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Posts Tagged ‘writers’

I’m back from Chicago and Worldcon and what proved to be quite a whirlwind experience. I’m also sick. Alas, using hand sanitizer and taking Vitamin C and eating fruit wasn’t enough to keep this particular miserable virus at bay. And I’m sick enough that my brain is somewhat foggy. So I’m going to table the topic I had planned to write about (which deserves my fully functional brain) and give you some snippets instead.

- I met a lot of people at Worldcon and spent most of my time socializing. And one thing that I find continually fascinating is how everybody has their own story. Some people wear their stories on their sleeves. Other people keep their interactions entirely surface to the point that it’s easy to forget they have  stories at all. And some people gradually reveal their stories to you, one layer at a time. But they’re always there: the goals and dreams, the insecurities, the setbacks and old wounds, the history, the personality quirks, and the bedrock of character.

- Many people seem to have a lot of social anxiety around convention going. There was a lot of talk about various kinds of social nervousness, as well as more than one person talking about trying to let go of worrying about what they might be missing. (“Just enjoy the con you’re at” was the chief advice being bandied about.)

I don’t have any particular insight to share about this because, as it turns out, these are not my particular problems. I tend to get nervous before a con, and sometimes I have a short period of nerves upon first arrival (although even this seems to be lessening more and more), but once I dive in, I’m pretty much fine. And I hardly ever worry about what I might be missing because what’s the point? Besides, I’m usually having a fine time doing whatever it is I’m already doing. This makes me think that perhaps some people have very different goals for their cons than I do.

That’s not to say I don’t have any problems at a con. I worry about when and what I’ll eat (because sometimes food just doesn’t happen, and sometimes I end up subsisting on French fries). I worry about my body holding up through so much standing and walking and lack of sleep. I feel sad that I don’t have as much time as I would like with many of these fabulous people I’m surrounded by. Sometimes I’m too tired to have the conversations I want to have. And sometimes I’ve had enough superficial chit chat and really want a more substantial conversation than what I’m getting. But so far, at least, I’ve found that these are workable problems.

My feet over Chicago.

- I really like Chicago. I love the varied architecture of the buildings downtown, and I love the beauty of the lake. The Art Institute was a real treat, and the pizza was intense.

- My sprained foot got hurt on an overcrowded elevator one evening, which resulted in a fair amount of pain (and possibly some tears, but don’t tell anyone). I was really struck by the generosity of spirit from the people around me. Let me tell you, I was taken care of. Before I knew it (and I certainly didn’t have the presence of mind to make any of this happen myself), I was sitting down with my foot elevated, I had ice in a ziplock bag, I had taken Ibuprofen, I had tissues to dry my eyes, and I was being diverted by kind people talking to me while not expecting me to provide a coherent response. Later, a few friends went to dinner with me in the hotel to save me extra walking, and other friends were visibly concerned, sympathetic, and willing to help. My heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who contributed in turning what could have been a catastrophic event into a demonstration of kindness and thoughtfulness.

- Now I want to sleep for a week. Possibly two.

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Conventional blogging wisdom for fiction writers is that we should avoid talking about politics and religion. (Science fiction writers are perhaps the exception to this rule; see John Scalzi, one of the most prominent examples, and on the other side of the American left-right fence, Orson Scott Card.) The idea is that such views can be unnecessarily divisive and that by talking about them openly, we can alienate potential readers.

I have, for the most part, followed this advice. I don’t talk about religion on this blog or anywhere else, really. I rarely talk straight politics, although I couldn’t quite suppress my concerns about habeas corpus. But feminism keeps creeping in through the cracks of this blog and in the material I choose to share on the internet, and isn’t feminism at least partially a political issue? It certainly is a touchy one.

One result is that I’m been forced to rethink the conventional wisdom. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it is easier not to blog about religion or politics or social justice. And I can understand the choice not to do so when it feels like a livelihood hangs in the balance of what we allow ourselves to discuss. Plus some of us find conflict to be very unpleasant. But at what point does talking about matters of importance become more of a question of conscience?

