Back in March, you may have seen my post about social networking and how useful a tool it can be. I still stand by that statement with the exception of a few things.
Facebook is a good social networking tool. Remember how I said to connect with as many people as possible to expand your presence? You should. And joining discussion groups on Facebook is a good idea too. If you are published, your publisher may have its own authors group. Definitely join. It will save you a lot of unanswered questions. Facebook is a really good tool.
However, Facebook has this funny way of preventing you from adding friends like crazy. I have been blocked before. This is basically like putting a hold on your account for a certain length of time. You can do everything except add new friends and send direct messages to people you aren’t connected with. The only way you can get new friends is if people add you and then you confirm. I know it's not great while you're waiting for the wonderful people at Facebook to take the hold off of your account, but it's something. I think part of it is Facebook’s fault. The other reason you get blocked is because the people you have tried to add have nothing better to do than to report to Facebook that you are a complete stranger or are spamming them. It is simple. They don’t have to confirm you as a friend. They can simply hit “ignore”. Instead, they chose to report you. The only good reason I see for blocking someone is if they are sending you creepy or threatening messages. That is just my take on being blocked. Unfortunately, Facebook has their own rules. So, that is one of the disadvantages of adding friends like crazy on Facebook.
LinkedIn is still a tool I would recommend. Having said that, there is one hiccup you’re bound to come across at some point. LinkedIn lets you join 50 different discussion groups. This is nice if you have joined good ones. It is not so nice if you have not. I mentioned the notifications you’d receive before. Just be sure to change the notification settings on each of your groups so you’re not bombarded with messages in your inbox.
The one thing I want to cover with LinkedIn today is knowing what those groups are about. Read the rules of each group. The moderators can get really picky with what they allow. I encourage you to join discussions. Make sure your website and any other information is on your profile so others can see it and link to it. Posting discussions can get hairy though. You need to decide if what you post goes with that specific group. One of my discussions was removed recently and I was flagged to be moderated in the future. All I posted was the fact that I was interviewed by a blogger. It’s not like I was doing multi-level marketing and trying to get people to look at and buy a specific product. I was just excited about the interview. So sue me. LOL. For future reference, just keep an eye on what you’re posting and what the group is all about.
Twitter is also a neat tool to use. You can tweet about pretty much anything from your book to interviews to where you went to eat last night to how you took your dog for a walk. I’m not kidding about the last two. People actually do that. Nowadays, it’s becoming the standard to talk about things besides what you really want to post. That is why you see the celebrities you follow tell everyone they just ate a bag of Doritos or painted their toe nails. Really? That’s nice. I know. Not very exciting. And not very hopeful for the burgeoning writer.
So, there are a few things you can do to ramp up your presence on Twitter. Sure, you can post news about your writing. I recommend it. Also, try to gain a following by following other authors or your own interests (i.e. companies or brands you like, people you admire). Chances are they’ll follow you back. And on the left side of the page, Twitter gives you recommendations, kind of like the age old, "if you like this, you'll like this" notion. And always try to follow those who have followed you on Twitter. If someone direct messages you, asking a random question like, “What is your favorite food?” or maybe they want to talk about how they just finished a needlepoint project, go ahead and reply back. This puts out the idea that your efforts are not self-serving and you actually do want to talk to people, which is most likely the case. The downside of Twitter is this: some of the people you follow are not exactly professional, and you may get some pretty nasty comments or propositions. The best way to handle this is to go through your list of followers and unfollow those rude people. They may still follow you, but by unfollowing them, you have just saved yourself a big headache and a ton of embarrassment.
In my previous article, I did not mention any other tools that could help you network and give you more of a presence. But, I will now. Some of these include blogging and email lists. Blogging is a good tool. Start your own blog. Find a niche market, something to write about. You want to write about writing? Go ahead. You want to tell people how much you love baking pies? You can do that. In most cases, if you say you’re a writer somewhere on your profile and have a link to your website, curiosity alone will cause people to go there. Will they buy your book? I don’t know. But, it’s worth a try. The important thing is you have something to offer people, something that brings them back to the blog again and again. You’ll get subscribers. That’s a good thing. You’re building a web presence. I have two blogs, one that showcases my books and one that is all about writing. Obviously, you’re here so you know which one is which. LOL. Then, you want to look up ways to advertise your blog. There are many sites where you can list your blog and thereby draw attention to it.
Now, I’m going to say something about email lists. Sure, you can take a bunch of your connections and email them like wild about your books, etc. But, I don’t recommend it. You’re mainly going to piss people off. They’ll end up blocking you in some form or other. And you’ll get some replies back, mostly ones like, “Stop emailing me” or “Take me off your mailing list”. The same could happen if you buy email lists. But, if you go that route, mostly what you’ll get is a bunch of non-deliverable emails sent back because those emails were out of date. Probably the best thing to do is to make connections or even friends on LinkedIn, Twitter or in real life and simply ask them if it’s okay to put them on a mailing list for updates or news on your books/writing.
So, that’s my spiel for the day, folks. Yes, there are a few disadvantages to social networking. I’m sure there are more than I even listed. But, without these tools, we would have no presence as writers. Gone are the days when all books ended up on shelves in libraries or bookstores. This is the digital age. E-books are the thing. If someone can read a book on their Kindle or Nook, then we have to use the tools provided to us in the digital age to try to reach those readers. Though I love traditional books as much as anyone else, even I have to evolve with the times.
Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for further posts. I am still hosting author interviews, guest blog articles, and I am beginning to take guest book reviews on my blog. Enjoy, or read back through the archives of Writing in the Modern Age. Have a great day!
