Keeping Up with the Virtual Joneses

I just returned from a week with my family on Lake Coeur d’Alene. So lovely and relaxing! During some conversation, I mentioned Ed Sheeran, and my aunt – who’d never heard of him – asked me how I kept up on discovering new music.

It was an interesting question, and one I had to think about. Finally I said that I see a lot of recommendations on Twitter. Instagram, too. People share Spotify lists or post YouTube videos. She nodded a little at my answer, clearly a bit daunted at the prospect of emulating me there. So, I sent her two Ed Sheeran albums for her birthday.

Coincidentally enough, our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Keeping up with trends and changes in social media.” Not an easy thing to do for any of us. Come on over to find out more!

Silly Writer! Reviews Aren’t for Craft

I talked a bit about this on Twitter, and on my podcast – First Cup of Coffee – but I said I’d loop back and discuss on the blog in more detail.

I admit it started with a subtweet. A few blogger/reviewers were posting about authors who were publicly shaming readers who gave them poor reviews. The tenor of the authors’ complaints were that the bad reviews were harshing their (or their friend’s) release day buzz. Which… that’s a whole other thing, but the TL:DR is that nobody owes an author a sparkle pony on release day. The operative word there is RELEASE. That means letting the book go, to sink or swim in the world. It no longer belongs to the author. Helicopter parenting it will only bring misery to the author and damage the book’s chances.

ANYWAY. This post isn’t about that.

What I subtweeted about was an author who weighed in on the thread with a “but, but, but” –  #protip: don’t do this – “But, but, but,” she says, “I just wish readers would *explain* why they give it one-star, so I can learn from it!”

First of all, not only does nobody owe you a sparkle pony, no one owes an explanation for a rating. Readers can rate books whatever they like, for whatever reason they like, and they don’t have to explain. They’re not in a relationship with the author, so there’s no obligation to tend feelings. They’re not writing teachers. They read.

Secondly, reviews are not for the author to read. Even readers and reviewers who take the conceit of appearing to address the author, aren’t really. They’re engaging with the voice in the book. It’s really important for writers to remember we are not our books. One of the very interesting outcomes of the Burnout Panel (and How to Maybe Avoid It Next Time) at Nebula Conference was that one of the key conditions leading to burnout is a person over-identifying with their work. A book is something we create (and RELEASE) and how readers react to it is about *them*. When someone reviews a book, it’s for other readers. It’s not a job performance appraisal for the author.

Finally, reviews are a TERRIBLE place to look to improve craft because the lens is so different. The experience of reading a book is totally different from evaluating it with an editorial eye. As proof of this, I point to the near-universal author experience of discovering that reading for sheer pleasure gets lost. Somewhere in the transition from being a person who only reads books to someone who also writes them, we develop that critical lens for evaluating the story creation. And it becomes almost impossible to shut it off again. This is bad and good. There’s some grief in the realization that the experience of reading a story without examining it is lost forever. But it’s good because, well, we *need* that ability. Every book and story a writer reads is an education – what works for us, what doesn’t, how the writer created certain impacts, where they lost the thread, etc.

Because of this profound difference in reading experience, however, reviews from readers tell us nothing about the craft of the story. Maybe a writer can glean some insight from which stories seem most popular – but most writers also will note that they can never predict which stories will “hit” and which don’t. It’s almost never our personal favorites. It often seems counter-intuitive. Many writers will say that their very favorite of their own work is the least popular with readers. Is there a correlation?

WHO KNOWS???

That’s the thing, and that’s my point. There is no knowing, which means that scouring reviews for information on improving craft is fruitless.

You know what does work? Read a lot (books and stories, not reviews). Write a lot.

Read. Write. Repeat.

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. 

 

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!

Can Books Be Like Music?

B6sf4_dCQAAzIS-This time of year in Santa Fe, we can get gorgeously warm days. On Tuesday we ate lunch on the patio in shirtsleeves and the kitties stalked the restless gophers. Good times were had by all. Of course, today it’s cold, stormy and overcast, but I’m ensconced in my cozy chair with a teapot on the warmer and life is still good.

A funny thing – I use Tweetdeck to sort my Twitter feeds, to help manage the flow of information. I also have columns devote to searches for mentions of my name or of my book titles, so I can see when people are talking about them. A couple of my titles overlap with album titles – particularly THE TALON OF THE HAWK and COVENANT OF THORNS. I think this is kind of cool, that I title musically, in a way.

The upshot is I see conversations – and fan enthusing – about these, especially Talon of the Hawk by The Front Bottoms. I’d never heard of this band, but I impulsively bought the album so I could listen, since we have this serendipitous artistic overlap. I like it. And wow – do other people love, love, love this album! People tweet about it all the time, say how he listened to it over and over, sang all the song with her sister on a road trip and expressing all the love. They discuss how awesome this album is. And tons of them want to get tattoos of the knife on the album cover.

It just makes me think.

Readers do this to an extent, but not nearly so many and not to the same extreme. I think there are a few reasons for this. A lot more people listen to music than read books. In 2013, 76% of American adults had read at least one book during the year and the typical American reads five books a year. Compare that to the stat that the average American listens to four hours of music a DAY. An enormous difference, huh?