Does blogging give you a voice?

I’m not talking about being safe here. There’s this trend that happens in the science fiction blogosphere, wherein a few of the really big bloggers share their opinions of a current issue, followed by a quiet ripple of smaller bloggers chiming in with “Me too”s and “basically exactly what has already been said about this issue in almost the same words.” Because when we follow in the footsteps of the big guns, then we’re relatively secure. I’m not saying it’s bad to offer a show of support, but it’s not the same as pushing the discussion forward. The conventional wisdom is consunmately safe.

Let’s talk about danger instead. If, as a writer, we develop a greater reach, then we have to decide how to use that reach. We have a greater ability to help, and an equally heightened ability to harm. We can set the topic of conversation instead of merely echoing and reacting. We can affect the way people view the world, often subconsciously, through our stories and our words. We can decide whether to point something out as problematic or whether to be silent and let it float on in obscurity. And whether we like it or not, these abilities come with certain responsibilities.

We don’t have to blog about politics or religion, not if we don’t want to. We can choose to communicate exclusively through our fiction. But at some point, I think every artist has to ask, “What am I really trying to say here? What do I really need to say about human experience and about the world? What might I be saying by accident that I don’t actually want to be saying?”

But sometimes, we might be compelled to blog about something risky, about something uncomfortable. And sometimes we are willing to pay the price for having a voice. In which case, that conventional wisdom can go right out the window. There are times when safety is not the most important goal.

What do you think? Do you ever talk about politics or religion on your blog or over social media? Are there issues that you feel compelled to talk about, even though they lack an approved-for-fiction-writers (or approved-for-polite-conversation) stamp?

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Writer Susan Kiernan-Lewis wrote a blog post a couple of months ago entitled “The Great Social Media Flim-Flam.” If you want to see writer frustration with having to deal with social media, go on over and read it, because it’s one of the best examples I’ve seen. If you don’t want to read five hundred words of it, here’s a key excerpt:

“Is it possible that the prevailing belief that having an online platform is essential to a book’s success is wrong? Are we all just the cool kids playing with the latest gadgets and wanting them to be essential and really they’re  irrelevant? Is it really the author’s platform that’s important? Is that why YOU buy a book?

Isn’t it about the damn book?”

Okay, first off, yes, it is about the book. If there isn’t something appealing about your book, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend promoting it. Notice I said “something appealing.” I chose those words carefully. Plenty of books that have a lot of problems do well; some of them even do very, very well. But there has to be something about them that makes people want to read them.

However, a key point I think Ms. Kiernan-Lewis may be missing is that social media presence for writers is not about sales.

Yes, I just said that.

Social media is not about sales. We may want it to be about sales because sales are easy to measure. And what writer doesn’t want sales? I’m not saying social media never causes sales; if you look at the pie graph in that blog article, it claims 23.9 percent of book discovery happens via social media (I combined blogs and social networking sites to get that figure). But that’s only a quarter of the whole pie (at least for now), and probably some of those people are going to get the book from the library or borrow it from a friend.

Social media is about marketing. It’s about building brand awareness (and for writers, your brand is YOU). It’s about weak ties and networking and relationships and being a presence. Marketing is important if you are trying to sell something. The problem is, it’s more nebulous to measure than sales. Sure, you can look at your follower count or your blog traffic or count your likes and retweets and +1s. But when you think about what those numbers really mean, well, it’s hard to say. Higher is better, but beyond that? *silence in the room* Yup, that’s marketing for you.

