Is Wattpad a Waste of Time or an Indispensable Tool?

Rachel Reuben, who blogs at writingbytheseatofmypants.com/, has a great blog for tips on social media, different writing sites, and anything else you want to know about the indie author market. I found where when searching randomly about Wattpad, a free story posting site apparently populated by girls and women 15-25 (Average Wattpad age is 20) who like romance, vampire love stories and Harry Potter fan-fic.

I sent Rachel an e-mail a couple of weeks ago asking about her thoughts Wattpad since she didn’t appear to have any good experiences using it, even though she writes in the most same genres as Wattpad’s audience likes to read. Here’s what she wrote back:

“What I meant about the Wattpad post was that I believe it’s a site for building a platform of readers who like your work but not much else.  This is ideal for those authors looking to traditionally publish because several writers on the site have gotten publishing contracts after scoring millions of views.  It’s well known that agents and acquisition editors want authors with a built in platform before they’ll dare to sign them.  Wattpad shows them that you’re marketable and you can build a following without them.

However, if you’re an indie author with a book to sell, it’s probably not worth the time.  I don’t know of any indie authors who can trace any boost in sales to Wattpad.  If you want sales, you’ll have to advertise and borrow the platforms of other influencers in your genre.  Wattpad makes it difficult to sell a book on its site because the buy buttons are nearly invisible.  I had a reader ask me to post the rest of my book on the site (I posted only the first 3 chapters).  I told her it was available on Amazon and all she had to do was click the buy button.  This caused a bit of confusion because she had no idea there even was a buy button.  Yes, it’s that tiny!  But Wattpad does this in order to keep readers on their site and not send them off to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  It’s a wise move on their part, but it sucks for us indie authors looking to sell a book.  So no, I don’t believe this site is ideal.

The only reason I would use Wattpad again is to post a short story or prequel to a novel I’m already selling.  I would link to the novel in my bio as well as mention it at the end of the story.  Bestselling authors like Margret Atwood are doing this on Wattpad too.

It’s a smart move because these days, we have to maximize our time and that means staying away from things that don’t work and Wattpad just doesn’t seem to work when it comes to sales.”

I signed up for a Wattpad account, though I haven’t yet posted anything (I will with things I don’t mind giving away for free). A review of the most-read stories shows, indeed, that romance, paranormal, and teen “chik-lit” stuff dominates. For example, fantasy and sci-fi’s most popular (non romantically-oriented) stories were in the six figure reads. But when it came to romance, some stories had as many as 40 million! Look at the genre followers, and romance far outpaces every other topic.
Now even as a man I have some romance story ideas which someday I will publish. The concerns I have are:
  •  Wattpad stories are free which means you could reach millions of readers but have zero to little sales. If you have a site where people expect a free story, then asking them to buy it is a problem.
  • If you don’t write primarily for teenage girls or young women, you probably can’t get noticed since your writing likely won’t interest the typical reader.
  • they apparently are allowing bigger names like Margaret Atwood to post on the site, which will make discovery for new writers even more of a challenge.
Among the pros, if you do write romance or chik-lit, you stand a better chance at building an audience or adding e-mail subscribers. If you want to test a story, this looks like a great place to do a run and see if it’s working.
What about you? Have you tried using Wattpad before?

Please Help Me Translate Litspeak

If you read the following two articles (edited for length but all points intact), you will most certainly be confused. The first article is an interview with literary agent Jane Dystel at indiereader.com. The second article is an article from J.H. Mae, also of Indireader. For your entertainment I’ve added my commentary since I was obviously (not) there.

Article 1

Loren Kleinman (LK): What’s been the most challenging aspect of choosing a title?

Jane Dystel (JD): I think the most challenging is finding something that is fresh.  The more I read, the more stories sound the same.  I am looking for “different” as are other agents and publishers.

B&B: Pretty much every story possible has been told in a basic form. Can I submit a story about a talking raccoon and a talking tree stump? Oh wait...

LK: How can authors improve their chances of engaging with a readership?

JD: The key here is, of course, the book.  Their story has to be well told and well written and fresh, as I said previously.  Second,  they need to spend lots of time on social media to build their fan base/potential readership. That is the key to sales these days—whether one is self-publishing or being published be a traditional publisher. Having a unique voice and working within a built-in community of authors and readers is a great way to stand out and cross-promote on social media. Authors should find what platform works best for them or that they’re most comfortable with (whether that’s Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.) and focus energy there. Better to excel in one place than to be mediocre in several.

B&B tip: The last sentence is very true.  Consider holding off your literary agent approach until you have at least fifteen thousand followers on social media or e-mail subscribers.

LK: How important is an author platform for the author, publisher and agency?

JD: The author platform is extremely important and will definitely make a difference in whether we can sell an indie author’s book to a traditional publisher. Social media is a big part of an author’s platform these days, and we find it works best when authors focus on the kinds they enjoy so that they can be consistent and genuine.

B&B: Very true for the most part, but something I feel like most agents and acquisition editors are missing. Just having a lot of social media followers doesn’t work if your book is terrible. It’s easier to market a great book from a relatively unknown than a total garbage book from a celebrity. Don’t believe me? Ask me how many books Snooki has sold. Social media matters but it isn’t the only thing. Follow my blog and I’ll tell you why!

LK: What can indie authors do to make their books more appealing in terms of covers, editing, etc.? What do you think is the most important aspect?

