Posts Tagged ‘Getting published’

Putting Together a Web Page / Blog Post for Your Book

June 5, 2017

Over the past several years, and particularly the past several months, I’ve shared my writing journey and my thoughts on writing, with you.  Over this time, I’ve discussed a little but about my process, my search for publication, and my various misadventures.  Today, I wanted to share something about other processes.  As you have no doubt seen from this blog, I’ve been working on this blog as a means of building a community and “marketing” myself.  I hate that word, marketing… even though that’s part of what I investigate for my daytime job.  Of course, there are benefits to marketing, if you approach it from the right way.  If you don’t “market” yourself, then nobody will know about who you are, how great you are, and the stories that you have to tell.

One of the easiest ways to share something about yourself today is via a website. The only thing you’ve seen from my website so far is my blog. That’s because I have one major thing holding me back from putting together a fuller site: visuals. I’m working on that, but I spend a lot of time researching websites through my primary employment, so I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do in order to get a successful website in place.  I was thinking about sharing some of that with you, but I decided that I should start a little smaller.  What do I need to do in order to successfully put together a blog post or a web page that specifically markets my book?  For this, I thought I’d share a process that David, my colleague, has shared with me and with our many clients.

My employer frequently shares what it would take to sell development tools to clients, so this isn’t exactly what we explain to clients (and we usually show an idea rather than tell it), but there’s a lot of crossover here.

Before we start, let’s take an example. Michael Wallace’s Quill Gordon Mysteries, because he is already doing a lot right when he introduces “The McHenry Inheritance.

Introduction

The first thing you want to do is introduce your book.  He does this with a slugline “It’s scary, and so wrong,” and then goes into the content that you’d find on the back cover.  This introduces the stakes and a few of the main characters. Mr. Wallace gives about two paragraphs of content, mostly summarizing the content of the book.  What he’s given is good.  The only thing that I might change is spending a bit more time toward the end taking a more distant view of the book.  “This is a mystery in the vein of [comparable author].” or “The McHenry Inheritance takes you on a ride through the sordid underbelly of Harperville, wherein everybody has reason to be suspicious of outsiders.”  This isn’t the best means of pulling away from the stakes, but it does leave a little more to the imagination.

If this is your only book, then it might be useful to share a little bit about you, but this is probably better left fro a dedicated “About the Author” page.  You’ll have plenty of places to share who you are, anyway.

Short Reviews

Okay, so you’re probably low on reviews if you’ve just recently released your book.  There’s ways around this.  You can ask your beta readers for some kind words (but, by all means, don’t give away their identities unless they want you to do so!).   You can wait for some positive reviews on Amazon, and then ask for permission for those.  Mr. Wallace has a review off in the corner.  It is a solid review, but he only needs a sentence or two from that review to let visitors know that his book is a worthwhile read.

If you have a positive review in your local paper, this is the ideal place to put it.  Not everybody will garner this attention in their early career, so if you have something here, might as well put it to good use.

Book Trailer

In an earlier post, I referred back to Mr. Wallace’s book trailer.  I think his trailer works on many levels.  It tells a little bit about Mr. Wallace himself, adding some credibility in the process; it talks about his process; it talks about the book itself; and, perhaps most importantly, it tells readers where they can pick up his book.

I think there’s a few nice balances Mr. Wallace makes here.  He keeps it simple, while still providing a glimpse at the setting.  He’s made a professional video, hiring professional videographers and video editors to make the short piece — I’m not saying you should go for pros every time, but he’s done so to good effect. Finally, he’s used original content.

This last little part, about original content, isn’t necessary — there’s plenty of content in the public domain that will work nicely — but it is important to show that he is the genuine article.  I’ve been gathering ideas for my own book trailer, and one thing that I’ve noticed from other production-quality book trailers is that they’re borrowing from movies (either stills or even short, live action sequences) that are not in the public domain.  This is very risky, as there are items that are covered by “fair use,” but taking an image of Sean Connery from Highlander may show the reader something about your book, but it also is something that others can recognize comes from somewhere else.

Passages

You don’t want to give away too much about your writing content, but it helps to give away something, so people can know what they’re getting into. If you’re nervous about this, you can always provide copyright notice.  Considering how much space these passages might take up, it wouldn’t hurt to hide them via a “spoiler” option if you have it in your given website.  It’s fairly common for BBscript, if that’s available.

If you have visual media, this is also a good place to show some artwork or whatever other pictures or charts you might have on hand.  If you’re going for the George R.R. Martin type of saga, a family tree is always helpful (provided it doesn’t give away too much about your book).

Links

In my daytime job, I’d recommend this if you have technical resources that help people see what your product can do, and how to do it.  With writing, it’s a little different. You could link to relevant items about your book within your site.  If you have full reviews, this is a great place to put them, as well.  Anything that is germane to your book can fit here.  If you’re writing a period piece about ancient Hippo (Annaba, Algeria), then perhaps a link to the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo would be relevant, or perhaps there’s a book, site, or society that is dedicated to ancient Hippo.

