Tag Archives: self publishing

Why Self-Publishers Shouldn’t Get Opening Night Jitters

Whenever I post a short story, a video, or even a blog entry I feel a like a director at a red carpet premier. Not a celebrated director like Christopher Nolan or J.J. Abrams. More like a bottom tear auteur like Tommy Wiseau or Ed Wood, the kind of director who’s footing the bill for every exuberant extravagance out of his own pocket.

I couldn’t imagine feeling like a studio darling with a promotional juggernaut behind me. I always feel like the sad dad with a dream of being the next Steven Segal and enough free time to write, direct, and star in my own vanity project.

In this opening night allegory I spend almost all I have getting my movie made. I’m hoping to entice distributors, but I failed to ration for a long run. Instead I sunk my entire promotional budget into one weekend.

Now the only poster I could afford has the light on my forehead glaring in the opposite direction as the sun in the background. The only billboard I could afford was a fire-damaged frame leaning sideways atop the theater. The only news outlets I could get to cover the event are videographers working off college credit.

A few of the cast members got off work to be in attendance. They play on their phones in their tuxedo t-shirts, sweat pants, and skorts. I’m chain-smoking in the entryway to the theater waiting to cheer the first attendees on. Continue reading Why Self-Publishers Shouldn’t Get Opening Night Jitters

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

The Problem with Comment-Sized Blog Posts

"You promised to tell me everything I needed to know about self-publishing, but only delivered a few measly paragraphs."
“You promised to tell me everything I needed to know about self-publishing, but only delivered a few measly paragraphs.”

Have you ever clicked on a link only to discover it failed to provide any information beyond a definition of the subject in question? The article took a few paragraphs to confirm the topic’s importance, before wrapping up with a handful of links. You clicked on one to find a post that was virtually identical to the one you were just reading; short, simple, and useless.

You’ve uncovered a network of bloggers attempting to establish their authority by dipping their feet into conversations without diving all the way in. Underestimating their reader’s attention span, they figured you’d stop skimming a few paragraphs in. They end before coming to the conclusions promised by their headlines. What’s worse is you got the sense they knew what they were talking about, that they had the information, but were hoarding it for themselves.

They hold their advice back so they can sell it to you, but you’re not sure of its value. How could you be, when these writers cut themselves off in the middle of showing their credentials?

I come across these placeholders when I follow links on self-publishing more so than when I seek them out on my own. Sure, these marketing masters try to fill their paragraphs with buzzwords for search engine optimization, but the articles on self-publishing that show up on Google, benefit from having engagement. Their commenters elevate the conversation.

There’s no shame in offering quick tips, micro sized posts to raise awareness of a fresh topic, just label it as such. Don’t be liberal with the phrase “Everything You need to Know About Self-Publishing.”

The word “Everything” implies something longer than an essay answer.

If you have genuine knowhow share it. If you think traditional publishing is dead. Show me your data. I don’t care if you’ve felt that way for a long time. Have you had industry experience? A hunch is not a credible source. Observations from the outside looking in do not make us expert witnesses.

"False advertising is not a great way to establish your brand."
“False advertising is not a great way to establish your brand.”

The Self-Publishing World is Filled with Empty Advice

I love the idea of self-publishing, doing everything on my own, and cutting out the middlemen, but just because that feels like a great way to share my work, doesn’t mean it’s the most effective one. I don’t need another opinion to reinforce that feeling. I need hard stats to help me examine my options. Many of us shopping our manuscripts around are wondering the same things.

Bloggers, if you found an effective formula for promoting your self-published works, take us through the steps.

What are some of the best ways to get the word out? How effective are book trailers, local readings, and short term discounts? Should we wait until we have several books for sale before giving anything away for free? Should self-publishers take to Twitter to ask for reviewers? Should we swap reviews with other writers? Is there a conflict of interest there?

If we use social media to target our audience, which sites get the most engagement? Everyone says Reddit is where it’s at, how do we establish ourselves on that? What percentage of our time should we devote to social networking versus content creation? Can blogs really raise an audience’s interest in their author’s voice for narrative?

For every one of these questions I’ve found answers to I’ve found ten comment-sized articles that acknowledge their importance, but little else. As if to say, “That’s a great question, but can I ask you something? What’s that over there?”

"Give me all your thoughts on the subject, even if you have to break it into parts."
“Give me all your thoughts on the subject, even if you have to break it into parts.”

The Right Way to Do It

Something happens when too many bloggers adapt the quantity over quality philosophy.  Readers notice. Some would-be bloggers emulate the format, echoing the same vague statements of encouragement, plagiarizing platitudes, devaluing their brand before it’s been established. Others get discouraged, wondering, “What’s the point if every blog offers the same thing?”

