Talk Less. Listen More.

Found art. Literally. I was looking at my camera uploads to choose a pic for today’s post and found this. No idea what it is or how it happened, but what a gorgeous mistake. Art can be like that.

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is Author behavior tips for social media. My answer is a little different this time. 

 

Backlist Valentine: PETALS & THORNS

This week we’re giving a valentine to the books of years’ past and sharing a title from our backlists. A little love for those publications that might even predate the creation of this blog!

For mine, I’m sharing my first standalone fiction publication. It was my first sale as a novelist, even though it’s technically a novella at 81 pages, and I originally published it with Loose ID. (Now sadly going out of business.) It’s an erotic fantasy – a BDSM Beauty and the Beast – and is still one of my best-selling titles ever. Also, I originally published it under the pseudonym “Jennifer Paris,” the one time I used that name. When I got the rights back and self-published the book (also my first venture into self-publishing), I did it under my own name. A bit of history there.

In exchange for her father’s life, Amarantha agrees to marry the dreadful Beast and be his wife for seven days. Though the Beast cannot take Amarantha’s virginity unless she begs him to, he can and does take her in every other way. From the moment they are alone together, the Beast relentlessly strips Amarantha of all her resistance. 

 If Amarantha can resist her cloaked and terrifying husband, she gains his entire fortune and will be allowed to return to her family and a normal life. But the Beast seduces her at every turn, exposing, binding, tormenting, and pleasuring Amarantha until she no longer knows her own deepest desires. Increasingly desperate to break the curse that chains his humanity, the Beast drives Amarantha past every boundary. But her desire for a normal life may jeopardize the love that will save them both.

 

 

As an interesting aside, here’s this article on how Facebook is “flattening” content and reducing the ability of creators to share quality stuff. I’m trying to share it widely in places that AREN’T Facebook. 

Russian Trolls Under Every Bridge

One thing I’ve noticed recently, in sifting through the spam comments on my blog, is how many come from Russians now. And on one post, in particular.

See, I stopped looking at the spam comments after a while. This kind of went along with my overall dip in blogging that I mentioned yesterday. The comments seemed to be always and endlessly spam, and never any legit ones. Always jam yesterday and none today. The White Queen haunts me.

Of course, some of this came as a natural consequence of me not blogging comment-worthy stuff. But then I did say something interesting, and my friend, the lovely Grace Draven, mentioned to me on Facebook that she commented at length–but I didn’t see it. It was in my spam folder, because apparently Grace is actually a troll selling off-brand cross-trainers and possibly nudie webcam dancing. I was able to rescue her comment, and set about housecleaning that bursting folder. 

I’ve been trying to keep up with it better – with the help of wonderful assistant, Carien – and I’ve noticed something very interesting. Most all of the spam comments are on one old post from 2014, called “Taking Guns to the Mall.”  (Note: I’ve since changed the title, in an effort to stop the spam bots.) And the comments come from people with Russian names and often with Cyrillic characters in them. They’re the usual balderdash of jigsaw puzzled paragraphs of technical information with links, both commercial and likely nefarious. What happens here is that bots are crawling the internet looking for search terms and submitting these “comments” to the posts. 

Interesting search terms, huh?

It’s fascinating to me to have my own small intersection with a worldwide plague, one that very likely contaminated the 2016 election. Evidence cited in that article indicates that Russia-backed posts reached as many as 126 million Americans on [Facebook] during and after the 2016 presidential election.  

If you haven’t seen it, this video of Senator Franken grilling the Facebook lawyer is full of awesome. 

At any rate, I considered deleting that post, or changing the title to something less likely to tempt the trolls out from under their bridges. For now I’ve tried turning off comments to the post. It will be interesting to see how that works.

Meanwhile, that’s still one of my favorite photos of David, dressed as a pirate in the big hat. Sail on, me hearties. 

