Tag Archives: social networking

How to build an Engine instead of a Platform

When I published my first novel, HE HAS MANY NAMES, I wanted a book tour with all the fixings: morning shows, signing lines, standing room only readings. You know the usual accommodations to literary world rolls out for unknowns. I mean how expensive could an ad in Times Square really be? It’s not like I was asking for a 30 second spot in the Superbowl, just a 15 second one. Like all humble artists, I required a few simple things:

Enamel pins
Book trailers
A concept album
An official podcast
A comic book adaptation
A documentary short series
And a partridge in a pear tree

These seemed like reasonable requests on my backstage rider. That and fifteen-foot python filled with brown M&Ms. It turned out indie publishers didn’t budget for exotic pets. If I wanted promo materials, they’d have to come out of my own wallet. I tried to hypnotize artists into making them for me, embedding subliminal cues into casual conversation.

“I need to finish this YOU-line good-WILL paper-WORK be-FOR FREE-day.”

I’ve since discovered that mentalism is a junk science and Derren Brown is a vampire who glamours all his participants.

I had to do my book promos myself. This proved challenging after the book had already been published. I cut together a book trailer with some unused film school footage. When that failed to get any traction. I cut another one, and another one. Eventually I wrote screenplay for a local filmmaker who’d expressed interest in shooting the opening scene. That never came to fruition and the promo cycle rolled on. My publisher had bigger successes from authors with bigger platforms.

Then Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram adjusted their algorithms to downplay links, and I was back to square one (I blame Buzzfeed and Upworthy, a pox on both your houses).

Fast forward, through an international health crisis, and I have a second novel. Now, I could start shopping it around, find a publisher, get it out into the either, but what happens when it comes time to promote it. Quit my full-time job and pray for success? I need a better strategy. I need to work on the promotion side of things, before bringing a book to market. In this instance, it’s smarter to put the cart before the horse.

What Videogames Taught Me About Bookselling

In the videogame industry developers rarely program from the ground up. They use frameworks built on libraries of 3d assets, real world textures, and motion capture data. They call this framework an engine, because it sits at the heart of a complex machine. Engines simplify game design by giving designers elements they can reuse over and over.

If my next novel was going to have a chance, I’d have to build an engine of my own. An engine filled with assets perspective book buyers might like. So, I asked myself, what kind of content keeps me from scrolling on?

Visual Art

Not the slick homogenous stuff an AI might spit out, but evocative, imagination driven designs. Patrick Nagel’s art deco women. Gustave Doré’s depictions of the inferno. Drew Struzan’s movie posters. Those are the designs that get me every time and they’re applicable to what I’m working on.

If I could teach myself to draw like that, my next novel might have a chance. Over the last six months I’ve been building a portfolio, depicting my character Mahthildis as one of Patrick Nagel’s femme fatales. I now have a healthy library of designs.

Designs I can reuse by turning them into memes.


The next step was to build a framework for video. Let’s face it, short-form video rules social media. If you want young people to consider your long form content you have to engage them in quick bursts first. Photoshop helps with this, since my subjects are grouped into layers. I can separated them from the backdrops, make them zip in and out of frame, and eventually move their limbs.

I’m beta testing my engine with animations. I’m writing a series of short stories featuring the demon goddess Mahthildis. In each story I’m pitting her against a mythic figure associated with that month. Krampus for Christmas, Father Time for New Year’s Eve, and St. Valentine for Lupercalia.

I thought it would be funny to animate Mahthildis facing off against her foes, like characters in the VS screen in Mortal Kombat 3. That way I could reuse the Mahthildis image and slot in a new villain each month.

It seems like a lot of effort to make a book trailer, with music and narration, for a series of free short stories, but each one is a test to see how far I can reach.

Hopefully, this process will teach me how to streamline my video edits. I’ll learn which social media platforms are worth targeting. I’ll learn how to build an engine with a lot more horsepower than before.

An Engine is a Good Excuse to Dust Off Some Old Skillsets

More and more people want to be writers, which makes getting your work noticed that much harder. Authors need to bring every skill they have to the table. Imagine the ideal reader for your story. What are their niche interests? What tools do you already possess to engage them in other spots? Write them down and plan out a frame work of reusable tools.

If you’re a photographer then bust out your DSLR. Stage pictures of subjects relevant to your novel and tease the images out throughout your promotion cycle. If you’re an actor get some friends together and record a reading of a scene. If you’re a musician create soundscapes you can read excerpts over.