For Mike Wallace’s book, this might be something about his notes for his fictitious mountain town and some of the landmarks, such as Harry’s Tavern.  He might also provide some of the history of the quill gordon lure in fly fishing, or some other angling sites.  He has some media coverage that would fit in well here, such as this spotlight from our local Santa Cruz Sentinel.

This would also be a good place to provide links to your book in online booksellers. If you’re looking at American booksellers, Amazon has to be on there.  B&N, Lulu, and others are all important, but nothing does as much volume as Amazon.  There’s an important item to consider here: as much as you might want to feature where to find your book in bookstores, it really needs to be embedded in the rest of your post.  We, as readers, know why we’re looking for books, so it doesn’t do you any good to be pushy in getting people to buy your book.  By passing along your purchase information as just that, information, rather than overt marketing, you’ll attract more people who are on the fence.

Finally, if you haven’t attached links or widgets to your social media, then this should be at the bottom of your post.  It’s not critical to a blog / webpage dedicated to your book, but it is yet another way that you can connect with your audience.

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I haven’t been able to apply the above to my own site.  As mentioned, I’m still missing visual media, including a book trailer and any sort of cover or collateral pictures, but these are items that I’ve been considering, and items that I must take into account as I put this information together.

As if I haven’t stressed this enough earlier, the blog post or website is a means of introducing others to your book and introducing yourself to your audience.  Thus, while I do make mention of telling people where they can find your book in the usual bookstores, I didn’t mention anything about telling readers to “buy it now.”  If you use those three words, you must be very subtle, as using that phrase as a command is bound to turn others off.

A big thanks to David for the idea.

Is there anything I missed? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: Unsplash on Pexels. Creative Common 0 License

Breaking the Shell: Sharing my Work in Public (Again)

March 27, 2017

Writing takes time.  Good writing takes even longer.  If you do any writing for leisure, you can consider yourself a writer.  My grandfather often points to me, out of his eight grandchildren, as the writer in the family, because I write novels in my spare time.  He writes memoirs, and these are a gift to his grandchildren every Christmas.  He may not think of himself as such, but he is a writer, too.  Of course, there are certain aspects of the craft that he might not do as much as a typical fiction writer, such as editing or fretting over word choice, but he certainly can write.  His memoirs are frequently entirely in capital letters, but that’s a different story altogether.  He is a writer because he shares insights about a world that are lost to people of my generation; he has a tale to tell, and he uses the written word to tell it.

In this way, my grandfather is much more of a writer than I am.  I have written fiction for many years.  Many of the short stories that I’ve written are lost due to the burnt silicon of years past, and other works are still floating around my hard drive, looking for an ending.  I have two completed novels, one that has been edited, and one that is in need of a 33% reduction in length.  I also have enough incomplete novels to keep me busy for years. Outside of me, my wife, and a number of beta readers, I have not leaked any of these projects out to the public.  In fact, not counting the time I read a portion of my current work-in-progress to some fellow writers in a crowded restaurant, I hadn’t publicly shared any portion of my writing projects for about five years — that is, until yesterday.  For the first time since college, I’ve joined a writing group that has a regular meeting schedule, established rules, and a consistent following.  Yesterday, while most of the poets in the group were likely attending a festival called “The Celebration of the Muse,” I stood up in front of a sparse crowd of memoir writers and poets and shared my current work in progress, tentatively titled “Their Sharpest Thorns.”

I was one of the last readers of the day.  Considering how much others had shared, and how much free time we had, I could have read much more, but I kept myself true to the group’s designated time limit of 5 to 8 minutes.  As the new guy, I stuck as close as I could to the five minute mark.

Before I go on about my own writing, I’d like to share some thoughts about what I’d previously heard.  Before I got up to the podium, I’d heard one woman describe living in abject poverty in the midst of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl era, another woman described learning to drive on one of the most treacherous roads in the region with her three siblings in the back seat, and a third described having her wallet stolen from her hostel on the first morning in a strange land.   These are three experiences that I have no real grounds for understanding.  California, and particularly the Bay Area, was booming throughout my childhood. I learned to drive on an empty country road, and waited months before I drove down Highways 5  and 99 for my first long trip by car.  I’ve never been out of the country on my own, and never spent the night in a hostel.  I’ve heard several people state this, but there is an entire generation that has never experienced war of the magnitude of WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  There is still a lack of social justice in the World, but the fight is different than what the world “we” saw in the 1960s, even if it is the same fight, but a different venue.  Sharing those differences, whether it is a difference of time, socioeconomic status, gender, race, or anything else that makes you unique is one way of providing others with a perspective of what it means to be you.

As for my experience, it’s a little different.  When I write, I attempt to convey stories and illustrate characters.  On Saturday, I was the lone fiction writer, and my reading was nestled between two expressive and enthralling poets.  These two men, like most of the others in this group, are each at least twice my age.  They lived through the Summer of Love, and they saw friends and neighbors go off to fight battles on foreign soil.

The man immediately preceding me has a wry and capricious wit.  The other poet jokingly categorized his friend’s work as almost pornographic.  I wouldn’t go that far, but it was something that my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to hear when I was a child.  That said, it was very clever, and his use of wordplay, and the absurd personification of an MP3 player, was a treat.  “Ike,” or whatever his actual name might have been, served as a gentle reminder prior to my own presentation of the power of timeliness in wording.

