The following are my resolutions for my writing going into 2017.
Finish What I start
I need to take my stories all the way from conception to the query letter. I’m good at writing first drafts then moving on to the next bright shinny thing. Part of the problem is I’ve gotten addicted to the instant gratification of publishing short fiction online.
My novels and novellas have suffered for that. I need to remind myself that everything I post here is in service to the novel I’m cheating on.
And speaking of query letters. I need to…
Sell What I Write
I’ve sold some of my short stories, but I drop most of them into the gaping maw of Beelzeblog, the master of metrics, the prince of platforms, the ruler of reach. He demands a sacrifice a week. At night, I hear him growling from my laptop.
I can never satiate Beelzeblog’s hunger for fresh content, but maybe I shouldn’t. It’s hard to sell something once you’ve given it away. I need to hold more material back.
When I started DrewChialAuthor.com my goal was to promote my horror fiction. Somewhere along the way I found writing advice pulled in more eyes than scary stories, so I adjusted the focus of the site and I saw a lot of new faces in my Twitter feed. Many of these profiles were in line with my midwestern liberal beliefs and many were hashtag-conservative. I thought it was neat that a shared passion for writing extended over ideological borders.
I figured if I stayed on topic I could make myself accessible to everyone. It didn’t matter whether readers were from a red state or a blue state, whether they were centrists or out on the fringe, all were welcome. My brand was Switzerland.
I was an advocate for storytellers: whether they were the next Marquis de Sade writing orgiastic odysseys to offend the oligarchy or the next Tom Clancy writing patriotic page turners for puritans, I didn’t care.
I was a good little brand builder. I gave advice on structure, beating writer’s block, and building an online platform. I was safe for work. I didn’t use profanity (outside of fiction) and I didn’t take politically polarizing positions. This felt suffocating when I had a strong opinion on major news events. Continue reading The Death of Neutrality in Trump’s America→
When you hear the word “branding” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
I see a portfolio pounding professional power-walking around a boardroom table. Over their shoulder is a screen with a venn diagram. It features an infographic, a polar chart, and a pie chart overlapping each other. The speaker jabbers in jargon, traces hieroglyphic stats with a laser pen, and high fives their colleges right across the cheeks.
“It is mission-critical for our business to leverage strategic bleeding edge synergizing techniques to push the envelope outside the box if we hope to achieve vertical growth.”
At least that’s what I imagine when I hear the word branding. As a fiction writer, I figured branding was a word marketers used to inflate the importance of advertising, but it turns out it’s relevant to what I’m doing.
Put simply, branding is the thing that lets customers know what to expect from businesses, products, and even entertainment.
Put even simpler: branding = expectations
Just like in the corporate world, fiction brands let audiences know what to expect, and just like in the corporate world, a handful of brands have a monopoly.
This is why iconic characters enjoy so many reinventions, fiction franchises outlive their originators, and big name authors can pass work to ghost writers. People don’t want to waste hard earned money on bad entertainment. Brands appear to eliminate that risk.
If you want a steamy romance about an untamable Harley driver with borderline disorder just look for the lathered abs on the cover. If you like psychological thrillers about scandalous women, find a book with the word “girl” in the title. If you want a mystery about women who went missing while running, find a book with a foggy forest on the front. Continue reading How Branding Can Help and Hinder Your Writing→
In 1997 the band Nine Inch Nails filmed a music video for their hit single The Perfect Drug. In the video the lead singer, Trent Reznor, looks like he’s stepped out of an Edward Goyer drawing. His skin is so pale it’s blue. His jet-black hair hangs down to his long black coat. He roves a hedge maze, wielding a scepter. He sits beside a phonograph with a vulture perched atop a skull. He lip syncs, lying down on a bear skin rug. Continue reading I’m Not Me: On the Reality Behind Internet Personalities→
As a blogger you’re warned not to be a Jack of All Trades. You’re told that writing about a diverse set of interests will confuse your audience. Social media gurus say, “Keep it simple stupid. Find a pigeonhole that suits you, find a basket to put all your eggs in. Repetition is the mother of a solid brand.”
