Posts Tagged WANA

Social Media is a Waste of Time for Writers—Hmmm, Think Again

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We’ve been talking a lot about social media lately and I am always grateful for your comments and thoughts. This kind of feedback not only helps me improve my blog, but my also books, because I get a glimpse of your worries, weaknesses, fears, loves, and strengths.

As a teacher/mentor/expert, it’s my job to address those fears and put you at ease or reinforce when you’re headed the right direction and give you tools and tips to take what you’re doing to another level.

There’ve been some comments that have piqued my attention lately. Namely this notion to give up on social media completely to write more books (out of vexation for the medium and the task).

Oh-kay….

Social Media is a TOTAL Waste of Time

Write more books instead of tweeting or blogging. Social media is a giant time-suck better spent writing great books.

I don’t know how to answer this besides, Er? *screeching breaks* Personally, I can think of no larger waste of time than researching and reading and spending countless hours crafting a wonderful book of 60,000-110,000 words and then?

No one knows the book exists so few people ever read it, enjoy it or are changed by the author’s story.

It’s like spending six months to a year on an oil painting to hang it in an attic.

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These days, any agent worth their salt will not sign an author who doesn’t have a social media brand and presence. Rarely, they will take a book from an author who doesn’t…but usually it will come with the requirement the author get on-line and get to work.

I ADORE Dawn Frederick at Red Sofa Literary and once shared a panel with her. She told the story of a book she LOVED and took even though the author wasn’t on social media. She was so impressed with the book she signed the author but told her she needed to get on social media and start building a platform.

After six months, the author refused. Dawn gave an ultimatum. Get your tail on social media or we drop the book and cancel the contract.

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Image via Hyperbole and a Half

Myth-Busting

It used to be that an author who wanted to completely avoid social media went traditional. Well, traditional publishing has now seen the value of social media and almost all of them require it. They require it even if they allot budgeting for marketing. Why? Because social media helps them gain a FAR greater ROI on the marketing dollars spent.

How?

I’ll give an example. I once read a traditionally published craft book that changed my life. At the time, my platform had grown fairly large and I’ve worked very hard to create a solid reputation for recommending only the best resources. I tried to contact the author not only to promote the book, but to get this author to present our conference (which sells A LOT of books).

The web site was an outdated clumsy mess and the contact e-mail at the bottom was no longer any good. The author wasn’t on FB or Twitter and I think I finally located this writer—of all places—on LinkedIn. Four months later the author replied, but by then the window of opportunity had closed.

I was…vexed.

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Additionally, since I’d had such a bear of a time connecting to the author, I wasn’t going to recommend this tedious experience to others.

Publishers have since recognized this problem and they want to remove as much friction from a potential sale as possible. Their goal is not only to sell a book but to captivate and cultivate a FAN who will buy that book, the next and the next. This is simply smart business.

Though I’m not a huge fan of ads, it makes sense that if a publisher (traditional or indie) is going to pay good money to create and launch one, that anyone interested should be able to easily connect with the author. Same with coveted AP reviews, interviews, or events. Even if we self-publish and pay for promotion, an existing platform will make the most of that investment.

A LOT of any sales is the follow up then the follow-through.

If social media is new, scary, overwhelming? Welcome to being NEW. Most of us start like this…

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Social Media is for the CONSUMER

I come from a background in sales. Cardboard. Not glamourous but everyone uses it. Being the cheapest or mailing out flyers or calling non-stop was not what sold my product over other choices.

And trust me, we had BEAUTIFUL ads. I also had competition offering a far cheaper product. They also had products virtually IDENTICAL to ours. But ads and price and even selection weren’t the major driving factor in sales.

Rather, it was the customer’s ability to quickly and easily connect with ME.

Maybe the company didn’t need corner board the day they met me. But then, that purchaser I’d spoken to in the spring signed a contract with a client in the autumn who wanted to ship truckloads of water heaters STAT. Water heaters that needed protection during shipping.

Because that purchaser had my personal cell number (back in the days when most salespeople didn’t have one and I paid for my OWN), guess who closed the sale?

Most salespeople didn’t want to pay out of pocket for a cell phone. They liked the old ways, the way business had always been done. Call the office. Leave a message with the receptionist, and then they’d return the call when they got back in off the road (which could be DAYS).

Even if the salesperson got the message once they checked into their hotels, it would be late in the evening. The earliest a customer could get an answer would be the next day.

Me? They talked to the minute the idea flitted across their brains (or within the hour if I was in a meeting).

It cost me $400 a month of my own money to have a cell phone with enough minutes. Back then, 2000 minutes a month was the max one could buy in a package, but I had a nine-state territory and also all of northern Mexico and believed it was a wise investment.

Work smarter, not harder….

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I put out my own effort and money to make it easier for a customer to find and connect with me instantly. I didn’t have to. But it sure made that $2.5 million a year quota a lot easier to meet. Of ALL the cardboard reps vying for the SAME SALE, I was the one who was Johnny on the Spot to solve a problem. I was the one they could dial and get an almost-instant response and solution.

Though cardboard and novels are different products, that tether of personal connection is powerful.

A large number of agents, especially those at the prestigious agencies, will not even consider a query if they can’t google our name and see we’ve been working to at least connect and begin cultivating a community that can become readers.

But now many authors are going indie or self-publishing. Indie houses I can guarantee will likely ignore anyone who doesn’t want to be on social media. Those who self-publish? WE ARE THE PUBLISHER. What responsible publisher with a hint of business acumen ignores any kind of interaction and follow-up with potential customers (readers)?

It reminds me of the cardboard salesmen who didn’t want a cell phone. They’d missed the point that their job was to serve the customer’s schedule and needs, not the other way around.

Golf is NOT Golf and Dinner is NOT Dinner

Hubby and I had an interesting debate a few days ago. He kinda turned his nose up about wining and dining and entertaining clients (we have two small businesses). But Hubby has spent most of his professional life as a procurement person and is a long-lost cousin of Mr. Spock.

Hubby. Sigh.

Hubby. Sigh.

But then I explained that those off-site relaxed endeavors were actually investments in relationships and even friendships. When I took customers to lunch, I never talked business. I wanted to know (genuinely) about their wives, kids, or hobbies and let them have some fun talking about the things they enjoyed. It was personal.

It’s far more important to be interested than interesting.

When I would call to follow up, I asked about how their son’s Little League game went or how the wife was and simply told them I’d be in the area during a certain time. Never asked for money or talked about cardboard.

I also never chastised them or was hurt if they bought from another source. I’d say, “Well, that was a smart business decision. Can’t blame you for being prudent. Just hope I am there to help you next time. You know how to reach me.”

Over time, because of the relaxed atmosphere, I found that customers gravitated to calling me because they knew me, could reach me, and rather enjoyed not being pitched to non-stop. They’d even pay more.

This movie still gives me nightmares...

This movie still gives me nightmares…

What was really cool was that certain customers eventually refused to deal with any other company but ours, no matter how cheap the competitor’s price. They would even recommend me (and my product) to other companies, because I ignored the ABCs (Always BE Closing) and trusted the power of relationships and consistency.

The same can be said for social media. Blasting spam and bargains and free stuff might work for a while and on a few people, but it doesn’t generate the long-term loyalty money can’t buy.