After Ike presented, I stood up.  I was already talking, sharing a little bit about myself before I made it to the lectern.  This, is a presentation no-no, as a pregnant pause at the lectern reminds people that the chatter has ended and the presentation is about to begin.  It reminds you that your time as the audience has ended and that it is now your time to shine.  I forgot that, and needed a gentle reminder, after the fact, that I needed to do this in order to have better command over the room.

When I started, I blew through introducing myself and introducing my work so quickly that I was easily ten seconds ahead of when I’d timed myself earlier.  I was stumbling over words that I’d read several times (out loud to my wife, out loud to my cat, and in my head multiple times).  I knew that I needed to slow down.  I think I gained a little more command of the piece as I went through, but the nerves and “rust” were slow to slough away. By the time I’d run out of words to say, I felt spent.  I think the only adverb that I could use to describe my amble back to my seat would be “drunken.”  I was humbled as I took my seat in the midst of the seasoned vets, but their applause and comments were very supportive, and I knew that I hadn’t completely swayed from my intent.

After I sat down, the moderator, poet Keith Emmons, had a few kind words, and began reading from his own work.  As a spoken word poet, Mr. Emmons is enthralling, and it reminded me of how a talented rhapsode can evoke such interest in their words based solely on their delivery.  Through his poetry, as well as his delivery, he shared the essence of what it is to live the bohemian life in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  He was also there to pitch his book of poetry, Moondrifter Reverie.  I have heard Keith speak several times, enough to become familiar with his style.  I was happy to order his book.  I’m not a poetry critic, but I may share some of my findings once I receive my copy.

Moondrifter Reverie is available from Red Mountain Press of Santa Fe, NM.

—-

You may be curious about what I’ve shared.  At this point, I’ll just leave you with a synopsis of this scene from “Their Sharpest Thorns”:

An aging small-town sheriff is faced with his first major case in years; several people have died due to particularly grisly, ritual murders in his town.  He has just come from the scene of the first murder, where he recovered the body of a backpacker.  He already has another backpacker in his custody.  Is she the killer? He sincerely hopes that the answer is no.

—-

On a somewhat unrelated note, my company is hosting a conference this week.  For this reason, I may not be able to get to comments or follow-up posts until later this week. Wednesday’s blog post may be delayed. I hope that this conference will generate some useful tidbits that will cut from my career to my passion.  We’ll have to see.   I will announce my next blog publication through the appropriate channels as soon as it occurs.

Photo courtesy of Congerdesign via Pixabay. Creative Commons license.

Social Media: Which Ones Work for Me?

March 6, 2017

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been more resolute in my determination to add to my blog.  This isn’t a coincidence.  In that same time frame, I received word that I needed to expand my platform in order to be more attractive to a publisher.  With that in mind, I’ve been working on new content for the blog, exploring ways to make this blog more attractive to my friends, colleagues, and strangers.  Of course, as I am doing this, I have also started evaluating the vehicles that drive readers to my blog: social media sites.  In this next session, I’ll take a look at the major social media sites that I’ve used to generate traffic for my blog, and how they’ve done.

Facebook – In case you’ve been under a rock for the past ten years, you know that there are hundreds of millions of people on Facebook.  The last time I checked, this figure was more than 1.8 billion.  To put it in perspective, there are somewhere in the realm of 7.5 billion people in the World.  Take out the 1.4 billion in China (because Facebook is currently banned in China).  That means, there is a Facebook account for 1 in every 3 to 4 people in the World who could easily obtain a Facebook account. These penetration rates are probably even higher when you consider just how are of age to have their own Facebook account (of course, you would also have to take into account the people who have multiple accounts… CHEATERS).  Let’s assume everybody’s playing by the rules, that the Harvey Dents of the World don’t have a new account for each of their personalities, and that the little Stewie Griffins aren’t pretending they’re 16.  Thus, per the World Bank ~74% of people are over 14, so it’s probably no more than 5 billion outside of China who are over 13 and over).  In essence, penetration rates are creeping ever so slightly toward half of the population.  So, what does this mean?

This means, as you might expect, that Facebook is a pretty powerful marketing tool; in fact, most of the traffic that runs through my blog comes from Facebook.  In a totally unscientific observation of this over time, I’d venture to say that over 90% of my views come from links generated via Facebook.  In circumstances where I’m not posting the links to my own blog, I actually see greater volumes of traffic come to my blog.  In other words, when other people link to me through Facebook, and I let them do it for me, my numbers are better than I could ever get on my own.  I guess I ticked off the wrong people far too often on Facebook (maybe I shouldn’t have been so critical of Kobe).

Facebook generates more traffic, but most of this traffic is silent. I have seen a few comments come through, and mostly likes on the Facebook end.  I can thank my former coworkers for that (and hope their Pokemon Go harvesting continues to go well).  This traffic is entirely from the US and Canada.  This makes sense, given that I am unaware of any Facebook friends that reside outside of North America or below the Rio Grande.