Follow other indie authors. Scrub through their feeds. Consider which posts get traction and which posts don’t.

An Engine is a Good Excuse to Develop Brand New Skills

I learned Photoshop the same way I learned to tie a tie with Youtube tutorials. That’s how I’m teaching myself motion graphics and animation, one video lesson at a time.

Think about the skills your framework requires. Which ones have you always wanted to learn? Which ones would you want to have, even if your book promo doesn’t go well? Those are the skills worth investing in.

Build an Engine on an Engine

There are plenty of time savers out there. Just remember that over one else is using the same ones.

Yes, you could use AI to generate art assets. You’ll have to study the prompts other creators are using before you can make something the slightest bit unique. I’ve experimented with several of the AIs out there. I found the characters were inconsistent from frame to frame. They generate awkward artifacts. AI struggles with eyes, with edges, and fingers. Every image has the same tight depth of field. And so many of the creations look like renders from video game engine.

If you don’t have time to learn Adobe Premier, you can use a book trailer maker. Drag and drop some assets into a video template. Choose from a library on licensed stock video scenes. Type your pitch out in a series of captions. I’d recommend pushing the boundaries of the template as much as you can. Those stock scenes rarely cut well together.

Look up the #BookTrailer hashtag on Instagram for examples of people who didn’t put in much effort. You’ll find music that doesn’t jive with the spirit of their story. Images with mismatched color tones. Videos with abstract subjects. Most of them look like video collages. You might be better off using still images.

Do whatever you can to give your trailer a sense of author ship.


There’s a reason all the those bright-faced booktubers say, “You shouldn’t get into writing for the money. You should do it because you love it. It should be its own reward” That’s a nice way of saying you’re probably not going to get paid for it (I’m not talking to you though, just everyone else, you’ll be one of the exceptions that takes the publishing world by storm).

There’s a song that breaks my heart every time I hear it. It’s called Everything is Free, by Gillian Welch.

“Everything is free now
That’s what they say
Everything I ever done
Gonna give it away
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we’re gonna do it anyway
Even if it doesn’t pay”

That verse must hit every artist right in the gut, because they know it’s true. We are all feeding the content dragon, hoping for but a taste of the horde its sitting upon.

You have to love making art for the sake of it. You have to love promoting it too. I’ve made no allusions to how much I hate self-promotion. That’s why I’m building an engine, to give myself a framework, to showcase my creations without having to conjure up a fresh scheme every time.
Continue reading How to build an Engine instead of a Platform

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

The following is a work of satire. I’m leading with this disclaimer, because many of these examples of Facebook’s attempts at mind control sound a little too believable.

Facebook's emotional experiments give user mixed messages
Facebook’s emotional experiments give user mixed messages

Phase 2 of Facebook’s Emotional Manipulation Study

This week, Phase 1 of Facebook’s emotional manipulation experiments came to light. Having altered their Data user policy to include “research,” Facebook performed a study to test its influence on users’ psychology.

Positioning positive posts in the first test group’s feeds, the social network manipulated users to make merry messages of their own. Satiating some in sullen cynicism, they found these users were prone to mope and moan. Inspirational influencers led to delighted updaters, while pensive peers led to cocky contributors.

In his article Digital Market Manipulation, Ryan Calo believes companies “will increasingly be able to trigger irrationality or vulnerability in consumers.”

Like the copywriter in the Film Roger Dodger says, “You can’t sell a product without first making people feel bad… you convince them that your product is the only thing that can fill the void.”

There’s speculation Facebook implemented these studies to appease its shareholders. These suspicions would make sense, had evidence of Facebook’s second study not surfaced. It turns out these early experiments were the tip of the iceberg.

Phase 2 Experiments:

The Relationship Status Randomizer

Toying with eagle eyed ex lovers and potential stalkers, Facebook implemented the relationship status randomizer, listing married users as single, turning their private phone numbers to public, then posting “Feeling lonely” as their status on the hour every hour.

The Bogus Baby Broadcaster

Since baby announcements get the most engagement, Facebook posted pregnancy news on behalf of couples who weren’t expecting, pulling random ultrasounds from Google image search. The Bogus Baby Broadcaster asked family friends to vote on children’s names. The most popular choices were: Link McFly Skywalker, for boys, and Buffy Ripley Croft, for girls.