Of the self-publishing advice sites I’ve found, there is an article format that works great. Successful self-publishers spend a month focusing on a specific subject, like formatting eBooks or making good cover art. They write a long form article, filled with pictures, deep technical insights, and they break it down into a series of weekly numbered posts.

This is the best of both worlds.

Rather than blowing their load on one big information dump, these bloggers have a month of fresh content. These segments are short enough to hold readers’ attention, they deliver what they promise, and they give a guy like me something to dive into once the whole shebang is online.

Viral Envy

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.

28 Drews Later
28 Drews Later

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.

Zombie Portrait 4

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?

Zombie Portrait 3

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?

Zombie Portrait 2

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.

Wait, hold on, the green light of my webcam has gone off again. This has been happening ever since I wrote the article on how to increase your web traffic by baiting the NSA. There, I put some tape over it.

Where was I before we were so rudely interrupted?

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.

Zombie Portrait

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:

Begging for Hits
How to Get More Hits by Baiting the NSA
Every Little Hit Counts
Gimme Some Truth
Carnival of Goals
Over Branding Continue reading Viral Envy

Begging for Hits

Facebook's latest upgrade exclusively for content creators
Facebook’s new button exclusively for content creators

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.

(If SoundCloud is down, download the track)
(Download the instrumental version here)

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.

How to Get More Hits By Baiting the NSA

How far are you willing to go to gain new readers? My plan for getting on the bestsellers list through the watch list.

Tinthumb Proper Formatting

As an aspiring author, I’ve done some shameful things in the name of self-promotion.

Convincing someone I dropped a capsule in his drink, I told him the recipe for synthesizing an antidote was on my main page. Of course, the crucial ingredient was blacked out, until he signed up for my mailing list. One fifth degree felony later and I’d scored a solid hit. Not too shabby.

Calling in an anonymous tip, I said there were glitter bombs planted throughout the city. Thousands of citizens would have to explain why they looked like they had just come from a strip club. I said the only way to find my powder kegs of pixie dust was to listen for clues hidden throughout my podcasts.

Breaking into the morgue, I slipped letters under corpses’ fingers. I kept reloading my stat counter, waiting for the pathologists to spell out my web address. Shopping for a lawyer, I hoped to drag the trial out with the old “alternate reality game” defense. Spending the afternoon with my mother, we put together an outfit we felt a jury would really like. Alas, there was no arrest, no national news coverage, no excuse to model my fancy new duds.

Desperate for a retweet, I played Russian Roulette with one of my followers. Too bad I didn’t realize a victory meant he couldn’t deliver on his side of the wager.

Okay, maybe I didn’t do any of those things, but those are the claims I need to make to attract my target audience.

I’m drawing out people who scan for keywords like lives depend on them. There’s more than one way to grow your SEO. That’s why I’m baiting the NSA to investigate my blog, in the hope of gaining new readers. The patriot act guarantees me a captive audience of inadvertent promoters, provided I use just the right words.

Pie Chart

Sure none of my threatening language has any teeth, but it’s not like the government’s surveillance has produced any solid leads.

Isn’t it about time someone found the rainbow at the end of the PRISM program? Isn’t it about time someone gave those agents a break from playing World of Warcraft all day? Isn’t it about time someone Rick Rolled the government?

Getting on their radar is phase one of my master plan. I’ll have to hook them with national security-centric stories. I have a number of social media shorts in the pipeline. If I can get them to comb through my words, a few might find my writing compelling. If a small fraction of the agency starts following me, I’ll skyrocket to the top of everybody’s WordPress feed.

Most bloggers would think I’d be better off putting out quality work, but they’re just jealous because they didn’t think of this first.

Many Ties

With the explanation out of the way, I’d like to address those of you who are members of the National Security Agency directly. Before you go crying, “Obstruction of justice” remind yourself who’s stepping on who’s fourth amendment rights here. Now that I’ve got you searching and seizing, I might as well show you something. I’m not committing a crime. I’m not wasting your time. I’m taking the initiative. I’m thinking outside the box. Way outside the box.

I figure, if you’re sifting through everyone’s emails, then you’re bound to know a few publishers. Could you put in a good word for me? Sure, I believe that speech should be free, but I’ll leave a PayPal donation button incase you feel like paying a fee. Check out my Amazon wish list while you’re at it. When you’re done transcribing my posts for the record, don’t forget to hit “Subscribe” while you’re here.

If I can turn my pursuers into promoters than I’ll have a street team with more reach than anyone.

