Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday: This Time... It’s Personal

I hope everyone reading this enjoyed your Thanksgiving meal yesterday, traditional or non-.  I’m still feeling a bit bloated. And if you didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, well, I hope it was still a great day for you.  Maybe you at least had a day off.

But now, as I have on past Black Fridays, I’d like to take a moment or three to discuss some personal history and make an offer to a few of you who might need it.

When I chose to become a full time writer almost a decade ago, I knew it meant some changes for me.  I’d been working in the film industry for most of my adult life, and even as a non-union worker I was getting solid, decent wages, which let me live comfortably.  Not fantastic, but I was on the lower side of middle class.  The decision to write full time would mean a notable pay cut, and I accepted that I would be living tight for a while.  

It only took a year and a half for the usual unavoidable expenses to pile up.  Car repairs, a very sick cat, prices went up on a lot of things, and on top of all that I got a 20%  pay cut at the magazine I was writing for at the time. In the space of about a year I went from “living tight” to “way under the poverty line.”  And it doesn’t take a lot of math to see the poverty line in this country is much, much lower than it should be.  My bank accounts were constantly empty (sometimes overdrawn when things didn’t process in the right order—which meant fees), my credit cards were maxed out (which was a trigger to the credit card company to raise all my interest rates), and I spent too much time figuring out how each 20%-lower freelancer check could be spread across three or four bills.

My girlfriend and I went through three solid years like that, always stressed, always sick with despair, always waiting for the unavoidable, inevitable expense that’d mean the end.  We just had nothing left.  We didn’t even turn the heat on for the last two winters.  There are folks who like to howl about “handouts,” “entitlements,” or “nanny states,” but at the end of the day most poor people are in a very bad place, looking for help, and they’re just trying desperately to survive with a small degree of dignity.

Big shock, the holiday season is miserable for poor people.  It’s just more anxiety.   I hated the holidays.  We could’t afford to give out candy so no Halloween.  Thanksgiving was a few cans from the 99 Cent Store.  And Christmas was just awful.  We usually couldn’t even afford cards, let alone presents.  Nothing for my girlfriend or my mom and dad, nothing for my brother, sister in law, niece or nephew.  Nothing for my friends.  Being poor at the holidays is like when you forget to get anything for that one person at the office party and you kind of squirm for an hour or so.  Except you feel like that for every hour of every day for the whole season.

Now, these days I’m in a better position, and I owe a huge part of that to all of you.  And if I can help some of you avoid feeling that low and miserable this holiday season... well, I’d like to do it.

If you’re in that same kind of bad financial place right now, where you can’t afford to give gifts to your family or friends, shoot me a note at  I’ve got a dozen or so random books saved away that I’ll autograph to whoever you want and mail out to you.  I’ll even throw in wrapping paper if you need it.  It’s not much, but it’ll be a present you can give someone so you don’t need to feel low.  You can request a specific book, but I can’t promise anything.  I’ll send them out for as long as the books last.

Again, this is only for those of you who need some help and can’t afford to buy gifts for others. The people who are pulling unemployment, cutting back on everything, and feeling like crap because they can’t afford gifts for family or friends.  It’s not so you can recommend someone who’d like a free book.

I’m also doing this on the honor system, so if you’re only trying to save yourself some shopping money or score an autographed book, I won’t be able to stop you.  Just know that you’re a horrible person and you’re taking a potential bright moment away from someone who could use a boost this holiday season.  And you’ll probably burn in the pits of hell before Krampus feeds you to a squale.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Random Halloween LEGO projects...

In every generation there is a Chosen One.
She alone will stand against the vampires,
the demons, and the forces of darkness...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

How to Succeed at Facebook Without Really Trying

          So, now a more positive spin on social networking.  All of this is me going off observations of my own page and also the old Creative Screenwriting page that I ran for a little over a year.  It’s what I’ve been doing for a while now and it seems to work well for me so far.

1) Be casual. 
            The more forced and regimented a page seems, the less people will enjoy it.  Facebook is all about casual connections and interactions, and people aren’t going to be impressed by the hard sell.  Try to sound more honest and sincere and less “fact-checked and approved by the legal team.”  I’m not saying ignore the legal team or common sense, just try to sound like you could.  No one likes the hard sell on Facebook.
            I’d guess at least half the posts on my fan page have nothing to do with my books or me as an author.  Maybe as little as a third. They’re just about other stuff I honestly find interesting and like talking about.  Other books, movies, television, LEGOS, etc.  A tiny bit of politics, but not much and nothing too divisive...