JD: The cover is very important in the indie world.  It needs to stand out in a very crowded market.  And, a manuscript that reads well—with proper editing and copy-editing—is always going to do better than one that doesn’t. Covers need to look professional. Invest in quality design or stock photos—something anyone could slap together on Microsoft Paint isn’t going to attract a reader, especially since they are only looking at a little thumbnail photograph of the cover and not holding a physical book in their hands. So, to that end, nothing too intricate either—what will stand out on a little screen is going to be what works.

B&B: Excellent point. Agreed.

LK: Do indie authors have more of a chance at traditional publishing later in their careers than those directly seeking publication or representation?

JD: It is very important, as I said, for the indie author to have a solid fan following in order to find a traditional publisher.  That takes time.  Also, unit sales of their self-published books is a factor in their ability to interest legacy publishers. Naturally, quality of writing is also very important—since traditional publishers aren’t as keen as they once were to purchase rights to books that have already been self-published, an indie author needs to be able to produce new work that is a) in line with the type of book they’ve been successful with and b) well-written and unique.

B&B: We won’t touch your book unless you have either a) celebrity status b) an easily accessible base of internet followers OR great access to some big-time talk shows or c) at least twenty-five thousand sales, likely e-books. After you do the work, THEN we’ll jump in and ask if you’ll turn over 2/3 of your revenue (or more) so we can give you “distribution” and “marketing”. IF we like you.

LK: What kind of authors are traditional publishers looking for these days? Is there a particular profile they consider?

JD: First, traditional publishers are no longer all that interested in picking up previously self-published books.  They want authors who are willing to work with them to grow their writing careers.  There is still so much to learn on both sides, and I think legacy publishers want to invest in those authors who are patient in terms of their growth as authors.

B&B: STOP! STOP! check out the two parts in bold. “Unit sales matter” and then “we don’t really want to publish previously self-published books.” So on the one hand, we won’t publish a book which has a lot of sales because we want an author to grow with them, but we want you to already have a lot of social media followers and success before we’ll offer you a contract?

How can you grow with a publisher if you have to do all the legwork before they’ll take you on? Someone help? Please?

Article 2

“These days, self-publishing doesn’t necessarily mean your novel will wither and die, unread, on the digital and real life bookshelves. Books with polished writing, a compelling voice, eye-catching covers, promising sales numbers and an author with a decent reader following may be destined for great things. Meaning a traditional book deal.

With so many indie titles released every day, the pool of authors has become something of a resource for literary agents eager to unearth new talent and sign the next breakaway bestseller – and a testing ground. “Traditional publishers let the indie market experiment, then they swoop in and try to grab what has worked,” said literary agent Evan Marshall with the Evan Marshall Agency.  “When a (book) is of high quality, the attention and popularity naturally come with it.”

The main indicator is sales rankings, which creates a slush pile that is self-curating,” added Laurie McLean, a partner at Fuse Literary Inc. Basically, if the numbers just aren’t there and the book isn’t making waves in the indie market, it likely won’t stand a chance in the traditional one, either, added Andrea Hurst, literary agent with Andrea Hurst & Associates.

The indie world is also allowing the traditional folks to see how new genres resonate with readers. It’s a “freedom and flexibility most traditional publishers don’t have,” Marshall said.

But there are barriers between a literary agent and the next great indie find. Mostly, it’s the sheer volume of titles, which bury the best ones. “It’s the same with the normal slush pile we deal with as agents,” said McLean. “We read. A lot … It’s the same as finding those needles in the huge haystack that we deal with every day.”

So where do agents look? Amazon Bestseller lists, The New York Times eBook Bestseller Lists, Bookbub and other major indie advertising sites. WattPad is another big one, along with Scribd – where McLean’s hybrid client Ransom Stephens got his start – Textnovel, FictionPress, FanFiction, textnovel, Worthy of Publishing, Mibba, figment, Quotev and other writing sites, as well as author web sites, popular review blogs and any place indie authors are being talked about – “the proverbial online water cooler vibe,” McLean added.

Writer’s conferences are also key. That’s where Toby Neal, a self-published author of police procedurals, met and clicked with McLean. Now she has an eight-book audiobook deal and two new series. “She’s given me six months. If I fail, she can always self-publish them. But this gives me a huge incentive to get this book pitched quickly and sold.”

And though word of mouth may be low-tech and old-fashioned, it’ll still get writers’ work under an agent’s nose. One of McLean’s hybrid clients, Michael J. Sullivan, referred her to two fantasy authors whose work he enjoyed and now one of them – Brian D. Anderson – is getting a chance to sell his new series with publishers in New York. “So, do a good job and your name will spread, I guess,” she said.

But the pressure is on indie authors to impress if they want to snag a book deal. Great writing, fresh ideas, a popular genre and novel-length stories – not short stories, novelettes or novellas –are required, added Marshall. (B&B: Didn’t the author of this article just say It’s also a popularity game, evidenced by a strong reader following and social media presence, plus a marketable author brand. But McLean pointed out another critical element– desire. (B&B: First it was new genres being monitored for signs of success, but now if you want a traditional book publishing contract you have to be in a popular genre? Hello? Help, please?)

“We’re particularly looking for indie authors who also want to have at least some presence in traditional publishing. “We’re in it for the long haul of an author’s career and we are looking to grow hybrid authors who can have one foot in the indie world and one in traditional publishing at all times.”

