Why Corporations Aren’t Good at Social Media

elephant butteA few weeks ago (time flies!), David and I drove to Tucson for my mom’s birthday. On the way back, we stopped at Elephant Butte Lake for a couple of nights. It’s a huge, man-made reservoir on the Rio Grande River in southern New Mexico. The landscape is often stark and desolate – and also full of amazing color and unearthly views.

We haven’t been doing much in the way of vacation lately – particularly time that’s not connected to work of some sort, like conventions – so this was a peaceful stop to make.  The inn we stayed at was a simple place and we ate mainly at the restaurant there. We spent some time gazing at the view and talking. This picture brings that feeling back for me.

So, many of you know I have a day job. The company I work for had about 150 employees when I started, lo these 17 years ago, and has now cracked 500. We’ve also gone to a shared technology system, with a newsfeed we’re all encouraged to post notices, too. Our internal version of social media. I’ve been trying to overcome my baseline grumpiness about the changes and become more active with this shared site.

Because I work from home (euphemistically referred to as a “satellite office”), I decided to post my cover for THE MARK OF THE TALA. After all, if I worked in one of the offices, I would have dragged my ARC in and passed it around like a newborn baby. Also, since this book is not erotica, I figured it was safe to share.

I didn’t want to take up a lot of the feed with information about my book though, so I just posted the cover and a note saying people could look on my website if they wanted to see more.

WELL.

Last night my supervisor emails me and lets me know that they took the post down. There’s no fall-out for me and the powers that be figure I showed only a “rare lack of judgment.” See, my website contains offensive material. Or, rather, provides access to it, which is against our Information Resource Policy.

(Doesn’t the Entire Internet provide this access???)

So, thus my wrist was slapped. Nobody is mad at me, but I feel oddly chagrined nonetheless. It’s been some time since I had any shadow of feeling that what I write is somehow unsavory. Yet, there it is. 

(Amusingly, I linked to my website instead of oh, say, Amazon because it seemed wrong to post anything reminiscent of a buy link. I suspect that would have passed muster, even though Amazon ALSO provides access to all those selfsame offensive materials as my website does.)

It’s interesting to me, however, in a broader perspective, to watch companies like mine try to cultivate the opportunities offered by social media while simultaneously attempting to enforce policies that control it. Social media is social, not corporate. It’s about people interacting, not soulless, sexless workers. What my company is trying to accomplish isn’t *really* about social media at all, but something dressed up to look like it. Kind of an Office Space-style version of Hawaiian Shirt Day, where we’re encouraged to relax – but not too much.

At any rate, consider me duly chastened. And more unwilling than before to post to the company newsfeed.

Fortunately, no one expects me to participate in Hawaiian Shirt Day.

Writers Meeting Readers – Making a Good First Impression

Master of the Opera, Act 2 Ghost Aria (ebook)

Here’s the cover for, the second episode (Act II) of Master of the Opera: Ghost Aria. I posted the one for Act I, Passionate Overture, last Friday. The next two will be revealed by Bookpushers on Thursday, August 15! I love how each cover is the same image, with a slight variation to reflect the theme of that Act. Here’s the blurb for this one:

In the second seductive installment of Jeffe Kennedy’s thrilling Master of the Opera, a young woman falls deeper under the spell of the man who haunts her dreams, fuels her desire, and demands her surrender. . .

With each passing day of her internship at the Sante Fe Opera House, Christine Davis discovers something new, something exciting–and something frightening. Hidden in the twisting labyrinths beneath the theater is a mysterious man in a mask who, Christy’s convinced, is as real as the rose he left on her desk–and as passionate as the kiss that burns on her lips. He tells her to call him “Master,” and Christy can’t deny him. But when her predecessor–a missing intern–is found dead, Christy wonders if she’s playing with fire. . .

If her phantom lover is actually a killer, how can she continue to submit to his dark, erotic games? And if he is innocent, how can she resist–or refuse–when he demands nothing less than her body and soul?

I love how they wrote these up – they sound ever so much better than what I would have written.