Sure, back in my cardboard days, it cost me time and money and effort. My hard work rarely paid off immediately and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t harshly criticized.

But, eventually, when customers had to choose between going to lunch with someone who jammed flyers and price lists in their faces, who never shut up talking about themselves and who insisted on a signature on the dotted line by the time the check came?

Versus me?

I was far less exhausting and annoying to deal with.

Social Media is NOT a Sales Pitch

The new way to TWEET MORE!

The new way to TWEET MORE!

Social media is like all those lunches or quick, relaxing trips to a driving range to just unwind and chat and become friends. People should know we have a book, just like all my cardboard customers had a fancy folder filled with all our products and a sample box.

But the product wasn’t my focus, people were.

To refuse to do social media would have been akin to me never traveling and sitting by the phone in my office hoping it would ring. That our cardboard would sell itself. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long.

To misuse social media is a formula for a customer (reader) to gravitate some place they don’t feel like prey. Social media used properly doesn’t take much time to do, but it will take time to grow roots.

Just like it only took five minutes for me to call a buyer, ask how his kids were and let him know I’d be in the area and ask if he and his receptionist would care to join me for a bite to eat. But, though it took minutes to make the invitation, it took months of care and authentic follow-up to build a foundation of trust that created a loyal customer.

Direct Sales is Almost Universally ANNOYING

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How many of you have gone to having a cell phone because the only people who called the landline were selling something? How many times have any of you said, “Sure, I’ll pay for that cruise right now” after getting a random phone call. Or, “Yes, sign my up for that credit protection plan. TAKE MY MONEY!”

How many times have you found a flyer on your windshield or front door and immediately called for that product or service? Or answered the spam in your e-mail with credit card in hand?

Think of this when using social media ;) . Relax, have fun and trust this is a process and a really fun one with the right attitude.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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134 Comments

Why Writers Should Use Twitter (and HOW to USE It Effectively)

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 8.51.29 AMFor the last couple posts, we’ve been talking about how to use Twitter effectively. Too many writers are like Stormtroopers—lots of shots fired  tweets that hit NOTHING.

I can admit, when I got on Twitter (when it was invented) I didn’t get it. I would—KID YOU NOT—freak out when people I didn’t know followed me. WHAT? Are you, like, a stalker? Yes, I was missing the ENTIRE point of Twitter. Hey, we all start somewhere.

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Do you have to do Twitter? No. No one will take you to writer jail because you didn’t. Is it wise to use Twitter? ABSOLUTELY.

I strongly recommend Twitter for two main reasons. First, couple Twitter with a good/consistent blog and this is your best formula to go viral. Secondly, Twitter helps us find READERS (and helps readers find US).

Going Viral

We will rarely go viral from Facebook because the nature of Facebook is more intimate and the platform moves much slower. People are less likely to discover us/our work from Facebook than they are Twitter.

In fact, I would imagine that many of you who subscribe to this blog, likely found me via Twitter. And since my tweets are written in a way to attract only the brightest and best-looking and talented…. :D. Y’all get the point.

This is why I want authors to blog and to blog off their author WEB SITE. Someone sees a tweet for a post that looks interesting and click and enjoy the post and guess what is in the sidebar for sale? BOOKS.

***Or, in my case the footer of each post since I did all the dumb stuff so y’all don’t have to.

This is a non-invasive way to cultivate readers and sell books. We have a post. We serve. We entertain. We aren’t doing the:

Hi, I’m a writer. BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK! I can’t feed my family unless you BUY MY BOOK!

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Show don’t sell. Our blog gives potential readers a glimpse of who we are. They sample our writing voice and see we are professionals since we post more than every harvest moon. We have taken time to engage without asking for money. Twitter is the road sign guiding people to the rest stop of their choosing.

Enough people like a certain rest stop? That is when we go viral.

Going viral is AWESOME. Trust me, when you see THIS on the bottom of a post? GREAT FEELING.

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And yes, there are a lot of shares on Facebook, but many folks discovered the posts on Twitter then chose to share with their more intimate community on Facebook.

My post Brave New Bullying and Amazon Attacks has 328 comments and still climbing. And I say this VERY humbly because all I do is my job. But, it is not uncommon for this blog to have triple-digit comments. Twitter is a BIG reason for that. And I’ve been blessed to go viral many times and not always for writing or social media posts. I blog about everything.

I STILL have people arguing over What Went Wrong With the Star Wars Prequels even though I posted it years ago. FABULOUS comments. Very well-thought out. Some thousands of words long.

Cultivating Readers

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Sodanie Chea

There is one bone-headed statement that makes my head hurt. And I have heard it from all levels of writers from noobs to NTYBSAs. In fact, one BIG author once said, “I don’t like Twitter. Only writers are on Twitter.”

*head desk*

I replied, “There are over 280 MILLION active Twitter users. They’re all writers. Really?”

What I then pointed out was that this author tweeted writing quotes, talked about writing, blogged about writing. It was the All-Writing-All-the-Time Channel. If my goal is to catch a lion, but I bait the traps with peanut butter, who is the fool for griping about catching mice?

Many of us are writers because we were interested in SO many things, writing was the only way we could do them all. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an archaeologist-medical examiner-ballerina-oceanographer-ninja-Navy SEAL. I’d imagine most of you had similar career plans at age 7.

We became writers because we have an insatiable love for so many things. And we have unique eyes and an imagination to bring those worlds to life. We breathe life into variations of 26 letters in various combinations to create entirely NEW worlds and characters SO real they make a bigger impact on lives than a lot of living, breathing humans.

Yes, we have a God complex.

Thus, when using Twitter, I DO recommend #MyWANA, #amwriting, etc. We NEED a group of professional peers. But never mistake your colleagues for your audience. Too many writers are all talking to each other, selling the same people who already have more books than they could finish in a lifetime. We are worn out.

Twitter Access

In my book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World I go into far more detail, but here’s the highlight reel. What do you write? Who is the most likely person (who is NOT an avid reader who will read anything) to read your book?

Consider your audience...

Consider your audience…

If I write military thrillers, might be a good idea to follow the military hashtags—#USMC, #Army, #Navy, #USAF. Make friends, talk to people. Maybe even ask for advice. Admit you’re a writer and you want to nail the details. Humans are a super-helpful bunch.

If I write about vampires? #TrueBlood #vampires #supernatural might be good places to pop in and take a look.

Christian authors? #Jesus #Christian #lifechurch, etc.

Write about cowboys? #rodeo #horses

Suspense, mystery, crime? #DowntownAbbey #DiscoveryID #SwampMurders #JoeKenda #AR15

Sci-Fi? Try #starwars #startrek #physics, #geek, #DrWho, #Nova

Use a little imagination. I find it funny that writers have the capacity to dream up parallel universes, new forms of magic, unknown technology and yet, when we get on social media? #writers, #books #readers is how creative we get.

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But this is why it vexes me when people just write off Twitter as useless. Twitter is probably THE MOST effective way to find our potential readers, talk to them, and eventually cultivate a relationship that will hopefully spread to that person’s network.