I say, too much consistency can be a bad thing. If this is something you’re already feeling, dare I ask:
Is Your Blog Haunted by Your Brand?
Bloggers, when you venture into uncharted waters, does a siren call steer you back to shore? When you go outside the lines, do you feel a push from an invisible hand? When you sit down to write, are you haunted by your brand?
The ghost of entries past tells you to stay on message, not to upstage your previous pages, but to maintain a constant image. Framing your sightline in its claws, it gives you tunnel vision. It’s on a mission to build recognition. It eats at your inspiration. It cuts down on confusion.
While you want the world to know you’re a complex person, your band is the red-eyed shadow that stands in your place. Perception is its passion. Consistency is its conviction. Recollection is its religion.
It hammers your multi-facets into the same round hole. It chops the branches off your skill tree, leaving you with just a pole. It values your parts greater than your whole.
Lost is the tug of war for control of your keyboard. Possessing your fingers, your brand has automated your writing. It toils on an spell to charm your target audience, a formula to fulfill their desires, to keep them coming back for more.
Consistent to a fault, your brand does the same thing over and over, expecting better results. It chants its slogan until it loses all meaning. It paraphrases past works, playing off their success, diluting your statements with each iteration. It’s a one trick pony galloping down a one track mind, a broken record playing the same one note joke. It took a big a idea and rationed it out into several little ones. They’re getting smaller all the time.
There’s a difference between being dependably good and giving your readers a sense of déjà vu. If they have to look at the date your article was published to know if it’s new, you have a problem. Having a recognizable brand can be great for drawing people in, but if it comes at the expense of interesting writing, it’s time to consider an exorcism.
Repossessing your Inspiration
Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
So is mediocrity. After all, there are bad habits too.
If an article is a burden to write, it’s going to read like one. If your brand is giving you writer’s block, give it some wiggle room. Expand it to encompass other things on your mind. Just because you’re an authority on one subject, doesn’t mean you should deny yourself the thrill of discovery.
Bloggers specializing in writing advice should share excerpts from their fiction. What better way to establish your authority, than to show the proof in your pudding? This opens the door to other ways you can bring your audience behind the scenes. Introduce them to types of writing they’re not used to seeing. What better way to teach us how to write a treatment, than to show us the pitch for what you’re working on? What better way to inspire others, than by revealing the bag of tricks you draw from?
Your topic need not be so specific that it’s dogmatic. You should have the freedom to dip your foot in the waters bordering it. If you’re an author who likes video games, why not write a piece that deconstructs the plot devices they use? Why not challenge game developers to improve characterization (especially of women)?
Who says artists should be limited to one medium?
If you’re a writer with a background in photography, give us something cool to see. Good text is served by good imagery. Frame your words with good design. If you can’t come up with a context for your pictures, call them “writing prompts” to inspire your readers. Be a Jack of all mediums, a master of creation.
Once you’ve established your brand, let it branch out into other directions. If you’re afraid an entry will cause confusion, add an explanation that ties it in.
Explore other Genres
Hot on the heels of adapting The Chronicles of Narnia for the big screen, screenwriter Stephen Mcfeely gave a talk for my class. He mentioned how he and his writing partner were offered every fantasy script under the suns (plural), and why they rejected every single one. They didn’t want to be known as the children’s fantasy guys. So they passed on a dozen projects until Captain America: The First Avenger landed in their laps. They wanted their brand to be about more than one thing (granted they went on to work on Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but you get where I was going).
My screenwriting professor said agents prefer writers with at least three screenplays under their belts: one that’s personal, one that’s funny, and one with broad appeal. The theory is everyone has a journal entry in screenplay format kicking around in them, agents need to know that you can write something more. They have to be able to sell your versatility, which is hard if you’re married to just one category.