I’m taking the tape off my webcam, the gum off my microphone. I’m dialing the operator and leaving the phone on. Talking to myself, I’m letting you in on the plot. I’m waving “Hi” to my Playstation Eye. See anything that you like? Ignoring the flashing red light in my shower head, I’ll strut around naked wearing nothing but a smile and a tattoo of my web address. I’ll leave my iPhone on my pillow in case anyone wants to watch me sleep.

Privacy is dead. We live in public. I’m not hiding my shame, I’m inviting you to look at it.

You can listen to me sing If I Only Had a Heart in my tinfoil hat. Watch me try to fashion my tie into a pinwheel knot. Watch me lip sync Lorde’s big single. This is your intelligence empire, and we’ll never be royals in it, but maybe you could grant an audience to one of us commoners.

In the graph

Waiting at the bus stop, I expect to see well dressed men, reading newspapers, constantly itching their ears. I expect to see reel to reel equipment carted into the neighboring apartment. Watching the ceiling, I’m waiting for drill dust to fall into my hand.

I hear snapping, but I don’t see a fiber optic lens.

I expect indiscriminate delivery vans all the way up the block. Peaking through the blinds, I expect to see red dots on my chest. Taking the dog for a walk, I expect to see drones circling the apartment.

If you can’t be bothered to break out the surveillance scope, then I’ll get the megaphone. If your satellite doesn’t have a clear view, I’ll bust out the chainsaw and make one for you. If you can’t put a tail on me, then I’ll give you FourSquare updates for everywhere I’ll be. This is the information age people. How hard is it to stalk someone?

Come on! Haven’t you been reading my search history? I’ve been looking up, “How to turn napalm into orange juice concentrate.” Why isn’t anybody investigating me? My mom says I’m surveilable.

I’m calling in an anonymous tip on my sparkling wit. How many Guy Fawkes masks do I have to order to get some attention around here? How many times do I have to say, “Snowden” in front of the mirror to get an audience to appear? I’m yelling “Crowded theater” in the middle of a fire. I’m threatening bombs with wire cutters. The president and I, are threatening Death with his own scythe (the bald personification of Death as seen in The Seventh Seal and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, not the condition).

If that paragraph doesn’t get your algorithm’s attention, nothing will.

Good Numbers

Come on and get your snoop on. I’ll even give you a reason. The First Amendment has limits, and I’m skating on the edge of them. The time has come to settle up my tab with the Bill of Rights. My stories meet all the requirements for my freedoms to be regulated. Watch I’ll prove it.

I direct hate speech, at colorful adjectives and purple prose. I show religious intolerance, to warlocks from parallel dimensions. I issue true threats, to fictitious characters. I use inflammatory language, to describe the swelling of their limbs. I bring about a condition of unrest, as a plot device. I use words that wound, beloved supporting cast members. Treasonable talk, comes from my villains’ tongues. I use sexual harassment, as a cheap trope to get my audience to root against underdeveloped men. I use slanderous, obscene, fighting words, in my dialogue. My verbal attacks, often come without character attribution so I don’t have to break up the pace. Imminent lawless action, gives me a great cliffhanger to end my chapters on.

I’m exactly what the Supreme Court had in mind when they rendered that decision (for those of you who didn’t major in Constitutional Law and English Literature, the preceding paragraph had a lot of inside jokes in it).

Tinthumb salute

I will wave to my oppressors. I will link bait Big Brother. I will troll the secret service. My path to the bestsellers list will start with the watch list.

I’m putting in a surveillance request on my novel, bug that thing inside and out, and then tell me which parts you liked the best. You can be the Gawker Media to my Quentin Tarantino. Take a sneak peak at my first draft. You have the technology to give some feedback to me. I mean, what else are our tax dollars paying for?

May my review section light up with glowing endorsements like, “This book is a clear and present danger to your free time.” I aspire to write intelligent stories for the intelligence community. Something so good, rogue agents will prefer it to stalking ex girl friends.

Many of you intelligence operatives are artistically inclined. You can be my legion of ghost writers. If you can take over my keyboard, I’m open to suggestions for my Highlander fan fiction. If there’s a copy editor among you, feel free to correct me when I use “heel” for “heal” or “decent” for “descent.” Hunt down my adverbs, and take them out with extreme prejudice.

Maybe I harbor a fear that you might take me up on all this, broadcast my shower cam, and send in Seal Team 6 to wash my mouth out with soap. Maybe you’ll have my citizenship revoked, and ride me out of town like Jonathan Swift, just for few modest proposals.

That may be the case, but I say satire that doesn’t take risks is ridiculous.

So to my fans at the NSA, who might black bag me for a private signing, I might go and cry on the shoulder of the ACLU, but at the end of the day you know I love you.

Besides, if you do detain me that could be great publicity.