This element can be a challenging one to attain, because indie authors unfamiliar with traditional publishing get frustrated with the process. “They expect everything to move quickly and to have a say at every point along the way. That’s just not the way it works for the most part. You don’t get to pick your covers. You need to make some tough editing choices and trust your editor to make you a better writer. And you need to be patient.”

B&B: OK OK OK, hold up. Let’s break down the last two paragraphs together:
“We’re in it for the long haul of an author’s career and we are looking to grow hybrid authors who can have one foot in the indie world and one in traditional publishing at all times.”
But…Ms. Dystel said I need a massive amount of success in indie publishing, but then the publisher doesn’t want my previously successful work. The only want new books in the exact same genre I write in, assuming I write in exactly one genre. And if I switch genres? What then?
“They expect everything to move quickly and to have a say at every point along the way. That’s just not the way it works for the most part. You don’t get to pick your covers. You need to make some tough editing choices and trust your editor to make you a better writer. And you need to be patient.”
The technology world changes frequently. So on the one hand I have to be cutting edge and keep up with the latest in social media and book publishing, but if I were to be signed by a bigger publisher, I lose control of my work and it will take months or years? And while I agree a good editor is indispensable to a writer, the agent being quoted wants great books out. But that means I most likely hired a decent editor (besides close friends of course), and assuming I’m only writing one genre to build a “brand” (because God knows you aren’t allowed to try something different- see what happened to Lady Gaga?), then can’t I use my awesome freelance editor? Or is she out now?
B&B summary: I post this because I was colossally confused. Let’s be honest. I am very unlikely to ever get a traditional book deal, no matter what.  You, dear reader, are very unlikely to ever get one. It doesn’t matter how good or interesting you are. It doesn’t matter, in all honesty, how many books you sell at the end of the day because that isn’t enough. Heck, it doesn’t matter if I write a blogpost criticizing them, or don’t. All that matters is you and I do the legwork and build the fanbase, in a genre which is forever popular, then you “gets” if you are one of the “chosen ones”.
I have nothing personally against agents or publishers as people. I completely understand the difficulty in making decisions; only so many books per year can be printed and the sheer volume of query letters, plus self-published novels, plus the backlists, plus new material from the A-listers, is overwhelming. It isn’t always easy to understand why one book is so popular and one just like it is not. Changes in the industry have created a lot of uncertainty and I feel for those who worry about their future job status, especially in this economy. I have respect for publishing companies like Lee & Low books which publish the books they want, regardless of whether it has “commercial appeal.” Publishers like Lee and Low and Baen Books will even accept unagented queries, offering you at least a tiny chance to get your name in print, if this is what you want, without having to go through one more “gatekeeper.”
But to be honest, the agents quoted above come off as somewhat arrogant. They act like they’re doing you a favor by making you do all the legwork of building a fanbase, paying for your book’s production and marketing, building your website and your e-mail list, and then AFTER you put in that work they come in and offer to take 15% off the top, plus another 52.5% (give or take) to the publisher, for the right to do what?
What is the value added on they (publisher) are giving you if you’ve done all the work? Are they going to somehow give you a better cover than whatever your cover artist (or you, if you’re so talented) came up with? Will the editor they assign to read your book be better than the freelancer? More flexible? A better time table? Will they offer you help building your author site (this one’s a new post next week!)? Will they do a great job marketing beyond what you’ve already done on your own and can do by yourself or with a hired advertising team?
As for the agent, will she or he get you the money you’re looking for? Will she or he do a better job of managing your accounts and sales volume than Amazon, Ingram, or even an accountant? Will your book get a movie contract solely because of her work, and for more money than you would ever have been able to negotiate on your own?
And what about children’s books? It isn’t like there’s a major market for self-published kid’s books, especially compared to romance and mystery. Will a self-published children’s author attract their attention if the challenge of building an audience of kids is really difficult?
Unless we see reasonable and civil answers to these question, I get the impression, from the agents’ own comments, that the main appeal of being “snatched up” is to give you “legitimacy” at having your name in print by a Big 5 imprint. It’s prestigious. That seems to be about it.
Fellow bloggers and authors, please, help me learn Litspeak. I’m still new to this.

Have English Books Lost their Flare?

I found this article and I didn’t even think about this issue. If you write books in the English language, are you prepared to lose your place to novels written in other languages?

“It’s the calm before the storm for Barcelona-based French agent Véronique Kirchhoff, who has 70 meetings spread over four days at the upcoming Bologna Children’s Book Fair. And that doesn’t include her French and Spanish clients who she sees independently from the fair. A one-woman show, Kirchhoff has been running her literary agency, which specializes in illustrated children’s books, for seven years, the last three of which have been from Barcelona. She is quick to point out that, “I’m not a French agent selling worldwide, I’m an agent from everywhere selling everywhere. Otherwise I couldn’t make a living.”

Later…

“There is another change Kirchhoff has noticed recently at the Bologna Book Fair where she has a stand in the English-speaking halls.

“There are more and more stands from publishers I’ve never seen before from all around the world. More people are going to Asian, French, Italian, Portuguese or Eastern European stands and the English stands are not as busy. The English are losing their supremacy in terms of selling rights because others have books that are so much more interesting. It’s a question of creativity. People are tired of the same style coming from Anglo-Saxon countries. In the texts as well, I see more narrative in other books. English books are sweeter, but so what? What publishers want is an original story.”