Because Facebook is so ingrained in how I market myself and how I reach out to people, I think that this is an important time to call attention to Facebook’s second purpose.  If the first purpose of Facebook is to “connect with friends and the world around you,” the second purpose of Facebook is to market.  Facebook has done a good job of improving its marketing algorithms.  Right now, I’m seeing an ad for Direct TV and an ad for Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering along the side.  Many of my friends are advertising something.  The first ads I see in my news feed relate to mutual likes (Comic Book Resources), followed by my friend posting about a Sonoma State University basketball game.  Does it matter that some of the marketing comes from Facebook and its sponsors, and others come from my friends?  Not much.  It’s there.  Is it irksome? Well, I think that depends on how you feel about the ads themselves.  As mentioned, Facebook has become much better about that – or maybe I’ve just become much better in handling my settings.

In a recent email, one of my friends posited that he had actually lost friends (and gave a good example) because of his activity on Facebook.  Having been Facebook friends with this guy since Facebook first came to my alma mater – in that brief period of time when every SMC student envied Santa Clara – I can definitively state that this guy does not post a lot on Facebook.  He may not post on Facebook, but his habits did all of the talking for him.  He’s a gamer.  Back in 2009, when this was all the rage, my Facebook feed would be filled with “Xavier has just planted corn! Check out Farmville” or “Xavier just used the word BUTT in Scrabulous! See if you can beat him!”  Sorry, Mr. X, but it doesn’t matter much to me if you did pass the Green Hills Zone on Sonic the Hedgehog.  That’s not the news I’m looking for.

I haven’t tested this yet, but here are some things that I find as best practices for Facebook:

  1. When using a Facebook-related app, do your best to minimize what the app posts to your timeline. Your mother, your fifth grade teacher, and your first crush from middle school don’t care that you grew virtual corn, but they still care about you.
  2. Avoid posting about meals. It’s one thing if you’ve put together an amazing spread that you never thought you’d be able to pull off, but everybody’s seen Costco’s hotdogs before.  If they want, they can see them in person.
  3. Post something in between all of your posts about your book or your blog. I need to do a better job of practicing what I preach, but about 1 out of every 3 of my posts in the month of February were about my blog.  Yes, others were indirectly about my book or writing, but I also weighed in about movies, and basketball, and the weather.  The point is, if all anybody ever sees of you is whatever you’re marketing, then you’re going to lose friends very quickly.
  4. Show interest in others. It doesn’t matter if it’s not in your wheelhouse.  Eric’s met Tommy Wiseau at the Olive Garden? Right on, brother!  Hope he asked if Lisa was still tearing him apart. (Obscure reference, I know, but: https://youtu.be/fM7qNm_Mmrw?t=1m45s) You don’t need to reach out to everybody, but it helps to reach out to somebody, on occasion.
  5. Personal message people sometimes. Not all of the details of your interactions with Theresa need to be made public.  If you and Theresa have your own little references, then you might not want 20 people taking that away from you anyway.

Twitter – Ah, yes, Twitter.  I remember when I was still a teacher, and one of my students claimed that only old people use Twitter.  I hadn’t, at that point, either.  Now, I am one of the estimated 319 million users.  Yes, 319 million vs. 1.4 billion cited by Facebook.  If 90% of my traffic is from Facebook, maybe 7% is from Twitter.  I definitely see the impressions on my Twitter account, and am able to track these a little better than I track Facebook; people clearly see my tweets, but I don’t generate nearly the volume that I’d expect based on those rates.  Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have 1 in 20 people who have viewed my tweet click the link.

A colleague of mine has suggested that this might be because Twitter is so saturated.  Twitter has struggled lately, and (at least one man’s opinion, and not really my own) it may be related to the fact that it’s a Wild West, with advertisers wearing the white hats, and everybody else shooting from the hip.  My colleague thinks it might be political, a reaction to something said by el jefe.  I think it’s the lack of personal buy-in.  Unless I post information about me all over my Twitter, people don’t know me from that jerk that just spit in their Coke.  Beyond that, it is a constant steam of information, some more useful than others.  If I look through my list of people that I follow, I’d say that it’s likely that I haven’t seen posts from them in the past month. It’s likely that they have better things to do, or need more than 140 characters to capture their thoughts.  More recently, I’ve opened up Twitter in my browser to see the same person’s posts repeating, no fewer than one out of every four posts, as I scrolled down.  This is spam; it’s no different than those people that comment on a blown 3-to-1 lead every time the Warriors or Indians are mentioned, or “they should’ve run the ball” every time the Seahawks are mentioned.  It stopped being funny a long time ago.

When it comes to Twitter, I’m a relative newcomer.  I never thought it was for me, until it was drilled into me that Twitter is an effective way of marketing yourself, especially if people don’t know who you are. Still, I have picked up one or two best practices as they relate to Twitter.

  1. Use hashtags to gather a foothold, but use them sparingly within a tweet. After all, what do you think is more effective?

#Check out my #new #book, #FieldsofGold.  #Free for the next ten days on @Amazon @AKAPress

Check out my new #book, #FieldsofGold.  Thanks @Amazon and @AKAPress!

If I see the first tweet, I’d know that the author is desperate.  The second one has fewer words between hashtags, but it appears more innocent.