Open House Mode

Taking advantage of their Oculus Rift acquisition, Facebook started mapping real spaces for Virtual Reality. Rift owners have reported early access to a feature called Open House Mode. Stitching architecture together from users’ pictures, Open House Mode allowed beta testers to go on virtual tours of their friends’ homes. Rendering intimate living spaces, complete with exteriors from Google Street View, Open House Mode points out structural vulnerabilities like flimsy locks and windows that can be pushed open. When pressed for comment, Facebook’s lawyers said this feature was for users who wanted to throw surprise parties for one another.

Facebook's new mind control features are its best ever
Facebook’s new mind control features are its best ever

The Celebrity Death Generator

Attempting to stir up grief, Facebook filled users feeds with links that falsely reported celebrity deaths. A candlelit vigil, for actor Steve Buscemi, caused a twenty block traffic jam in downtown Atlantic City. The show runners for Boardwalk Empire had already hired Digital Domain to create a CGI stand-in, by the time the real Buscemi appeared on set, hungover, but still breathing.

Bladder Triggers

Promoting posts containing the words “hand soap, linen towels,” and “quilted tissue,” Facebook found an uptick in geotags to ‘home thrones.’ Once users were in their bathrooms, Facebook blasted them with footage of kayakers going over waterfalls, three story fountains, and animated gifs of lemonade flowing from bottles. This drew criticism from the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, fearing the effects a mass flushing incident will have on the nation’s sewer systems.

Samurai Shaming

Manufacturing outrage, Facebook posted updates as ESPN, tricking users into believing the Washington Redskins were changing their names to the Washington Yellowskins, replacing their native American logo with that of a crude cartoonish Samurai. Soon after, the hashtag #YesAllShoguns started trending.

Penicillin Petition

A petition to ban penicillin emerged, after Facebook made an article linking the antibiotic to childhood obesity trend. Medical authorities flooded the net to refute the claim, taking over the conversation in a matter of hours, but not soon enough to prevent media personality Jenny Mccarthy from endorsing the original findings. In the aftermath of the incident, Orange County has reported an outbreak of typhoid fever.

The Title Lengthening System

Some users awoke to find the phrase, “You Won’t Believe What Happens Next” tacked onto every link in their newsfeed, others saw, “… is the worst kind of discrimination.” Some reported seeing each link wrapped in the phrase “What… did is genius.” Everyone exposed to this title lengthening system reported feeling disturbed by the trend, as if they were the only ones noticing it happening.

Phantom Zuckerbergs

Businesses, sports teams, and families reported finding phantom images of Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, in their photos. In each image, Zuckerberg appears to be interacting with people, bringing his hands in for a team building seminar, hitting a beer bong at a keger, even wrapping his arms around someone else’s grandmother. Those who noticed the phantom CEO, said he appeared immediately after they uploaded their pictures, as if he’d been there all along. One group experimented with the feature, pointing to a camp fire in mock horror, posting the photo, they found Zuckerberg emerging from the fire.

Facebook’s Milgram Experiment

Members of the psychoanalytic community were horrified when the social network conducted it’s own interpretation of the infamous Milgram Experiment.

Testing blind obedience, the Milgram Experiment urged subjects’ to commit actions at the expense of their conscience. Subjects took on the role of a teacher administrating electric shocks to a learner, an actor who was in no real danger. Every time the learner failed to answer a question, a man in a lab coat would instruct the teacher to hit them with shock treatment. Ignoring the actor’s cries, this authority figure would tell the teacher to up the voltage. The goal was to see how many of the subjects would protest, halting the experiment before the lethal jolt was given.

Facebook introduced a virtual version of this experiment. Believing they were administering electric shocks to prison inmates, users became executioners by way of an application. The app gave users a video stream of both a researcher, commanding them to move forward, and a prisoner writhing in agony.

Stanley Milgram found that 65 percent of his participants administered the lethal dose. Facebook, on the other hand, had a 100 percent success rate. In fact, the only user to report distress, was a man in Texas, claiming to be “bummed out” when the app disappeared from the service.


As social networks become more prevalent in our virtual lives their effects will be felt in the real world. If the cost of connecting means surrendering control of our bowels, most of us will pay it. If the price of admission is submitting to a full body scan, most of us will jump right in. We’ll accept, that if Facebook wants us to be happy, we’ll be happy, and if we’re sad, it’s because Facebook willed us to be. The social network works in mysterious ways.

We’re just guinea pigs, hitting ‘Like’ to get more food pellets, wandering through this maze of messages, looking for meaning. The all seeing eye of Zuckerberg watches us share pictures of our plates on first dates, engage in political debates, and when we think our cameras are off, he watches us masturbate.

Ours is not to question his reasoning, but to trust in his plan. We must open our minds and accept his influence.

