, Burke says to pick the one or two things you can consistently do. In other words, don’t start a blog if you know you can’t keep up with it. Same for Tumblr, Instagram, etc.

Someone asked how often you should post to your site or blog. Burke says once every couple weeks, or more importantly, when you have something to say. It may not be exact, though readers do like knowing when to check in. But it’s natural to have times when you’ll have more posts than others. So long as you do have posts often enough to make it worthwhile for the readers. Otherwise they’ll stop visiting your site.

I’m relieved to hear I haven’t made a huge mistake by putting my name on books of a variety of genres! And I need to reconsider my fallow Tumblr and patchy Instagram. What about you? Do you have wayward social media accounts? Where do you most like to connect with readers and authors?

(You can visit other Insecure Writers by clicking on the IWSG link on the sidebar.)

What am I insecure about these days? A lot of things! Peter is due out in a few short months, and so of course I’m worried about reviews and how well it will do. I’m also worried about being able to write a sequel. I’ve dabbled with it a bit, have a couple pages written and a vague notion of the plot, but it’s all still very amorphous, like a cloud with no clear shape.

I’m insecure about finding a place for Changers, and about writing more Sherlock Holmes stories. Can I keep three series going? (The Holmes stories, the Peter Stoller series, and the Changers series?)

And I’m insecure about how I will come off in a recent podcast interview I did. Like, I’m excited for having done it and simultaneously worried I’ll sound like an idiot or a nut job or something. Sigh.

The more I have going on, the more paralyzed I begin to feel. It means I have to be (gasp!) disciplined and have to (double gasp!) prioritize. I never had any trouble with it when I worked in publishing because we had set deadlines. But when you’re working for yourself, unless you have a publisher breathing fire on your neck . . . And if you do, never complain about it—you’re lucky.

I know I’m capable. I can do it. I just need to organize myself. And some encouragement wouldn’t hurt either. I heard from a reader this week, and it was just lovely that she took the time to say she’s been enjoying my Sherlock Holmes stories. Stuff like that makes me want to keep going, even when I’m feeling insecure and stuck.

(For the list of challenge topics, see the post onmy Facebook page.

1. Five problems with social media

The chief problem I see with social media is that it’s a lot of people “talking” (posting) and not many listening.

The second problem I see with it is somewhat related to the first. It’s that, of the people who are listening, they mostly agree with you. You’re preaching to the choir. Now, there’s something nice about knowing there are other people out there like you—you belong, you’re not alone—but at the same time, we’re reinforcing one another in bad ways just as much as good ones.

Problem #3 may be that social media can keep us from going out and dealing with people face to face. We’ve become a society that connects largely through technology. Again, the worldwide reach is marvelous, but we’re losing our people skills in favor of computer ones.

The fourth problem is that our online manners are not always good. Somehow, because we’re not dealing with people IRL (see #3), we think it’s okay to behave badly. We’re dicks to one another. Not all of us, and not all the time, but . . . Yeah. A lot of people use the mask of the Internet to spew hatred and be mean.

Finally, and I mentioned this in yesterday’s post, social media is addictive. It lights up the reward part of our brains when we get feedback on something we’ve posted. It becomes a time suck and we become far less productive.

Come back tomorrow for the next challenge topic: Your earliest memory. Hmm . . .