Posts Tagged ‘new writer’

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

Unfinished Business (Part Two)

April 10, 2017

Note: This is the second in a three part series about unfinished drafts of famous and not-so-famous works.  The third part of this series is scheduled to go out on Wednesday.

Last week, I mentioned my mentor’s fondness of the Robert Burns poem, To A Mouse (1785), which ends with “/ an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / for promis’d joy!” (essentially, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, and leave us with nothing but grief and pain for promised joy).  Despite what we may plan to do with our lives, some things never come to fruition.  Due to writer’s block, frustration, illness, or myriad other things, some authors are forced to leave a work behind.

Of course, not all writers are fortunate enough to step away from a novel or long story and choose to set it aside. Some writers suffer from what tvtropes.org refers to as “author existence failure.”  The following are a few examples of writers who were not able to complete a famous work before they died:

The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer – One of the early examples of great English literature (but by no means the earliest) is The Canterbury Tales, a story of pilgrims on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. There are 24 completed tales, and centuries of debate that go alongside them. The general consensus is that Chaucer did not finish his tales before he died c.October 1400 at c.57 years old, because the pilgrims never make it to Canterbury, and Chaucer’s work ended in the middle of “The Cook’s Tale.”

The Canterbury Tales, for those who haven’t subjected themselves to them, are a trip because of the nature of the language in the text. It’s nominally English, but the thing that you need to realize about English at that time is that it was still coming together as a collection of languages based on British Anglic, Frisian (a German language that is still spoken in portions of the Netherlands), Norman (an earlier version of French), and a handful of other native British languages. As a result of this still simmering stew of languages, some of the words are the same in appearance as they are today, but sound completely differently than you’d expect; for instance, “pilgrimage” is actually pronounced “pill-gri-mah-juh.”  If you can cast aside the almost foreign English language, you’ll find tales with a variety of different content, from the pious to the profane.  A lot of the tales have to do with relationships and sex, at least one of them has to do with roosters, and all of them were intended to entertain people 600+ years ago.

The Faerie Queene – Edmund Spenser – Like Virgil before him and Walt Whitman after him, Spenser set out to create a national myth for his country. He intended to compose twelve books (more like long chapters or acts) of an epic poem that followed the virtues that mattered to contemporary Britain, personified by knights staving off giants, witches, dragons, and dark knights.  Spenser was so well liked, and so well known in his endeavor for a national myth, that he was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, and received a pension of £50 per year from the crown in order to complete it.  However, he died at age 47 in 1599, allegedly of starvation, having completed just five of his books. Any notes on the planned installments are lost, and it isn’t clear if Queen Elizabeth ever even read his work.

Don Juan – Lord Byron – Prior to the 1800s, novels weren’t really much of a thing for English-speaking audiences, and the epic poem was the closest thing to what we see today, which is why you see examples of verse, such as The Canterbury Tales and The Faerie Queene on this list. Lord Byron came in that intervening period where epic poetry hadn’t entirely phased out, but the novel was still evolving as an art form. His Don Juan was a satire about a man who was easily seduced by women (not the womanizer that we hear about today). He published sixteen “cantos” (effectively chapters) before he died. The first two were anonymous, because he was worried that he would get in trouble for peddling “immoral content” (19th century smut). He was working on a seventeen canto, in which he effectively calls out his critics while continuing the story from the sixteenth canto, when he died from a sudden fever in 1824; he was 36.

The Love of the Last Tycoon – F. Scott Fitzgerald – Fitzgerald was of notoriously poor health due to his almost surreal ability to drink copious amounts of alcohol, but his heart attack and subsequent death in 1940 still shocked the literary world.  Fitzgerald wrote about 163 pages into The Love of the Last Tycoon, his unfinished work that gathered insight from his years in Hollywood.  It follows a fictitious director’s rise to power, and the conflicts that he encounters along the way, including a rivalry with another director. His family published the incomplete draft in 1941.

Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway was incredibly hard on himself as an author, and relentless at editing his own work. This is indicative of his overall mental state, as Hemingway is the only person who had the final say on when he died; he took his own life via shotgun in July 1961. Islands in the Stream and the subsequent The Garden of Eden were both published posthumously.  Despite taking almost two years to complete (nothing compared to the fifteen years spent on The Garden of Eden), Hemingway’s work on Islands in the Stream is rough.  His family did publish a complete draft of the novel, which follows a man as he goes from an artistic recluse to an action hero.  There are characteristics of the novel that are clearly Hemingway, but the rough nature of his word choice makes some critics wonder if the seemingly finished work was indeed finished, or if Hemingway intended to publish it as is.