Crying Wolf

The bright day after the big snowstorm. The snow is melting fast and I’m betting it will be all gone by midafternoon. 

Our topic this week at the SFF Seven is an open author riff, an invitation to talk about whatever’s on our minds. 

I ended up complaining about bad security advice on the Internet. Because I couldn’t help myself. Don’t bother reading it – it’s a boring rant. Really. 

Getting More Facebook Likes

001This pic didn’t come out as well as I would have wished, because Jackson was moving so fast. But he’s perched on the back of a chair next to my treadmill desk, methodically swiping things to the floor so I’ll pay attention to him. Funny cat.

Before I forget, I’m teaching an online writing workshop starting next week, on October 18: Defying Gravity: Writing Cross-Genre and Succeeding Anyway. This is for my longtime online home chapter, the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Special Interest Chapter of RWA (FFP).

Genre definitions have a profound influence on writers’ careers. From the first queries where we must specify the book’s genre to long-term decisions about pursuing or giving up on a “dead” genre, dealing with what feels like a false construct is a necessary skill. However, following our hearts and inspiration often means tossing aside these considerations.

Or chopping them to pieces in a murderous rage.

But shedding conventions can be what sets a book apart. That’s what takes a writer’s career from midlist to break-out. So… how do you know? More—how do we find the courage to embrace a bold move?

In Wicked, the heroine Elphaba is faced with that crucial decision, of whether to choose the safe path or to risk flying on her own. This workshop will explore genre definitions and how Jeffe Kennedy went from being a “Crack Ho” – being told that her work fell in the cracks between genres – to receiving a nomination for Book of the Year and an RT Seal of Excellence for the one title each month that stands out from all the rest by an innovative twist on a familiar story or pushing genre boundaries. Participants will discuss their experiences with genre—both coloring inside the lines and stepping across them—and will leave inspired to take risks and follow their hearts.

Everyone deserves a chance to fly!

I’m teaching this by special request, so it should be big fun. 🙂

While that workshop is about breaking away from market considerations, I want to talk a bit about promoting books on social media. This is something authors are forced to think about, whether they want to or not. Accordingly, there’s tons of advice out there on the topic, Rule #1 of which tends to be along the lines of “Get More Followers!”

Recently one of my published author email loops went bananas with people offering to trade Facebook likes – as in, you like my page and I’ll like yours. They did the same with following on Twitter.

I think this is a really bad idea.

Sure, the numbers go up, which apparently satisfies Rule #1. But it’s not real. Worse, it creates a false idea of your social media reach.

Let me caveat before I go on that I’m friends with and following/followed by LOTS of authors. Hell, I’m writing this blog post for authors. Nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, networking with other authors can be important for building community and career opportunities.

However – creating a trade system with other authors to like one another’s pages does three things: It skews our lists to the wrong people, possibly diminishes our reach to real readers and skews our own perceptions.

Skewing our lists to the wrong people

We all know Facebook is a mystical bog of smoke and mirrors. They really want us to pay money to get followers to see our posts, so they mess with our reach. We try to game the system. They game it right back. It’s an eternal battle to be seen, on top of the usual discoverability battle. This may be growing more true of Twitter also. The only thing we can be sure of is that only a portion of our followers will see a given post. If all of our followers are people who are there because they’re interested in our books, at least that portion who sees a post will be them! If a portion of our followers are from reciprocal author trades … guess what?

Diminishing our reach to real readers

Yes, yes, yes – people will always argue that writers are readers, too. Of course we are! And, sure, I’ll like the pages of authors I want to keep track of. But that’s entirely because I want to, not through a trade. A trade isn’t organic. See above. We want people to follow and like us because they are ACTUALLY INTERESTED in our books. This might be more difficult, but they’ll be real followers. See below.