Writers shouldn’t feel like they’re bound to one shelf in the book store. They need to explore. Their cover models need to be able to swap their trench coats for armor, their helmets for veils, their flowing gowns for mud slicked rags. Put them through the entire wardrobe.
Be a Jack of all genres, a master of fiction. Take two tones and make a warped combination. If your fear of the dark is less than inspiring, why not let your sense of romance in? If your detectives are just going through the motions, why not contaminate their crimes scene with buckets of ectoplasm? If your world is overrun with vampires, isn’t it about time they get a visit from aliens? (If this concept is already a novel someone please point me in its direction)
Stretch Your Brand to Fit other Interests
If you’re an author blogging to raise awareness of your fiction, you have a lot more freedom than you might think. Your brand might whisper, “Stick to posts regarding writing,” but you’d be surprised how many of your interests can be made to fit that description. Your brand need not shut you out of these topics, you just need to invite it in.
Pursue a range of passions and write them off as research. Every first hand account is something to draw from.
Authors can talk about how their Yoga routine directly impacts their writing. There are connections between exercise and higher brain activity, this isn’t such a stretch (so to speak). Teach your brand to be flexible. Be a Jack of all interests, a master of fun.
Be Your Target Audience
Bloggers are told to have a target audience in mind. This is a good idea when you’re promoting your work, not when you’re composing it. The last thing you need when you’re staring at the blank page is performance anxiety. Writing with an awareness of your audience is like trying to pee at a trough urinal, looking to the ceiling waiting for something to flow. Sure, it can be done, but it’s not going to be your best work.
Write what you want to read first. Be your target audience. If you have eclectic tastes don’t let them go to waste. Sometimes this means mixing mediums, sometimes it means crossing genres, and sometimes it means bringing other interests into the conversation. Variety is the spice of life, consistency is the oatmeal of the internet. Be a taste maker, broaden your audience’s palate.
Facebook is set to purchase Drewchial.com, a blog best known for entries on the burdens of self-promotion, in a $1 billion acquisition. Though the site was created to promote the unpublished works of Drew Chial, Facebook plans to use it as an extension of its platform.
In a conference call with shareholders, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer said, “The next frontier of social media is self-deprecating self-promotion and Drewchial.com is at the forefront.”
Baffling analysts, Facebook sees something that’s crucial to its business.
On his profile page, Zuckerberg outlined scenarios where other authors might adopt Chial’s methods, launching smear campaigns against their own work, calling themselves out in a feedback loop of what he calls, “meta media criticism.”
“Imagine getting away with clogging your friend’s feeds with links, because you’ve already blasted yourself for doing it. That’s the kind of experience we’d like to share with the general public.”
This risky purchase is just one of the many bewildering tactics Facebook is using to stay ahead of the competition.
Staggering into the office in sunglasses and a bathrobe, Zuckerberg addressed his developers, “Every aspect of teenagers’ lives are filled with commercials; from the military murals stretched across their lockers, to the Hotpocket coupons in their health books. They tune ads out, skip them on YouTube, block them with plugins. Backhanded brand awareness is the best way to snag those cynics.”
Kicking his chair out, Zuckerberg wobbled to the whiteboard. He lifted a lever in the shape of a dry erase marker. The board spun around revealing a fully stocked bar. Climbing up on it, Zuckerberg pulled several bottles off the top shelf, hopped down and mixed himself a martini.
Swirling the concoction, Zuckerberg took his seat. “Advertisements aren’t cool, but making fun of them is. Drewchial.com comes with its own ridicule built in.”
Downing his drink in a single sip, Zuckerberg slapped the table, “I’m talking about millennials, bitches. That demo is my shit.” Then he collapsed.
The acquisition is a huge advance for Drew Chial, who at the time of this writing, does not have a published work to his name. Chial, a self-declared introvert, was surprised to find the social network showing any interest.