As far as digital books are concerned, “we were told digital is the next big thing. It’s definitely growing in fiction but this is not happening at all in illustrated children’s books. As agents we are asked to grant ebook rights, but publishers usually don’t use them. Now I only grant ebook rights if the publisher can tell me how they can use them. So the market hasn’t developed as was announced—it might, but I don’t think so. Most e-books for children are not books but games. You give a child an iPad in a car during a trip, but you give a child a book before he goes to bed.”

Kirchhoff is upbeat about the future: “I think the children’s book market is coming back to life and I can’t explain why. Although pop ups (novelties) are a harder sell because manufacturing prices keep rising, there is an amazing revival of storyboard books that began one or two years ago. I’m selling picture books really well. There is a focus on beautiful illustrations. A lot of my fellow agents say the same thing. I’m super happy because it was very hard there for a while…”

First off, this isn’t a surprise. There are very few things with global popularity. Only a select few books can have mass appear worldwide. Just because you have a novel in ten languages doesn’t mean it will have equal appeal everywhere. It’s only reasonable that each country has its own local celebrities and local literary culture. Why get a foreigner’s book when you may have your own version from a local person who speaks your language and knows your culture?

However, does this mean foreign book-buyers will turn away from English-language books. I hope not. Because if they do, I’m going to be in trouble, particularly with books aimed at kids and teens (debut YA novel expected Fall 2015). Granted, I won’t focus immediately on foreign-language sales right away, but it’s something to keep in mind.

It’s interesting how children’s books are making a comeback even though the number of new kids born every years has been in overall decline for a long time. Of course, we need to separate “Young Adult” Novels with a huge adult following from kid’s picture or middle-grade books.

B&B: English-language books are still in vogue, but it is true there’s been a lot of repetitiveness coming from the market. It’s far easier to publish a book which is a different take on an already successful idea rather than explore or experiment with new concepts.

This brings us to the next allegation: There are not enough books aimed at children from diverse (read: non-Caucasian) backgrounds. Is this a legitimate problem? Or just griping from people who can’t “make it”? I’ll explore this topic very soon.

The (Book Publishing) Industry has 39 problems. And they are…

photo: wikipedia.org

There was a great article from Digital Music News’s Paul Resnikoff published September 2014 about the troubles the music industry is having. After reading it I realized some of their tips could substitute terms related to “music” for terms related to “books”. Thus I have chosen a few top points using this substitution. This is just a fun read and something to think about as you chug along in your day.

Read the original article here. It’s worth your time, especially if you’re a music fan. Bold letter means I changed the words from the original into my version. (Artist and author are used interchangeably here)

1. The book publishing industry is failing.  Across the board, artists are experiencing serious problems monetizing their audio/print releases.

2. Major Publishing house revenues have been declining for more than 10 years, and they continue to decline precipitously year-over-year.  This has dismantled the traditional publishing system, once the most reliable form of artist financing.

3. Digital formats continue to grow, but not enough to overcome broader declines in physical books.

4. Even worse, the evolution of formats keeps pushing the value of the book downward. Free-books and the subscription model pay less than downloads (or for free-books not at all); downloads paid less than print versions sold independently.  And the next thing after subscriptions will probably be even worse.

5. There is little evidence to suggest that this downfall is being made up by touring, merchandising, or other non-writing activities.

6. The subscription model is rapidly becoming the dominant form of book consumption.  It also pays artists the worst of any formats before it.

7. Post-book, authors and publishers have failed to establish a lucrative, reliable bundle to monetize their writing (for all but a very few select authors).

8. Most consumers now attribute very little value to the book itself (if they ever did), and most consumption (through YouTube book trailers, bundled subscriptions, and the advent of free-books) happens at little-to-zero cost to the reader.

9. A generally uncertain economic climate only adds to consumer resistance against paying for books (plus the sad reality that a high percentage of our population suffers from illiteracy, which makes them unable and uninterested in reading unless we do something about this tragic problem).

10. Payouts to authors are not only hard to figure out, they are almost universally low and cannibalistic towards other, more lucrative formats.  Which is why many authors choose to self-publish at least some of their books (mostly e-books), because they conclude that 70% from Amazon at $2.99 per e-book beats 25% at $6.99 per e-book.

11. E-book downloads remain more lucrative for artists (and publishers), despite rhetoric indicating otherwise.

12. It’s harder than ever for a newer artist to get noticed.

13. The artist has greater and more direct access to fans than ever before in history. Unfortunately,so do millions of other artists.

14. Indeed, the typical reader is flooded with books, not to mention videos, games, Netflix, and porn, all of which makes it extremely difficult to win and retain the attention of future fans.

15. This also puts pressure on the artist to shorten the release cycle, and pump out content at a quick pace.

16. Facebook is now charging artists to reach their own fans, a move it defends as necessary given massive increases in Facebook posts that are overwhelming users (original author’s opinion, not mine, but still noteworthy).

17. All of which sort of makes the Facebook ‘Like’ a necessary win, but a difficult victory to celebrate.

18. Approximately 90% of all authors cannot make a living wage off of their writing, based on stats gleaned from Digital Book World.

19. Most artists are overwhelmed with tasks that go far beyond making music.  That includes everything from Tweeting fans, updating Facebook pages, managing metadata, uploading content, interpreting data, managing Kickstarter campaigns, and figuring out online sales strategies.