Skewing our own perceptions

As nice as it may be to look at our profiles and see hundreds or thousands of followers, as lovely an ego stroke as that may be, if a whole bunch of those are from author reciprocal trades, then it means nothing. Worse, it allows us to kid ourselves that we’re doing well in expanding our reach when we’re not. It’s a pleasant little fantasy and there’s no room for that in running a business. On the other hand, gaining *real* followers is a good measure of success – and one to be proud of.

Let’s get those real followers, people! Oh, and my Facebook author page is here.

What??? I *had* to give that a go. 😉

Growing Up and Facing the Bullies

snapshot_000DC5D89D0F_20150918175453David got this pic of me, without my knowledge, with a video surveillance camera he was playing with. Which is why the colors are so stark. Always interesting to see a view of myself when my attention is totally on something totally other than being photographed – in this case, on getting the photograph *I* wanted.

I want to tell you all a story. I think I’ve referenced it before, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never told the whole thing. I’ver written it in my head enough times that I’m not sure, however. It starts with 8th Grade.

See, I had English as the last class of the day, every day. I had kind of a love/hate relationship with English class in general, especially in middle school. On the one hand, I got to READ, for school, even! And I loved to write. Both were very easy for me, so much so that I almost held them in contempt. Surely something so easy wasn’t worthwhile. Also, while my math and science teachers gave me accelerated assignments to work on, to keep me interested, there wasn’t anything like that in English. I was bored a lot of the time. And, because I was 13, I didn’t have the sense or poise to disguise that fact. I also had started menstruating when I was 12 and I was full of sexual feelings. Feelings for which I had little outlet, beyond masturbation and illicit reading. It did come out in the poems I had to write for English class, probably much more so that I realized. I don’t think my stuff was at all graphic – I mean, we had to read them out loud – but it was full of sensual language. I know because I kept a list of “good words,” many of which I still use today in writing erotic scenes. I also had all kinds of adolescent sexual energy behind what I wrote.

Looking back, at the fact that I’ve become a writer, not a scientist, this all makes perfect sense. But I didn’t understand it at the time. Also, being a 13-year-old girl, I had zero idea how to handle boys.

There was a group of boys in that class – four or five of them that were friends, all football players. I remember two clearly. One I’ll call John, a gentle guy who I had a bit of a crush on, and the other was a guy I’ll call Doug Smith. Now, Doug was quite the star. Athlete, tall, dark hair – all the girls liked him. He was the leader of this little group. And for whatever reason, they fixed on me. This all goes back to the thing of “when boys like a girl, they tease her.” Well, they did more than tease. Every day after class ended, they would follow me out of class and grab my ass.

This is one of those montage things. It felt like it went on forever. It felt like they all tried to grab me, put their hands between my legs. Doug Smith did the most. I tried various tactics. Waiting to talk to the teacher, leaving class really fast. If I managed to evade them, their laughter would follow me.

No, I never told anybody about it. Not even my friends.

If my mom is reading this, she’s probably all upset that I never told her.

Why didn’t I? I don’t know. It was that shame thing. I didn’t understand why they were doing it, only that I felt terrible and wanted them to stop. I didn’t want anyone else to know about it because that would only make it worse, for people to know.

And that’s not even the relevant part of the story. It came to an end, probably because we graduated 8th grade or they moved on to some other target. I think I got better at fighting it – I kicked one of them once, pretty hard. I even rode rides at the amusement park for 8th grade graduation with my crush John, though that never went anywhere. Doug Smith went on to be the high school superstar in many ways and I fell out of his orbit of notice, thankfully.

The weird part of this story is that, about a year or so ago, Doug Smith sent me a Facebook friend request.

Right? Like a bolt from the blue. And all those awful feelings rushed back, though I have the maturity now know to process them and know them for what they were. So, turns out Doug is an artist these days. As a career. After sitting on the request, and mentioning the history obliquely to a few friends, I finally accepted the request. I kind of wanted to see what he’s about, these three decades later. He’s very chipper on Facebook – about both his art and my writing. He sometimes comments about my various successes and invites me to attend his shows.