Bonus: A Fourth Millennium Series book – Steig Larsson – This one is probably fresh in many of your minds, but Steig Larsson, the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was working on a fourth book in that series when he died of a heart attack in 2004. Furthermore, Larsson had written out notes for two more, and allegedly had plans for as many as ten books in the series. His partner, Eva Gabrielsson, inherited his laptop, which contained his manuscript and all notes, and elected to sit on them while she considered her options.  In 2015, David Lagercrantz, another author contracted by Larsson’s publisher, published a fourth book in the series.  It does not rely on Larsson’s original notes.

There are plenty of other well-known authors who have famously passed on in the middle of a famous work.  Are there any big ones that I’ve missed?  Feel free to leave some examples in the comments section below.

Unfinished Business (Part One)

April 5, 2017

Note: This is the first in a three part series about unfinished drafts of famous and not-so-famous works.  The second part of this series is scheduled to go out during the week of April 10th.

When I was in teacher training, I had no fewer than three mentor teachers.  I worked with one teacher per semester for three semesters.  For the fourth semester (second, chronologically), I assisted another teacher in an unofficial capacity before replacing her as a long-term substitute. The last of these three (or four) mentor teachers was a sharp-witted man named Nick.  Nick introduced me to a little tidbit that I’d either never learned or had already forgotten about John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The title of that short novel stems from a few lines of a 1785 poem, “To a Mouse,” by Scottish poet Robert Burns:

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley, / an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / for promis’d joy!”

(frequently as “the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry…”)

Let’s leave that last portion alone for a second, and think about the phrasing for “the best-laid plans” (one of Nick’s favorite phrases).  When I am writing at my best, I have a firm outline of where I want to go with my narrative.  I generally view it by act, following the same five act format that was popular in Shakespeare’s time.  At times, those five acts are reduced to four, and I group the denouement and the conclusion together. This doesn’t mean that I’m exactly successful at carrying these narratives out to the end.  In fact, only three of my novel-length works (and only two in my adult life) can count as completed first drafts — or beyond.

I’m not the only writer who has left something unfinished, either due to frustration, illness, or death.  Let’s take a look at the writers who stepped away from a novel, and were never able to complete it.

The Long Goodbye – Harper Lee – The woman who brought us To Kill a Mockingbird apparently had a follow-up that long predates her Go Set a Watchman “sequel.” The Long Goodbye was apparently 110 pages of what happened after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I have not found out where it is in relation to Go Set a Watchman. It is among three known books that Harper Lee never completed during her lifetime, and abandoned long before her illness and death.

Dark America – Junot Diaz – Diaz is a darling for many contemporary lit teachers due to his economy of words, and the clever use of the words that he does use. His collection of short stories surrounding Yunior and Rafa, Drown, has graced many shelves since 1995.  However, Diaz has abandoned at least two novels, including Dark America. This, a sci-fi story about mutants, was something that, per the New York Times, Diaz found “stupid and convoluted.”

The Mysterious Stranger – Mark Twain – Over a period of nearly 21 years, Mark Twain tried and failed to complete The Mysterious Stranger. Each time, one of America’s most famous humorists, had to start over.  There are three vastly different drafts floating around somewhere, a fourth fragment that represents his earliest attempt, and who knows how many other false starts have vanished with time? They each follow the tale of a demonic figure, who is explicitly named Satan in at least one of the drafts, but the setting and story itself change from one draft to the next.  Each time, Twain set his story down, and there is no evidence that he attempted to publish any of those drafts.  The last version takes place in the same St. Petersburg, MO, a partial setting for several of his well-known books, was apparently “finished” in the sense that there is a beginning, middle, and end, but there are enough holes to make analysts highly dubious about its completeness.

Fountain City – Michael Chabon – If anybody knows the frustration of an incomplete work, it’s Michael Chabon.  Chabon started Fountain City, a book about architects who want to build a baseball stadium in Florida, and continued writing about it for 1,500 pages, before realizing that he hadn’t found the right way to end it.  He abandoned this book, but the experience inspired him to write the 1995 novel Wonder Boys, which was then optioned into a 2000 movie with Michael Douglas.  What is Wonder Boys about?  An author who cannot finish his 2,611 (gulp) page novel.

Eamon Diaz and the Vampire Queen – Larry Hama – You might not know the name, but comic book fans know his work.  Larry Hama is responsible for such titles as G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero and Bucky O’Hare, and has been an editor (as well as a writer and artist) on a number of Marvel projects.  A quick Google search does not yield anything about the content, but Hama’s oeuvre is enough to make this one notable, as if a Hiberno-Latino vampire hunter does not.