I also got this yesterday:

BRf_GkeCIAACtIt

Nothing like a shiny award to perk a girl up! This award comes at a great time, too, because the sequel, Rogue’s Possession, comes out October 7! Which no longer seems forever in the future, huh? The other day, a couple of book bloggers who loved Pawn heard about the sequel’s release date and were squealing with excitement on Twitter, speculating about what might happen next. I may or may not have succumbed to teasing them a bit about it. 😀

Still, there’s really nothing better than having smart enthusiastic readers excited about the next book. My favorite kind of conversation ever. Having someone else love my characters and story as much – maybe more! – than I do is a kind of transcendent feeling. This is why, if for no other reason, writers should find ways to communicate with their readers. It closes that loop, the one that starts with daydreams and hours alone at the keyboard, in a way that nothing else does.

It’s difficult for many authors, I know, to figure out how to behave in public. This might sound silly, but many people who become writers succeed because they’re happy being away from society for the huge chunks of alone time needed. Musicians and others in the performing arts are necessarily more social. They have to learn to engage with their audience, at some level or another. Visual artists have a long history of being cantankerous, cranky or just plain crazy. In times past, lovers of art and books rarely met the creators. Except for publishing house horror stories about autocratic and terrifying authors, for the most part no one knew what the writers themselves were like.

Recently a book blogger asked people about meeting their favorite author and asked if they regretted it. Of course, this is like asking people about car wrecks or kitchen accidents – everyone trots out the most horrific story they know. But they told of authors ignoring them, blowing them off, acting snobbish, being downright mean, etc. If I remembered where I read it, I’d post the link because it really was instructive.

The thing is, I could kind of read into some of the stories and know where the author was coming from. Not in an excusing-them way, but in a sympathy way. Often what’s read as snobbishness or a blow-off is the author not knowing how to behave. If they’ve never worked in corporate culture, never learned to deal with a range of people, they can come off as frozen, when they’re really overwhelmed.

I read this article recently. No, I didn’t click on it just because it’s about Hugh Jackman. Okay, maybe I did, but then I *stayed* for the content! It’s a terrific contrast piece about meeting a CEO and meeting Hugh Jackman – and the first impression each made.

For me the key part of the article is this:

In three minutes, Hugh Jackman turned me into a fan for life–but he didn’t sell me. He didn’t glad-hand me. He just gave me his full attention. He just acted as if, for those three minutes, I was the most important person in the world–even though he didn’t know me and has certainly forgotten me.

There’s the way through that deer-in-the-headlights moment (or two-hour signing). The ubiquitous “they” often give the advice to ask people questions about themselves, when you’re in conversations that are stalling. It never hurts to focus on the other person and, as writers, we’re all naturally interested in character. Give that person your full attention, treat them as important and learn something about them.

After all, it’s only three minutes.

Less, in social media.

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.

 

 

Why Writers Shouldn’t Pay Attention to Pet Peeves and Cranky Lists

003The last week was so warm, everything is leafing out and the lilacs are budding. Today we’re wrestling with a storm that slid down from Alaska (gee, thanks, Alaska) and we’re to get a hard freeze tonight. Yeah, I’ll be out there this afternoon, making free with the blankets.

I feel like lately I’ve been seeing lots of pet peeves in social media. Editors and agents like to tweet their peeves, often with the hashtag #pubtip. Sometimes a literary agency will start a conversation on the topic – “Hey readers, what are your literary pet peeves?” Bloggers will make lists of cliches to avoid.

All of these are great conversation starters on social media. After all, people love to air their gripes with each other, especially in a humorous context. It’s even better if those gripes derive from your work – the things you deal with all day, every day, week after week. They make for great riffs and people one-up each other and add gifs. It can be terrific entertainment.

I’ve even heard it said that you should follow agents and editors you’d like to work with, so you know what their peeves are.

No, no, no.

Seriously. Don’t do it. Don’t pay attention to these gripes and lists.

Why? Because they’re not really real.