Is Facebook toying with your emotions
Is Facebook toying with your emotions?

Check out my April Fool’s post Facebook Buys DrewChial.com and my article on how The Facebook Bait and Switch is already effecting authors.

The Myth of the Self-Made Blogger

1. Tipping Point

What pyramid schemers can teach us about blogging culture.

Enter the Pyramid Schemers

I used to work for the retail side of a tech company. Our goal was to demystify technology, to lower the entry barrier, to smooth out the learning curve. It didn’t matter if you’d purchased a device in our store, or if you received it as a gift, if you brought it in we’d teach you how to use it. Since no one worked on commission, we didn’t have to be selling, we spent most of our time informing.

When two giggling women walked in, with a tablet still in its shrink wrap, I was happy to get them going. Claire won her tablet as part of a work promotion, her sales numbers were the highest in her region. Diane was along to drool at her friend’s new toy.

Showcasing the dictation feature, I spoke into the microphone, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Tapping the screen, I highlighted the sentence, hit COPY and PASTE, replicating the line over and over again. “And this is how you recreate a scene from The Shining.”

I gave them the grand tour of their technology, from photo manipulation to location based notifications. Helping Claire setup her email, I learned she worked for Rodan + Fields selling ProActiv skincare products.

Looking out into the mall, Claire pointed to a kiosk I’d never noticed. Opening the YouTube app, she typed a search for an advertisement. She narrated, “A lot of men use ProActiv, see: Justin Bieber… P. Diddy…”

Diane caught me looking at my watch.

She tapped the screen, “Adam Levine uses it too.” Claire latched onto my bicep like a barnacle. “Oh, don’t you just love that song Moves Like Jagger?”

I shrugged, “Haven’t heard it, but I like Gimme Shelter.”

“Do you like to travel?” Claire changed the subject.

I tapped the map application, anticipating a question about directions.

Claire continued as if I’d already answered. “So do I. That’s why I’m working for a trip across Europe. That’s the great thing about ProActiv, you can work as much or as little as you want. It gives you that freedom. You’re just selling something that helps people at the same time.”

She was giving an essay answer to a question I hadn’t asked. Her lips smiled, but her eyes did not. I couldn’t help but notice that she’d changed from the first person to the second.

Diane tagged in, “The reason we bring this up is there’s a lot of opportunities for men in the company. Men want the product, they know it works, but they want to buy it from other men. An extroverted person, like yourself, would be leading your own team in no time.

Looking at my reflection in a monitor, I counted the zits framing my forehead. Still, these women were telling me I could be the face of their acne treatment.

Tapping the tablet, I realized I was the only one still interested in it. “Before I send you on your way, let’s just review what we’ve done here…”

The pair exchanged a look. Their smiles flickered into frowns. Their upbeat tone took on an undercurrent of desperation. They asked for my phone number, for my email address, and the name I went by on FaceBook. They offered to take me to dinner. When I said I had plans, they offered to buy me lunch the next day.

For someone with an expensive cutting edged piece of technology, Claire acted like she was struggling to earn enough to eat.

I was relieved when my manager called me in back.

These women weren’t interested in buying anything, they were scouting. They weren’t shoppers, they were headhunters. They took advantage of customer service specialists, because we were captive audiences. We had to be nice, we were taught not to use negative language.

These scouts went to retail establishments to push a sales pitch. Exuding positive vibes, they made themselves appear easy to work with. Smiling, they kept on with a steady stream of compliments. Cults refer to this technique as “flirty fishing,” or “love bombing.” Multi-level marketers call this “cold sponsoring.”

2. Whoops

The Hard-Sell Shows up where it doesn’t belong

In America, we’re taught that hard work and perseverance always pay off, that with enough gumption anyone, no matter their circumstances, can pull themselves up by their own boot straps. We’re taught that if someone isn’t a success, it’s their fault for not putting in the effort.

This encounter with the ProActiv pushers shows that’s not always the case. Some systems limit upward mobility by design.

Multi-level marketers make very little off their sales. They give the biggest cut of their profits to whoever roped them into the project. That’s why they work so hard to recruit a team of sales people beneath them. Technically, this isn’t a pyramid scheme, but the cash flows in the same direction; to the people at the top.

This article isn’t going to focus on the quadrilateral shape of these scams, but the tactics used to sell them. When you’re exposed to these methods, you can spot them everywhere.

Working out of coffee shops, I’ve sat next to many multi level marketers, offering desperate people “exciting new careers.”

