Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Social Media and Comfort Zones

It's easy to get in a rut in your reading. After all, when you find something you like, you want more! But there is a such thing as too much. At some point, the sparkle is gone, the shine is off. It might still be comfortable, but it's not as exciting as it used to be. So it's time to try something new.

I know this pain as a reader. Trying something new is stepping outside your comfort zone, and it's so frustrating when you try something new and you don't like it. When you get burned like that, it is that much harder to try something new. You want to hedge your bets, to know that you're going to like the new thing.

So, how's a writer to get new people to try her work?

Well, we'll have to step out of our comfort zones, too, and try something new. As a writer in that very position, here's what I've been trying.

An "easy" thing that most people try at one point or another is social media. Whether you use Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr, Twitter, Goodreads, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest or some other platform, social media has several advantages for getting the word out there if you're a new author (and/or an introvert).

It's free.

It's popular.

It doesn't require that you leave your house.

But, oh dear, it can go badly when it goes badly. Cringing-ly badly.

Each of these social media platforms has their own aesthetic, their own etiquette and expectations. And a lot of excited new authors jump in with both feet, and their eyes closed, not looking around long enough to realize that they've elbowed someone in the chin flailing around like that. Hence you see feeds that have nothing but "BUY MY BOOK" or the same post with no alteration on several different platforms or worse yet, attacks or defensiveness about criticism. You make your potential readers uncomfortable or annoyed, and that can hurt not only one potential sale, but all your future potential sales to a reader.

Whatever platform you choose to play in, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Look around. Observe first. Make sure you understand how people typically use this platform. See what kinds of posts get positive response. Learn from what others do.

2. Do something there besides advertise. The users of all of these platforms aren't there to read ads. I mean, really, would anyone go anywhere specifically to watch ads (except maybe to YouTube to watch the clever Superbowl ads)? Don't forget the SOCIAL in social media. Make friends. Respond to what other users are doing. Post about something besides your work.

3. Always put the best version of you forward. We all have complaints, but these public forums are not the place. Save your venting for the private spaces in your life, among friends and colleagues. You don't have to be Pollyanna, but neither should you be Oscar the Grouch, hating everything. Be yourself, but with your filters on.

4. Pick a platform you enjoy. It's not necessary to be on *everything* or to drive yourself crazy trying to keep up. I probably do too many, but I'm an experimenter, and I use different platforms for different things. I like to try out new things and push myself out of my comfort zone. This will take some trial and error. You have to *try* something before you know if you like it, just like you're hoping people will give you a try as an unknown author.

For example, here's me trying video. I'm not very comfortable in the medium, but I like the idea of being able to give people a taste of what my book is like even if they can't make it to any of my events. I'm not ready to be flashy when it comes to video, but I could handle giving my phone to my sister and asking her to film me while I read at Con-Gregate.

5. Be honest. People don't like being lied to or scammed. If no one has reviewed your book yet, don't claim to have five star reviews. If you've sold ten copies to your friends and family, don't claim you're a bestseller.

That goes for your book advertising in other ways, too. Make sure your cover art and back of the book blurb give people a good idea what the book is about. People don't like bait and switch, and that's how it feels when you think you're buying a nice, straightforward romance, and suddenly a vampire descends from the ceiling. You don't do yourself any favors by getting people to buy your work under false pretences . . .they probably won't like it.

So, my author and other creative friends, what are you trying to get the word out about what you do? What's working or isn't?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Congregating at Con-Gregate

I'll be at Con-Gregate this weekend, getting my geek on and talking books and all things nerdy with my people. I had a great time last year and can't wait to go back. Here's what I'll be up to. Look on my schedule and be jealous! (Or better yet, come out and join the fun, if High Point, North Carolina is anywhere near you). If you're not already familiar with Con-Gregate, you can read this interview with the organizers from last year to learn more.

Friday, July 14: 3:00
Full-Time Creative Work on a Part-Time Schedule
I'll be moderating this panel with Glenda Finkelstein, Chris Kennedy, Ian J. Malone, and Michael D. Pederson. We'll talk about how we manage our creative work alongside our families, jobs, and other commitments and what tricks we've learned along the way to be productive without driving ourselves crazy.

Friday July 14: 4:00
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Reboot
Moderator Mark MacDicken will lead this discussion with me, Stuart Jaffe, and Michael G. Williams. Looking forward to seeing what my fellow panelists think of the new team on the show.

Friday July 14: 9:00
Java and Pros I probably shouldn't be having coffee this late, but it's worth giving up a little sleep to share a reading with Darin Kennedy. Darin and I share a publisher for at least some of our work, and had our debut novels at around the same time. He's also been gracious to me in many ways as I found my comfort with the con scene. (And he's a damn fine writer).