He’s working the social media, you know?

And I find myself wondering – does he remember what he and his pack did to me? Maybe they thought nothing of it. I might have been some pretty girl they thought they were flirting with. When I read stories about people confronting their childhood bullies as adults, it seems that a lot of the time the bully had no concept of their impact. Mostly I try to reconcile this very macho, dick-swinging, callous teen with who appears to be a thoughtful and sensitive artist today. I sometimes wonder if he’s gay and out now, and that all that meanness and sexually related cruelty came from his struggles with that.

I don’t have an answer to any of it. Probably there are none. I think mostly I’m mulling this idea I have that a person who’s an artist can’t also be cruel, which I think is wrong. I also believe people can change and obviously that was a long time ago. I’m not the girl I was then. He’s clearly not the guy he was.

But I’ve never replied to him on Facebook. I just watch, and think about this.

How to Switch Up that Filter Bubble – and Why You Should

Under ContractHard to believe that my third Falling Under book, UNDER CONTRACT, comes out in less than a month! Let me know if you’d like a review copy or want to be part of the blog tour.

A few months ago I made a deliberate effort to switch up my filter bubble. If you don’t know what that is, Eli Pariser gave a great TED Talk about it, which really opened my eyes to the problem. Essentially, social media is both deliberately and accidentally pruning the information we see. Facebook promotes both the people it thinks we interact with most and what stories they want us to see. When we search on Google, the results are tailored to where we are, what we usually look at and, again, what they want us to see. On Twitter, I use lists to do my own pruning, so I can manage the flow of information. I have the people I follow sorted into groups like Friends, Writing Friends, Writing Community, Readers, Agents/Editors, and so forth. I have the columns for each list set up in the order I most want to see them – Direct messages is on the farthest left, then Notifications, Mentions, Friends, etc.

I sometimes switch people in and out of lists, but I’d kept the same order for a long time. Until last February when I went to the Coastal Magic Convention. (Speaking of which – I’m going again next year and it’s one of the most fun, relaxed and reader/author friendly conventions ever. Registration opens June 30. You can like the Facebook page to keep abreast of updates.)

At that time, the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey was about to come out. Predictably, my timelines were full of criticism for the books, the author, the social/political implications and, in anticipation, the movie. A lot of authors and publishing industry folks have mad hate for all of these things, for myriad reasons. They cite bad writing a lot. Many people want to upvote “good” romance, erotica and BDSM in its place. If you looked at my typical feed alone, you’d be mystified that this franchise is at all successful. Pretty much everyone in that particular bubble hates on it.

So, imagine my surprise at going to this reader convention where pretty much everyone THERE was excitedly talking up the movie. They could not wait. No one said anything about bad writing or social/political implications. They loved the books, the author and, in anticipation, the movie. One gal mentioned to me that 25 book bloggers had been selected to attend the premier, she referenced it offhand, by way of telling me a story about the contest to select them. I said I’d had no idea about that. (And how smart of the movie studio, huh?) She gave me a funny look and said, “What rock have you been under?”

My filter bubble one.

It was such a relief to hear from the readers, to hear their pure love for the books instead of the relentless criticism. And isn’t that what I need to hear about, as an author? I want to know what the READERS want, not what other authors think.

So, I deliberately switched things up. I moved my Twitter columns around, varying which columns sit in my most-looked-at positions. On Facebook, I made a point of looking up people I don’t see in my feed much and interacting with them – particularly readers and book bloggers – so they’d get promoted in my feed.

And it worked!

Yesterday, one of my author friends – who is a bestie, so she’s always high in my feed – commented that she was bummed about all the hate in *her* timeline for the new Fifty Shades book, Grey. It’s essentially the same story as the first book, but told from Grey’s point of view. I had not seen much of the hate! I’d been seeing excitement from readers as they snapped up the book on release day, devoured it, and happily discussed.

Total win – because what the readers love is what I want to know about.