Bonus: The Cannibals – Stephen King – Stephen King is famous for the volume of books that he produces.  Because of his prolific nature, King was forced to publish several novels under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman.  However, Stephen’s consistency in delivering 2,000 words per day (a good sized novel every two to three months) has had a few misfires that he was unable to publish.  One of those misfires, The Cannibals, a project that King started in 1982, plagued him for years.  However, he was able to return to the book and, after a “partial” rewrite, he published the story as Under the Dome in 2009.

There are plenty of other well-known authors who have famously set aside a novel and never completed it.  Are there any big ones that I’ve missed?  Feel free to leave some examples in the comments section below.

Some Suggestions for More Robust Characters

April 3, 2017

Author’s Note: this started like an excerpt from a memoir, but eventually turned back to some fair reminders for characterization.

There are two aspects that are powerful when writing about characters, as everybody can relate to them on some level: nostalgia and jobs.  Everybody has their moments when they think back fondly on some period of their life, or when some aspect of their life reminds them of the way things were. Everybody has worked, does work, or will work at some sort of job, even if the job isn’t exactly the paying kind.  In order to create richer characters, and in order to draw readers into your characters’ world, bring relevant aspects of the characters’ pasts, as well as their roles in society into your narrative.

I’ve been pretty nostalgic lately.  Today, we went on a hike that reminded me of when I was first dating my wife.  We discussed her grandmother and her childhood friend, who are both since deceased.  Those memories spurred more memories, and so on.  I was fortunately enough to know her grandmother before she passed, and discussion of her grandmother hiking that trail reminded me of seeing this woman, then over 80, cutting the rug with her granddaughter at our wedding.  Aside from that, some alfalfa sprouts in my sandwich reminded me of sandwiches that my father used to order when I was a kid; I don’t know why he stopped having them, but you never see alfalfa on the menu anymore.  After that, tortellini with pesto reminded me of my childhood friend.  The point is, memories can flare and smolder like a campfire, depending on the kindling.

When discussing a character, and having that character advance through that plot, nostalgia doesn’t need to play a prominent factor.  However, consider all of the times you’ve been rolling down Broadway and you remember that swing-set that was there when you were a kid, or how that old theater reminds you of your first kiss.  Your characters aren’t going to reminisce of times passed when they’re busy hunting a serial killer, nor will they necessarily reminisce of times passed when they’re waiting for the bus, but there should be something there that hints at a time before your story began.

I’m in my early 30s.  My tenth college reunion is in the rear view mirror, and I’ll be closing in on forty by the time my next reunion (high school) takes place.  What this means, of course, is that I am part of our nation’s workforce. Regardless of what adults do in the workforce, from custodian to CEO, work takes up a great deal of their time.  How they go about their work, and what they feel about their work, is an important part of their character, as well.  My father repeats this one-liner from a movie (I think it might be the barbershop scene in Gran Torino) that goes something like “real men complain about their jobs.” It’s funny, but we all have stories from our jobs, whether mild frustrations or flat out grievances, peppering a character’s conversations and thoughts with complaints, worries, or even successes in their jobs makes for a more believable characterization overall.

For all of my fellow writers who are out there trying to paint a picture, use these thoughts and experiences to shape your character.  Is your character a former high school footballer who is stuck in the kitchen at the local diner?  Put in a little something about him grumbling about the big game.  Does your character know she is paid less than the manager’s underqualified nephew?  Add an interaction between the two of them!

Thoughts from an Unrelated Conference

March 31, 2017

I recently cited a Herman Wouk quotation that states that “a rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.” It has been a while since I’ve written new content, and the last time I worked on my current work-in-progress was Saturday, in which I spent time polishing a short section for reading at the Community Writers of Santa Cruz gathering.  A great deal has happened in the interim, but little of it is writing related.  My employers hosted a two-day conference, in which we had speakers from all over the high-tech landscape come and speak to other professionals.

One of the first speakers of the conference was a celebrity who crosses many fields.  Guy Kawasaki, a one-time colleague of Steve Jobs’, has spoken at conferences around the world, and on topics such as marketing to technical audiences, general marketing, and community management.  The general overview of his talk on Monday was evangelism, an activity he does for Canva, a company that provides free graphic design tools.  He generally speaks about the software development field, but many of the topics for discussion were general enough that they don’t need context.  It is very likely that I will mine these for content for future blogs, but also look to these to address my future endeavors as a writer.

I’ve mentioned another writer, Janice Mock, in my blog before.  Janice is a memoirist, whose debut memoir, Not All Bad Comes to Harm You, is currently available.  She has also harped upon Kawasaki’s book, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (APE): How to Publish a Book.  I haven’t read the book myself, but I have heard good things about it.  I have also seen a caveat, which is something that appeared in various forms after his talk at the conference.  It’s easy to get published when you’re Michelle Obama, Dwayne the Rock Johnson, or Guy Kawasaki.  During his talk, Kawasaki claimed that he’s getting 1,200 new Twitter followers per day.  It takes me a few weeks just to get that many Twitter impressions.  While there are probably a great deal of factoids that are useful in APE, it is important to understand that Kawasaki has a résumé that makes things happen on its own.