2) Post something every day
            May seem kind of obvious, but...  Considering that Facebook’s algorithms already affect the number of people who see each post, only posting two or three times a week doesn’t improve my odds.  Sunday’s pretty much the only day I take off (not for religious reasons—I’m just a lazy person at heart who likes having time off). 
            I also try to be careful when I post during the day.  Most people are using their computers right before or right after work (sit down, turn on computer, check Facebook before diving in—wrap stuff up at the office a little early, kill time on Facebook before leaving), so I try to time posts accordingly so they’ll be near the top of people’s home/ newsfeeds.  I tend to aim for EST or PST.
            Don’t have anything to post?  Well, there’s a chance to talk about other stuff, like I mentioned above.

3) Don’t make more than two or three posts a day. 
            I keep it at two and do three sparingly (maybe once a week).  Going for more than this on Facebook becomes spammy in people’s newsfeeds and they’ll block or ignore you.  Neither does any good.  No one likes the hard sell.  It’s not what Facebook’s about.
            This goes for Notes and Links, too.  Just don’t put up more than three things per day.  More posts also means it’s less likely people will like or comment on said post, so more posts actually means less chance of getting the posts seen (see below).

4) Likes, comments, and shares.   Posts, links, pictures.
            This is the big one.  The more likes/comments/shares on something, the more it shows up in people’s newsfeeds.  The more newsfeeds it shows up in, the more people find their way to the site, which makes it show up in more newsfeeds (and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and...).  This is one of Facebook’s little hidden algorithms (quality of posts over quantity of posts). 
            In this algorithm, it goes Likes < Comments < Shares.  So anything you post, make a point of liking it yourself.  If you’ve got extra information, add it as a comment rather than an extra-long post.  If you have two pages to post it on—or a page and a business profile (for example “Bob Smith” and “Bob Smith’s Author Page”)—post it to the main one and share it to the other.
            The same holds for links<posts<pictures.  For example, if I just want to say something today, post a semi-relevant picture and make your post the caption.  A picture with lots of shares is the most visible thing on Facebook.
            Worth noting that Facebook’s recently (as I write this) tweaked things to really push down the visibility of Amazon links and other “buy this” posts.  Really of links in general. So keep that in mind.
            Anyway, this leads nicely into two connected tips...

5) Ask questions. 
            Asking prompts people to answer questions, which means I'm getting likes/ comments (see above).  If you check out my fan page, I “crowdsource” answers about geeky things a lot.  A while back I asked everyone on the page a Transformers toy question.  Dozens of people leaped forward to answer, and their answers spawned more comments and likes.  Every Saturday morning I ask a “What’s your favorite...” question about something that's crossed my mind and it always gets a hundred or so responses.  This is also a great way to post things on the occasional week when you’ve got no relevant material to post about.
            Again, though, don’t go crazy.  I’ve seen pages that phrase every single post as a question

6) Answer questions. 
            I cannot stress how important this is.  Because of Facebook’s casual nature (much like the whole internet), people expect answers.  Nothing aggravates them more than to feel like comments or questions are going down a black hole.  That lack of response is what builds anger and resentment, which lead to the dark side.
            Note that I don’t need to know the answer to do this.  Just acknowledge the question and tell whoever it is that I'll try to find an answer for them.  You’d be amazed how much goodwill can build just off that.  Look over my fan page and see how many people became happy just because I said “I’ll look into that for you” or something along those lines.  And, yes, you'll be biting your tongue on a few of them to keep giving the answers they deserve.
            And, again, answers and responses are all more comments, which push posts higher in the newsfeed.

7) Keep it clean. 
            This refers to language and contoversial topics, but also to the page itself.  Don’t let lots of other people clutter your page with their unwanted/inappropriate posts and spam.  Don’t be scared to delete stuff, but make sure it’s delete-worthy.  Leaving up negative comments makes you look big and able to handle criticism.  Addressing said comments (see above), makes you look even better.  And—again—makes you show up on more newsfeeds.

8) Do NOT Pay For Ads or Followers
            Facebook is more like a high school cafeteria. The unpopular girl can say something twenty times and no one hears her. The head cheerleader can say something once and everyone in the room knows what she said. It really is a popularity contest.
            Facebook ads are doing the cheerleader's math homework in exchange for sitting at the popular table. I'll be on top for half an hour and then everyone will forget me again.
            Worse yet—it’s been pretty much proven that, when I pay for likes/ads, almost all the responses I get are from clickfarms in developing countries (yes, even when I pay Facebook for it).  And these “fake” likes will actually mess up the algorithms on my page and cause me to become less visible. Seriously. It’s because they don’t interact with my posts (they’re just clickfarms) so they cause that branching effect (point #4, above) to collapse.  The more fake likes on the page, the less my stuff is actually seen.