Twitter DOES have the capacity to help us go viral, but it is still an investment daily of US. I have a little over 13,600 followers. Other authors SMOKE me on number of followers. But I would rather have 5,000 VESTED followers then 30,000 people who could care less what I have to say.

I’ve tweeted almost 27,000 tweets. Granted, I’ve been a member of Twitter for seven years. Not a SINGLE tweet of mine is from an automated system. All ME. Small chats every day add up. Just hop on, talk a little, share a link, talk to people, then back to work.

Buying Twitter Followers

Yes, I went there….

Yes, I went there….

This dovetails into my next point. In the beginning (say, back around 2008-2012), I feel outsiders cared more about the number of followers than they do now. “WOW, she has 40,000 followers. She must be IMPORTANT.” But, over time, our audience has wised up.

Sure, feel free to buy followers. But, in my mind, that’s like hiring a prostitute to offer us a long-term committed relationship. Purchased followers aren’t vested. They don’t care. They make the numbers look good and maybe stroke our ego, but our goal should be to create relationships that might translate into book sales.

Not ALL Sales are Direct

When we take time to be human and talk to people without an agenda, they appreciate it. It’s also good for our souls since most of us feel icky simply talking to people so they will BUY something. Never underestimate the word-of-mouth power of someone who may never buy your book.

I have all KINDS of people I talk to who aren’t authors. BUT they have friends or family who are. Whose books do you think they recommend?

In the end, using Twitter wisely is a fantastic investment that doesn’t take a lot of time. A handful of tweets a day over time grows deep roots that eventually yields fruits.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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Be a Peep NOT a Pain–How to Use Twitter Effectively

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Last time we took a satirical look at Twitter with 8 Ways to Make People on Twitter Want to STAB US IN THE FACE.  Here’s the deal, we are in sort of a New Gold Rush with this Digital Age publishing paradigm. That means “experts” are everywhere. But, just because someone claims to be an expert doesn’t mean their advice is worth more than the Vista Print cards their title is printed on.

This means it is incumbent on US to do our homework. Hey, yes, I am an expert, but to stay at the top of my game? I love learning new things.

Yet, here’s the deal. If someone is charging you to teach you how to blog, yet their blog has NO comments or single digit comments or they aren’t following their own advice (blogging when they feel like it)? Probably not the best expert to hand cash to.

And, just my POV, but I think anyone with social media services to SELL (outsourcing) is not in the business of empowering an author. Social media is HIGHLY personal these days. People don’t want to talk to a bot or something an assistant wrote. They want to talk to US and outsourcing just pisses them off.

And if Anne Rice can do her own Facebook posts? So can we.

Today we are going to talk a little bit about how to use Twitter. Why? Because I have some really unique methods to help you guys build massive social platforms (meaningful platforms) with far less work.

What the Heck is that # THINGY and What Does it DO?

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To be effective at Twitter and discovering and cultivating readers we have to understand the hashtag and how it works. If we don’t know how to properly use a tool, we can easily become a tool, if ya dig ;). Too many writers mistakenly believe they need to be on social media eight hours a day to build an effective platform.

Um, that would be a no.

My tips involve the hashtag conversations, but if you don’t know what a hashtag is or what it does, the tips will make no sense. Feel free to scroll down if you happen to be hashtag savvy.

For the rest of you, you might find yourself asking, What the heck is that # thingy I see all the time?

Here’s the deal. If you bought and read my latest best-selling social media book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World, then you downloaded TweetDeck or HootSuite at the first available opportunity. Wait, what? You didn’t?

Okay…we’ll wait. *whistles, checks watch*

Kidding! But, seriously. Download TweetDeck (or a similar application. Yes, HootSuite is fine and plays better with Apple). Trust me. It will make life simpler.

What is a #? That little # symbol is going to help you build a worldwide following. I know. That’s partly how I did it.

So what is it? Well, when you first join Twitter, you are all alone…save for the celebrities that Twitter gives you, but it isn’t like you and Lady Gaga are going to chit chat (though Kim Kardashian might be available). This basically means you are going to have to make some friends or Twitter is gonna be a seriously lonely and confusing place.

Hashtags will help you meet people who love to talk about the same things you do. When you place a # with a keyword at the end of your tweet, Twitter slots your tweet into a conversation shared by people all over the world bound by topic.

Some popular writer hashtags are:

#writegoal (place daily writing goals and keep each other accountable), #amwriting, #pubtip, #indie, #amediting, #nanowrimo, and the one hashtag to rule them all is, of course, #MyWANA.

Thus, when I tweet about my blog, it might look like this:

@KristenLambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help build your platform? (shortened link goes here) #MyWANA #nanowrimo #pubtip

My Tweet now will not just go out to my specific followers, it will be seen by the THOUSANDS of people all over the world who might be participating in those three popular hashtag conversations.

Why I recommend you download TweetDeck is that you can slot each hastag into its own column and then follow the people and conversations. When it comes to social media, we must interact and be vested in others, or we risk being perceived as fake and selfish.

The hashtag is to help us meet and converse with others effectively. It is not a new way to spam our fellow tweeps.

Thus, to help you guys out, today we are going to talk about three Twitter Tool Tactics, but then I will follow each Tool Tactic with a Tweep Tactic. I never criticize unless I can offer a solution.

Without further ado…be a tweep, NOT a tool.

TOOL Tactic #1

Using an auto-tweet system with hashtags.

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BAD idea. This can get you banned to Twitter Limbo.

I’m utterly, completely, totally against authors using auto-tweets anyway. If our face and name are our Twitter identity, then our tweets need to be us tweeting IN PERSON.

These days, even large companies can’t get away with auto-tweets. Granted, no one expects to have a conversation with @BestBuy. They will, however, expect conversation from us.

And don’t even TRY to cheat. People are smart and will smell an automatically generated message a mile away…and then promptly ignore you, report you or unfollow you.

At the very least, they will think you are a big fat phony, and, in an age of people looking for authenticity, that is bad. It won’t win any friends, so I recommend just avoiding anything automatically generated.

We really don’t need a Thank you for following me. Check out my awesome blog (link) sent to our direct messages. It’s not personal. It’s spam….and it seriously pisses us off.

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It really is better for you to tweet less, but it be genuinely you, than it is to assign a machine to pump out your message. Millions are gravitating to social media to escape spam. Bring these tactics into their sacred space and the penalty can be steep.

And “experts” and writers argued with me over this for YEARS and then THIS happened. Check out this post regarding Twitter and The Boston Marathon Bombing. Many writers (and celebrities) did major damage to their brands because of automation. In a world that can shift in a microsecond? It will cost more time to repair the damage than any automation might “save” us.

But, okay, you feel you must auto-tweet. Don’t say I didn’t try to talk you out of it. Do NOT include a hashtag. It is very likely you could clog up a whole column with your spam…um, tweets.

Maybe you didn’t mean to, but since you weren’t present, you didn’t get to see the mess your auto-tweets were creating (think Mickey Mouse and the brooms). Then people get angry and they report you and Twitter bans you from using the most powerful tool you have to connect with people worldwide.