Not to take anything away from the man.  His presentation was great!  I also learned something very important through his presentation.  Along with Susie Wee, one of the CTOs for Cisco, Mr. Kawasaki introduced me to a concept that I hadn’t seriously considered before, using live video as a way of communicating with my audience.  Kawasaki and Wee used Facebook Live to live-cast their talks. In the time since their Monday talks, Kawasaki has had 7,700+ views.  Wee has just 39 views, but I have to think that she’s providing this somewhere else; Cisco is a major player in the tech world, and her presentation was simply outstanding.  I make a guest appearance in Wee’s video as a mortician who has ingested embalming fluid, so maybe that’s scaring people away.  My cousin’s husband, Steve, had already used the Facebook Live function to share his thoughts on life, but I didn’t think that such a medium would be particularly effective.  After all, it takes a second or two to get the gist of most Facebook wall posts, but a Facebook Live event might take five minutes or more for someone to extract all of its gems.  However, Steve got a lot of views.  As I sat in on Kawasaki’s and Wee’s respective presentations, I realized that what Steve had done could work for me, too.

On Tuesday, after I got home from the conference, I recorded my first Facebook Live session.  It had its moments, but was plagued with all of the problems with doing something live without any real testing.  After three attempts in which I actually went live, and numerous prior struggles with audio and video, I finally was frustrated enough to just go through with it.  There were small issues, as I was trying to flip through three pages of 8-1/2 by 11” document while reading from what I’d presented at Saturday’s Community Writers meeting.  I finally placed the three pages on a clipboard next to my camera.  It was my attempt to approximate eye contact with the camera – in essence, a kludge teleprompter without the “tele.”  This worked a bit better, as I was able to read through my work with just two brief transitions.  If you’ve seen the Facebook Live run, either live or recorded on my Facebook page, your teeth are likely grinding at the very thought of those transitions.  Surely, there is an alternative, but I will have to work this alternative out as I continue experimenting with this medium.

Tools for Live Recording

The Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to producing recorded content.  There are tools that make it easy enough to do.  Speaking as someone who came into it with no prior experience, I know that tools such as Windows Movie Maker and Camtasia can allow you to pre-record webinars with little more than a vision and a little intuition.  They are not necessarily professional quality, and will not be confused for something put out by teams that are dedicated to such tasks, but the bare bones are indeed possible, if not easy.  If you’re going for something that’s raw and grassroots, Facebook Live can instantly get you from ideation to a live broadcast. One of the major takeaways from Guy’s talk was the growing set of third-party tools that are already there to support you in your FB Live broadcasts.  There were three resources that he identified:

Telestream WireCast – This is a production studio toolkit.  It allows you to use multiple cameras and mics for Facebook Live, to capture live content, and to provide modern editing and layering to Facebook Live broadcasts. Telestream offers limited time trial versions, but the software itself runs around $500 for the base level.

Be.Live – This is more of a community for live creators, rather than a tool or integration itself.  This community is full of information.  One such post explains how you can download your live streams from Facebook.  This also sells “.live” domains for live content creators.  I’m not sure where the integration occurs here.

BlueJeans – teleconferencing technology that has integrated with Facebook Live.  From the website, it appears that most of this is done for enterprise teleconferencing, but I’m sure that you can stretch it to include live Q&A sessions with your fans, if you have the imagination.  There is a free trial of BlueJeans, but the full package is a subscription service.  With some exceptions, such as a 50% deal in March, the price is about $20 per month for up to 50 attendees at once.

Content is King

Later in the day, I watched my colleague, David I, illustrate examples of a developer portal that really doesn’t work.  He had some great points that make a lot of sense to all of us in the blogosphere.

The key point that resonated the most with me is that you may be trying to sell something, but the key reason why you should be producing content on your blog or site is to give something to your audience.  It doesn’t matter if that something is advice, information, or just you telling your story.  If you’re hocking something right off of the bat, you’re going to turn people away.

Another key point that I’d like to bring up is the volume of content, and the completeness of vision for your site.  If you’re reading this, you know that I have a blog.  I also have a Facebook author page that hasn’t gone live yet.  A large part of the reason why it hasn’t gone live is that it is still devoid of content and visual appeal.  With my blog, I have been focusing on delivering content, and do so because my only experience with blogs has been experience with text.  I have been exploring ways of expanding this to a full site.  For the time being, this is a blog, and the written content is king.  One of these days, when somebody picks up my blog, they will have a backlog of my thoughts, and will hopefully be able to trace my evolution as a blogger and as an author.  Right now, my Facebook author page has none of that.  For this and other reasons, I have not gone live with that page, and I may need to wait for some time before you, my friends, will see it.

