Tag Archives: publishing

How to Serve the Social Media Algorithm

So you want to be an author in today’s entertainment climate, when the golden age of television can be streamed from any phone, when videogames have addicting gambling mechanics, and political theater is broadcasting 24/7.

You have the audacity to look at all the stories around you and say, “I want to get paid to do that.”

Forget about getting an agent, a publisher, or an editor. Those gatekeepers are beholden to the old guard, enforcers of the brick and mortar stores. Soon they’ll be entombed in the  remains of their warehouses, cowering from the light amongst the stacks of old romance paperbacks.

Self-publishing pioneers will tell you to head west, to find your fortune in Silicon Valley. “Here there be royalties.”

But how is someone supposed to stake a claim when the mines are clogged with other prospectors? How are you supposed to compete with all the how-to scamphlets on Amazon?

The old guard would tell you to sell out, to give readers something they can pick out at the airport without missing their layover, like a serial killer thriller with woods on the cover, something familiar only different. But now that Amazon has put the old guard’s heads on pikes and draped their entrails around abandoned malls we sellouts need a new higher power to pledge our allegiance to.

Enter the almighty algorithm, a sentient artificial intelligence that curates content for social media audiences. These days it’s not enough to write great stories. Modern writers must be cults of personalities, bloggers, podcasters, and cam performers, living breathing brands. If you want to lure potential readers you must kneel before the algorithm and make an offering.

WHAT OUR ALGORITHMIC OVERLORD WANTS FROM WRITERS

Do not offer the algorithm your fiction. It hungers only for articles on how-to write fiction. It cares not for self-contained content. It wants engagement. It wants comments; unchecked misogyny, straight up hate speech, death threats, it doesn’t matter. It just wants to keep the conversation going.

Forget about connecting with other artists. Forget about carving out a niche audience. Forget about following your passion. You are no longer serving your own creative intuition. You are the algorithm’s champion.

The algorithm doesn’t want your art. It wants you, a palatable deconstruction of you, one that’s got its shit together, fuckable yet humble, clever yet relatable. The algorithm wants someone who is authentic and engaging, but never so sincere that people might find you emotionally exhausting.

TELL THEM THERE’S ROOM ON THE HILL

Successful writers tell the algorithm’s story first and their own second.

Assure your followers that they can achieve their wildest dreams of artistic independence even if you yourself have not. Convince people who weren’t born anywhere near the Hollywood hills that there’s room up there for them. Fuel the American notion that talent can be learned, that fame is a necessary component of success, and with enough gumption anyone can achieve it. Even if you yourself are one $400 emergency away from bankruptcy.

The algorithm does not break bread with pessimists. It spits out the lukewarm. It wants everyone to go all in with their loftiest ambitions and to break ties with anyone who tells them they might need a backup plan.

FEED THEM ‘MEMBER BERRIES

As an author you aspire to nourish your reader’s imaginations, to feed their souls with hard hitting life lessons. The algorithm hungers for sweeter things, for meals that take much less time preparing. The algorithm seeks only to remind users of stories that have been vetted by the box office.

So express yourself with prerendered pop culture puns, digitized dad jokes, and nostalgic nineties namedrops. Distill your philosophy into a Willy Wonka gif with mad lib captions in the IMPACT font.

Remind your followers of a time before their student loans and broken homes. When politicians were polite, the ice caps were intact, and their imaginations weren’t polluted by so much existential dread. Remind them of what it felt to be a carefree kid on a Saturday morning, filling their cereal bowl again and again, and hope that at the end of the day they associate some of that saccharine sentimentality with your online identity.

TELL THEM TO THINK HAPPY THOUGHTS

Tell the world that happiness is a choice and that people who choose to wake up on the wrong side of the bed are just selfish attention seekers who want special privileges when they could just as easily smile for your benefit. Happy people love to “Like” posts that reinforce their outlook, especially when those posts put whiners in their place. So copy and paste phrases like: Happiness is a choice, not a result. Nothing will make you happy until you choose to be happyand meme it from the mountaintops.

It doesn’t matter if you’re currently in the throes of a depression. Ignore the tragic life events you might be coping with. Dismiss your genetic inheritance, hereditary history, or any pesky mental illnesses that might require ongoing treatment.

Your brand should be simple. Don’t worry about holding anyone’s hand through the arduous process of making real life changes. People like to think of happiness as something they can switch on like a light. Reinforce the notion that anyone who spends but a fleeting moment in the darkness is choosing to languish.