You could accidentally gum up all three hastag conversations like this:

@KristenLambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help build your platform? (link goes here) #writegoal #nanowrimo #pubtip

@KristenLambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help build your platform? (link goes here) #writegoal #nanowrimo #pubtip

@KristenLambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help build your platform? (link goes here) #writegoal #nanowrimo #pubtip

@Kristen LambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help build your platform? (link goes here) #writegoal #nanowrimo #pubtip

@KristenLambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help build your platform? (link goes here) #writegoal #nanowrimo #pubtip

Now, I might have meant well, but folks on Twitter use these hashtag conversations to interact with a broader pool of people. If they see my tweet over and over and over and it is taking up the whole column, do you think it inspires them to like me?

Or hunt me down with torches and pitchforks?

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Also, the reason that I recommend TweetDeck (HootSuite) is that you can see if your tweets are gumming up a column. I scan the #MyWANA column to make sure I don’t already have a tweet talking about my blog in that column. If I do, I use another hashtag #amwriting or just wait to tweet about my blog.

When I was new, I only tweeted 3 times a day to self-promote my blog. Morning, afternoon, evening to catch different Twitter crowds.

Once you hit a certain critical mass, others will spread your content for you. Until then, feel free to tell us you have a post. Just don’t get crazy…

TWEEP Tactic #1

Be a Genuine Peep

Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig...

Moi with the AWESOME Chuck Wendig…

To rule the Twitterverse, we don’t need to be interesting just interestedFocus on others and relax. That book will sell better if we are forging relationships than it will if we are camped on top of a kitschy promo campaign that’s as appealing as getting a handful of flyers under our windshield wipers. We can even make some really amazing friends.

Forget traditional marketing. It’s DEAD and OUTDATED. It’s like strutting around the Digital World in a mullet and a Where’s the Beef t-shirt. Might get attention? But not the right kind of attention.

TOOL Tactic #2

Nonstop self-promotion.

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Yes, we know you have a book to sell…really. Using Twitter as a free and easy way to spam people is annoying and grossly ineffective. It is also traditional marketing, which doesn’t sell books. Never has and here is why. The best way to sell a lot of books is to write an excellent book. Then go write some more.

TWEEP Tactic #2

Be COOL

Again…be cool. Just talk to people. Socialize. Let others genuinely promote you. It’s more authentic anyway. And not the “Let’s Team Up and I Sell Your Books and You Sell Mine.” We actually have an IQ higher than a sea sponge. I NEVER recommend a book I haven’t read and that I do not OWN.

If we are promoting a work we LOVE, people feel our passion. Passion is what ignites a fandom. Manipulation just ticks people off. Shocking, right?

TOOL Tactic #3

Not changing the hashtags when we RT (retweet).

We all need to pay attention to this tip. All of us, at one time or another forget to delete or change the hashtags at the end of an awesome tweet we long to share. Ah, but we can unintentionally gum up an entire column with the same information and that is bad juju.

Why this can be really bad is this can kill a hashtag. People will start ignoring the # or close the column or not use the # because it is always backed up with redundancy. Only you can prevent Column Constipation.

NO ONE wants to see the same tweet 20 freaking times. Social media is a community so we should use good manners.

TWEEP Tactic #3

Now that you know what hashtags are, add them or change them when you RT for others.

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I might see a writer who has an outstanding blog…but she didn’t add any hashtags. So, when I RT, I stick in a couple. Try not to do more than one or two. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, it just (to me) feels less “spammy.”

But, what if one of your peeps has a GREAT blog and they did use hashtags? If you RT and leave the same hashtags, then you risk gumming up a column with the same link. So change them.

@KristenLambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help build your platform? (link goes here) #indie

RT @KristenLambTX Want to know how to use Twitter to help you build your platform? (link goes here) #fiction #writer

Now my message will go into two totally different columns. This helps more writers SEE my blog and I don’t risk clogging up the conversation. People who follow the # conversations will really appreciate that. Also, it makes it where I don’t have to add 8 hashtags to the end. I know my tweeps will help me out.

At the end of the day, Be a Tweep, Not a Tool and success will surely be yours. Thought? Comments? Recipes for world domination using a cupcake maker and trained hamsters? Share!

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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88 Comments

8 Ways to Make People on Twitter Want to Stab Us IN THE FACE

Image via QuickMeme

Image via QuickMeme

One would think a lot of what I teach about social media (Twitter) would be self-explanatory, but hey…we live in a world where a box of frozen corn dogs has a warning that I need to REMOVE the corn dogs from the box BEFORE placing in oven. Hell, who KNEW?

As a social media expert, I run into all kinds of strange behavior and tips that make me scratch my head. Social media is social, meaning it’s supposed to be an extension of how we might interact with other human beings in person. Today’s post (obviously) is tongue-and-cheek, but humor can be the best teacher even if we’ve oopsed.

Tip #1—Only Use Automation

Writing a 140 characters is SUPER time-consuming. We aren’t Jack London. Besides, people LOVE talking to robots. I know when I feel lonely, I call AT&T because I know a human being will NEVER answer…EVER. Humans can be so boring and don’t offer us the option of hitting 6 if we want to hear everything they just said all over again. 

Yeah, all my BFFs send me automated messages.

Yeah, all my BFFs send me automated messages.

Real Life Application: Program cell phones to call friends and family at regular intervals to ask for money. They’d dig that.

Tip #2—Make Sure All Preprogrammed Tweets are “Carefully Crafted”

Because when we take time to artfully craft our spam, people don’t mind. They LOVE believing a real person is there only to be fooled. It’s like when that cute guy/gal in high school pretended to want to go out with us. Now we can relive that experience as adults by being duped into thinking we were chatting with a real person who actually cared.

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Real Life Application: At the holidays, volunteer to bring a Honey-Baked ham, then show with Tofurkey. They won’t know the difference if we use lots of ketchup.

Tip #3—When Programming Tweets Include Popular Hashtags

Who goes to social media to socialize? People LOVE finding a community of real people to talk to and then having it crowded out by the same advertising over and over…and over. Because research shows that it takes at least 20 times to see an annoying face before we want to punch it.

Real Life Application: When attending any party, make sure to hand out lots of fliers, advertisements and coupons. Have a children’s book for sale? Stake out bounce house parties and put ads in all the little grab bags. Kids don’t want toys, candy and stickers, they want our BOOKS. Feel free to crash weddings, graduations, bachelor parties and maybe even funerals. If potential readers aren’t coming to us, we should go to them. Find where they gather then SELL. So what if it’s against their will?

Tip #4—Make People Prove Who They Are Before Talking to Them

Twitter validation services are awesome. We love meeting someone, only to have to jump through hoops to prove our love. We even get the added advantage of being redirected off Twitter to an outside site where we’re easily hacked.

How else will all our friends receive direct messages from porn sites posing as us? Nothing seals an on-line relationship like giving others a social media disease. Who will they think of when they have to spend hours removing viruses and trojans from their computers.

Can we say “Top of Mind”?

Come on! It takes three whole seconds to unfollow a bot. We need those precious three seconds to carefully craft witty preprogrammed tweets. Let the other person do the fifty hoops of leg-work to earn our trust. They have plenty of time.

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Real Life Application: Whenever we meet someone and start chatting, if we like them, halt all communication until they fill out a detailed background check. Throw in a pee test to be extra sure ;).