  1. Shoot for fewer tweets, but know the best time to reach your audience. Are you looking to sell to hip 20-somethings?  If so, then you probably don’t want to tweet at 8pm on a Friday, they’re probably out; if you tweet at 8am on a Saturday, you have a different reason, but the same problem.  Similarly, don’t dump a ton of tweets all at once, or even within twenty minutes of each other.  Imagine seeing ads for the McRib every five minutes.  Even if the McRib is your thing, you’re going to get sick of seeing that same ad every time you click on a site.
  2. Strategic use of @ mentions is the key. If you’re trying to get the right audience to look at your book about stamp collecting, you might get a few people to follow you out of sheer numbers if you mention Miley Cyrus. However, your odds of finding the right audience through Miley Cyrus are about the same as you lassoing a meteor and riding it across the Atlantic.  I’m not saying it can’t happen… except I am.  The only thing you’re going to receive by trying to promote stamp collecting to Miley Cyrus’s followers is a viral beat-down.

LinkedIn – I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen traffic from my LinkedIn postings, and this might be a bit of ove-rsaturation, because all I ever see on LinkedIn, aside from “Congratulate Toby on five years at Starbucks” are comments surrounding “look at my blog,” or “watch this presentation I gave for the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.”  By the way, if you’re marketing yourself for WASC, teachers everywhere are going to cringe when they see that post!  Nevertheless, LinkedIn is the Facebook where you put on your Sunday best and spit shine your shoes.  You might have that Bart Simpson slingshot in your back pocket, but your potential employers and colleagues don’t know that!

There’s about 3% of my readers that I cannot pin down.  I’ve made mention of my blog on NaNoWriMo, Google+, and even MySpace, but these come from either an unlisted source or from Google search.  I have investigated other social media sites, such as Wattpad, GoodReads, Quora, and Reddit, but you have to be very circumspect in how you market on these sites.  Particularly in sites that target readers, the site’s users are there to read books and legitimate reviews of books; they are not there to read somebody constantly promoting themselves.

When I bring up myself in Google search, my blog didn’t even come up until recently, and even then I need to use very specific search terms, “jowenenglish” being one of them, so it’s a surprise to me that I am getting respondents from Google search.  I guess you just need to find the right mix for my name to appear.

What social media sites am I missing?  Have a favorite social media site that works for you? Mention it in the comments below.

Short Recommendations: Books to Help You Write Books

March 1, 2017

I remember hearing somewhere that there is more money in books on how to publish novels than there is in publishing novels.  This is clearly not cited, verified, or quantified, but there’s no doubt that there’s money in “how to” books, and one of the most meta how-to books are books about publishing books.  In this brief blog post, I wanted to highlight three of the books that I’ve used through the years.  These are in no particular order, as I’ve used all of these, and found them all to be useful.

The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published – Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry

My wife gave me this book as a gift several years ago.  It has helped me map out the route between a completed manuscript and publication.  Time and again, I hear subject matter that I first learned about in this book, and it is a great reference for deciphering “agentspeak” and “publisherspeak.”  I’ve primarily used it as a resource for creating my author packet.  In essence, what do publishers and agents see when I submit my query letter?

David and Arielle’s site: http://www.thebookdoctors.com

Story Engineering – Larry Brooks

It has been a few years since thriller-writer Larry Brooks has published an entirely new novel.  Instead, Larry has paid a particularly keen focus over the past several years toward helping other writers provide their best possible product.  Story Engineering is one of the first in a line of books that aims to do just that.

A lot of us have worked on projects where we have to clearly understand the requirements, and then we design the project around those requirements.  Story Engineering explains the purpose that engineering plays within writing. No, you’re not going to need to learn any JavaScript or Python, but you are going to need to learn about your book before you actually start your narrative.

Larry’s Site: http://www.storyfix.com

On Writing – Stephen King

As you well know by now, Stephen King is my favorite modern author.  He is my favorite in the pantheon of modern storytellers, and I’m sure I’m not alone there.  At one point, I was reading from this book every day.  There are some items from this book that I took to heart.  One of which was the 2,000 word per day rule.  I strive for this during NaNoWriMo, and was attempting to do this every day in my down period between careers.  By using this dictum, I’d complete a manuscript in 50 days, if I put my mind to it.  Of course, not everything goes as planned.  There are some other interesting discussion points for this book that are worth mentioning, with one of my favorites being “the road to Hell is paved in adverbs” (paraphrased, as I, sadly, don’t have the book in front of me at the moment).

Stephen King’s site: http://www.stephenking.com

But Wait… I Need to Market it, too?

February 22, 2017

On Tuesday, I spoke with my friend, a published indie author named Janice Mock.  Janice’s first book, Not All Bad Comes to Harm You:  Observations of a Cancer Survivor is a bit what it says on the tin.  Janice is a cancer survivor, and has been dealing with the fallout from that ever since.  I’ve known Janice for a few years now, and the one thing I can say about Janice is that she is strong, both physically and in spirit.  I am sure that I have not seen Janice in her weaker days, but I have seen her climb 3,800ft. in 35mi. on her road bike — post-treatment — so I know that the power and determination that she brings to everything in her life.