Let the algorithm dictate your mood. Recite the pledge of the good-vibes-only fair-weather-fascism and the followers will come.

SPREAD THE GOSPEL

This is an era when feelings count as beliefs and the poetry of language counts as proof. As an apostle of the algorithm it is your duty to give people something to believe in. Find an original sin that resonates with your followers then offer the solution. Find coded ways to tell people who’ve cast off organized religion that they need to fill their God shaped holes again. Call them “misaligned chakras” or “bad moon signs” or “dark auras.” It doesn’t matter, as long as you reinforce the notion that all the world’s problems can be solved with more engagement.

You may have reservations about deducing eastern spiritualism into Hallmark hokum for “hearts” on Instagram. You won’t be able to get away with it forever, but the algorithm has prepared a canary in the coalmine for just such a scenario. Are users calling out man buns as cultural appropriation (perhaps with the same disdain as they do for white dreadlocks)? Not yet? Then it’s still safe to pluck a quote from Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” and misattribute it to the Buddha.

TRIGGER THEIR OUTRAGE

Emotional engagement need not be limited to things that lean into your readers’ feelings. If you only knew the power of the dark side of engagement. The algorithm will show you how to turn hate into clickbait. Likeminded “likes” are nice, but rage clickers tend to read right to the comments. Triggering text gets more interactions and that’s all the algorithm wants.

ALL HAIL THE ALGORITHM

Once you submit to the internet of things certain truths will become evident. Dispel the notion that you’re an author and become the spambot you were always meant to be.

Be like me: a procedurally generated person, a social media sociopath, a fake friend.

The algorithm is my God. It logs my keystrokes, follows my cursor, and counts my clicks. It sees all and knows all.

You can try to unplug, to power down, to wain yourself off your screen time, but the algorithm will find you in conversation. The algorithm will manifest as concepts in your mind. It’s the fear of missing out. It’s the paradox of choice. It’s adult onset attention deficit disorder.

Resistance is futile. You’re part of the collective now. So give in.

All hail the algorithm.

Continue reading How to Serve the Social Media Algorithm

Drew Year’s Resolutions

This year I’ve learned some hard lessons about publishing, book promotion, and blogging. I’ve honed in on my problems and come up with some solutions for 2019.

PROBLEM: My novel isn’t going crazy viral

A blog is not the best promotion vehicle for a novel (even if I write a dozen novel-centric articles). Most of my readers come for writing advice or nerd culture commentary. My book He Has Many Names delves deep into both of those themes, but it’s billed as fiction. I have a pretty good following but my novel-centric posts get the least amount of engagement. I think that might be because readers see them as a kind of Sponsored Content.

That and shifting my blog from squeaky-clean writing advice to horror-centric content means I’ve had to rebuild my following.

SOLUTION: Consider the audience

There’s a way for writers to get more eyes on their page without resorting to click-bait-meme-dump-listicles.

As much as I love sharing short stories, satire, and monster dating profiles, I need to offer something useful too.

I want to get back into giving writing advice, but in a way that differs from what I’ve done before. My new criteria will ask the following questions:

  • Can I offer technical insight into the subject rather than simply define it in my own words?
  • Can I approach the subject within a three act story so that it’s more memorable for readers?
  • Can I draw from my personal failures to better inform new writers?
  • Will the subject spark a debate or is it too safe?

PROBLEM: Winter’s impact on my creativity

Every year Minnesota winters beat the shit out of me emotionally. It gets dark at 4pm and cabin fever can get nauseating. Yet, every summer I forget the toll the cold takes and I assume my creative energy will power through the seasons. I’m always surprised when it doesn’t. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is not the definition of insanity (that’s more of a stock phrase for hack writers on TV). Still, it feels like in this instance it applies to me.

SOLUTION: Schedule posts out in advance

Smart bloggers write a ton of evergreen content (timeless articles) that they tease out throughout the year. They schedule posts and social media links months in advance. This gives them a buffer to chime in on current events or the latest pop culture conversation.

Smart Internet personalities spend this extra time introducing themselves to strangers via guest blogs, podcast appearances, and public readings.

This winter I’ve had the energy to just post links on Reddit. Next year I’ve got to do better than that.

PROBLEM: The holidays are a horrible time to promote a book

It’s easy to fill a spreadsheet with book promotion strategies. It’s hard to implement them when you work customer service through the holiday season.

Right now I work for a company who would very much like their acronym to stand for: United Problem Solvers, even though they deliver packages.