20. Classical literature and overall reading efforts continue to struggle, thanks to a continuing problem invigorating younger audiences to read a book.

21. Authors are increasingly giving away free-books, in the hopes of getting paid work down the line.

22. Information overload and massive media fragmentation have made it very difficult for book fans to even notice releases exist — even if they are dedicated fans.

23. Traditional bookstores have largely imploded, with holdouts like Barnes and Nobles on the verge of becoming a relic of an earlier era.

24. Either way, the biggest releases always go to the biggest brick-n-mortar stores: Target, Best Buy, or Wal-Mart.

25. Yet these larger, ‘big box’ retailers are accelerating the downward spiral in book sales, both by dramatically reducing shelf space and by pushing pricing aggressively downwards. This is happening even though older demographics are often still receptive to the print format.

26. Major publishers, once the most reliable form of financing for new and established authors, are now a fraction of their former selves.

27. And thanks to heavy financial pressures, the creative process at major publishers has become increasingly formulaic (ever wonder why so many bestsellers look like a repackaging of a previous bestseller?), overly refined, and often unsatisfying to the artists involved.

28. Instead of enjoying some theoretical resurgence, indie publishers are mostly getting squeezed by devalued and declining books, piracy, and far greater leverage from authors themselves (who can skip small presses if they want).

29. Established publishing companies often overpay their executives by a wild margin, despite massive and ongoing losses.

30. Very little innovation now comes from inside the industry.  Instead, it is now dictated by alternative-industry players like Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords, and the entire indie author industry.

31. A large percentage of book fans are frustrated with high prices for hardcover, softcover, and e-books from traditional publishers.

32. The average consumer reads less than five books a year. (kids books are, however, making a comeback)

33. Traditional bestsellers lists tend to have the same 14 authors in heavy rotation, with mind-numbing regularity and lots of Caucasian faces (despite the increasing global diversity in literature).

34. Even worse, a lot of readers don’t seem to mind (wait for your dystopian society novel about a boy vampire who goes to a school for people like him, all while trying to fight the evil Lord Waldemart, and only finding the Ring of Power and destroying it can save them from having our boy hero having to fight in an arena of sexy vampires who fight to the death. And of course, a romance angle is involved. Soon to be #1 in the world!).  Which means very few books actually get into rotation and discovery becomes harder.

35. Book fans have access to more books than ever, but are often completely overwhelmed.  This often results is less interest in authors that aren’t heavily promoted, already established, or somehow ‘viral’.

36. The Long Tail was mostly a fantasy, and so is the concept that great writing naturally finds its audience.  Buried gems remain buried in the digital era, while the most successful artists still seem to be those with the best backing and money.

37. Writing conferences are often expensive, both in terms of time and money.

38.Writing conferences are sometimes held in far away, difficult-to-reach places, and last for days.  Which also means that conferences can be giant distractions from work that needs to get done back at your office (since it’s unlikely you make enough money to be a full-time author or writer to go to a conference whenever you want).

39. Even worse, DRM has become an artist-unfriendly loophole for every author and publisher.

So what do you think should be added/deleted? Which point on this list do you think is most/least accurate?

Interview with my Fangirls

My fangirls were going to interview me on Thursday but they were so excited by Conference Championship Week on ESPN they forgot to do it on Thursday, so they got it in today prior to the NCAA Tournament Selection Show at 6pm.

I appreciate all my supporters so I am glad to repost this transcript from our phone interview.

Background: Kiki and Gemma run the popular job boards website lartfries.com. The site helps connect Liberal Arts majors to job opportunities with their BA degrees (as opposed to making my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee). I met them three months ago and showed them the draft of one of my newest books, with a publishing announcement to be made in July (pending my publisher’s response). They became such great fans they made it their second job to tell everyone about my book so by the time it gets released I’ll have a decent-sized following to begin promoting it. They have a weekly podcast called K & J Minute Magic.”

Transcript has only modified spelling errors or uses of grammar.

KIKI: Hey Sam, thanks so much for doing this!

ME: no problem.

KIKI: so we’ll start off with the first question: Where did you get the awesome idea for this book?

ME: (laughing) From the manatees living in a giant tank in my parent’s basement…but seriously, a lot of them come from everyday ideas. My secret is that I combine multiple ideas which make sense but are done in such a way that it’s almost impossible for my exact idea to have been done before. You know the saying how every idea’s been done before? That’s true to a basic element, but when you add these different elements together you end up with a unique story people can rally around.

As for this particular one…I like satire and comedy, but also book which really reflect the way we look at our world. I hope when the announcement comes people will be interested in this concept because it’s relatable. It’s not your everyday story or even your typical magic/wizard/dragon novel. It isn’t your typical mystery or young adult dystopia with vampires, etc. But it’s something I expect people to really connect with and feel like they learned something from.

GEMMA: Following up on that, I have to say, your writing style is kind of…different (laughter). It’s easy to read but it doesn’t look like most novels I’ve ever seen before. Not as heavy on the narration or adjectives but you don’t like to miss details. Tell us more about it.