Tip#5—Tweet LOTS of Articles—Ok, ALL Articles

Most of us, when we wake up in the morning, think, “Gee, I wish I had a super long reading list. I sure miss my college syllabus.” Those of us with a corporate job LOVE people who hit Reply ALL so we can read more. Wikipedia is a hot place to hang out. Why not bring that encyclopedic magic to Twitter?

Real Life Application: Make sure to print off a box of articles for that wedding you were invited to. Who wants to dance or flirt when they could be reading about Three-Act Structure or Intestinal Parasites? Handing people a stack of reading material is way better than getting trapped in a “conversation.”

Tip #6—Ask for Stuff Immediately

Oh, sure! Let me drop everything to buy your book.

Oh, sure! Let me drop everything to buy your book.

The second someone befriends us, it’s our job to send an automated link to their Direct Messages so they can do stuff FOR US. Buy our book, like our FB page, follow our blog, or even answer a really inane question (as if we care about their answer) *rolls eyes*. Hey, great to meet you. Do you like vampires or werewolves?

Huh?

Huh?

Real Life Application: If someone is nice to us in the grocery store, make sure to have books to sell and the ability to take credit cards on the spot. Sure, that person is trying to buy a chicken to make for dinner and now she can buy OUR BOOKS, too. Win-win. If we don’t have books for sale, we can ask for life, love or career advice from total strangers, because that isn’t creepy at ALL.

Tip #7—Tweet from Several Accounts/Identities

People on Twitter might miss out on all those “carefully crafted” preprogrammed tweets. Make sure to have anywhere from 2-7 identities sending the same messages. What’s better than spam? MORE SPAM, duh.

Real Life Application: This tactic ROCKS for singles on the dating scene. Meet a date then several times throughout the conversation, change names and accents. Multiple-Personalities are just more people to love.

Tip #8—Never Tweet ANYTHING Original Just Retweet

Again, 140 characters cuts into word count. Save time and retweet what everyone else has to say. Two clicks? DONE.

Real Life Application: Repeat what everyone else says. People love parrots, so why not harness that fluffy colorful cuteness? I know I LOVED it when my little brother repeated everything I said…until I put him in an arm-bar.

Okay, Serious Now 

Twitter can be very valuable and a great place to make wonderful friends. Be real and enjoy. People are on social media to be social. We crave connection, fun and escape. If we wanted more ads we’d read the door in the bathroom stall or not bother fast-forwarding through commercials. We don’t need to be profound, deep or immensely witty to do well on Twitter, we just need to be vested, present and authentic ;).

What are some other things people do on social media that in real life would be ridiculous? I think sometimes we fail to extend that logic. Do you get tired of the same automation tweets? Have you ever bought a book because someone you friended automatically sent you a link to buy?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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98 Comments

The Art of Business & The Business of Art—Breaking Rules to Reveal Our Audience

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.43.37 AM

There are a lot of fabulous blogs and books on business, especially for writers. How to promote, do a tour, switch an algorithm, etc. But, I tend to be a broad strokes kind of gal. I dig simple. Simple works. Simple doesn’t have an expiration date.

ART is a Business & Business is an ART

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mark Roy.

When companies forget they are servants and act in a way that makes consumers serve them? That’s when they get into trouble. Businesses are in business to…make money. NO. Businesses should be in the business to serve people.

Artists are in the business of “making and selling art.” NO. They should be in the business of serving the audience. It is a TWO-WAY dialogue driven by core needs.

This is where many writers need to breathe into a paper bag because they break out in hives at the mention of “business.” But, if we want to create anything that people want to PAY MONEY for? We are a business.

Be the Consumer

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Demi-Brooke Flickr Creative Commons

The power of empathy is particularly crucial. Humans are actually very simple. Most of our decisions are driven by the primal brain. We like to feel good about a purchase. We often can’t articulate WHY we made a decision because it is the non-verbal part of our brains at the steering wheel when we choose.

Also, the product is all about US.

Friday, when we talked about breaking rules in writing, there was a lot of mention about writers simply breaking rules to break them. Yet, I would challenge every artist (or business) to step back and feel. Think about the customer FIRST and ego second. Money LAST.

Case in Point

I never set out to be the social media expert for writers. Yet, as early as 2003, I knew social media would completely alter the publishing paradigm. Anyone who bought an MP3 and had an ounce of imagination could see the domino effect ahead.

Tower Records–>Kodak–> Big Six Publishing

I was very grateful for the computer and marketing people who attended conferences to teach social media, but I had a couple of problems.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Sally Jean

First of all, I knew writers would eventually HAVE to have a brand and social media platform or be dead in the water. The problem was that these computer people didn’t know how to talk to creative people who had trouble opening their e-mail. At the time, many writers (and editors and agents) refused to even USE e-mail.

Thus the presentations actually scared people because they didn’t empower them.

Writers mentally checked out because the computer people made “branding” and “platform-building” too time-consuming and complicated. 

The marketing people did the same thing (and, in my mind, many of their tactics were from a 20th century playbook). Their approach didn’t fit into a world where everyone was instantly connected and the flow of information was dynamic and light-speed.

I.e. Having a Facebook Fan Page for EVERY BOOK. Really? O_o When the heck would we have time to WRITE?

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 10.33.50 AM

Additionally, one thing I noticed (being a salesperson for many years) is these experts failed to consider their audience. They were talking code, algorithms, apps and technology to a group of people who averaged (at the time) over 50. Writing, when I started, was something people often did when they retired or the kids were out of the house.

Their CUSTOMER was my mother who was afraid she’d delete the Internet, yet they failed to connect with “her” in a meaningful way.

As far as the marketing and PR people? There was far too much high-pressure sales involved in their methods. Yet, NO WRITER in the room was thinking, “Hey, I am just going to write about dragons until my dream job in high-pressure SALES comes along.”

I don’t want to be presumptuous, but I noticed many of these early experts had “affordable packages” available. In my mind, they were scaring the audience into feeling powerless in order to sell them something.

That ticked me off.

Ticked me off enough to write my first book, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I made it a point to think from the perspective of my customer. MY mission statement was to serve my customer, not the other way around.

I knew writers often were not able to write full-time. Many of us have spouses, kids, a day job, older family members we care for. We needed an approach that was simple and that didn’t have to be outsourced. Many new writers don’t have a lot of money. They couldn’t plunk down $10,000 for a PR guru.

Also, social media and the Internet shifts faster than any of us can keep up. Amazon is constantly changing and if our focus is on juking those changes, we will be like my cat who can never quite catch the red dot. That was WHY I wrote my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World. ONE book. One manual.

Thus, when we talk about breaking rules in business or in art, it MUST be to better serve our audience/customers. It must be SIMPLE and it MUST BE TIMELESS.

When we are being clever simply to be clever? Good luck.

The Reliant Robin: Image via "Top Gear"

The Reliant Robin: Image via “Top Gear”

I’ve read authors who were being artistic and decided they didn’t need quotation marks or tags. Yet, I ask: How does this help the reader consume the story with page-turning passion?

I could be super clever right now and write a novel in text speak, but who (now) wants the brain cramp of rdng 4 OMG hrs w/ppl txtng & LOL as u DYH or STHU?

Um, but it is my ART *sniffs and rearranges beret*

Why Should We Break Rules?