“I’ve come to accept that Facebook works in mysterious ways.”
Chial says he plans to use the money to host a martial arts tournament on an island far from the United Nations and their “meddlesome human rights regulations.”
Financial analysts are critical of Drewchial.com’s low reach, low views, and lowbrow humor. They’re concerned by the site’s inconsistent subject matter.
One analyst said, “I don’t get it. Does Drewchial.com promote a humorist or a horror writer? Sometimes it offers writing advice, sometimes it’s just journal entries on how this sad sap can’t score. Where’s the hook? How does the author plan on retaining visitors?”
Flicking off a limo driver, Zuckerberg said, “To truly appreciate Drew’s genius, you have to look at the traffic he’s not getting.”
Unzipping his fly, Zuckerberg urinated on a fire hydrant. “I just wanted to snag his site before Google or Apple got their grubby little hands on it.”
Facebook does not yet have a business model for Drewchial.com. Chial says he plans to post entries openly complaining about the transition so that his audience can still respect him.
His next article “The Self Righteous Sell Out” promises the same high caliber hypocrisy, and shameless selfies, his audience has come to expect.
Why writers shouldn’t succumb to Viral Envy. Why bloggers shouldn’t try to become BuzzFeed, and why getting everyone’s attention is a waste of your time.
There’s a condition going around the writing community, with the power to debilitate an author’s creativity. Systemic of the internet, the higher our public presence, the higher we’re at risk. Inflaming our sense of rejection, it weakens our ambition. Its chronic symptoms, attack artistic momentum. Advancing into its final stages, it has us questioning why we fill our pages.
The warning signs a writer suffers from it include:
* An overly harsh response to lighthearted links.
* An open disdain for their Facebook feed.
* A history of Twitter fits.
* An outright dismissal of the value of social media, even if their careers depend on it.
The condition is called Viral Envy. It occurs when a writer is stricken with jealousy for over shared items of poor quality.
As avid readers, we know good writing when we see it. We are mavens of our selections, curators of our content, stewards of the written word. Our reading lists are hard venues to get into. We seek the best compositions for dinner party conversations. We seek sources to cite in our arguments. We seek eloquence to challenge our intelligence.
Despite every passing fad’s persistence, we’ve built up a resistance. We have an immunity to the whims of the community. We’ve been inoculated to the link they’ve baited. No sensational headline is going to steal our time. No slideshow will make us work slow. While our friends treat captions as the height of conversation, we see viral content as a sign of the world’s descent.
It offends our intelligence to think that journalism is dead, that editorials reign instead, that clickbaiting is the new norm, that tiles full of tiny articles are a threat to the long form. Blogging our deepest thoughts, we see Buzzfeed black holes as competition. Every lunch hour, every commercial break, we’re vying for reader’s attention.
When a viral video of models making out, contaminates our feed, we fight the urge to say, “If you like watching two strangers kiss for the first time, then you’ll love pornography.”
We’re tired of logging onto the lowest common denominator. Comparing our efforts to these shameless campaigns, we’re shocked to see them do so much better. We covet their comments, lust after their “Likes.” We’re ashamed to want their shares. We’ve got a bad case of viral envy.
Is there a cure?
Weakening their immune systems, some writers become part of the problem.
Why Going Viral isn’t a Good Goal
The pathology of a web published pandemic is to spread. It’s simple, light, airborne. Readers pass the link along without analyzing it on a molecular level. Attribution rarely leads back to patient zero.
Viral content is indiscriminate. The infected are never targeted based on their tastes. Its made to spread to the most eyes, not necessarily the right ones. It doesn’t care about building relationships or reader loyalty. It’s a quick shot to the stat counter, at the detriment of regular subscribers.
Moving quickly through the brain, thought viruses are easily forgotten. The net is littered with the pus of these so-called phenomenons. The infection passes too fast to leave traces it was ever there. Audiences will find a treatment for their boredom, but not a lasting cure.