Let me give you an example. A few weeks back I saw an agent tweet something along these lines:

“Pet peeve: books that open on dialogue. Voices shouldn’t come before we know who the bodies are. #pubtip”

This struck me because I’ve done this with published works. More than once. I bet we can all think of books that have done this and done it really well. This agent is right to call it a pet peeve – it’s nothing more than something that personally irritates her. So, should you change your book opening to please her?

Let’s consider that. Maybe you’re saying, sure Jeffe, if I’m querying her, I want my best odds, so for her I’ll open on description instead. Okay, fine, but she’s one of hundreds of agents you might query, with no guarantee that, just because you avoided that particular gripe of hers, she’ll want to represent you. So do you change your opening for every agent you query? Do you scour the internet and make a spreadsheet of every complaint every agent or editor makes, maybe categorized by type – openings, endings, characters, plot devices – and then check them off to groom them for that person?

Please tell me you wouldn’t do this.

There’s a fable for this, which everyone should recall, about the man who tried to please everyone. This is kind of a cutesy version, but the message  remains – when you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody. Least of all yourself.

The thing to keep in mind is when these fine people – and I’ve seen my agent and editors, who I like and admire, do this – give advice, they’re seeing the world from their perspective. I know that seems self-evident, but stick with me. I think of this like the teacher with 30 students. They learn her name immediately. It takes her much longer to learn 30 names. An editor wants a manuscript that’s tailored to him. He’s not seeing the writer’s perspective of trying to assimilate the likes and dislikes of 30 editors. And really, it’s not his problem.

So, what’s the solution?

Three things: Be true to yourself, learn your craft and protect yourself from negativity.

Being true to yourself

See, even if you change your opening so cranky agent who doesn’t like disembodied dialogue openings will keep reading, she might also hate your second line. Or the fact that your main character is gay. Or that she isn’t gay. Reading is subjective. Either the agent will resonate with your work or she won’t. It’s tempting to try to control this, but you can’t. The sooner you accept that, the happier you’ll be. And I’ll let you in on a little secret – even if she hates that you started on dialogue, if she loves the rest of the story, she’ll still take it. She might call, gush about your wonderful story, offer representation and then say “oh, but I think you should open with this line.”

The one thing that will surely kill a story, however, is if it’s been worked to death to please everyone but yourself. It’s like the old saw that no one will love you until you love yourself first. If you don’t love your story, how do you expect someone else will?

Do what’s right for the story, first and foremost.

Learn your craft

Most of the cranky lists – things like “cliches writers should avoid” or “10 signs of bad writing” – are responses to poor craft. I saw one yesterday, that both my agent and one of my editors were all over with glee, that listed cliches. They each listed which ones they particularly hate. The thing is, I figured I’d probably done all of those things. For example, one was don’t have your character describe themselves in a mirror. I use mirror a lot. I’m really interested in the idea of self-perception and that the mirror is an archetype of being able to see your true self.  I know perfectly well if I pointed this out to my editor or agent, where in my books I’ve done this, they’d say “oh, but you avoided the cliche – you handled it differently.”

Thus, the answer is not truly to avoid cliches. That’s the simplistic approach. After all, cliches become cliches for a reason (also a cliche, right there). They get overused. The point is to use those memes or archetypes well enough that they transcend cliche instead of being a crutch.

That’s craft.

Protect yourself from negativity

To me, this is the hugest part. When I saw my agent and editor climb all over that list of cliches, my brain started churning and obsessing. How many of those have I done? Oh my god, isn’t that one in the story I just sent her? I started thinking about the story I’m writing now and wondering if I need to rework this or that. I worried. I felt like a Bad Writer. Even that one about not opening with disembodied dialogue niggled at me, even though the story I know I did it in has been used in workshops with that opening as a good example. That’s a lot of emotional impact on me, for something she likely Tweeted in a moment of irritation and promptly forgot.

See, when people post this stuff, they’re thinking about engagement. They’re enjoying sharing gripes with fellow professionals. They’re not thinking about the creator of the art who might be derailed by what is essentially, to them, cocktail party conversation. It’s not that its bad advice, necessarily, but they’re not thinking about how they’re saying it.