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Because it MIGHT just pay off! ~Johnny Cat

All rule-breaking (in my POV) must be to better serve the consumer not the creator. Though I am not particularly fond of Hemingway’s writing, he was a journalist. Fiction, at the time, was BLOATED.

Yet, people in Hemingway’s time finally had photographs, film and newspapers. They KNEW what a whale looked like, so why insult them with a 100 pages describing one?

I imagine this overwriting drove a journalist nutso, and it took a journalist to whittle fiction down to the bones and bare form story.

See, when Melville write Moby Dick he was serving the audience/consumer of his time. He didn’t make the assumption his potential readers were all world-travelers and had seen what he’d seen. Thus, all those details were important for HIS readers.

But, as technology and the world changed, that massive amount of description and exposition were no longer necessary and actually got in the way of the story. It insulted the reader’s intelligence. I feel this was probably a driving force behind Hemingway field-stripping prose.

Did everyone LOVE Hemingway? No. There are people like me who like more description. BUT, there was obviously an audience who appreciated that an author finally wasn’t wasting their time using every fancy adjective, adverb and metaphor they could stuff into a paragraph.

Breaking Rules Begins with a NEED and a Vacuum

When I started writing about social media it was because no one was saying the things I needed to hear. I needed something simple, timeless and effective. WANA methods worked in 2008 and they still work today because they are simple and functional.

Instead of trying to alter the authors’ personality and make them rely on all their weaknesses, I created a method that harnessed the writers’ personality and allowed them to play to their strengths.

This is why artists can be particularly good at business once the fear-factor is peeled away. We have great powers of empathy. Remember, in the last post, I said our goal is to write the book people don’t yet know they want.

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi wrote a FABULOUS series of craft books because there were none like the ones they as authors needed. They, themselves wanted simple and effective tools deepen characters, yet none were available…so these gals stepped in and WROTE them. I HIGHLY recommend just getting them all. The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive trait Thesaurus and The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

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If you are SERIOUS about writing a great book this year, just go use that gift card you got for Christmas and get these books, today.

Moving on…

Giving Consumers What They Don’t Know They Want

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Henry Ford once said if he’d have asked customers what they wanted, they’d have requested a faster horse.

When social media became a game-changer, my potential customers wanted the Internet to implode. They wanted things to remain the same, even though the paradigm of the time was highly unfavorable to writers. As of 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Yet writers (like all humans) feared change.

Here’s the thing, anyone literate can write. This means anyone literate could write a book, right? But what is different about us as artists? The world relies on our eyes. We see what others can’t.

I saw THIS in the future...

I saw THIS in the future…

saw that brick-and-mortar was crumbling and that social media would eventually empower authors. Though many writers kicked and screamed and begged for the Web to eat itself in a digital black hole, I knew in my heart that was BAD (and wouldn’t happen anyway). Time would prove what I believed. I merely had to stick to my guns no matter how many hateful comments I got on my blogs.

In my heart, I knew I was serving my audience.

Business & Art

Hemingway reinvented writing because he didn’t like all the fluff. He wrote the book he wanted to read and took a risk others would read his books and like them, too. Instead of doing what everyone else was doing, he did something different.

When we break rules, instead of “being different” we should “differentiate.” We need to follow our passion and look for the vacuum yet to be filled.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

BLUE STEAK. But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

I’ve done business consulting and one of the first things I advise is for the company to pull the annual reports of their top five competitors. Annual reports are dreadfully boring but highly valuable.

What are these companies bragging about to their share-holders? Well, their strengths, duh. Is that where a new business/entrepreneur will find their niche? NO. And, btw, it is the DUMBEST place to try and compete.

The trick is to look at the reports and see where their competitors are struggling. What they are promising to improve (or even fail to mention but should be there)? Find that gap and there is your business plan (book idea).

Breaking Rules in Creating

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*giggles*

If we are simply writing retreads of everything already available, we aren’t differentiating.

Oh, but my vampires glitter, they don’t SPARKLE. 

Nooooo, that is being different, not differentiation.

Anne Rice is almost solely responsible for CREATING the vampire craze because she dared to write a book from the vampire’s perspective and stuck to her guns even when criticized.

Charlaine Harris asked a “What if?” with her Southern Vampire Mysteries.

What if vampires have always been around but hidden because they had to feed on human blood? What if that blood could be synthesized and vampires could “come out of the coffin”? What would the world be like with predator and prey trying to coexist? Could they?

POOF! Formula for best-selling books and the highly popular HBO series True Blood.

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T. Jefferson Parker broke the rules in his thrillers when he mixed first person and third person and he chose to write the ANTAGONIST’S perspective in first-person.

But, he didn’t do this to be clever.

When T. Jefferson Parker writes from the perspective of a car thief or a gun-runner in first-person, we (the reader) are more intimate with them. We understand their whys and become emotionally vested. This increases tension because we find ourselves often rooting for the bad guy even when we know we probably shouldn’t.

This literary device is unique. It stretches our empathy and our minds.

***Note, this is why understanding rules helps us effectively break rules.

J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter from inspiration, but she stuck to it despite rejection because, in spite of what she was being told, she believed a YA male protagonist would be popular. So did Jonathan Maberry in his Rot & Ruin series.

These authors not only soul-searched for the book they wanted to read but wasn’t there, but they looked to what books weren’t being written.

We can criticize 50 Shades of Grey all we want, but E.L. James wrote the books she wanted to read and the ones no one else was offering.

All these authors created the books readers didn’t yet know they wanted to read. They all broke rules, whether it was asking a new question, playing with POV, offering up a teenage boy protagonist when most readers are female, or even whips, chains and handcuffs.

This is to say, READ. Books are not so cost-prohibitive that we are really “competition” for each other. It’s why teamwork works so well in our world. People generally will buy/read more than one book.

When we read the genres we love (that we are writing in), look at the strengths, but take time to ponder what you might be able to do differently. What could you possibly combine that normally doesn’t go together? What audience has no voice?

Get in the head of your audience and look for what you have in common. What is the need your book can fill?  Write what scares you, because it probably scares your readers too.

Maybe it is a sexy 53 year-old spy, a vestige of the Cold War relegated to being invisible because of age….but she is fit and sexy and KICKS @$$.

From the movie "Red"

From the movie “Red”

Maybe the protagonist struggles with her weight or an eating disorder. Perhaps your male protagonist struggles with how to be strong in a world where strong males get a lot of pushback. Or maybe he has a learning disability but that turns out to be why he is the perfect hero.

Perhaps it is an underrepresented ethnic group or writing from the perspective of those most overlooked. Sure, we have dozens of Navy SEAL books because SEALS are “hot”, but what about the brand new Airman in Supply who uncovers a vast conspiracy but no one will listen?

Your audience wants to see a part of themselves in your work. How can you do this better?

Just getting the brain-gears moving :D .

We will continue to explore ways that art and business merge, how to be creative and how to better serve our customer (reader). Some ways to create an edge in this highly competitive world. Just remember that success is about simplicity and service. Stick to those? And that’s a great foundation.