ME: Well, Gemma, you’re right. My writing style isn’t the kind which wins literary awards. It’s not because it sucks or anything, but because I am not much of a “prose” writer. Sometime during the 1950s and 1960s there was an academic focus where literature was supposed to change from the really long-winded narratives like you see in work by Charles Dickens or Herman Melville or even in Stephen King novels. The idea was to shorten books and “get to the point.” What I call prose, however, is not this: I mean that there’s a particular writing style favored by literary types, like when you see “so and so remembered her days as a young child, playing in the grass…etc.” Or when characters or narrators spend a lot of time reflecting upon society or some issue in the book. I find it boring and I want to move on. Yet I find this is the most common style in a lot of literature I read, whether for teens or adults.

Another problem is, if I don’t write the topics the critics find interesting, they aren’t going to be interested. which book do you think is going to be more popular: A book about a young boy who marches in Selma and gets sprayed by a fire hose, or a young boy who runs around throwing ninja stars at people who complain about our country being screwed by the politicians, while they do nothing to stop these politicos? By this description the first one is a “superior” novel. But we ought to actually read the books before judging. How do you know the second one may not be better? Personally, I think I’d be more interested in book 2, but then again, I don’t give out awards.

GEMMA: So you’ve never won any awards or been published professionally before?

ME: (laughing) No awards for fiction writing. I have been published before, but as a journalist, communications director, and as a columnist. Never as a fiction writer. Not even in one of those little-known e-zines with the $10 honorary payments. Heck, not even on a site for no money. Someday, maybe.

KIKI: How do you find time to write while holding down a full-time job?

ME: It’s not easy, and those of us who work for a living know once you dedicate a large portion of your day to working and living, the motivation to start writing drops. Especially my job, which requires a lot of time in front of a computer screen or on a mobile device. The last thing I want to do most days is come home and sit in front of another screen to write 2-3 or more hours a day.

Realistically I probably get about 2 hours a day during the week, maybe 3 on weekends. In terms of word count, I’d say I average 1500-2000 words a day. Some days I get very little done. Some days I go “in the zone” and can go to 5000 or 6000 words. But those are the exception, not the rule.

The oft-discussed and little-known point is how much time social media eats into writing. By the time I think about my Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn posts, I’ve already had to think about what I will do with YouTube, Pinterest, and Snapchat (to reach teens). Many authors hate social media- you read their thoughts on writer’s boards or at workshops. They want to write and often point out big-names who didn’t need social media to succeed. My response is, ‘they are the exception to the rule. Plus almost all of them, minus a small number of indies, had more publishing help marketing than you or I do.’ But it is time-consuming, that’s for sure.

GEMMA: How old were you when you first got interested in writing?

ME: My first “book” was written in kindergarten. I would write on construction paper and draw picture. Most chapters were as short as three words or as long as maybe fifteen. They were things like “I like school” or “Sports are fun. Soccer is my favorite sport.” I think I got the idea that I was going to be able to catch Isaac Asimov and the hundreds of books he’s had published. Probably too late for that dream, but my love of writing never diminished. Over time, it got stronger.

Kiki: Who was your favorite writer growing up, and why?

ME: Tough question. I can’t say there’s a “favorite”, but I enjoyed the Encyclopedia Brown books. I also like Hardy Boys and Goosebumps. I guess I would go with R.L. Stine, since I read more of his books than I did of anyone else’s. Stephen King and J.K. Rowling were good writers I liked too. They have very strong styles. I also liked Ender’s Game a lot but I didn’t read that until I was older.

I’m not counting graphic novels or manga, but I was (and still am) a fan of Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, Worst, 300, and comic books. Batman was my favorite superhero since he got around with gadgets and didn’t rely on super speed or strength to get by.

GEMMA: I know we’re running out of time but I wanted to address authors of color. As someone who comes from a diverse background, do you honestly feel it’s easy to make it if your name doesn’t rhyme with “Patterson” or “Brown”?

ME: Yes it’s possible, but that is one thing I noticed is tough to ignore. Unlike music, athletics, or actors, it’s tough to think of a big-name Fiction writer who is Hispanic, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American/American Indian/Native Person (I have a tough time deciding what’s the appropriate non-tribal term for someone who’s ancestry can be traced to what we now call the U.S.A. Disclosure, I have ancestry also dating back to pre-Chrisopher Columbus ‘New World’.

KIKI: Oh wow.

ME: It’s true, though it wasn’t America where my ancestors are from. Anyways, it is tough. You always have to wonder if the literature world is ready for a big-name named “Desean” or “Henrique” or “Carlos” or something like that. America is changing, and I suspect down the road people of color will be more represented in literature. But that’s down the road. Today I expect more Anglicized names to dominate the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers list. Not that that’s bad, mind you, but I can completely see why non-White people may be discouraged from thinking they could become a bestselling author. This is a great topic I’m passionate about and I’ll be happy to discuss the next time you interview me.

KIKI: And we will definitely have you back on. Thanks so much for talking to us! We hope to talk to you again soon.

ME: thank you both for having me on.

(audio is not available at this time)

Love Fantasy? Two Short Story Contents worth Entering

March 31 is the deadline for two fantasy/sci-fi short story contents, if that’s your thing. Some people will say contests are a waste of time because they distract you from working on novels and short stories for publication for your audience, but some contents can give you prestige. Who wouldn’t want to mention an award-winning piece of work on their website?

There’s the Writer’s of the Future contest from one very famous Sci-fi writer, L Ron Hubbard. This is for people who have never professionally published a novel or short novel, or more than one novelette, or more than three short stories, in any medium. Professional publication is deemed to be payment of at least six cents per word, and at least 5,000 copies, or 5,000 hits.