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So, you want to be a writer, eh? I’d suggest you take up golf instead. Still determined?
I’m not going to talk about why you want to write. That’s a story in itself. You have read widely and perhaps dabbled at writing some short pieces, and after seeing what’s out there, you’re telling yourself it can’t be that hard. You can do a much better job and you’ve made up your mind to prove to everybody you can do it. You also decided that you can take the pain, the loneliness, frustration and exasperation that goes with writing. Have you? If you haven’t, do think about it. Writing a 300 page book means many hours with a pen, notebook and computer. Time where you don’t want to be interrupted by anything or anybody. Still want to inflict this on yourself?
When I started, I had grand dreams about getting published and my books in every store in the world. I’d be famous! Perhaps you might make it, but before you jump into the writing tar pit, knock any expectations you may have about fame and money out of your mind. If you want to write for money, become a journalist or a freelancer. Better still, get a paying job. That’s my first bit of advice. The second: forget about becoming famous. If you are honest with yourself, you will understand that you are driven to write, and you want to share what you have written with somebody. Everything else is secondary. If you don’t have that fire burning inside you, goading you to write, never leaving you alone, than you’re kidding yourself. Remember what I said about golf?
Okay, let’s get serious. Like any profession, writing is a craft and there are tools you must master to be any good at it. What did Einstein say? Ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration? He got that right. Having a story idea is nothing. Getting it down on paper in a form readers will not want to put down is everything. As with anything new, practice makes perfect. If you haven’t already, write some short stories. Why? The effort will tell you how good you are at manipulating words, creating sentences, scene breaks and chapters. It will show you if you have problems with plotting, whether you are a character or action writer; whether you like prose, dialogue or are in love with flowery adjectives. By the way, drown those adjectives - most of them anyway, or take up poetry. You need to find your voice. You need to discover your writing style with which you are most relaxed and one that doesn’t impede the flow of words. Stilted, awkward narrative and dialogue is death, regardless of how good the story itself might be. Don’t try to imitate an author you like. You must be true to yourself.
Some basic things that get overlooked, but are important:
- Format your manuscript correctly. Use 1 inch margins all around and have a proper header: Author Name/Book Title at left, and page numbering at right. Amazing how many people get this wrong.
- Use double spacing with your sentences, and don’t right justify the text. That part comes later when the book gets published.
- Always use the word processor’s automatic paragraph indenting. Have a hard page break, never one you create using the Enter key to space down the page.
There are other small things, but the idea is to get the fundamentals right before you put down that first word. Believe me, it will help in the long run. Why do all that? Firstly, submission editors have rules on manuscript formatting, but more importantly, you are developing yourself into a professional, not some amateur who hopes a brilliant story will carry you over all the bad parts. Long ago, editors helped iron out poorly written manuscripts, but those days are long gone. Today, your manuscript must be perfect, ready for typesetting and printing.
Become your worst enemy! You need to develop editorial skills and be prepared to cut that favorite word, phrase, sentence or paragraph. Never, never become so attached to your writing that you cannot prune. Like a shrub that needs cutting in order to make the whole live, you must be prepared to trim your writing. I know. It’s like hacking off an arm, but you must become inured to the pain, your eyes set on the end product. It takes time and practice, but it’s worth the effort. If you don’t do it, your editor certainly will. He will do it anyway just to demonstrate his superiority over us lesser mortals. Grin and bear it, and have a bourbon.
Develop a disciplined approach to writing. You would never build a house without proper architectural drawings. In the same way, never jump into writing that book without having thoroughly researched your subject and written a detailed outline and worked every plot angle. Careful not to get carried away with the outline or you’ll end up writing what should really be ‘real’ writing. An outline is a skeleton on which you write the book around. And like any skeleton, every bone must be in place or things will start to fall off when you begin to write. That’s called writer’s block, and can drive you to thoughts of jumping off tall buildings. It can also result in a book that will be all disjointed and pieces won’t fit. You can write a short story on the fly, and I’ve done it, but not a full-length novel. I have seen results of such amateurish writing and I still shudder when I think of them.
Develop your characters. There is nothing worse than coming across a character that has blue eyes in one chapter and brown in another. There is more to it than that, of course, but you get the idea. Every major character in your book should be fully developed, like a police mug sheet. And like that mug sheet, it should contain everything: height, color of hair, distinguishing features, mannerisms, likes and dislikes...you get the idea. This not only beds down the character in your own mind, but enforces a consistency of behavior by that character. If you have given your character a quirky mannerism, you can use it with confidence throughout the book. It will also make your reader comfortable, knowing you will not spring a surprise on him. If your character is a badass, keep him that way. Don’t introduce a brand new mannerism way down the book simply to make a point.
There are lots more things I could talk about here that every author needs in his toolbox, but I have to do some writing on my own novel. You will run into mental potholes, wander why you’re bothering, thinking that drinking your way out will help, but there is one thing you must always keep in mind. Writing can be tremendously satisfying. There is nothing like the buzz you get when the words flow and everything clicks together. The pure joy of creation can be giddying - and addictive. Once hooked, I’m afraid there is no cure, and no cold turkey withdrawal will help.
Still want to be a writer? On your head be it.
Thanks so much for visiting us today, Stefan!
Guest Blogger Bio
Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of the sci-fi Shadow Gods series of books. His contemporary political thriller Cry of Eagles has won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award.
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Okay, so we’ve all heard that to make it in the new publishing world, we have to promote, promote, promote! Sigh. Unfortunately, it’s true. It is important to maintain author accounts on significant social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Did I miss any? Probably. I’ve heard Pinterest is up and coming, but that is not what I’m going to talk about here.
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