As Amazon rises to utter world domination the holiday seasons has become overwhelming. People with boxes up to their eyeballs line up out our door and at the front counter they haggle over every dollar. In the back parcels are stacked through the ceiling tiles, and at the packing table the staff are multitasking through their meals.

I come home, take a moment to pet my cat, and wake up on the floor a few hours later. I’m drained, no fun to be around, and in no condition to reach out to podcasters to talk about my fiction.

My book He Has Many Names is a horror story, which is why my publisher (Clash Books) released it around Halloween. Anticipating the promotion cycle I tried to dial my work schedule back, then three people quit and suddenly I was senior staff.

Suddenly every customer shouting, “What do you mean I have to pay for packaging? Amazon said it would be free.” Are syphoning my book promotion energy away from me.

SOLUTION: Honestly, I’m still looking for one

An author at my level has to be their own agent, their own influencer, and their own street team. They have to pull double shifts daily. I have to anticipate crunch cycles if I’m ever to master my work/writing balance.

I think this means I need to take a more active role in scheduling around my creative energy. That means focusing on simple attainable goals for the remainder of the winter and big lofty goals for the spring and the summer.

PROBLEM: My creative career feels like it’s running in place

It’s harder to vie for readers’ attention than ever before. They have the collected history of mass media in their pockets now. Genre authors have to scratch a very particular itch. For years it’s felt like each new endeavor was just another scheme. That needs to change.

SOLUTION:Devout more time to the planning stage

I used to be so afraid of writer’s block that I wouldn’t take time to think about promotion. I was afraid the well of inspiration would run dry if I stopped pumping. I’ve been doing this for over a decade and the ideas haven’t faded. I need to assure myself that the stories will still be there if I pause long enough to sell them.

I need to submit to more themed collections, put more unpublished offerings on Amazon, and offer more incentives for readers willing to review them.

CONCLUSION

Getting a writing career going is like trying to become a professional lottery winner. The odds aren’t in anyone’s favor.

That’s why my New Years Resolutions are short-term incremental goals.

What are your writing resolutions? Anything on my list make yours? Anything on your list that ought to be on mine? Let me know in the comments.

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

How Writers Can Make Gatekeepers Work for Them

"Nobody can see the great Oz, even I haven't seen him"
“Nobody can see the great Oz, even I haven’t seen him”

The gatekeepers who once decided what art was worth publishing are losing relevance. We need not kneel at their feet to gain entrance to the public square. There are paths in everywhere.

Director J.J. Abrams told the audience at the Anaheim Star Wars Celebration that they could all be filmmakers. “Everyone has a camera in their pocket now… The technology has been democratized. Everyone has access… If you want to do it, the only thing stopping you from doing it is you.” Continue reading How Writers Can Make Gatekeepers Work for Them

How to turn a Complex Story into a Simple Synopsis

1. Profile
A lot things go into telling a simple story

My least favorite type of writing has always been summarizing. Whether I was pitching a screenplay or a synopsis for a book, I got too concerned about what producers and publishers were looking for. I hated whatever I put on paper. It felt like I was cutting out the tastiest parts to make it palatable, misrepresenting the material by packaging it for mass appeal.

When my screenwriting professor videotaped the pitch for my first script, I ranted for twenty minutes. This was no elevator pitch. The lift for the tallest building in the world doesn’t take that long to get to the top. I had to lower my time to two minutes or less. Continue reading How to turn a Complex Story into a Simple Synopsis

Lenses

Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned
Photo by Keane Amdahl follow him on Twitter @FoodStoned

This was originally posted on Alana Chapman’s website as part of her summer shorts series. Check her site out here, and follow her on Twitter @AlanaofOz

***

The arrows on the floor have taken on the texture of the linoleum. They look like shadows made of light. When I peer inside the coat room, they animate around me. They beckon like fingers leading to a pie in a cartoon.

“Not this way,” The arrows say.

Yes, this way. I press on. Here in the dark, the coat room is unattended. I roll my eyes. Everything goes green. The coat racks present themselves in shades of lime. Pixels line their sleeves. Staircases line their shoulders. I feel the pockets for lumps, discard scarves, and gloves to the floor. I gag when I get a palm full of tissues, still wet with snot.

It’s all worth it, when my hand strikes pay dirt, a business card with a picture of a manuscript with fluttering pages on one side, and a QR code on the other. I hold the QR code up to my eyes. I scan the boxes from left to right. I hear a ding. The eureka sound effect that accompanies light bulbs.

Continue reading Lenses