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Winner for DECEMBER is Chris Phillips. Please send your 20 pages (5000 words) in a WORD DOCUMENT to kris teen at wan a intl dot com. Or you can send a query letter or five page synopsis (1250 words) in a WORD document. Congratulations!

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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46 Comments

Here’s to Breaking Writing Rules—Rebels With a Cause or Rebels Without a Clue?

Orignal image via Wikimedia Commons

Orignal image via Wikimedia Commons

For the past several years, I’ve always begun the New Year with predictions of what the publishing industry would or wouldn’t do in the year to come. But this year? I’m being a rule-breaker and taking a different perspective—one I believe has greater impact and longevity. Algorithms rise and fizzle, publishers go out of business, change paths, or change rules. Heck, Amazon changes its mind more than my mother trying to pick a restaurant. So…eh. Not going there this year.

Unlike the days of early artists, we live in a light-speed society where something can fall flat or catch fire in an instant. This is an exciting time to be a writer.

We are in a New Age of the Artisan. When I give advice to young people about a future career, I simply want them to ask these simple questions. Can what I do be outsourced to a low-wage worker in another country? Can it be broken down into a procedure/manual and reproduced? Can it be done by a computer? Can I do/produce something consumers WANT that ONLY I can do, and do it really well?

I believe the future belongs to the artists and the rebels.

So….

Breaking rules. We all want to do it and, to be blunt, we should. I’ve dedicated most of the craft posts on this blog to teaching fundamentals, why they are important. If we don’t understand the rules, then we aren’t taking our profession seriously.

We can be Rebels with a Cause or Rebels Without a Clue ;) .

First, to be a really GOOD rebel, it helps to study successful rebellions of the past. This is all highly redacted because this is a BLOG, but I hope it will educate and inspire you…

The Old Way

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

In the era before the Impressionist artists we now adore so much, artists could only live (survive) by being commissioned by wealthy patrons. Unlike today, paintings and images were extraordinarily rare. A human could live out an entire lifetime without ever seeing a painting.

Most regular people only saw paintings/images in churches or cathedrals. Visual art was planted almost exclusively within the realms of royalty and the very wealthy.

Thus, if an artist wanted to be PAID, he would paint what consumers wanted. Portraits were super popular (since Selflies hadn’t yet been invented). Artists would paint grand horses, breathtaking and realistic landscapes, religious pieces, etc. Why? Because YES it was art, but it was art that made money.

The Impressionists who are now so famous were actually very revolutionary, and at times? Extremely unpopular, ridiculed, and destitute. Though classically trained under the masters of the time, they wanted something fresh…different.

Thus, artists like Monet, Renoir, etc.  began playing with color and light. Instead of something so realistic it might be a vision witnessed in person, they sought the haze of unreality, perhaps the look of lilies floating on water in a dream instead of life.

Another CRAZY notion these rabble-rousers had was to paint things that were very ordinary—women washing clothes in a river, landscapes of the docks with ships unloading wares, a peasant girl guiding geese along a path.

THE HORROR! Who would want to look at these fuzzy images of peasants and docks and REGULAR PEOPLE?

Manet 1874 via Wikimedia Commons

Manet 1874 via Wikimedia Commons

Well, apparently a lot of people, just not immediately.

Artists back then aren’t so different than today. If we want a “surer” bet for making money? We write what people want. The trick, though (especially for The Digital Age Author) is to write what people don’t yet KNOW they want.

We’ll talk more about that later.

Learning “Rules”

Picasso painted in the accepted classical style before he reinvented art as people knew it (and if one studies his work, it is clear he built in Impressionism and Post-Impressionism).

Hemingway learned how to write the “accepted” way (journalism) before he harnessed his training as a reporter and used it to strip fiction down to the bare form he’s now renowned for.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Elvis sang in church before becoming the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Even Ludvig Von Beethoven broke rules. He continued to maintain the basic Classical traditions of form yet he infused much more melody, rhythm and harmony, thus stretching the musical “vocabulary” of competing composers of the time.

The point I’m making here is READ. Read craft books. Understand the basics and fundamentals so much they are a part of you, then? Have some fun. Break some rules.

We Take Rule-Breaking for Granted

Writing Forms and POV

The novels we now enjoy DID NOT exist until roughly the 18th century. Even then, we wouldn’t particularly recognize them or like them. But, then again, storytelling has been evolving for thousands of years.

Stories were originally communal story-telling, expressed around a campfire, committed to memory or a cave painting, and handed down orally.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Later, humanity experienced the rise of the epic poem (works like The Odyssey or even Beowulf). Fast-forward and lots of religious writing, including works like Paradise Lost or Dante’s Inferno. 

Then we see an explosion of poetry, plays and the invention of sonnets (an Italian guy named Pertrarch) then later that version of the sonnet reinvented into the Shakespearian Sonnet, which includes three quatrains (set of four lines, every second line rhymes) and a closing couplet (set of two rhyming lines).

Shakespeare, that rebel.

But each generation learned what was HOT during their time, then built their own visions atop the old. Pamphlets, shorts, and serials were actually the precursors to the novel (think Sherlock Holmes).

If one reads early novels, psychic distance was VERY…distant. Almost everything was written in omniscient POV. In my opinion, this was reflective of the age. People didn’t travel. They waited months for letters. News of a war came often after the war was over and the dead buried. It took months or years to travel to distant places, and the world was very disconnected.

This is why many early novels are guided by a God-like narrator.

Come with me, Dear Reader….

Come with me, Dear Reader….

Also, since many writers were paid by the word, novels were padded more than a freshman term paper (War and Peace). There was LENGTHY and tedious description because it was necessary. People didn’t have the kind of access to information we now take for granted.

People who had enough education to read and enough money for books also had A LOT more free time.

LONGER=BETTER

Additionally, the Image Revolution (brought about by the invention of film and photography) had yet to happen. Unless one spent a hundred pages describing a whale, no one (aside from those living on the coast) would know what the heck the writer was talking about.

This is also why we see authors like Mark Twain writing some characters’ dialogue in pure vernacular. Someone in England would have no clue what someone from Mississippi sounded like.

During the Industrial Revolution, we had an explosion of technology. Photographs, newspapers, telegraphs, trains, steamships, etc. connected humans more than ever, thus writers once again broke and rewrote rules. They began closing the psychic distance and leaving out now-common details.

In the 1800s third-person shifting hadn’t yet evolved. It wasn’t until radio, film, and later television accustomed audiences to shifting scenes that we see can the distinctive rise of third-person. First-person also became far more popular.

Because humans were more connected and closer, they wanted to be CLOSER to characters as well.

Writers like Hemingway stripped away the excess down to only necessary words. He broke rules of overwriting, believing that all the “superfluous” details took away from the essential human story.

As we progress into the 20th century, we see the rise of close-third. Today, close-third and first-person are very popular. Why? We are a Reality TV Generation. We’re spoiled with intimacy. Omniscient would feel alien and cold to many of us.

Breaking Rules of Genre

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All early sci-fi, gothic, fantasy writers broke the rules of what people wanted to read. Like painters who no longer wanted to create works of reality, these authors dove into unreality. Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, Tolkien? All rule-breakers.

Genre, to be blunt, was invented by those who sold books. When physical books started appearing in bookSTORES, book SELLERS needed a way to know where the heck to shelve a story to help potential customers locate what they might want to read.