Also music is social in a way that books tend not to be. Listening to music can be a gregarious event, from singing while road-tripping with your sister to attending a massive stadium rock concert. Books, even if we discuss them at length, tend to be a fairly solitary experience with a huge internal involvement.

Still.

I clipped this quote from Kurt Cobain once, which I have not been able to find. It’s probably floating aimlessly around in some forsaken file folder. At any rate, it’s amazing because he’s talking to an author about how he imagines readings are like rock concerts, with screaming fans and a mosh pit. It’s kind of adorable, how mistaken he is – and also enlightening. I read it and thought, why CAN’T it be like that? Wouldn’t it be great if it was?

I dunno – maybe I’m dreaming. What do you guys think?

 

 

Finding the Formula Machine

Sunrise 10_16_2014 Santa FeI had a Twitter conversation yesterday that went like this. Because these gals crack me up, I’m sharing a bunch of it. It, of course, started because I was being a smart ass. Though you can see that Maisey Yates was snarky first.

Then Lexi Ryan chimed in.

 

We riffed for a while, with various gripes on this theme, then dwindled off. Lexi came back a few hours later.

The thing is, if you know these authors – or follow the links I thoughtfully provided 🙂 – you’ll recognize them as highly regarded, very prolific and bestselling authors. I know these gals and they work amazingly hard and produce wonderful books that, not incidentally, sell very well. And that saw about Harlequin providing its authors with the Magic Formula that Maisey references has been making the rounds for-fucking-ever. I remember my mom saying something to me along those lines when I was much younger and she thought romance were trashy literature that I shouldn’t be reading. No, Harlequin does not tell us the characters should kiss on X page and have sex on Y page. Yes, editors do give direction on story structure. However, the guideline that the first act climax should occur somewhere around the first 25% of the story and all the stakes should be set at that point applies to pretty much every entertainment genre. Maybe books in the Literary Genre don’t do that, but they’re arguably going for something other than storytelling and entertainment.

There’s a pervasive idea that writing a book takes a REALLY long time. And, in truth, writing a first novel CAN take years. Because of the learning curve. I wrote a post the other day about trying to be creative on deadline and a big piece of that is building the craft and skills to do it. However, the belief persists that quality writing should be a long, slow process. With the reverse assumption being that quickly produced work is shallow, low-quality and – yes – written to a formula. I saw a blog post by a writer the other day who championed the many virtues of writing his novels by hand, with pen and paper. He proudly stated that he could draft an entire novel this way in “only” 14 months. I also saw a tweet yesterday from a writer advising that everyone has their own process and you don’t HAVE to “churn out” 2 books a year.

While I respect both of their perspectives, I’m bothered by the implicit lack of respect for my process. It took me 84 days to write the 91,000 word first draft of The Tears of the Rose, which just received a Top Pick GOLD review from RT Magazine. I take that to mean it’s a pretty decently written book. I worked really hard on it. Yes, I structured the story about major plot points, with major events occurring at the act climaxes. Nobody gave me a formula.

It surprises me still when people call me a prolific or fast writer. It doesn’t feel that way. At the same time, taking 14 months to write out a novel long hand sounds excruciatingly slow to me. I had (or will have) five books come out in 2014 and I don’t feel like I’ve “churned out” anything. Every one has taken long hours of concentrated work, extensive crafting and pieces of my soul. I realize this is an enviable place to be and I count my blessings that I’m able to write fast.

That said, I’ve also put in a lot of effort to make sure I can. I keep my brain as uncluttered as possible. I remove all distractions, rather ruthlessly. I put in long hours. So do these other gals. They also manage to take care of small children at the same time, which I can’t even fathom.

This turned into more of a rant than I intended. I think my point is that I’d really love to see the end of this concept of the anguished author who spends years writing his magnum opus. It feels fueled to me by the sort of person who wants to be seen as someone artsy and glamorous – the Writer – rather than putting in the time to get the work done. I don’t see anything admirable about not getting the book written. We like to fetishize artists, but other kinds of work don’t get this shiny gloss on what is, ultimately, not doing the job. The grocery store checker who never quite manages to get all the groceries in the bag loses his job. The stockbrocker who just can’t overcome her personal agony to sell those stocks won’t be a stockbroker for long.

I blame the artist for this, really. We’re incredibly good at spinning convincing stories from our pain. That symphony we never delivered? IT WAS THE VOICES OF DEMONS! That studio full of blank canvases? THE BLEAK DESERT OF MY SOUL! That novel I spent ten years writing while I hung out in coffee shops and debated the shivering joy of the sound of a fountain pen on good paper? STILL NOT WRITTEN BUT LOOK HOW PROFOUND I AM.

Eh. Okay. I guess what I’m getting at is, don’t buy the song and dance, people. A creator creates. Buckle down and do the work. Don’t throw stones at people who do it faster. Don’t succumb to the temptation to glamorize what’s bogging you down. Solve the problem, take the stone out of your shoe, get to work.

Which I’m going to do now.

Happy weekend, everyone!