Rage, Impotence and Why Transparency Is Still Better

p1013136When I was in grad school, I drove this old Honda Accord that my folks passed on to me. It was a great car and I loved it. Got me everywhere, always started, great zippiness and gas mileage. At one point, I needed to replace the windshield and also some wheel bearings. I can’t recall why I did it this way (this was probably 25 years ago), except that I was poor, but I sourced a new windshield and the wheel bearings at a salvage yard in Greeley, Colorado. I lived in Laramie, Wyoming at the time – about 1.5 hr drive north of Greeley – so I drove down, picked up the parts and drove them down to Denver (another hour) to my mechanic to install. Denver is where I grew up and where my folks were, so I’m sure this made logistical sense at the time, timed with a visit to them. Why I wanted to go to that mechanic has totally escaped me.

Why I remember it at all is because, when the salvage guys loaded the windshield into the back seat, I helped position it. I closed the door on my side, then one of them closed the door on the other and I heard a crunch. I opened the door on that side and, sure enough, he’d closed it on the corner of the windshield and crushed it. I pointed this out and they pulled the windshield out again. The owner met with me in his office and said how I’d broken it. He was full of noise and bluster. I said it was crushed on the corner where his guy shut the door and he said, oh no, it broke down the middle. I said, no way! He looked me in the eye and said, “it’s in the Dumpster out back now, cracked down the middle.”

And I realized he knew he was lying and meant to bully me.

He offered to split the cost of the windshield with me – which meant I paid half for something I never even got – but I needed the wheel bearings, so I finally agreed. I drove off, fuming with rage and impotence, entirely uncertain what else I could have done.

Still makes me mad. 

The point of this story is that it happened before smart phones and social media. I could – and did – tell everyone I knew what a crap operation that guy ran. But, if I’d had a camera phone then, I would have snapped a picture before they took the windshield away. I would have posted it to hell and gone on social media if they’d still tried to cheat me. I would have left a nasty review everywhere I could find.

As it was, I had no way to hold them accountable. 

I see this as a vast change in the world. So many people are questioning why we see so much terrible stuff happening – cops beating innocents, protesters being bullied, bigots and racists spouting horrifying opinions – but I think that shit has been going on all this time. We just didn’t see it.

Instead we were all stuck with fuming in impotent rage, sucking up the hit, and moving on. We told our small circles, sure, but we had no way to broadcast the injustice to a larger world. In this day and age, that guy would never have gotten away with doing that to me.

All in all, for all its evils, I think the transparency is better. 

Social Media Sin #1

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Megan Hart and I at the Day of the Dead mixer at the Coastal Magic Convention. Those skeleton hands temporary tattoos were super cool – and hell to get off again. Oops.

But I’m over at Word Whores today to talk about virtual communities and circles of social media hell. Which do I pick as my current #1 Social Media Sin? Click on over to find out. 

Why I’m Tired of the Bitching about Smart Phones

11_5_2015I got this photo the other day, as the winter storm approached in the early morning. So dramatic.

Taking photographs is fun for me, and I think I’m getting better at it. Most of the time, however, I don’t work at it very diligently. These days it’s mostly an “Oh look at that – I should get a picture!” What I’d really love to learn is videography. (I keep thinking about getting a video card for my camera. I really should.) I have a couple ideas in mind for videos I want to make.

Right now, the one I really want to make would be in response to the one floating around Facebook with the clickbait title “If this doesn’t make you put down your phone, nothing will.” I don’t want to link to it because it annoyed me. Yes, yes – the bait worked and I clicked. It was one of those video poems with a guy rapping about how focusing on your phone means you’ll lose your friends. It shows a person looking at their phone while sitting with three others, then the other three disappear and the person is alone.

So sad, right?

There are lots of memes and rants on this subject. There’s another floating around of a group of teens all looking at their phones while walking down the street with the caption “the real zombie apocalypse.” Or people snap pics of a group in a bar, all looking at their phones and bitch about how social interaction is disappearing.

The thing is, this is a self centered view.

It’s all people outside looking in. Of course those teenagers look like they’re zombies from the outside – because their focus is elsewhere. That doesn’t mean they’re not interacting socially. In fact, I’d argue that their social circles are wider, more complex and varied than ever before.

This is what my video would show.

A group of people is sitting in the bar. They pick up their phones and send out messages. One tweets a photo of the group. Another texts that photo to an absent friend. Two others post to Facebook a funny bit of the conversation. As people reply, they appear at the table. People from The Netherlands, from Malaysia, from Antarctica. The friend too sick to leave home appears, joining the group. As people comment and reply, they manifest. The table becomes crowded with everyone, tens, hundreds, even thousands of times bigger than it appeared to the observer.

That group of teens walking down the street looking at their phones? They’re a mob of talking, laughing, highly engaged people from around the globe.

That family looking at their phones? One is texting her mother that grandma just mentioned an old quilt she used to love and maybe something like that would be a good birthday present, while another is sending a photo of grandma to their cousin in Germany.

People looking from the outside in have no idea what’s going on. Less judging, please.

Kind of a good credo, all around.

Support the Ripped Bodice!