If you haven’t heard about David I., then you’re missing out.  The man is a great presenter, and great storyteller.  He shares from his backlog of more than 45 years in the software development field, and his experience picking up an array of programming languages.  However, his reminiscing of days of compilers past is not what makes him so engaging as a presenter.  He has adopted numerous philosophies of presentation skills from presenter Jerry Weissman, and one of them is particularly helpful for those of us who want to use video as a medium for blogging and sharing content: ERA, earned run average.  Oops, nope. ERA…

Eye Contact – keep your eye on your audience, whether that is a camera or a live event.  If a live event, maintain eye contact with numerous people in succession.  A presentation is just a conversation with many people.

Reach Out – be welcoming, draw people in.  If you physically reach out (think with open arms), it’s like shaking hands.  There’s a visceral response to shaking hands, and it harkens back to centuries past, where you knew that if you were shaking hands, you weren’t carrying a weapon in that hand.  As most people are right handed, you’re proving that you’re at least vulnerable enough to not have anything in your dominant hand.

Animate – don’t just stand there, you corpse!  Lurch, the butler on the Addams Family, would stand there looking like the scenery, but most people are animated when they engage with others.  Use your hands.  Walk the stage.  If you’re only a close-up on a screen, laugh and smile, or gesticulate in some manner.

Closing Thoughts

After all that has happened this week, and my relative level of exhaustion, I didn’t think that this blog post would be as long as it is.  I’ll leave you with a few things:

  • If you’re trying to draw interest to your cause, try Facebook Live. It couldn’t hurt.  In fact, as of this posting, I have 165 views, and drew nine unique visitors to my blog in just under 40 minutes.  That’s not too bad.
  • Consider low cost or free production tools. Fiddle around with free tooling, and see what works for you. Some are fairly intuitive; even if they aren’t, you might learn something!
  • If you want to feel natural on the camera, you might not necessarily be able to animate, but try keeping eye contact with the camera as much as possible, and establish an open posture. If you look uncomfortable on the camera, then it won’t be any fun for your viewers.

Photo Credit: Cozendo on Pixabay.  CCO License.

If any of the above interested you, please check out the following:

Janice Mock
Guy Kawasaki
APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur
Susie Wee
David I

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.

Finding Time to Write

March 20, 2017

It has taken some time, but I am now back on a roll with writing.  After four straight days of contributing something to my current novel, I’m not riding a marathon high just yet, but I think I can work my way back to that kind of “writing shape” with relatively little effort.  Nevertheless, I need to find time to write.

Finding the time to write is an imperative for any writer, and it comes in increasingly short supply for all of us, whether one of those industrious writers who by either luck or the ideal cocktail of imagination and vocabulary are able to do it for a living, or for the rest of us who are hoping that we get there someday.  It has been difficult for me over the past several years, as well, with a job that has become increasingly rigorous in its demands, and a range of other interests and distractions that have shaped my life.  Some of these diversions and distractions are great, such as riding my bike and participating in “century rides.”  Others are not so great… thank you, Facebook and YouTube!

In certain respects, things were so much easier when I was writing Absconded by Sin, the novel that I completed in 2011.  At that time, I was transitioning between jobs.  Yes, there is a bit of euphemism there, as I was unemployed.  However, I was moving from education, a field that had consumed my life for four years (and well before that, if you consider my time as a student), to any field that matched my skills and interests.  At that time, I would spend a good four hours every day focused on fiction writing, another couple of hours spent on job hunting, and the remnants spent on cooking, errands, exercise, and household duties.  I could go to the beach, do hill repeats by running up and down the sand dunes, and sit down and spend as much time as I needed mapping out my next scene or considering my characters’ motivations.

After some time without a full-time job, I again joined the regular 9-to-5.  As I settled into being a desk jockey, I was still rolling to an end with Absconded by Sin, and had about a quarter of the narrative to go before I was ready to put my stamp on the first draft.  This latter portion of Absconded by Sin took a long time to unwind, and I was caught between trying to balance all of my focal activities from my transition period with the new job, while also trying to get up to speed with this new landscape.  On some nights, I was lucky if I strung together 100 words, while others yielded far less modest word counts.  Still, I didn’t have those four hours that I’d used to put together 2,000 word segments; when I did, they lacked the same flow and richness that I’d enjoyed in November of 2010 (my first NaNoWriMo).  Over time, I adapted, but I was far less likely to put together monstrous word counts.  Even then, it took about ten weeks to put together the first 140,000 words, and about four months to put together the next 45,000.  Believe me, it took a long time to reduce all of that by a third, as well!