Happy weekend everyone!

Why I Don’t Care About Commas

BIQNbrsCIAEUWCUThe ceremony for my 25th college reunion was held in Graham Chapel, one of my favorite places on campus. I saw the Violent Femmes play here, back in the day. They put lights outside that enormous stained-glass window and made it part of the show. Amazing memory.

I thought I’d post about my reunion today, but it turns out I’m still processing what ended up being an unexpectedly emotional experience. On my way there, I was joking about writing a reunion book so I could deduct the trip and now I’m thinking what I have to say might end up being something like that. Perhaps this long-time set-aside-to-ferment narrative nonfiction book.

We’ll see.

Also  on the way there, and while I was there, and on the way back, I worked on my content revisions and line edits for Rogue’s Possession. This is my least favorite round of edits and most hated part of the whole writing gig. It’s painstaking and requires great attention to detail at the point when you’re completely Sick To Death of the story. You’ve been over stuff so many times that it all seems trite and dull.

With edits, too, there’s a constant struggle to determine what the right decision should be. My editor wants it one way. I want it another way. How can I please us both? More – it becomes this internal tug-of-war in sorting out whether I’m just resisting not having it MY WAY or if I have a solid foundation for fighting the alteration of my original text. This is exacerbated by the whole “art” thing, where a lot of times I can’t rationalize or articulate my reasons for sticking to my guns. I just FEEL it and there lies the boggy territory of sounding like a diva and being Difficult To Work With.

So, I do this rarely. But sometimes I feel I have to dig in my heels and say no. I want to keep this character. Or I like this line. The scientist in me hates not providing a logical defense, but the artist is happy. Believe me, Artist Me is much more difficult to placate than Scientist Me.

For this reason, I accept most edits. Especially punctuation and grammar.

You know those things people are always sending around Facebook, showing why commas are important? Never amuse me. Especially the ones championing the Oxford comma. For those who are not punctuation-obsessed, the Oxford comma is the one preceding an “and” in a series. It’s considered optional by most rational people these days. Thus it can be “apples, oranges, and bananas” or “apples, oranges and bananas.”

Yes, Mom, I know what the nuns told you. It’s optional now.

Personally, I like fewer commas. The Oxford comma is a waste of a keystroke in my world. Even other comma games, like those demonstrated in the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, leave me cold. The title is a kind of word play, thus the panda image. The comma placement supposedly differentiates between whether a panda “eats shoots and leaves” of plants or “eats, shoots and leaves,” suggesting it might dine on the plant, then shoot someone and take off for parts unknown. It’s a cute example, but this kind of this drives me crazy. Nobody would seriously believe in that context that the panda is shooting a gun. If they are that easily confused, then they likely have bigger problems. I’ve also got issues with a “zero tolerance approach” to pretty much anything at all.

However.

I do understand that some people care about these things. I have an old friend who’s been a computer coder all his life and it makes him crazy if I fail to close my parentheses. Yes, it’s a careless mistake on my part. For him, that missing parenthesis could mean a week of work sorting through code to determine why a program won’t run. This is more than panda antics to him.

Really, this matches my approach to most things, such as housework: whoever cares the most is responsible for doing it. You want a clean kitchen all the time? Knock yourself out! I don’t mind a few dishes in the sink. You HAVE to have an Oxford comma? Fine, whatever. I will never fight a comma placement. I just don’t care enough.

I save my caring for the REALLY important stuff.

Like keeping “laughed” as a dialogue tag.

I don’t see why I can’t have that.

<end rant

Social Media, Tragedy and Giving Each Other a Little Room to Be Good People

001I love this kitty queue to keep a vigilant eye on a nest they can’t quite reach.

You all know I’m on the internet pretty much all the time. I work from home for my day job, so I have my personal laptop on Twitter while I work, in case something interesting happens. For a break, I’ll pop over to FaceBook to see what’s going on. I prefer to keep up with emails as they come in, so I keep an eye on my personal email In-Box along with my work one.