One network example. (by Marc Smith)

Marketing and social media is also for the long haul, which makes it critical to formulate a strategy that works for you. Otherwise, say hello to burn-out. That’s why I recommend using social media in a way that you enjoy, or at least in a way not completely odious to you. If you’re forcing yourself to do something you hate, whether that be daily blogging or tweeting or posting on the service du jour, then it’s time to rethink your strategy. If you feel frayed around the edges from your social media activities, then maybe you need to pull back a bit, rest, and re-group. The ultimate goal is to find a balance that is sustainable for you (and this balance is going to be a little different for each individual). The way to find this balance is through time and experimentation, and it will change as your life changes. For example, I’ve had to adjust my own strategy the last few months when I’ve been deep in novel head space.

I wish I could tell you social media doesn’t matter for writers, that it’s all some mass delusional idea. But it does make a difference. When someone has heard your name several times, they’re more likely to give your book a second look at the store. They’re more likely to click on over to your book on Amazon and read the summary and some reviews. If it looks interesting, they’re more likely to take a chance and buy it. If they’ve read an interesting essay you’ve written, they’re more likely to talk about you and spread the word. Etc., etc. How social media works and helps you is the subject for an entire series of posts, but if you know anything about network theory, then you have an idea of what I’m talking about.

So the real question when thinking about social media isn’t if it matters. It’s figuring out how you can participate in social media without becoming overwhelmed or wanting to throw your computer across the room. It’s figuring out the best use of your time so you also have enough time to write that next novel. It’s experimenting to integrate social media into your life in a way that works for you.

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My husband often reads out loud to me before we go to sleep. We most often read children’s classics and more recent middle grade novels because I want something interesting but not so exciting that I can’t go to sleep. We’d just finished a few books by Bruce Coville (if you’re interested in MG fiction at all, you should run outside RIGHT NOW and buy some of his stuff, because he’s fabulous), and after some pondering, for our next read we’d selected The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
Warning: There be spoilers ahead!

My husband began to read, and the book was well written, interesting, and had a sense of humor. But within a few pages it was clear that for his first dramatic incident, the author was going to kill a dog. I told my husband to stop reading because *@*%@*%!!*!! I am so incredibly done with reading about dogs dying.

 

I am TOO CUTE for your shenanigans!

Here is a list of the dying dogs in fiction I have encountered in the past three years: The Knife of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness (I was bawling so hard at this one that my husband got worried); a story in Paolo Bacigalupi’s Pump Six; The Big Splash by George Galuschak; “I Can’t Imagine” by Sandra Wickham; and Mama, We Are Zenya, Your Son, by Tom Crosshill. At Taos Toolbox, Nancy Kress told us about her novel Dogs (which I refuse to ever read) and Eric Kelley threatened to kill off the police dog in one of his novels-in-progress. In Working Stiff by Rachel Caine, the dog is threatened, and in Robert Sawyer’s Mindscan, the dog is unable to recognize its master in his new robot body (which completely broke my heart). And these are just the examples I can think of off the top of my head.

Seriously, writers, WE GET IT. Killing off the dog (or pretending you might) is very, very sad. It reliably makes me cry even if I don’t like your story very much otherwise. And it also shows up the bizarreness of human behavior, that we cry when an animal dies and not when a person dies (although to be fair, I often cry when writers kill off people, too…but never for the bad guy, which says something else interesting). So could you please stop now?

Also, do you ever notice how writers don’t seem to kill off cats? (Not that I have anything against cats.) Why all the dog hatred, writers, huh? Why not pick on those of the feline persuasion for a change? Why do you want to violently dispose of sweet little bundles of fur like this?

 

You know you want to pet me!

I’ll admit, the “pick on the cute and loyal dog” thing used to be shocking. But now, it just makes me feel tired. It makes me want to stop reading. It has nothing to do with the merits of the work (if you’re not as sick of dead dogs as I am, you’ll want to check out everything I referenced above). But it’s become even more unpleasant to me than werewolf tropes, and you know, that’s saying something.

So please, the next time you consider killing off the poor innocent puppy to pull some heartstrings, back away slowly. Maybe you can kill off the bratty kid sister or the brooding and boring boyfriend instead. Or, I don’t know, have your protagonist lose a finger or something. Just enough with the dogs.