Janice has taken a slightly different route than I have in her publishing quest.  Janice has absorbed the costs upfront and has self-published.  She used the iUniverse service out of Random House to prep her book for sale, taking advantage of their professional editing and cover design facilities in the process.  Since then, she has been responsible for promoting all of her content through her website, social media channels, and by interacting with individual booksellers.  In December of 2015, she spoke at Book Passage, a small, but mighty trio of Bay Area bookstores in San Francisco, Sausalito, and Corte Madera. Through her experience as a writer, she has come to realize that the marketing and selling of her book has become just as much work — if not more — than the writing process. It’s still a long road from a complete draft to getting your books on the shelves!

Janice is currently writing her second book.  I didn’t get much of a chance to inquire about its contents, but you can check out her writing for yourself!

Janice’s website: https://www.janicemock.com

Book Passage’s Website: http://www.bookpassage.com

On Fandoms and Writing… and other stuff

January 21, 2017

I come from a Giants family.  From March onwards, you cheer for the Giants; in Fall, you cheer for the Niners; and the rest of the year belongs to the Warriors.  The Warriors are my contribution, as I’m not sure that anyone in the family was all that dedicated to the Warriors as their team until I found basketball.  Basketball was a part of our lives in many ways; however, for many years before that, we were a baseball family.  At least three generations of my family have cheered for San Francisco baseball, whether it was the Seals up until the 1950s, the DiMaggio brothers in the 1940s, or the Giants since 1958.  Giants baseball cards occupied a space alongside the photos I kept in my desk, and a Giants pennant had occupied a prominent space on my wall for many years.  Kruk and Kuip were always on TV from April until October, unless we were listening to Jon Miller and Ted Robinson.

When I was a teenager, one of the first Giants games that I attended in person in years was a game against the Chicago Cubs.  Some of my dad’s work connections had scored us tickets, and we were up in The City for a game.  We, unfortunately, had found a section that was occupied by Cubs fans.  These fans are like many fans in the sense that they identify the other team as the enemy.  Thus, of all of the places we could be in the ballpark, we were in the section that booed when Bonds and Kent got to the plate and cheered whenever the Cubs did anything positive.  For a Bay Area native, nothing could boil the blood in quite the same way.  From that point forward, the Cubs had been the subject of my scorn, and have been baseball annoyances that are only eclipsed by the Dodgers as the baseball enemy.  It wasn’t that I’d disliked anybody specific on the Cubs (aside from Sosa, but that was completely different), but rather that I couldn’t stand Cubs fans.

Imagine my vitriol when the Giants faced the Cubs in the 2016 Divisional Series.  The Cubs fans were again in the stands at AT&T, proving they either come from everywhere or travel well, while many of us were watching the games on TV or listening on the radio.  With all of the posturing and youthful gamesmanship that came out of Chicago, the sting of watching that Giants-Cubs game in the thick of the Cubs fans once again felt fresh, and the Giants’ loss to the Cubs felt just as bad as if the Giants had just lost to their hated rivals on a Yasiel Puig walk-off.  It felt just as bad as having Madison Baumgarner pitch eight innings of shutout and watching the Giants lose it in the ninth.  It felt just as bad as watching Kobe Bryant get 60 points on 50 shots (and 10 free throws) and hearing people proclaim it a masterpiece.

Fandoms: Golden State vs. Cleveland Tirade

Let’s stay out of politics here, but 2016 was a difficult year for every cause I cheered for and every team with whom I’ve felt allegiance.  Aside from the Giants losing to the Cubs and the Niners flat-out losing their minds, the Warriors lost last year’s finals to LeBron James and the Cavaliers.  Many people that I knew in real life (primarily via Facebook, as I hardly see anyone interested in team sports on a day-today basis) and via the Internet (message boards, comments, and the like) were actively cheering against the Warriors because the Warriors had a super-team, and won more games in the regular season than the ’97 Bulls, breaking the NBA record for regular season win total.  Not all was bad for the Warriors; after all, they did pick up Kevin Durant in the offseason, but that was met with even more scorn than I knew how to handle.

One thing that irks me is that those same people who were actively cheering against the Warriors before the Durant deal because of the ‘superteam’ characteristic of the Warriors were cheering for the Cavs.  Last year’s Warriors squad had four starters that were drafted by the Warriors.  The fifth was Andrew Bogut, a first overall pick, but a player who has trouble staying healthy for an entire season.  Yes, they acquired Andre Iguodala, but Iggy is not the same player he was when he was 24.  He’s 32, and playing a position where 32 is only a few years from the expiration date.  He might be able to be a perennial sixth-man of the year candidate for another four years, but he isn’t a top tier starter anymore.  The Warriors also acquired Shawn Livingston prior to their 2015 title run; this same player was almost out of basketball entirely due to an absolutely horrific knee injury in 2007; YouTube that sucker if you don’t believe me (but do so on an empty stomach).  He’s 31 now.

The Cavs, meanwhile, have been lauded, and are what some people view as the only hope to stop the Warriors.  However, I wonder just how much people realize that Cleveland is very much a superteam that was built via less scrupulous means than what has happened to the Warriors, the Spurs, and other teams that have had three or more All-Stars in recent years.  Here’s how:

1) In just a few years prior to their rise, the Cavs had LeBron James return without giving up any players in return.  They already had Kyrie Irving  — and the only reason they had Irving, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Bennett in recent years was because LeBron “took his talents to South Beach” to win his first two titles.