I hear them give the same pushy pitch, the hard sell, the all expenses paid guilt trip.

Shifting in their seat, the marketer says, “My personal philosophy is that you can have anything in life as long as you help other people get what they want.”

Sounds nice, but to quote Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want.”

The Myth of the Self-Made Blogger

Exalting the infallibility of the system, marketers blame the ones who can’t make it on their own. If you’re a blogger, some of this might already sound familiar.

The myth of the self-made person casts a long shadow over the internet. After all, this is the new frontier, where anyone can launch a self-publishing career.

There’s no shortage of social media gurus, echoing the sentiments of multi-level marketers. They talk like we live in a meritocracy, where talent and ability are always rewarded, setting the expectation that a good blogger will find success early on. You’ll go in thinking your cream will rise the top, your smart observations will corner the marketplace of ideas, and your merits will ensure you the best seat.

Putting in your best work, you’ll assume that an audience will magically discover it. The first person who lays eyes on your prose will share it with everyone they know. Now you’re watching the clock, expecting to become an overnight sensation.

The hard-sellers will tell you that blogging is a full time job, that you should post daily, that no matter what you’re writing you should give it all your energy. If you build it they should come, and if they don’t, it’s something you’re doing wrong.

The gambler’s fallacy has you believing that your loosing streak will turn, so you stay the course, doing the exact same thing, waiting for it to come out different.

I watch a lot of people lose heart, when their following stops growing. I’ve written about how this manifests in Twitter tantrums. I’ve watched people commit social media suicide, telling off their readers for not appreciating them more.

This is what happens when success is the assumption, you refuse to learn coping skills for when it doesn’t come. The short sighted saddle up and ride, assuming no one will ever buy what they have to sell.

Bloggers don’t just make themselves, they’re made by their community. Word of mouth doesn’t spread over night. Going viral isn’t a given, it’s a rarity. If at first you don’t succeed, you’re doing it wrong. Mix up your approach, come at it again.

3. Heads Up

Closing Arguments

Next time you see an article giving you the hard sell, examine the salesperson. Don’t just look at the volume of their followers, but their engagement. What I’ve learned, is that bloggers who say building a following takes years, usually have one.

Many bloggers promote themselves as a resource to authors looking to promote their work, authors who go on to write articles on promotion of their own. Spectators become mentors to other spectators. The cycle goes on, while less of us are actually writing. For a prospective author, social media has value, but a tight manuscript should matter more.

Don’t give someone else bad directions just because it’s the path you’re on. Don’t give someone the hard-sell to justify your buyer’s remorse. There’s more than one way to get to the top of the mountain, don’t say that yours is the surest when you’re still at base camp.

We all glorify do it yourself promotion because that’s the method we’re using, but it’s not the only one worth choosing. We all want to feel like entrepreneurs, but we shouldn’t close the door on traditional publishing either.

Blogging isn’t a full time job if there’s no profits. If you’re not making anything, you can afford to take a step back to perfect your craft. A massive following doesn’t mean automatic sales. It can help, but only if you’ve written something worthy of word of mouth. Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but good work gives you a better shot at it.

Carnival of Goals (Audio Blog)

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

This is a story about my first attempt to wow people with my work. I was a kindergartner hosting a Halloween carnival in the middle of July. I poured my heart and soul into the project and got negative returns.

There’s a lesson to be learned in failure: if at first you don’t succeed, you’re doing it wrong. If humiliation teaches us anything it’s how to wear humiliation better. Every artist has to learn to take feed back. Every artist has to develop a callus around their heart, a skin so thick they could stop bullets with it.

This is a piece for those people brave enough to put themselves out there. The ones who go out among the trolls seeking validation. The ones whose bright eyes never dim. The ones who no matter how many times you knock them down, they scramble back up to their feet, and brush their shoulders off.

This is for the people who look to the Internet and say, “I have something valid to contribute and I’m going to keep trying until it finally resonates with someone.”

If this makes us fools. Let’s be fools together.

(Download the instrumental version here)

For those of you who prefer the straight vocal recording, without the music, check out the link below.

Carnival of Goals

IMG_2545When I was a kid I threw a Halloween carnival in my parent’s basement. I knew I had the market cornered, because it was the middle of July.

I decided to keep mom and dad in the dark about the project. Investors have a way of meddling with an artist’s vision. I wanted to retain creative control. I was an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs don’t ask for their parents’ permission. Once they saw what a hit it could be, no one would make me apologize for success.

Continue reading Carnival of Goals