If your goal is to self-publish, you want to develop a readership, not coax wayward netizens out of a few clicks. Viral content rarely leads to a second outbreak event. Developing antibodies, the infected’s concentration is inoculated against repetition. Memes, macros, and microorganisms plague the net. Everybody’s been exposed. Everybody’s gotten over it.
There are a lot of things you can do to get the Internet’s attention, but they don’t always translate into sales on Amazon. Ask yourself: am I writing with my own voice, or one I think the world wants to hear? How will this animated Gif get me new readers? How does this captioned vid cap further my career?
Wait, hold on, my word processor stopped scrolling. Great, now I’m getting the pinwheel of death. Let me just poke around on my computer. Ah, here’s the cause. Turns out the Photoshop file with all my “Least Interesting Man in the World” posts was still open. It’s a play on Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World campaign. They’re self portraits with captions like, ‘I don’t always approach women, but when I do it’s to ask for the WiFi password.”
Now where was I?
There’s a pitfall I’ve watched writers fall into. To compete with the internet they become everything they hate about it. Having built a blog around a one note joke, they try to sing a different tune, but no one wants to hear it. They can’t find a publisher for their long form manuscript, but they’ll get a pilot based on their one good quip. Remember “Shit My Dad Says?”
Do you want your writing career to be a joke-a-day calendar, or the kind of coffee table book that makes guests question your sense of humor?
The cost of going viral, is that everyone gets sick of you.
Wait, hold on. Sorry, it’s happening again. The side bar is stuck in the same position. What is it this time? Oh, looks like I didn’t close my search through my best #YouKnowYoureAWriterWhen tweets. They’re like Jeff Foxworthy’s You Know You’re A Redneck bit, but writer-centric. I’m compiling them all for a collection.
Now, what was I saying?
Don’t let Viral Envy Win
In these uncertain times writers have to do whatever they can to get their audience’s attention. The trick is keeping it. We all want to be relevant, but no one wants to come across as desperate as a Simpsons episode with Twitter references sprinkled in.
Shameless writers try to boost their search engine optimization by pumping their articles full of popular terms. Misdirecting traffic with mere mentions, these cynical inclusions piggyback on famous franchises. They figure, if Hollywood can bank on nostalgia, why can’t bloggers?
Wait. There’s a buzz at the door. I think I might have to sign for something. My Chinese hook up got me early access to a hoverboard prototype. This baby won’t hit the streets until 2015.
Damn, that wasn’t it. It was just a Boba Fett helmet with a Ghostbusters insignia etched into it.
Wait, hold on. Now I’m getting a call from my seamstress. We need to schedule a time for me to get fitted for a top secret cosplay garment. Not to spoil the surprise, but Ben Affleck will be wearing the same thing in Batman vs Superman (keep checking this site, bookmark it, tell all your friends).
Sorry about that. Where was I?
The Viral Jackpot
In the process of building a platform, many writers become full time bloggers. The potential for validation is higher. More posts means more possibilities. This is a gambler’s fallacy, this notion that one of our annual entries is bound to hit the viral jackpot. If only we could win the literary lottery, then we’d be a household name for sure.
It’s sad to see so much creativity energy go to these desperate self promotional tactics.
I’ve watched begrudged writers berate their followers, dissing the discourse, trolling for tell offs. They’d run out of ways to get attention. Their positive energy was depleted. The cost to their time had led to few benefits. Their growth stagnated. They called bullshit on the whole enterprise and the lot of us for feeding into it.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t understand. Hopefully, I’ll know when to politely duck out of the spotlight before I let this happen.
Don’t you hate it when bloggers fill their posts full of links to try to keep you on their site? On an unrelated note: my other articles on over branding and compulsive marketing include:
Introducing the Facebook “Beg” button, for when you’re not “Liking” or “Sharing” something you’ve discovered, but “Begging” for hits for something you made. Simply click the “Beg” button and your followers will see this message:
(your name here) asks if you have any spare attention for their link, God bless.