2) They acquired Kevin Love for (get this) an unproven rookie in Andrew Wiggins, an infamous lottery bust in Anthony Bennett (I still have hope for him), and a 2015 first round draft pick (which became Tyus Jones).  Over the first two-plus years, Cleveland has clearly won that trade, but Minnesota may have the long-term advantage here.

3) They traded malcontent Dion Waiters, energy guy Lou Amundsen, and Alex Kirk for Iman Shumpert, JR Smith, and a first round pick (which is lottery protected until 2018).  Cleveland has clearly won this trade as well, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be anywhere close.

4) They acquired center Timofey Mosgov for two first round picks that were owed to them from previous trades, and Channing Frye for former-NBAer Jared Cunningham and a future second round pick.  Neither of these trades were big risks for Cleveland, but those future picks may eventually turn out to be something – stranger things have happened; in the mean time, Mosgov and Frye have been solid contributors in this league since those trades.  Cleveland also acquired former All-Stars Maurice Williams and Richard Jefferson via free agency.

5) They recently traded Williams and Mike Dunleavy, a former top three pick, for Kyle Korver – that’s probably going to favor the Cavs in the short term.  To the non-basketball fan, these might not seem like a lot.

To put it into perspective, this would be like trading in your old bike with training wheels, some old clothes, some old helmets that you don’t use and maybe that Walkman that you had when you were fifteen and getting a $4,000 bike, a nice bike kit, and your groceries for a week.  The loss is sentimental, sure, but you’re getting far more things that you can use now, and more than the cash value of your goods on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Even now, I see these people bashing the Warriors online and cheering for the Cavaliers, and it makes me mad.  I’m not mad at the fact that they’re cheering for the Cavaliers; as a long-suffering Warriors fan, I know what a championship means to a fan base, and the Cavs fans deserved a championship for their long wait. However, the fact that some of these fans, Cavs fans or otherwise, were only cheering for the Cavs as a way of cheering against the Warriors.  Some famous commentators are even in on this, even as others are unapologetic Warriors fans.  If you ever see Jeff Van Gundy and (particularly) Mark Jackson, broadcast a game for ESPN, it becomes clear that something is amiss.  Two similar plays will receive the comment “Stephen Curry clearly traveled there/he clearly pushed off to make space” versus “Kyrie Irving has amazing footwork, and he does a great job of creating space.”  Meanwhile, there are only subtle, nuanced differences between the two plays and the letter of the law remains the same.

Every fan thinks that their team gets the short end of the stick, and sometimes they have good reason.  Recently, the NBA has publicized its reports about plays occurring in the last two minutes of each game, and this transparency has worked against them, while some are saying it doesn’t go far enough.  A lot of Warriors fans would have liked to have some transparency surrounding the game four incident between Draymond Green and LeBron James. Did Draymond attempt to nail LeBron in the groin (which merited his suspension)?  Yes.  Did he deserve a suspension for that act? Yes, probably. However, the important question to ask is this: why was he doing it?  Hmm… I wonder.  Did LeBron receive any punishment for his role in that play, prior to stepping over Draymond?  If so, it wasn’t publicized.  And if you count a foul… well, a foul is not the same as a retroactive suspension.

Regardless, Cleveland fans (and fans all over the NBA) have their right to dislike the Warriors, just as how I have my right to dislike the teams and players that I dislike.  The point, I suppose, is that those that feel the Warriors have wronged the league, and that Draymond Green or Zaza Pachulia or Steph Curry are detestable, have a short memory.  It was just five years ago that the Warriors had made the playoffs just once in eighteen seasons; it was just two years ago that the Warriors won their first NBA championship since 1975; and NBA players have been trying to form alliances with other superstars since at least the late 1990s (Barkley joining Hakeem and Clyde Drexler).  Oh, and LeBron did it first. 😉

Political Rant

This leads me to the one section of this where I will get into politics.  I promise this will be short.

This has been a long, long election cycle, seemingly gearing up right after the start of the second Obama administration.  Through it all there’s been mud-slinging.  Oh my god, has there been mudslinging. It got to the point where I don’t think many people, Democrat, Republican, Green, etc., were even paying attention to what any of the candidates said about their policies.  With Clinton, it was slogans about her email, or whispers that she was complicit in acts of rape or murder; with Trump, it was slogans about his similarity to a certain 20th Century German leader; with Johnson, it was jokes of his absolute naiveté about many things that had nothing to do with the election.  Whoever shouted their slogan the loudest seemed like they were going to win.  This activity reminded me of the cheers that we’d come up with in college, throwing shade at others, and what Kobe apologists would term as “haterade.”  To some degree, this needed to happen, as people cannot be blind to how it appears to the other side and people need to understand the many facets that go into any public official’s character.  At the same time, this shouldn’t happen, as this means that the only people that will want to enter political office are the people who are more unscrupulous in exposing their opponent’s flaws and have the thickest hides when it comes to having their own flaws exposed.  There’s probably many candidates of outstanding moral character, who are accepting, compassionate human beings, but wouldn’t dare run for the presidency due to the scrutiny that such an office holds.  That leaves us with characters that one side can tolerate, but the other cannot.