Life always intervenes with writing.  In some ways, I’ve improved at striking this balance.  However, not every aspect has improved for the better.  The house I keep is not nearly as tidy as it once was – and I was never an expert at it, to begin with — and laundry often doesn’t enter the landscape that I paint for a given week.  Even then, I try to write a little every night, whether it is something that I will use in a novel or something I will use in any of the various side projects and endeavors that I undertake.  Even emails and other correspondence are important to my creative process, as long as I am writing something.

In October 2016, I was ready to start my current project, tentatively titled “Their Sharpest Thorns,” and I had a general outline of the story, up until the third act, and some decent character notes that I hoped to flesh out as the novel started.  At that point, I learned the hard way that it’s best to back up your writing.  After hours spent on outlining and uncovering critical details that would make my novel whole, I damaged my thumb drive – which contained the only version of that document – beyond repair.  Thus, going into November’s NaNoWriMo, wherein I typically make my big push on my projects, I was flying by the seat of my pants.  Some writers thrive in those conditions.  I must admit, I enjoy the spontaneity of such an undertaking, but I need my thoughts to look good “on paper” (to use a somewhat apt sports analogy) before I can commit words to the page.

I was able to eclipse 63,000 words during NaNoWriMo 2016, but now rest at 65,200, just 1,700 words and change beyond where I stood at the beginning of December.  Not all of this is due to inactivity.  Just a few weeks ago, I completed a project for a friend.  This is a 21,000 word (plus another 1,100 words from my wife) effort that mixes memoir with travelogue.  Through this, I intend to surprise my friend and pay a debt of gratitude for his kindness  — if you think you know who this friend may be, please keep this detail to yourself; I am sure that he does not read this blog, and I’d like to maintain the surprise.

In addition to that large project, I have rekindled my blog and am starting to promote both this blog and my book through various avenues.  As you can see throughout my various posts, these undertakings can easily exceed 1,000 words.  With that 21,000 word project off of my plate, and with the blog now flowing again, it is time to see another work of fiction through to completion.  There will certainly be more to share about this journey as my word count continues to rise. Until then, I’ll leave you with the words of Herman Wouk, author of The Winds of War:

“I try to write a certain amount each day, five days a week. A rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.”

Author’s Note: Ironically enough, as I put aside the time to write this post about finding time to write, I broke that four day streak of fiction writing.

Image Source: endlesswatts on Pixabay, listed as public domain.

A Little Love for the SMC Gaels

March 15, 2017

In preparation for this year’s NCAA March Madness tournament, I’d like to take a look back into the annals of my personal history.  To say that I am a basketball fan is a bit of an understatement.  At one time, I had a favorite player from each team, and could identify colleges and hometowns for many of the players in the NBA.  I still, on occasion, will surprise somebody when they mention they went to Southwestern Missouri State and I ask if they’ve heard of Jackie Stiles, or they mention that they went to UC Riverside, and I say “Oh, the Highlanders?”  In college, I put this passion to work, as I broadcast the women’s basketball games for our campus station, KSMC.  This year, I expected to see both the Gaels’ men and women in the NCAA tournament for the first time since I began following SMC athletics.  Alas, the women’s team did not beat the Zags in the conference finals, and the NCAA wouldn’t let two or three teams in from the tiny West Coast Conference.

I get a little worked up about the NCAA tournament games, yes, but at a certain point, I’m cheering for the laundry.  Without cable (and I’m definitely not complaining here), it’s tough to watch any NCAA games.  I am a bit removed from my alma mater, which is understandable given that I graduated more than a decade ago; I haven’t met any of the Gaels’ current players, and I don’t expect to do so any time soon.  At the same time, I have had a positive relationship with virtually every student athlete that I’ve met from St. Mary’s.  I’d like to take the time to recognize two of these student athletes for their endeavors into the world of writing, as well as their kindness and care as ambassadors for our alma mater.

Jon Sanders (Class of ’05)

I had very little interaction with the men’s basketball team as a whole; I shared classes with one player, a reserve guard who played sparingly, and the only times I could see a men’s game were when the women’s team was out on the road or had a gap in their schedule.  For these and other reasons, I saw far less than I would have liked of Jon Sanders.  Sanders, a 6’8″ point forward from Colorado, transferred to St. Mary’s and began playing as a Gael during my freshman year.  I had very little interaction with Jon, except to occasionally see him around campus or at parties, so I never had any conversation that was of any real substance with the man.  However, I could tell from our many brief interactions, which are more likely to happen on a small college campus, that the man had a great outlook on life.  He called me “Little Buddy” on a couple of occasions, which probably was just what he called people, but I think he understood his role as a celebrity and as one of the many faces of St. Mary’s College.  It was also one of the few times in my adult life that I’ve been called little anything, so there’s a novelty to that expression.  My correspondence with Jon since he graduated in 2005 has been brief.  For a while, he became a post player for teams overseas (Taiwan and Lithuania). Now, he spends his time as a trainer, a coach, a poet, and an author of children’s books.  Jon expresses an interest in politics and race relations, and I think that these are evident in his most recent poems, “Confused, Naked, and Cursed,” and “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN!”