The “Beg” button gives your followers something to turn away from, while they spend their time clicking on Buzzfeed lists, misleading Upworthy titles, and misattributed celebrity quotes.
As insensitive as this analogy is (there’s no comparing those with passion projects to the truly needy) self-promotion can come across like panhandling. I wrote a blog about the feeling called “Every Little Hit Counts.” Here’s the premiere of the audio version.
As a blogger, I’m willing to do what it takes to direct traffic to my site. I have faith that if readers see my work, a few of them will enjoy it. My end goal is to sustain myself writing. Not fame or fortune, just the ability to do what I love for a living. This means I have to build a brand, to sell my work by selling myself.
Lacking a blueprint, I can never get the balance between humility and vanity right. I come across as a passive aggressive narcissist. This has more to do with my fledgling marketing abilities than how I see myself. For authors in the information age, embarrassment is part of the process.
Regarding this uncertain future, Neil Gaiman put it best, “Try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else. Fail. Fail better. And succeed in ways we never would have imagined a year or a week ago.”
Aspiring authors have to build up an audience before abandoning our books on Amazon. We can’t be too proud to beg.
So I put my hand out, “Every little hit helps.”
Twitter has been generous, most writers understand that tweeting the occasional link is part of the self-publishing process. Facebook has been less forgiving.
Twitter followers, with shared interests, embrace my goofy Photoshop self-portraits, while my Facebook friends require an explanation. I have supportive followers who comment on my entries, and a few proximity acquaintances who don’t care for me clogging up their feeds. Fair enough, you can always select “Hide all” or “Unfollow.”
This is why writers have separate Facebook author pages, that way users have to “Like” the page to see our links. The problem is that Facebook’s algorithm pushes my posts to less than a third of my followers, while links from my personal account get twice as many views. It’s a catch twenty-two, damned to obscurity if I don’t share, declared a self-obsessed self-promoter if I do.
I’m curious how the rest of you handle this. Have you had to lose followers to gain followers? Have you found a magic number for weekly links you can get away with sharing, or do you leave your website in your profile and hope people will discover it? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments.
An account of how self-promotion feels like panhandling, and all the crazy ways bloggers beg for hits.
Every Little Hit Counts
Standing on the offramp of the information superhighway, we’re not panhandling, we’re directing traffic. With our thumbs up, we’re not hitching rides, we’re asking for “Likes.” With our signs held high, we’re not pleading for sympathy, we’re giving you something to skim as you pass by. Pull into the overpass and follow our links. Roll your windows down and leave a comment in our caps.
Pay what you feel. If you can’t give us a dollar, give us your attention. If there’s no room in your cart for another piece of art, we’d be happy to make your wish list. If you already have one, gift a second to a friend. Feel free to embed a copy in your gallery. Feel free to put our writings on your wall for all the world to see.
Every little hit counts.
It doesn’t matter how you found our site, we’re just glad you came. Stumble out of the cold. Join our circle, around the bonfire of the blogosphere. Lurkers are always welcome. If you’re hungry, you can always dip into our RSS feed.
We all have stories to tell, and knowledge to impart. We’re all down in the same dump searching for an audience. Don’t worry about anyone talking your ear off, we can count our points on our fingers. We can make our statements in five-hundred words or less. Holding your attention with drawings in the sand, we all use the same hobo glyphs: the guy punching a hole through his screen, the woman taking a hammer to her monitor, the age old ax through the keyboard.
There is wisdom in our ravings, observations in our obscenity, proverbs in our profanity. We don’t have much to say about Miley Cyrus’s joint puff, but we can tell you all about our own addictions. We don’t have much to say about Jennifer Lawrence’s haircut, but we can tell you all about the issues we have with our own appearance. Subscribe to our sage advice and we’ll give you something you’re not going to find in any BuzzFeed. Continue reading Every Little Hit Counts→