WDC16 #10

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.

WDC16 #6

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?

IWSG: ALL THE THINGS!

(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.

30-Day Writing Challenge: Day 1

(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 . . .

New Tricks

I’m not an early adopter. By which I mean, it takes me a while to warm to new technology and/or upgrades. If what I’m using works for me, I hesitate to throw my groove off by having to possibly learn all new modes of working.

Yet as an author I’m told I must engage in all the latest. A Facebook page, a Twitter account, Instagram, etc. And the more I use these and get comfortable with them, the more I enjoy them. (Also, they’re addictive. I’m pretty sure studies have shown that. We all want our dose of gratification served up as “Likes” and “Retweets” and whatnot. It’s just like the lab rat pushing the button to get its cheese.)

So here is an article on social media for authors (or, specifically, updates that might help authors), and now I’m wondering if I should add Snapchat to my roster. Sigh. Who has the time to write any more when there’s all this to keep up with?

Google’s New Logo

Not that it matters. But for some reason I feel compelled to talk about it. So did The New Yorker.

My husband told me Google had a new logo, and I got interested. Then I saw it. And it just isn’t that new. They changed the typeface. That’s about it. Same colors. The “e” even still has that same slant to it. Just no more serifs.

And I just really hate it when something is billed as “new” and then it’s not. That’s false advertising. That’s like getting a kid excited for dessert and then telling them the dessert is watermelon. Watermelon is fine, but it’s not what one thinks of when hearing the word “dessert.” So just be honest about it.

Google seems to think it’s got a new identity now, but not really. Watermelon gets set on the dessert table and says, “Look! I’ve got a new identity! I’m a dessert!” And guess what? We all look at it and go, “No, man, you’re still just a melon.”

Stories Are Important

I don’t think it can be done in a sentence.

Stories are important because we step into them and stand back at the same time. Stories are a liminal space, a threshold.

You know how we define ourselves by first defining others? That is the function of stories. The ancient myths taught people how to behave. You don’t, for example, cut a visitor’s legs off after offering him a bed to sleep in. We don’t do that, this myth told the Greeks. And we take retribution on those who don’t follow the rules of hospitality. This is fair and just.

Stories now do much the same, though on grander scales. We read and identify. This is the right thing to do, we say to ourselves. Yes, that’s a smart way to act. Or: No! Don’t do that! We are invested, but from a safe distance.

Liminal spaces are not meant to be inhabited indefinitely. We pass through them. They are fleeting. Stories are the same. We pass through them, sometimes many times because we really want to stay. But we cannot. That is part of their charm. A holiday is no longer a holiday if you stay. A story is no longer a story if you never come out of it. (Then it’s dementia or something, I suppose.)

Stories are important. There is no sentence to finish. One could list a lot of reasons, but there is no need. Stories are important. Period.

Now on Facebook!

I’ve finally bitten the bullet and created an official Facebook page. Really, what I’ve done is succumbed to pressure. Everyone says you have to have a Facebook page, but I resisted because I already keep up with Twitter, and then have this site and my reviews site, and I dabble in Instagram . . . And I have an Amazon author page, and I think there’s a Goodreads page languishing somewhere . . . So much stuff! I need a staff to keep up with it all.

But anyway, I do hope you’ll join me on Facebook. I promise not to shower you with anything more than the fun, funny, and (hopefully) meaningful. Stuff for writers, and fans of mystery and YA fantasy. And occasional updates on my own stuff. That kind of thing.

Come on. You’re already on FB anyway. Just go click “Like.”

See there? I can apply a little pressure, too. 😛

DFW Con: Social Media

Okay, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of the DFW Con sessions I attended. After the opening remarks, Me Ra Koh came out to give a talk on social media. I’ll admit, I had no idea who she was. Even though I have young ones, Me Ra was not on my radar. But she was energetic, which was a good way to wake up, and she gave some nice, concrete pointers for upping my social media game.

First thing: the Amazon author page. I think I have a pretty nice one, but Me Ra said to add a video to it that gives maybe an inside look at me as an author. So be prepared, because I’ll be making a video tour of Little London soon!

And of course reviews for your books are key, too. Me Ra suggests giving away books to reviewers. Maybe promise signed copies (if you have print books) to the first few people who post a review. (Maybe I’ll give away a copy of Peter when it comes out to the first person to review “Sherlock Holmes and the Monumental Horror”?)

Me Ra said that many authors want to hide. They don’t want to put themselves out there or reveal themselves as real people. This is not a problem I have; I’m a ham. I love attention. But I can agree that it’s hard to put yourselves in the line of fire, by which I mean, it’s difficult to face criticism. And every writer will. No one gets all good reviews all the time because only the lowest common denominator of work is going to please everyone. And I don’t want to be a LCD writer.

Meanwhile, what to blog about? What to put out there as content? It can’t all be about your book. You have to be providing readers with something more than a sales pitch. Me Ra says the key is to figure out what you’re about—what is your life’s theme? She gave us a huge list of possible themes and told us to circle the ones (only as many as three) that jumped out at us.

Sample themes:
Skill versus Strength
Compassion as Heroic
The Mystery of Death
Loss of a Loved One
Betrayal
Social Class
Secrecy
Coming of Age
Pitfalls of Temptation
Dangerous Knowledge
Survival
Pride
Lost Dreams
The Quest
Fate
Death and Rebirth

The list goes on and on, and is not exhaustive. Thing is, I’ve thought about this even before hearing Me Ra’s talk because I do seem to come back to similar themes in my work, and they are the themes that also occupy my real life. Ideas of destiny and “meant to be,” and also proximity to greatness, or “almost but not quite” making it. I’m not sure how I’d turn these themes into regular blog posts or whatever, but I am very aware of their prevalence in my work.

Identity, too, is a major theme for me: discovering and embracing who you really are.

Me Ra says to blog only a couple times a week but then push those posts out to Facebook and Twitter, and always include a photo. Things to blog about include:

1. Sharing excerpts from your work
2. Personal stories and anecdotes that relate to your theme(s)
3. Extras that don’t make it into the book
4. Anything that inspires you
5. Anything you can teach
6. Talking about your creative process

But DON’T ask your readers for anything. Only post once you’ve personally worked through something and can tell a complete story, rather than dumping on your readers and asking them to deal with your bad day. Avoid negativity or else no one will want to read it.

Me Ra went on to show us some ways to get Facebook to work better for us. I don’t have an author page on FB yet, but I’ll be starting one soon, and I hope you’ll all come like me! (In the meantime you can like my Tarot FB page if you want.) She says to post 8–10 times a day (you can schedule the posts to go up throughout the day) and to share others’ content because if you don’t, Facebook limits your reach. Good to know!

This was the point at which we were out of time. But I think Me Ra gave really good tips, and I appreciate her being able to kind of, sort of wake us up. Next it would be time for me to go pitch . . . The butterflies were winging it through my stomach . . .