These poems, perhaps a result of the recent socio-political climate, include two speakers who both express pain.  The first poem, which is in the first person and is apparently written from a female’s perspective, is different from many of Jon’s poems in the sense that it has an alternating rhyming scheme.  In most stanzas, every even line rhymes.  It’s not a consistent rhyme scheme, as there are also rhyming couplets, and the first stanza has only a near rhyme of “kill” and “feel.”  “JIM CROWING ONCE AGAIN” is more indicative of what I’ve seen from Jon’s work to this point, with a free verse and no consistent rhyme scheme or meter.  He uses allusion or reference more than he uses rhyme, and is much more direct in his subject matter.  His first-person speaker makes very little reference to himself as a speaker, and only uses indications of the first person to set a conversational mood.

Jon published his first book, a childrens book, The Kid Who Found a Basketball, through McNally Jackson Press.  You can find it here.

You can read Jon’s poetry here.

Mikaela Cowles (Class of ’08)

When I signed on as the play-by-play man for KSMC radio coverage of St. Mary’s Gaels women’s basketball games, I held true to a mandate that I was to be a fly on the wall, and a guest to the teams that I covered. It was, indeed, a privilege to cover the women’s basketball teams and, on rare occasion, the men’s baseball team. To their credit, the teams largely left me alone; they were able to focus on their games, and I was able to focus on my broadcasting. This isn’t to say that they weren’t friendly, and there were several players that I saw around campus from time-to-time. Two were English majors in my graduating class, so I would see them virtually every day, except for when they were out on the road. I’ve lost touch with many of the players that I knew over the years. To the best of my knowledge, only one player has pursued a career in writing: Mikaela Cowles.

Mikaela is two years my junior. She came to SMC from the Seattle area.  As a 6’1″ forward, Mikaela may have guarded every position on the floor in her time as a Gael.  Mikaela was the definition of a student-athlete, as she not only was a member of our basketball team, she was also a member of the highly-prestigious Integral program, an intensive liberal arts program that was effectively a university-within-a-university, and SMC’s closest equivalent to an honors college.

Mikaela has taken a very different route to her blogging.  While I want to engage with my audience in order to share my experiences and thoughts as a novelist, Mikaela blogs to advertise her business; Mikaela runs Making Language Count, LLC, a language consultancy firm, where she assists in creating tag lines, generating copy for small and mid-sized businesses, and various forms of editing work.  Creating marketing and sales copy does not fall within my particular expertise. However, I have looked over Mikaela’s portfolio and blog.  Her writing illustrates several characteristics of language that make me reminisce of times spent with SMC’s creative writing instructors.

When we talk about language, we observe several things.  On the macro level, we might talk about the content of the story versus the delivery.  On the micro level, we might talk about diction, or word choice.  I’ve observed the particular treatment that SMC professors give to word choice.  Within poetry, it may come down to a single word choice, but short story writers are also highly concerned with the delivery of the message, from the individual sentences on out to the entire 500 or 2,000+ word story.  Mikaela uses both of these to address concrete tasks, such as creating a bio, as well as the more abstract or bare bones, such as pacing a narrative.  When investigating her site for the purposes of this post, I uncovered her post about reasons for and against using long sentences.  It reminded me of one of my classes.  My professor drove home the point about using long sentences sparingly.  He, of course, showed us examples of long sentences followed by incisive, short sentences.  I’m sure that he isn’t the only writer who feels this way, and wasn’t the only professor at SMC to advocate for short sentences.  I am also certain that, if he ever read this post, he would immediately point out a dozen sentences that were too long for his liking. It makes me think that Mikaela was also one of Professor Tenorio’s students.

Through editing my own work, I’ve realized the usefulness of being terse.  There are actually statistics to back me up on this. In his recent blog post for Medium, Joshua Isard directed readers to this site: LitCharts.  Note where Hemingway stands relative to other great novels of the early 20th Century.  Note where The Grapes of Wrath lies relative to Hemingway.  One of the most recognized works by one of the most recognized writers in American history averaged less than 10 words per sentence.  Furthermore, neither Hemingway nor Steinbeck provide a high frequency of long words; in fact, they venture far below the average when it comes to words that exceed eight letters.  In terms of making language count, there’s a clichéd sports term that may apply: it’s not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

Find out more about Making Language Count here.