Thank you.

*****
I’ll be in Detroit this weekend for Epic ConFusion. Say hi to me if you’re there!

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I was having dinner with a friend the other day, and he mentioned that he hadn’t gotten around to reading any of my stories yet. He followed that up by saying that he was a little nervous to do so because they might reveal that disturbing things go on in my mind. (Newsflash: I’m a writer. That implies a certain level of creativity, which means at least a touch of disturbing is probably going on in there.) He didn’t say he was afraid he wouldn’t like my stories, but I’ve certainly had other people express that worry to me.

This conversation made me realize that what I take for granted, being around writers all the time, might not be so obvious to others. So here is an insider’s guide into how writers deal with each other.

1. Writers read a lot. But we cannot read everything.

Writers are fighting a never-ending war against the gigantic pile of stuff that they’re supposed to be reading. It’s a good thing most of us started out as enthusiastic readers because otherwise we’d drown in the amount of material we try to get through.

We read the novels in our own genre. Some of us have more than one genre, so then we have to read novels in two genres. Plus we are supposed to read novels outside our genre to stay well-rounded, so we have to read those too. Then there is the nonfiction that we have to wade through, some for specific research purposes and some to generally better understand the dynamics of the world we live in. We read short fiction and articles and blog posts. We read magazines about our industry. We beta-read novels for fellow writers, and we read to critique short stories. We read for award season. Sometimes we have students’ work to read, or books to read in order to give a blurb or review. We read and read and read.

We cannot humanly read everything. We cannot even read everything by our dear writer friends. It is impossible.

LESSON: We understand that you might not have time to read what we write, either. We LOVE it when you do, but there is no obligation.

2. Writers don’t always love each other’s work.

One of the first published novelists I got to know told me that it was really awkward to be friends with a writer whose stuff you don’t like.

Happily this has not proven to be true for me, and I don’t think it’s true for many writers. At least I hope not, because every reader (writers included) has her own individual taste, and not everything ever written will fall into that taste. This doesn’t mean that the writers who write stuff not to my taste aren’t fabulous people who I enjoy hanging out with, though.

Writers hardly ever ask each other the following questions: Did you read my latest story? Did you like my latest novel? Do you think I am the most Awesome Sauce Writer that ever lived? Instead, we may congratulate each other on milestones that we are aware of (hey, congrats on winning that award, or congrats on that book deal). If we have actually read and enjoyed a work, we might then say something about it unprompted (hey, I read your book and I loved the protagonist). I have NEVER told a fellow writer that I read their work and then proceeded to tear it to shreds, because that would be completely inappropriate. Mostly, writers spend a lot of time gossiping and talking about each other’s work-in-progress.

LESSON: You don’t need to tell your writer friend whether you read their work unless you did so and would like to share how much you enjoyed it. We know our own work won’t be to everyone’s taste, and most of us know better than to put our friends on the spot.

3. Writers don’t always write stuff that is autobiographical or has deep personal significance.

In the TV show Gossip Girl, there is a budding writer who only writes autobiographical stories and models his characters directly from his life. Everything he writes has deep personal meaning and reveals his true feelings about those around him.

This is FICTION. Many writers do not write autobiographical fiction. That’s not to say there’s not a part of themselves in the work, but often it is very hard to tell which part unless you know them very, very well (in which case, it shouldn’t come as too big a shock). Many writers do not model their characters directly on a real-life person (I don’t know that I’ve ever done this, for example). Many writers do not reveal their deep, dark secrets in the text of their work. Sometimes (often, in fact) they just make stuff up because it will make the story more awesome.

Writers do often re-visit the same themes over and over. For example, I like to write about death and mortality. That fact tells you something about me, but it’s not something I try to keep hidden. Sometimes a writer’s general personality is reflected in their work (although not always), in the sense that when you meet the writer, you think, “Ah yes. I can see how this person would have written that book.” But this is all fairly surface personality kind of stuff, nothing that should be particularly alarming.