All of this is why I think writers shouldn’t pay attention to this kind of thing. I’m not saying don’t follow agents and editors you’re interested in. I absolutely think you should. But don’t treat everything they say as gospel. Who knows? By the next day they may have forgotten they even said it.

Now go write.

Jeffe’s Random Five Bits of Advice for Having a Personality on Twitter

014A break in the Tucson rains allowed a bit of sunset to glow on Pusch Ridge. I swear this lasted maybe three minutes. Just lovely.

Funny how a brief glimpse of light and color catches our attention more than seeing the ridge brilliantly sunlit all day. I often recall a story my stepfather, Leo Kennedy, used to tell. He and some other guys were at a strip club. (Yes, this is absolutely the kind of story he would tell in mixed company. Everything in life was interesting to him.) They were sitting around a table when the waitress delivered the drinks. She bent over to set the drinks on the table and every guy leaned forward to catch a glimpse of her cleavage where her blouse gaped open. Even though there were several naked women dancing ten feet away.

He said it was an example of the hidden having more allure than the fully exposed.

He was also a former Catholic priest, so he may have told this story to encourage me to dress more demurely. At any rate, I think there’s truth in this.

This morning, I saw one of those perennial articles about how writers should handle Twitter, the balance between promo and “other” and yadda yadda yadda. I say all of this with great irony because, although the information is oft-repeated along various themes, clearly I still click on and read the articles.

It’s something we all want to know and still don’t quite understand.

I tweeted about the article (of course!) and snarked about the advice to “have a personality” on Twitter. Terrible advice, right? Terrible as in Utterly Useless. This is like your mother telling you as you leave for a party to just be yourself. Like this is such an easy thing to figure out. Especially when most of us – raging egomaniacs may be excuse from this conversation – harbor the deep conviction that “just ourselves” isn’t very interesting at all. After all, just being myself usually entails things like not wearing a bra or makeup, ignoring everyone and indulging in various bad habits. You people have no idea the lengths I go to, cleaning up my act for you.

Joking aside, most of us are grownups now and have developed, if not personalities, at least socially acceptable personae. We might not go to parties and “just be ourselves,” but we can generally get by without being hated by everyone. (Again, raging egomaniacs? we have a roped-off section in the bar for you!) But just “having a personality” doesn’t mean we know how to show it on Twitter.

The perky @AmaraRoyce, sister Kensington author, replied with:

Okay, I get the “don’t just bombard with promo” but…dammit, I have a personality! How do I show that in 140 char? 😉

And this is always the question, right?

I think it’s all about the striptease.

Twitter is, by nature, suited to the small glimpse. 140 characters is the hint of the curve of a breast through the open blouse. It’s the flash of thigh revealed by the slit in a knee-length skirt.

So, here are Jeffe’s Random Five Bits of Advice for Having a Personality on Twitter:

  • Give fun and brief insights into your life

People like to be snarky that Twitter is all about what you ate for breakfast. It’s not, but the fun things you do – including the meals you enjoy – show who you are. And, like with sex, people are pretty much always interested in food, detractors notwithstanding. People like to hear about funny incidents or amazing sights. Think cocktail party conversation

  • Leave your health and assorted bodily functions out of it

Conversely, people are really not interested in your health problems. Even your friends, when they ask about how you’re doing with Your Horrible Disease, are asking out of concern for you and not because they really want to hear about your latest funky bowel movement. See? You flinched just reading that, right? No one wants to hear about it

  • Don’t show everything

A striptease is about tantalizing, about the hints and intriguing glimpses. Once people have seen everything you have to show, they lose interest. Besides, hanging it all out there is a bad idea. Twitter is not your confessional. People are not there to offer you therapy. A friend of mine somtimes comments that “such and so’s entrails are showing.” You know the image she’s thinking of – the poor wounded animal whose entrails are hanging out, and who the pack will soon turn on. Don’t rely on the kindness of strangers. If you’re wounded, go to your friends. Don’t let the others catch the scent of blood.