Thanks to fellow Gaels Jonathan Sanders and Mikaela Cowles for showing great examples of scholars and athletes.  Before I go, there’s one other Gael wordsmith-athlete that I’d like to mention; Tom Meschery, the former San Francisco Warrior, graduated from St. Mary’s in 1961.  Before he ended his career as a professional basketball player, he published his first book of poems in 1970.  Tom Meschery retired after a second career as a teacher, and continues to write poetry and blogs.

Most, if not all, of Tom’s blog posts end with a poem. Check them out, here.

The countdown to tipoff is starting, and I’m looking forward to the NCAA tournament.  Are there any Gaels writer-athletes I’ve missed?  How about any other writers who were also collegiate athletes? Feel free to mention them in the comments below.  Until next time, Go Gaels!

On to victory, the Red and Blue will win today…

—-

In case you missed them above:

The Poetry of Jon Sanders

The Kid Who Found a Basketball

Making Language Count

Meschery’s Musings on Sports, Literature and Life

For more information:

Saint Mary’s College of California

KSMC 89.5: The Voice of St. Mary’s College

The Writing Process: Where

March 13, 2017

I’ve heard two conflicting schools of thought when it comes to a writing space.  Some argue that the writing space is sacred, and that you need to have an assigned space that is your writing space, where you know you’re there to write and do nothing else.  Others argue that you need to be ready to write anytime and anywhere, because it doesn’t matter; when the muse inspires you to write, you must be ready.  When I consider my own writing space, I break it down to three components: physical space, time, and mind space.

Before you set a pencil to paper or open up that word processor, you need to find your own writing space.  For some, it is easier than others.  In On Writing, Stephen King describes writing on a typewriter and a children’s desk before getting his own writing desk.  I’d imagine he’d be able to set up a piece of butcher paper on an ironing board and still manage to get his 2,000+ words per day on the page.  Max Barry, the writer behind Jennifer Government reportedly wrote in his car during his lunch breaks.  Somewhere, I once read that Hemingway would write while naked and standing in the middle of his kitchen; I’m not sure if that’s a joke, or if that’s the winning formula for a Pulitzer.  I write wherever I can find a comfortable space, but it usually amounts to the couch.  When I was first married, we had a broken old futon that served as our primary couch, and on more than one occasion as our guest bed.  We still have it, and it still serves as our guest bed.  If I had to guess how much of Absconded by Sin was written while on that futon, I’d place the number at about 90%, and think that I was guessing too low.  Nevertheless, this was my writing space through my first several completed works.

I’ve heard that a number of writers write in the morning. Barbara Kingsolver and Kurt Vonnegut are two such writers that I can verify through their own words, and I’ve seen Stephen King mention the same.  When I started out, I was a morning writer, too.  I would wake up with my wife, who had an early commute, make her lunch every morning, and then start writing as soon as she left.  If I was lucky, I’d be out doing errands by 10am.  If I wasn’t, then I’d still be on the futon at noon, wondering if I’d get out to the grocery store that day or be able to get in a short run before I started my run of job applications for the day.  Whichever way you looked at it, both my plans for the day and my physical location depended on just how much I’d written that morning.  Now, of course, I have other obligations, and I do most of my writing at night.  I’ll talk more about that in a later post.  Today, the only time I spend working on fiction in the morning is after the clock strikes midnight, if I have the energy.

Aside from the physical space, there’s also the mental space.  There was a time that I’d be in constant thought, entirely focused on my fiction writing.  It didn’t matter if I started at 7am or 11am, I was going to be working on that novel.  I would go out on a short run or a bike ride, or go to the store, and I was always thinking about Angela and Henry, the two protagonists of my story.  In fact, sometimes the mere act of rolling a cart through a store was the perfect subterfuge that allowed me to focus on ending a scene or identifying a character’s motivations.  Of course, things have changed since I started writing Absconded by Sin, and getting started is sometimes a more arduous task.  I do some of my best writing on Sundays, or after I’ve had time to decompress in the evenings.  It’s rare that I’m able to get home from work, hit the keyboard, and feel like my writing is truly at its best.  When I’m writing, and truly moving the cursor, I’m not thinking about work, and I’m not checking to see what my friends think about the new MCU movie trailer, I’m writing, and that’s all that’s going on between my two ears.

I am a writer of habit, and I have never been able to write for any sustained period while in a coffee shop.  Once, I spent the day writing from a park bench.  It was a very productive day, and that park bench was much better than a coffee shop.  However, from the perspective of physical comfort and mental space, neither was nearly as familiar as my time spent on that old futon.

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.