LESSON: Writers are not constantly revealing their deepest, darkest secrets in their fiction.

Is there anything I’ve missed? What are some other common misconceptions that might make non-writers uncomfortable when dealing with writers?

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You all knew this day would come. I’ve talked about Facebook, I’ve talked about Google+, and I’ve mentioned blogging more than a few times. But what about Twitter, the social media platform that literally causes marketing professionals to lose control of their saliva production?

What is Twitter good for?

  • fast and brief conversation; anything in depth doesn’t fit in 140 characters
  • feeling like part of a community/building community
  • being able to respond, quickly and briefly, to fans/readers/customers/etc.
  • access to people who are well-known in their fields and have a large(ish) fan base, aka networking
  • small amounts of self-promotion (the key word being SMALL) about your latest book, blog post, upcoming appearance, or what-have-you
  • finding out if it was just you or was that really just an earthquake

However, I have noticed certain habits of Twitter users that can be, to state it bluntly, irritating or even off-putting. Here are my top three:

1. Huge volume. Last week someone I follow on Twitter must have posted twenty or thirty different “truism” tweets within fifteen minutes, completely flooding my timeline for that entire period. Another person has tweeted twelve random links (not RTs, mind you) in the past hour; and this isn’t rare or unusual behavior for him. At a certain point, volume no longer provides value for your followers, but instead merely feels like spam.

2. Automated Direct Message Upon Following. I can only assume people do this because they have failed to comprehend how slimy and inauthentic it feels to be on its receiving end. If you want to automate your Twitter account to follow everyone back and happily give numbers to spammers, well, at least it doesn’t affect me directly. But sending me a spam message because I was interested enough to follow you has the effect of giving a poor first impression. Happily others agree with me.

3. Large amount of repetition/over-promotion. Twitter is a fleeting platform, so I understand the need to share an important piece of information (my book is out! I have an awesome new blog post! my story is out!) more than once so that your followers don’t miss it. Share it more than twice in twenty-four hours, though, and my patience wears thin–plus it had better be really important to you. Tweet about the same blog post every couple of days, while possibly disguising that it is the same blog post, and I will never again click on any links you share. I made the mistake of following one well-known personality who not only has a volume problem, but has scheduled all of his tweets to be shared four times a day. Yes, that’s FOUR times. For ALL his tweets, most of which are random links that I can’t imagine he’s super invested in. Again, this feels like spam, and perhaps more importantly, it makes this person appear to be inauthentic. And being inauthentic on Twitter is the kiss of death.

People don’t like to be marketed to, they like to be connected with. Social media is all about achieving marketing through connection, which will hopefully make the experience more palatable for everyone. Commit regular acts of spam and no one wins.

Disagree with any of my pet peeves? Have any of your own to add? Let me know!

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Earlier this week we covered Facebook’s new direction, including both the potential large upside for writers and the accompanying privacy concerns. But what about Google+? Where does it fit into this picture? (Disclaimer: my husband, you may remember, works on Google+, so I’m not an uninterested party here. Apparently I also need to tell you explicitly that these are my opinions and not his. So yes, all mine. Especially the brilliant parts.)

Google+ has only been public for a little more than a week, and has only been live at all for the past three months. So we’re still in the very early days, which means there is still a lot of room for conjecture. First, let’s talk about a few differences between Facebook and Google+ (although with all of FB’s recent changes, there are less of them than there were). I was happy to have independent verification that Google+ is not doing the creepy cookie thing that makes me so concerned about Facebook and its privacy. There’s also less chance of accidentally posting information you don’t want posted, which is always nice. With its recent integration of Hangouts (group video chat) with new tools, especially Google Docs and screen views, Google+ lends itself well to collaboration in creative, business, and educational fields (and even recreational). The Google+ stream is not filtered the way Facebook is; you see all the posts being shared with you, although not in straight reverse chronological order as sometimes new comments will make an old post jump back higher in your stream. Google+ has garnered a reputation for hosting more in-depth discussions and conversations and for being a great platform for meeting new people.