I’m lucky this way. I have unfettered access to my wireless network. If something funny occurs to me, I can tweet it right then. If someone posts an NSFW link (Not Safe For Work), I can click on it. No firewall stops me. No one looks over my shoulder. When people ask me how I have so much time for social media, this is why. Sometimes I turn off the internet if I need to concentrate and can’t afford distractions, but mostly I dabble throughout the day.

So, yesterday, within ten minutes of the bombs going off at the finish line at the Boston Marathon, I saw a tweet about it. I don’t always see stuff that fast, but someone I follow happened to post it and I happened to glance right then. The company I work for is based in Boston and I have a lot of connections there, so it caught my eye.

It’s interesting to watch things ramp up, as more and more people become aware. There’s a lot of very good trading of information. There’s also expressions of thoughts and prayers. Soon the tweetstream overruns with nothing else. With a few glaring exceptions.

The tweets NOT about the unfolding tragedy begin to stand out in stark relief. They can be jarring – someone’s book release, a tweet about a fascinating thing a speaker said, a picture of a statue at a museum.

There are two things going on here: 1) people schedule tweets to post during the day while they’re at work or school or whatever. 2) people are at conferences and museums, posting interesting stuff, but paying attention to what they’re doing, not what people are saying on Twitter.

But, in the heightened emotional sea of the people who are glued to what’s going on, they see these diversions as distracting, and worse, a sign of self-absorption.

Thus the castigating began. People were posting tweets like “anyone posting promo for their book at a time like this ought to be ashamed of themselves.” A prominent publishing figure on Twitter said “People, now is the time to pull your scheduled tweets,” one I saw RT’d over and over.

Well, it’s lovely for her that she thinks it’s so easy. She is another who is online all the time and has unfettered access to the internet. A whole lot of people out there simply do not. They are not allowed to access FaceBook from work. They are behind government or private firewalls that provide security but prevent them from signing into something like Twitter. Their choices are to be silent on social media all day or schedule posts. For people working hard to promote their new book, being silent isn’t an ideal choice.

The thing is, most of the time, these scheduled tweets are invisible in the stream. They look like the same thing everybody else is saying. Only when the mass voice of Twitter shifts to something like yesterday’s tragedy, do they stand out like proverbial sore thumbs. I saw one guy comment that he hates scheduled tweets and their inappropriateness at those times makes him hate them more. My bet is that he doesn’t know which ones are scheduled most of the time. I also bet he can access the internet whenever he wants.

So, as people were dog-piling on these “selfish” tweeters, I noticed two of my friends who were going to draw negative attention. One was at a tourism conference and she was tweeting all sorts of fascinating facts. The other was at a museum, posting interesting photos of things he was seeing. Very normal for both of them, but it looked insensitive. Both are lovely, empathetic people, so I knew they had no idea. I ended up texting both of them on their phones, so they could stop – and both were grateful for the heads up.

But, I think I shouldn’t have had to do this. I think there’s a lot of room for us to be tolerant of each other. It’s easy, especially when emotions are strong and there’s nowhere to channel them, to make assumptions about people’s motivations and abilities. It seems that, especially in the face of tragedy, we could maybe give people the benefit of the doubt. Pretty much nobody is so insensitive that they’ll be chattering about their book or a conference speaker while people are posting photos of the bomb scenes. It’s clear the person doesn’t know. If scheduled tweets are continuing, maybe we can figure that the person can’t sign in to pull them. It might be good to practice assuming the best of people, rather than the worst.

Yesterday, while people were expressing despair and horror, they were also passing around this quote ascribed to Mr. Rogers:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

And people pointed out how many rescuers – police, medical folks, runners, civilians – immediately ran to help. There are a lot of good people out there. Most of us are good people. Most of us try to be better people.

Maybe we should assume that, first.