This is a great award to try to go for if you’re a newbie like I am. I finished a piece in the 11,000-12,000 word range, which has both sci-fi and fantasy elements to it. After I enter I’ll post the first 1,000 words on this blog.

The Second Annual Baen fantasy contest. Enter before it gets hot! You get paid the professional short story rate and some other goodies, including Baen books. Also, they have a deadline  to get back to you, so you know when to get your yes/no answer. The contest is capped at 8,000 words. I’m about done with my draft so I have 3 weeks to do some editing and revisions before I send ’em off to the fantasy gods and goddesses.

Either way, neither you nor I are likely to win these contests or even get an honorary mention. I have a feeling my style of writing is not well-liked by contest judges (think the opposite of flowery prose language). Oh well- at least Writer’s of the Future gives you a chance if you’ve not yet self-published (or gotten trad pubbed, if that’s more your thing). But if you do, let me know!

Coming up next: An interview with my fangirls!

Coming up soon: The language barrier obstacle

Three Things I’ve Learned so Far about Pinterest

The stereotypical Pinterest user is a college-educated woman between the ages of 25-45. It’s true that men are less likely to want to “Pin” something than women, but even if romance novels, wine, and Louboutins, are not “your bag” it could be useful.

I’ve only had the opportunity to use Pinterest a few times because I’m still trying to figure out where it fits into my social media schedule. Below are three things I’ve learned from Pinterest thus far.

  • Brands dominate Most Pins are related to businesses and brands and sharing brand content. Now Pinterest was criticized for recently banning affiliate and redirect links from the platform, making these repins marked for the spam category. So if you were just repinning stuff from businesses without being recognized as an “official repinner” then you may not be able to earn a living. But if you have your author site and you create photo, meme, or graphic content, you are more likely to get attention than if you just randomly Pin stuff. Approximately two-thirds of the pins on Pinterest are related to brands, according to Pinterest’s own figures.
  • You will soon be able to sell directly from Pinterest They’re expected to allows ads and buy buttons on Pinterest boards to keep people from leaving the site. Think of things which could be sold just by pinning a photo or graph and letting people buy with one click like Amazon. This is a good thing for anyone with a product to sell- if 2/3 of pins are related to brands, and the typical Pinterest user has some amount of disposable income to make purchases, then you have a new avenue to increase your sales in a place where people expect to be sold to, unlike say Twitter or Facebook. I would definitively take advantage of this function in order to reach new customers and if you have a brand and either a) some content creating skills or b) someone who can make content for you, consider using this.
  • Create targeted boards This goes into my whole “branding” thing where some people think you have to stick to one very specific thing to be identified with that. Somehow corporations don’t get this memo- many create different boards to target different thinks. For example, “Beer” is very generic. But “Best craft brews on the West Coast ” has much less competition because it’s a less searchable topic. So let’s say you write books on beer. You could create on board for specific brews in different region, then maybe create one for people to post their favorite beers, and one for most unique beer recipes and yet another for people who want to talk about books and writing about beer. You still talk about beer, but you aim your brand at people with different interests, with the goal of getting people to buy some or all of your books. Someone who doesn’t care about craft beers of the Mid-West might find most unique recipes to be more interesting.

My person Pinterest board is here. I will use this as a test run for future branding opportunities. Follow my blog for more tips- I’ve got more advance Pinterest, and other, tips which I share for free (just add a $2 gratuity to your bill).

Feel free to share your Pinterest tips or success stories.

A Sweet Way to Show Your Appreciation for Cancer Research.*

Today is National Pancake Day at IHOP, a day when IHOP invites everyone to come in for a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. Normally when a business does this they offer free food in the hopes you will come purchase their other products and/or they’re trying to get you into the store so you’ll come back again. IHOP uses this day every year to ask patrons to instead make a donation to one of the charities they support. The Children’s Miracle Network is the largest charity they support, but I am volunteering tonight to support another organization, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Delaware.

Supporting local nonprofits by volunteering or donating, or becoming a sponsor for a nonprofit event, is a great way to build goodwill in the community. A business or individual is not obligated to support every charity-but getting involved in a passionate cause one believes in, or is interested in, essentially functions as free or cheap advertising. If your community has two businesses which provide the same product or service, are roughly equal in price and customer satisfaction, and one is a proud sponsor for events like raising funds for kids with cancer or saving dying animals, and the other is not, which one are you more likely to patronize?

Business support for charitable events, whether it’s for a specific purpose or just to benefit an organization’s yearly objectives, builds brand awareness. You get good PR but also the opportunity to be associated with causes you believe in. Granted, some causes are more controversial but being out there lets people know you’re an active part of the community.

Understandably the nonprofit world has been hit with scandals and embarrassing situations where seniors leaders take huge sums of money for themselves or donations are found to be wasted or misspent. But as someone who works for a nonprofit I sincerely say these nonprofits are the exception to the rule. The overwhelming majority of people who work for nonprofits do not expect top dollar for our services. Volunteer organizers don’t get anything at all! Yet we still give our time and sometimes accept less pay (or none at all) to support what we believe in.

So today, consider a midday lunch break or post-work stop at IHOP, braving the weather and the (hopefully) long lines of people who want to support groups like LLS Delaware, and get some delicious pancakes. It’s a sweet way to show your appreciation for cancer research.*

Bad pun intended

For more information about LLS Delaware, visit their site here.