I’m reluctant to talk about Google+’s real names policy because I know that many people feel passionately about it and I don’t want this conversation to center only on that. Regarding writers, I will say that I don’t think it’s Google’s aim to penalize those of us who write under pseudonyms. I personally expect that once Google+ has matured a bit more, this policy will lose its relevance, if for no other reason than that Google will find it impossible to enforce such a policy. For writers in particular, as long as your pseudonym looks like a standard American name (ie first and last), the odds are that you won’t have problems. But it is a concern that Google needs to address in some way so that users feel completely comfortable investing in the site.

A baby hedgehog with a lot of potential… (Okay, you’ve got me, I just wanted to include a hedgehog photo.)

Why might writers consider being on Google+ right now?

1. Hatred of Facebook. It happens, and now there’s an alternative for having an online presence that is more conducive for conversation with fans and communities. Twitter can also do this, but it feels more ephemeral in time and is difficult for communicating more complicated ideas or sharing links (since they are truncated and therefore very mysterious). So this may partly depend on your style of communication, and of course, carries the downside of not having the sheer number of users as Facebook.

2. Early adopter status. One of the main benefits of this is getting a head start. Users who are early adopters tend to have large follower counts, both because they’ve been doing it longer and because they are present at the beginning when more people are looking for interesting content for their streams. For example, I have well over 1000 people following me on Google+ after three months, whereas I have friends in the three hundreds on both Facebook and Twitter.

3. If you are an sf/f writer, being active on Google+ right now is a no brainer, because guess what? Your fans make up a large portion of the current user base. Google+ is known to be particularly popular with the high-tech crowd, many of whom enjoy science fiction and fantasy. So the potential for building your fan base is very good. Not to mention that the artist communities (comic book artists, photographers, and writers in particular) are well represented as well–hence why Google+ is great for collaboration and networking.

4. Positioning. Writers want to be in the best place to take advantage of whatever changes may benefit them. Keeping up to date with what’s going on with these social platforms and understanding the basics of how they work means greater speed in adapting and leveraging them to work for you.

What I am most excited about, though, is the huge future potential of Google+. Remember how I said that it is becoming known as a great place to meet new people? Well, guess what the point of having a social media strategy is in the first place. Yes, that’s right: meeting new people in order to build a fan base. On Facebook, the vast majority of my friends are people I’ve met in real life. On Twitter, the vast majority of my followers are newer writers like myself, indie writers, and social media professionals who use words like SEO in their personal descriptions. I certainly have a fair number of writers following me on Google+ as well, but I’m also being followed by lots of..wait for it… normal people! I know, right? Who knew that could happen? And these people are all potential readers who might like my work. Plus, for an added bonus, they’re really interesting to talk to. So while I stand by my assertion that Facebook is great for more established writers due to its larger reach, Google+ is great for writers actively trying to build a fan base before they even have a publishing track record. If you read a lot about social media and writers, you have doubtless read how we’re all supposed to start building a “platform” a few years before our first novel hits the presses. Google+ seems positioned to be a powerful tool to do just that.

With its new search feature that came out last week, Google+ became a tool for discovery. I can now search for posts about subjects I care about on Google+, which is a great way to meet people. With its release of shared circles, in which users can take a screenshot of a current circle and share it with their followers, we’ve been given the means to share groups of people who we know are interested in photography, or current events, or reading, or whatever topic we want, which will also facilitate discovery. My hope is that Google will continue to pursue this line of development and begin to offer more advanced and refined methods of finding other users with similar interests.

Next week I’m planning to discuss ways for writers (or anyone else) to be interesting and discoverable on social media. And then maybe I’ll be able to tear myself away from this topic for long enough to talk about something else.

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