Saturday July 15: 1:00
Writing from Different Perspectives Thank goodness for late starts on Saturday, because it looks like I'll be up late on Friday. But what a great panel to kick off my day with! We'll be talking about writing characters who are different from ourselves and how to be authentic, respectful, and sensitive in those portrayals. My fellow panelists are moderator Amy H. Sturgis and Barbara Hambly, Larry N. Martin, and Michael G. Williams

Saturday July 15: 5:00
Signing Table I'll be sharing a table with Kim Headlee and we'll both be signing our books and talking with anyone who has time to stop by. I'm extra excited about this since I'll have a new release to show off.

Saturday July 15: 6:00
And More Geeky Rants Come see what has our panties in a bunch. I'll be ranting and laughing with moderator Rich Sigfrit and panelists Misty Massey, Kim Headlee, and Tally Johnson.

Saturday July 15: 8:00
Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading A smorgasbord of authors, each reading a few minutes of their work. Just enough to leave you wanting more. I'll be reading alongside literary luminaries like John G. Hartness, Paula S. Jordan, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Gail Z. Martin, Misty Massey, Melissa McArthur, and Nancy Northcott (and maybe others will join the party, too).

Saturday July 15: 10:00
The Dichotomy Between Good and Evil I'll be moderating this panel about those lovely gray areas when good people do bad things and bad people do good things and how that plays out in fiction. Can't wait to hear what panelists Kim Headlee, J. Matthew Saunders, Edmund R. Schubert, and Michael G. Williams have to say.

Sunday July 16: 12:00
1987: Never Gonna Give You Up I'll be walking down nostalgia alley with other recovering 80s kids moderator JT "The Enginerd" and panelists Mark MacDicken , Gild the Mourn, and Misty Massey.

Sunday July 16: 2:00
Fusion: Alternative Histories and Mixing Genres: I get to finish by moderating one more panel with the fantastic Melissa McArthur and Glenda Finkelstein. We'll be talking about our favorite mash ups and what makes these stories so wonderful.

So behold my weekend and grit your teeth in jealousy! Or even better, join me. You can view the entire schedule here and learn more about Con-Gregate here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

IWSG: Valuable Lessons

Writing has taught me a lot: about myself, about wordsmithing, about the business of publishing, and how to fireproof ordinary clothing . . . In fact, I think that's part of the joy of writing as a career choice. There's no drudgery, no same-old, same-old, not waffles again. Each writing project is it's own puzzle to solve, mountain to climb, or whatever metaphor you prefer. It's all learning.

IWSG is asking this month: What is one valuable lesson you've learned since you started writing? I'm going to take "started writing" to mean "started seriously writing" because I've always dabbled and played, but I've only been serious about it since about 2013.

The most valuable lesson I've learned during this time is that you have to understand yourself as an artist to get anywhere. There are thousands of paths to a writing life, and myriad advice about when and how to work your way through the writing and publishing process, but none of that matters in the end. You have to find and do what works for you as an individual. That's going to mean trial and error to find a process that gets results.

I learned that I can write anywhere--I don't have to have a particular environment or time of day--but that I have to write every day in order to make progress and stay on track.

For me, the commitments I make only to myself have been the easiest to let slide. I've fallen off so many wagons that I have permanent spoke marks and hay in my hair. It took me until I was in my forties to understand that a little selfishness is necessary to get there (whatever *there* you've picked in your life: weight loss, mastery of a new skill, etc.). I began insisting on writing time every day.

I was reasonable about it. I didn't ask for twenty-three of every twenty-four hours or anything crazy like that. I tried to choose my writing time during hours that would have lower impact on the needs and wants of the people in my life. It took a little time, but we all adjusted and now writing is just something I do every day.

As of the writing of this post, I have written for 1,373 days in a row (250 words is the minimum to count as "having written" by my reckoning, though I shoot for 800 on schooldays and 2,000 on non-schooldays now, after building up my endurance). I've written 1,672,415 words since I started tracking with Magic Spreadsheet (1,373 days ago). I've finished drafts of six novels, and seen three through to publication (the third one comes out July 11). I've also written several short stories and novellas as well, and written a weekly blog post, articles, and guest posts galore during this time.

But all of that is after making a commitment to myself and keeping it, and getting to that point took all the forty-years that led there. My new struggle, what I'm learning now, is how to set priorities to make the most efficient use of my writing time. I still work full time, and am now managing book promotion and publication business as well as writing new words. It's a whole new ballgame.

I'm looking forward to reading the other posts by IWSGers on this topic and would love to hear from you in the comments. What have you learned? What are you still struggling with?
If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.