For more information about the Caesar Rodney Institute, visit our site here.

Seven Things I’ve Learned Using Social Media

Anyone trying to build a personal brand knows you have to use social media. All of us are increasingly spending more and more time online, whether from a desktop or mobile device, so being where people are is important if you want to reach folks.

The question is though, how many social media sites does one need to be active on to be successful? I’m not just talking about Facebook, etc., but blogs and “hang out” places like Kboards.com or whatever it is in your field you like. I’m still learning but here are seven things I’ve learned from trying to create my online platform.

1. Contrary to popular wisdom, you really don’t need to be a star with every site Conversely, you should be using more than one. I would say if you can use 3 social media sites and stay active on at least 2 blog boards (your personal blog counts for this, as does someone else’s blog) that’s more than sufficient. Stretching yourself too thin will dilute your impact but too few limits your ability to find new fans for your brand.  There are so many social media sites (Do you use Keek? Vine? Tumblr? Instagram? Snapchat? Flickr?) you just can’t star at ’em all unless you either a) use social media like a full-time job or b) hire someone to manage your social media full time. Ignore anyone who says that if you’re not on dozens of social media sites you’re “missing out”. There are very few people or businesses which can use that many sites and all of them have social media managers.

B&B: I use Facebook for personal use, Twitter (personal), LinkedIn (professional), Google+ (both), my blog (both), and I just signed up for Pinterest (which you can visit at https://www.pinterest.com/samfriedman100/). Check out my blog this Thursday for some great Pinterest tips. I also have a Vimeo account but it’s inactive at this time.

2. YouTube is a great tie-in to your other sites, but useless without a strategy Unless your direct objective is to be a YouTube celebrity or to get just enough viewers to collect a little ad revenue, producing even basic quality, simple content is time-consuming. It takes me about an hour to make a 2-5 minute video, edit it, add a free music soundtrack for intro and outro music, and publish with keyword rich videos. If I need photos it could take a little longer given my computer’s age and hard drive speed. Absolutely use YT to promote your brand but make sure YT fits into your overall platform plan. Otherwise your random videos will be drowned out by gamers, sketch comedians, DIY celebrities, and anyone willing to do basically anything to become famous. Hmmm…..

3. Visit blog boards in your area of interest and post, but don’t be worried if you aren’t a heavy poster I’ve been a registered member of Kboards for about 6 months and I have maybe 30 posts. Working a full time paid job and managing several other part-time jobs and volunteering keeps me too busy to post a ton but I do try. On at least one occasion a woman on Kboards snarkily commented how I had been on 3 months but had 8 posts (at the time) when I tried to post a topic question. Get your name out there but focus on your brand first and foremost and don’t feel bad if you’re not a board addict.

4. Identify the best posting times for each site Not all social media sites are created equal when it comes to posting. Did you know the best times to post to YouTube are Wednesday-Friday from 12-3 PM, but Saturday and Sunday 9-11 AM? Did you know some Pinterest brands in areas like cars and fashion do better if Pinned Friday afternoon, which is a total dead time for LinkedIn posts? Experiment and measure your data to see how you’re doing and when you find the times which work best for you, get those posts in as consistently as you can.

5. Experiment with different ideas per site, and keep track of what works and what doesn’t For LinkedIn I found that posts about social media were my most popular, giving me hundreds of readers and followers at a time. In contrast, posts about anything else had far fewer hits. Twitter does well when I follow accounts tied into writing but less so tied into other things. I agree that branding only works when you follow a somewhat consistent pattern to make yourself identifiable with a brand, so in my case writing and personal branding tips. But I disagree with anyone who thinks you have to use the same concepts for all your social media platforms. So long as you stay within your brand image, it’s OK to post one type of post to LinkedIn and then a variant of that post, or a whole new one, to your personal blog.

6. Consider using Hoostsuite or Buffer to manage posts Eventually you will discover just how difficult it is to post to all sites consistently. Do I write a LinkedIn Influencer post today or post for my blog? Should I post a photo of my uncle’s adorably kitty to Twitter or Pinterest? Why not both? Eventually you will outgrow your ability to manage all posts so look for a social media manager like Hootsuite or Buffer. I use Buffer for personal stuff and Hootsuite for CRI which allows me to test which one is better, and there ARE other options as well. Find one you like and stick with it. Post as consistently same time/day as you can, but don’t get alarmed if you aren’t 100% consistent. You’re only human, even if your scheduler isn’t, and those who insist you manage half a dozen sites at the same time every single day fail to note this. Anyone who stops reading or following you because your post is a day late isn’t worth your worry, anyway.

7. Your Search Engine Optimization improves with your relevant online use Have you ever been contacted by someone promising to get you on the top page in Google’s search engine for your category? Obsessed over how to be found? The truth is, your total online presence and relevance is the top driver for SEO. The more relevant posts and publications you have which can be identifiable by you, the higher your SEO ranking will go. Don’t spend money on these “experts” who offer to boost your rating if you give them a lot of money. They can’t do anything productive for you and money you could have spent on Google AdWords to advertise your brand (or similar services such as Bing Ads) will be swallowed in the black hole of worrying about your SEO ranking.

Coming up next: National Pancake Day! Why I’m getting involved

Coming up soon: Some Pinterest posting tips I’m learning about.