The World witnessed the inauguration of a US president yesterday.  At that same time, hundreds were arrested, protesting his policies, his words, and his attitudes.  It was well within their right, but people did vote for him, which is something the protesters needed to (and probably did) consider.  It could have been worse.  How worse, you might ask?  Check out news of the recent presidential inauguration in the Gambia, and realize that their democratically elected president couldn’t even enter his own country for fear of retaliation from the previous administration.  That’s a scary proposition, and it puts our own political unrest into perspective.  As bad as it has been for some, and as bad as it will get for others, I don’t think either side of the US political spectrum is capable of what we’re seeing on the other side of the world in 2017.

What Fandoms Mean to Writing

Let’s forget that nasty business about politics now.  Please do.  It’s like watching eighteen wheelers play chicken all day.  It may be entertaining to some, but it’s obnoxious and wasteful. Let’s talk about fiction.  Fandom and fiction go hand-in-hand.  Sonic vs. Mario?  X-Men vs. Justice League?  Twilight vs. Odd Thomas?  We make many assumptions about people based on their tastes.  I’m not sure what assumptions Mario fans made of Sonic fans back when the SNES and Genesis were the two biggest platforms on the market, but people clearly had affinities for one over the other.

I haven’t read or watched Twilight or any of its successors.  Nor have I read or watched 50 Shades of Grey.  With any luck, I won’t.  I know enough about the story to know that it doesn’t suit me.  I might deride Twilight because of its treatment of vampires, and how it is so far divorced from the legends, the Bram Stoker novel, or even the Bela Lugosi-Christopher Lee archetype of vampires as the archetype for how those bloodsuckers look and act.  Of course, it is clear that I am no more the target audience for Twilight than a teenaged girl is the target audience for Blade.  I could never understand the “Twi-hard” fandom, but the important thing is that Stephenie Meyer does.  To translate this over to my readers, and other writers: an understanding of your target audience is critical to success in writing, but even readers who fall outside of the target audience will be aware of your book, may pick up your book, and could actually read your book.

As any reader familiar with my blog or with me will know, if I have the choice between reading something from Stephen King or some other guy, I will choose Stephen King more than 90% of the time.  I don’t care if the other writer earned a Stoker award or a Hugo award or the Amazon Breakthrough Novel award, there’s something about the way King characterizes the players in his novels, the way that he world-builds, and the references that he makes, that makes Stephen King appeal to me as a reader.

I’d never really heard any Stephen King opponents, except for people that used broad strokes, “I don’t read horror,” “doesn’t he talk about devil worship,” and “that’s just too creepy for me.”  These comments may have been based on some former experience, but they didn’t resonate with me, because I always felt that this line of commentary came from people that really didn’t know Stephen King’s writing. However, I recently read some commentary about Stephen King that was very critical, and provided criticism that had most likely come from someone who was familiar with King’s work.  Among their comments, the writer, posting in a forum, stated that the everyman quality of King’s characters didn’t speak to her and bored her, and that his characters were clearly “self-insert” protagonists.  Thus, while King speaks to me because of the variety of characters that all have some glimmer of familiarity, other readers turn away from him for it.  I consider myself to be a member of his “constant reader” fanbase.

In recent years, I’ve read a lot of free ebooks from Amazon.  One writer that I can enjoy with a critical eye is named Jason Halstead.  Halstead is probably writing with a target audience that is similar to him in mind: white, male, 30s, likes action/adventure.  He likes strong female characters, but his female characters tend to be physically strong with emotional flaws that cripple them in the long run, and one prime motivator for many of his female characters is sex.  Again, with a male action-adventure intended audience, this may be par for the course, or even progressive in the sense that the women are either kicking a** or grabbing it.  I’ve also seen the critiques of his work, and can understand where they’re coming from; a focus on the female as a sexual hunter does have the literary equivalent of the male gaze, and may come off as being male fantasy.  Such flaws don’t bother me as much as they should, because I am probably in his target demographic and I don’t “turn off” from a writer emotionally if I read such depictions; however, I can see where other readers would easily turn off, and would deride Halstead’s work.  It’s a shame; Halstead has spun many entertaining tales, and his sense of pacing is often spot on.  I hope that he does get a loyal fandom, but know that his fans will be pegged as men of certain (perhaps uncouth) tastes.

When writing with your audience (or fans) in mind, it doesn’t hurt to take into account what other readers might think about the characters that you hold dear.  Is a character too much of an archetype?  Are they a stereotype of someone who is African (or African-American, Afro-Canadian, etc.), LGBTQ, Muslim, disabled, female, etc.?  Are their motivations too transparent or too single-minded?  Readers, much like sports fans or voters, are complex individuals.  Including the right details may hook some readers, but can cause other readers to grow emotionally detached from your work.  As your base of your most loyal readers grows, and fandoms emerge from your invented worlds, so too will your base of readers who are just testing the waters.

If you learned anything from Polonius in junior year English, it’s this: “to thine own self be true.”  Be true to yourself in your fandoms and your writing, but be aware that there’s an other side.