            And that’s it.  I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an easy formula for boosting your page’s visibility, which then leads to more likes, which leads to more visibility.  My fan page averages about four or five new fans a day, my average post is seen by about half my fans (usually 2500+ people) and I haven’t paid Facebook a cent to boost posts or any of that.  It takes time, but it builds a much more solid following.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Social Networking Tip

            I’ve seen a lot of people talking about this sort of thing lately.  Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Tumblr, Instagram—all the various forms of social media.  Tons of writers want to know how to make it work for them.  What’s the real trick to turning tweets into sales?  How do I make my blog pay for itself?
            Well, it’s pretty easy.
            Allow me to explain...
            You’ve probably heard people talk about networking. Regular networking.  You know, the thing where I know George and he knows Phoebe and she knows that other George and suddenly wham I’m writing a Star Wars movie.  Because it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Right?
            Lots of gurus push networking.  It’s their go-to thing for success, because it's kind of a fail-safe thing to preach.  If you succeed, they were right.  If you fail, they were also right (you clearly didn’t network with the right people).
            And so a lot of beginning folks go out there and network.  And by “network,” I mean they stalk professional writers and agents and editors, both online and in the real world.  They bombard them with emails and messages and friend requests.  They follow them around at parties and conventions.
            The truth is, though, this isn’t how networking works.  It isn’t about people I’ve hunted down and cornered.  It’s about people who are friends and acquaintances—real friends and acquaintances.  You may have heard folks say that networking should be lateral, not upward, because friendship is lateral.
            As I’ve mentioned over on my ranty blog, this is why active networking doesn’t work.  If I become “friends” with someone just because I want something from them, they’re going to sense that.  It’s a forced relationship, and those are never good.
            Why do I bring up networking?
            Well, the same holds for social networking.  If I’m blogging or tweeting or running a fan page just to have a captive audience who’ll buy stuff from me... it’s not going to work. If I try to use social media as a billboard or a series of commercials... it won’t work.  I can't just stick up non-stop "buy my book, read my blog, look at this" because people don't respond to that.  People use social media to interact, and that's what all these systems are set up around. 
            Here’s a few other tips...
            First, if I have “a platform,” I’m kind of screwed.  No one wants to see my platform.  No one’s interested in it.  It’s a nonsense term made up by another idiot marketing guru, and it means I’m turning people into assets.  The simple fact that I think of it as “a platform” means I’m doing it wrong.  It makes it very clear how I view the people I interact with online.
            Second, social media has to be organic.  The whole system is based around this.  It can't be forced or rushed or bought.  I see so many folks get frustrated because they don't have a thousand rabid followers in their first three months.  I have a big Facebook following, but my fan page has been up for almost six years.  On the flipside I've barely been on Twitter for six months and right now one of my cats has twice as many followers as me.
            Third, remember how I just said it can’t be bought?  I was serious.  Paying for ads or exposure on social media is like doing the cheerleader or quarterback’s English homework so I can sit at the popular table during lunch.  I’m only there for a day or two, most people are going to tune me out, and then I’m back over in the corner with the drama club and that one kid who just runs in place during gym class, no matter what everyone else is doing.  Not only that, but there’ve been several studies by smart people that show paying for social media ads (especially on Facebook) accomplishes nothing and actually hurts me in the long run.
            This is only my opinion, but I think the best thing someone can do as an author on social media is to just be themselves.  Be honest.  Be fun.  Like stuff more than hating it.  Be positive more than negative.  If you look at my fan page or twitter feed, I'd guess 60-70% of the stuff I post has nothing to do with my books or me as an author.  It's mostly about me as a geek who likes a lot of fun stuff and likes sharing it with people. 
            If that isn't your thing... don't do social media.  Lots of successful authors don’t.  Because if I’m going to be on social media people expect me to be social, not to spend every minute hammering home a publicity/ marketing plan.  Really, that’s the kind of presence that hurts more than helps.  I've seen different authors try different methods (from starvation to... well, risqué), but this is more or less what it boils down to.  People are on social media to interact, not to receive advertising or canned updates.
            So, how do you turn tweets into sales?
            You don’t.
            It’s really that simple.