2506b2effb8552ba4429a45551e90e05_originalFirst of all, I’d like to thank everyone for the outpouring of love, cheering, congratulations and general pom-pon waving in response to last Friday’s post on me leaving the day job. You all overwhelmed me, sending me messages of support across all social media – and it’s so very appreciated. If I missed replying to you directly, it’s because I simply couldn’t keep up. Good problem to have! You all are awesome and wonderful and I couldn’t be taking this leap without you.

Special love to those of you who jumped for joy at the prospect of this meaning more books to read. *MWAH*

I’m settling into a new writing routine and catching up on other things – like cataloguing my teetering TBR pile so I can catch up on my reading! One new feature here, if you look to the right —->>
you’ll note that you can now sign up to follow my blog. No onus. A couple of people requested the ability to do so. There you are.

The other thing I want to mention today is this terrific Kickstarter I’d love to see everyone support. These two gals in Los Angeles are aiming to create a romance-only bookstore called The Ripped Bodice. Their taglines are “Smart Girls Read Romance” and “Purveyors of Fine Smut.” There’s been some debate on Twitter that both “ripped bodice” and “smut” hearken to romance cliches, tropes and stereotypes people aren’t proud of and would like to ditch. I enjoy the wry irony of it myself and backed at the $40 level, just so I can have the tank. 😀 Right now they’re over halfway to their funding goal with 22 days left. But the way Kickstarter works is that they don’t get any funding if they don’t meet their goal.

If you haven’t ever backed a Kickstarter campaign, it’s dead easy, totally secure and super fun. So I’m encouraging everyone to back this puppy! I’d love to sign there someday and I’m hitting up you people to help make that happen.

Cheers!

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. 😉

10 Rules for Followingback on Twitter

Jeffe Kennedy and Carolyn CraneThis is me and bestie/CP Carolyn Crane at the Rita Awards ceremony in New York City. So fun to get shined up and celebrate her final!

The whole week of the RWA National Conference is a major whirlwind of activity. I try to post stuff online via my phone, but it’s really hard to keep up with replies. All those real-life people interfere with the online conversations! I also try to post nuggets of wisdom I hear in workshops and panels, mostly to Twitter. People really seem to love those and often begin following me on Twitter as a result. Which is lovely, of course, but it creates this backlog of follows for me to retrace and then decide whether to followback.

I know some people pay no attention to the follow notifications. Others automatically follow everyone back. I pick and choose via a shifting system that’s pretty subjective, but does follow a few rules. I thought I’d share them here.

1) How many followers vs. people they follow?

As of this writing, I have 3,958 followers and I follow 2,630. No way I keep track of everyone I follow. I use lists in Tweetdeck to see what I can, which the last statistics I saw indicated is around 200 people on average. Apparently that’s about as many as a human can really keep up with. So, when somebody follows upwards of 10,000 people? I’m dubious. If they follow just a few hundred more people than follow them, I’m HIGHLY suspicious. If they have huge numbers of followers and follow very few, I know they only want to collect my follow and will unfollow as soon as possible so they can broadcast to me. No. Just no.

2) Hashtags in the Profile

Easy decision. Makes me think they’re only in it to market. An instant decision for me there.

3) No profile.

Either lazy, a scammer or just wanting to lurk and view. No need to followback.

4) A plea to followback in the profile or the #teamfollowback hashtag.

No.

5) Lots of book titles in the profile.

This is a maybe. Lots of authors follow me and plenty do this. It’s not an instant no, but it’s a flag. I want to follow and support people, not be bombarded with pleas to buy their books. I don’t KNOW that they’ll do this, which is why it’s only a flag, but it increases the likelihood in my mind.

At this point, if I’m still a maybe – and a nicely done profile without follower/followee imbalances would already be a yes – I look at the timeline.

6) Is it full of thanks to people for following back?

Depending on how much, this is a no as I’m inclined to think they’re simply collecting followers.

7) Is it full of promo for something or other?

No no no.

8) Is it all output and no replies or conversations?

No. I’m not interested in reading a billboard.

9) Is it all retweets or inspirational quotes?

Eh. Nothing against that, but also nothing to interest me. No.

10) Did you unfollow me?

This comes much later. I get a weekly report from Tweepsmap that tells me how many followed that week, how many unfollowed and other metrics. For the most part I don’t look at it. Some of the maps are fun. I don’t look at who followed, because I already do that via notifications. I do usually look at who unfollowed, just to see if I still follow them. The majority – and I seem to get 15-20/week – are ones I did not followback, which is fine. They were either in it to get me to follow and quit me when I didn’t (or planned to do so on a certain schedule anyway), or didn’t like following me, which is also fine. But I don’t need to follow them. That isn’t to say that I don’t follow people who don’t follow me back – there are plenty of those. This is only people who followed me first and never gave any value back.

All of this said, I occasionally miss new followers – like when I’m crazy at a conference! – and the surest way to entice me to followback is to talk to me. Say something! When people reply to me I always look to see if I’m following and remedy that, if not.

Of course, there was that one guy who kept replying to me with annoying mansplaining, then would chide me for not following back, declaring his intent to give me EVEN BETTER content so I *would* followback. Yuck. He eventually went away.

So, what about all you Twitter people – any rules of thumb you use on deciding followbacks that I missed? Or maybe mine that you don’t agree with?

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!