  •  Don’t be a Debbie Downer

A little bit of complaining is okay. Heavens know Erma Bombeck made a career of it. A lot of comedians have. And that’s the key: comedy. If you can make your whine funny – especially if it’s a complaint you know a lot of people share – go for it. But be judicious. People want to be entertained by you, not depressed. It’s fine to tweet about a low moment – @AmandaPalmer did this recently and received an outpouring of support – but not non-stop. Amanda Palmer can get away with that because most of the time she’s upbeat, interesting and gives fascinating glimpses into the life of a rock star.

  • Share the things you like

The things in life that give us joy and rev us up are what make us most interesting. Don’t worry about if it’s deep or will have a lasting impact on the Human Condition. If you’re happy about a new pair of shoes, tweet about it! If you’re in love with a new band, share that. I really believe that, in the end, it’s what we love most that defines us.

And, if all else fails? Just be yourself!

😉

 

Trolling for Likes and Tags – Worth It or Not?

There’s this trope in the movies – especially a certain kind of teen movie – where someone pays/bribes/coerces one of the popular kids to pretend to like/love/date the nerdy kid, thereby conveying that special magic upon them and elevating the unpopular kid into the lofty ranks. You all have seen this movie, right? Inevitably it turns out that everyone loves the previously unpopular kid and the formerly golden kid has plummeted in the rankings because everyone now sees them for who they truly are, whatever that may be.

Of course, we understand from this that popularity is A) not a real thing, B) easily created and destroyed and C) a false goal that leads only to pain and suffering.

Popularity very often is a mysterious thing. Why does everyone think that one cheerleader is the prettiest? Or that one guy is the one everyone wants to hang with? It’s easy to put it down to money, the right clothes, personal charm, luck. In the end, nobody really knows the answers and, after a certain point, we all leave high school and we don’t worry about it so much anymore. It is what it is and popularity doesn’t really matter.

Unless you’re engaged in a field where you’re trying to get people’s attention.

Then you’re plunged right back into the social frenzy. Why does one book get passed around and talked about while another languishes? How come everyone seems to LOVE that author, that book blogger, the one agent who everybody knows is really kind of smarmy? But they do, we still don’t know the answers and now, unfortunately, it really DOES matter.

Recently on a number of the author loops I’m on, people have been engaging in “Like” and “Tagging” parties. People ask for “Likes” on their FB author pages. For example, here’s mine https://www.facebook.com/Author.Jeffe.Kennedy. You can see there’s a “Like” button (which is at least way better than the old “Fan” button). If you click, then you see my posts. And look! it’s a measurable indicator of popularity! There’s a similar deal on Amazon, which is arguably more important to the book’s success. For example, if you look at Rogue’s Pawn on Amazon, you can see the little thumbs-up symbol under the title, which is meant to show how many people liked the book. If you scroll ALLLLL the way down, below the reviews, you’ll see “Tags Customers Associate with this Product,” – again, meant to be a way for customers to rate and describe the product.

Well, there’s all sorts of mutterings and schemings about how a book needs 25 Likes to make it into Amazon’s recommendations. And that the tags are EVERYTHING if you want to sell books. Of course, a lot of this is trying to discern the system behind the curtain and make it play for us. So what are these authors on my loops doing?

They’re attempting to create the appearance of popularity. “I’ll like your book if you’ll like mine” is just the grown-up iteration of paying the popular kid to sit with you at lunch. And there’s a certain logic. Hopefully real readers – and by this I mean, people who’ve actually read and liked the book, as opposed to clicking to do you reciprocal favor – will see all those frisky likes and think “Hey, look at all the people who like this, it must be good! I want to be one of those people!”

But, in the end, though the number of Likes might look much better than it did before, it’s still not a real measure of anything. You’re kidding yourself. I suspect that at some point, like the kids in the teen movies, we realize that popularity cannot be bought, sold or traded. That it comes down to who we really are or, in the case of our books, what kind of reading experience we offer.

And it is what it is.