Genre was also highly political.

Horror was a VERY popular genre until the slasher films and gore-porn of the late 1970s and then the 1980s tainted the entire genre. Then we began to see horror “disappear” and labeled under other “genres.” “Supernatural” for instance.

****But, as an aside, gore-porn like Texas Chainsaw Massacre also broke rules. We were a nation reeling from Vietnam. The rules of horror before had been, “Wait until daylight and you’re safe.” TCM threw that away. We were NEVER safe EVER.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Speaking of breaking rules, I bet this is the first blog you’ve read that talks about Beethoven, Renoir, Hemingway AND Texas Chainsaw Massacre. :D

Moving on…

What to Do With The Digital Age

In The Digital Age, humans consume more information in a week than our early ancestors did in a lifetime. We are connected globally 24-7. We’re exposed to all kinds of ideas, information, myths, cultures, subcultures, etc.

Image via Pink's Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Image via Pink’s Galaxy Flickr Creative Commons

Strict genre is blurring as brick-and-mortar stores give way to digital bookshelves. Writers also have access to new audiences and emerging markets.

When we study the works of artists of before and even today, we can see areas where we might try something new. Since we are no longer chained to making it through Gatekeepers of NYC? We have a lot more freedom to be artists.

Now, I will say that breaking rules, while fun, has a price. People might not “get” it for a while. We need tough skin. We also need to make sure we are being artists and not amateurs. All art still has structural rules that need to be followed to maintain integrity. Rules are meant to be a foundation, not a straight-jacket.

For instance, architecture is art, but it must merge with rules of engineering or all we’re left with are pretty but deadly bridges, injuries, lawsuits, mold problems, and leaky, unsafe roofs.

The roof of Daniel Libeskind’s Westside Shopping Center in Bern, Switzerland has collapsed twice since its completion in 2008, the second failure injuring three people and narrowly missing a small child (refer to hyperlink)...

The roof of Daniel Libeskind’s Westside Shopping Center in Bern, Switzerland has collapsed twice since its completion in 2008, the second failure injuring three people and narrowly missing a small child (refer to above hyperlink)…

Aesthetics are fabulous, but architects are commissioned to build a bridge that cars can safely traverse…not a billion-dollar sculpture. As writers, we produce books, so we must still have a story or we don’t have a book.

Next time, we’ll explore some more contemporary rebels and maybe even brainstorm some ideas about how we can reshape our art and bring fresh new ideas to our readers. We’ll even talk about the writing business, because business must also be creative and evolve or it will die.

Remember, if artists HADN’T broken rules, we’d all still be memorizing stories and painting on cave walls ;) .

What are your thoughts? What “artistic” rebels do you admire and why? Do you like it when a writer defies conventions and surprises you? What are some artistic ideas that have fallen flat and why? Did they confuse you? Bore you? Deviate too far? The ones you liked, what was different that intrigued you?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of JANUARY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

I will announce December’s winner later (probably next blog) when I have had some SLEEP.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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102 Comments

Make Readers Suffer—Great Fiction Goes for the GUTS

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Image courtesy of Reuters.

I hope everyone had a FABULOUS Christmas and is enjoying this wonderful time of the year. Holidays bring family and friends together and usually? This equals CONFLICT. Use it. Eavesdrop. Great writers make a MESS because that is what is the heart of the best stories. The uglier the better. You will one day be grateful for that seriously jacked up childhood.

Sally forth!

I think it’s fair to say that writing a novel is no easy task. There is a lot to balance at the same time—narrative, setting, dialogue, POV, plot points, turning points, scenes, sequels, character arc, etc. It can be very challenging for even the best of us. Yet, I believe the hardest part of writing fiction is that, for most of us who aren’t crazy, conflict is something we avoid at all costs during our daily lives.

In fiction? We must go for the guts.

Today, I’d like to offer you a simple way to make your stories and characters three-dimensional and grab hold of great fiction’s throbbing heart. I learned this from the fabulous Les Edgerton who cornered me with this same question:

What is your character’s true story problem?

I gave Les a rundown of my carefully researched mystery thriller and he pressed again.

That’s surface, Kristen. What is the real story problem?

Fortunately, I was able to answer the question. Aside from the embezzlement, fraud, gun-running and drug-dealing, my character’s problem is she longs to be accepted, yet doesn’t fit in anywhere.

She began as small town trailer trash and ran away from home to go to college and pursue a better life. She naively assumed a fancy college degree would be her keys to acceptance, her ticket to become part of the high-class society she’d always envied. Yet, once she “made it” she found herself worse off than before. No matter how hard she worked, she was still, in the eyes of high society, gold-digging trailer trash who didn’t know her place.

In one world (home) she’s regarded as an uppity b!#$@ too good to be blue-collar working class. Yet, once part of “society” her problem was just as bad. The rich assume she must have slept her way into her high-paying job and that her sole goal is to marry money. She soon finds she’s regarded with equal disdain.

The story problem (the mystery) is only there to answer my protagonist’s deep, driving personal questions: Where do I fit in? Why do I need to fit in? Who am I?

The plot problem—a major embezzlement (Enron-style) leaves her penniless and blackballed and she has to go home to the trailer park she thought she’d left for good. This is where the story begins.

Now she is forced back into the lion’s den of her soul. Now she is torn between worlds. To solve the mystery and find the missing money (and a murderer killing to keep the secret) she must take on the wealthy and powerful. But in order to succeed, she must rely on a crazy-dysfunctional family who resents her and feels betrayed and judged.

Eventually, the plot will force her to face her greatest weakness—the need to be accepted—and she will have to make the tough choices.

If we look to all the great stories, the questions are bigger than the story. Minority Report has all kinds of cool technology, but the big question is, “Are we predestined, bound by FATE, or do humans possess free will?” In The Joy Luck Club the question is, “Can generational curses be broken?” In Winter’s Bone “Is blood really thicker than water?” In Mystic River “What is the nature of good and evil? Are people really who they appear to be?”

Thus, I challenge you to pan back from your story and ask What is the BIG question here? What is my character REALLY after? What will my story problem CHANGE about this character? What will it answer? 

As you guys know, I run a regular contest for free edit of sample pages. One of the biggest issues I see in new writing is it is very surface (Hey, I’ve been there, too. It’s all part of the learning curve ;)). Yet, to take that writing to the next level, we have to dig into the dark and dirty places. I actually have a sticky note on my computer that reads GO FOR THE GUTS. 

Every scene, every bit of dialogue must be uncomfortable. Fiction is the opposite of our human nature. Human nature is to avoid conflict at all costs. To write fiction? We must dive into the Miserable Messy head-first. Create problems at every turn (not mere “bad situations” but conflict).

Conflict turns pages. We have to be careful that our dialogue isn’t so busy being clever that it loses it’s teeth. Pretty description and scene-setting doesn’t turn pages and hook readers. CONFLICT does. Humans have a need to avoid conflict, but when we are faced with it? We want it resolved. THAT is why readers will turn pages. We make them shift in their seats and squirm and seek resolution.

What are your thoughts? What movies can you think of that have amazing BIG questions? Do you find that you have to revise places you are being “too nice?”

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

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56 Comments

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