Monday, May 28, 2012

"The Day I Was Almost Gay"

This was recorded live in February 2012 at Club Passim in Cambridge, MA.

Content warnings for prescription drug abuse and men kissing on the lips. Also, animals may have been harmed making this video.

For more naughty humor and humorous erotica, see:

"BDSM for Dummies"
"The Online Date that Went a Little too Right." 

Here's what the critics had to say about "BDSM for Dummies":
"Is this some kind of cry for help?"

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Query Letter Confusion: When One Agent Says A and Another Says B

Recently, I went to a writer's conference and paid an extra $140 to see an agent. Her advice contradicted other advice from a previous agent whose advice contradicted a previous agent, whose advice contradicted a previous agent, and so on.

The whole experience left me feeling a little like this (best with sound OFF)

My history of contradictions

2008: I write first draft of a travel memoir
- Agent A:
- "No market for travel memoir, add more personal stuff make it memoir."
- "Also, remove analogy in query letter saying book 'combines person journey of Eat, Pray, Love (EPL) with sexual frustration of Portnoy's Complaint.' Publishers are tired of hearing about EPL, and Portnoy is too old."

(for sample of query letter, see Query Letter Circa 2008)

2009: I rewrite as a memoir
- Agent B:
- "No market for memoirs unless you're a Kennedy.
- Also, I like your query letter." (Still had EPL and Portnoy in query letter.)

2010: I rewrite as a novel (add fictitious characters, places, change plot.)
- Agent C (after reading first 20 pages and query letter)
- "How much of this story is true?
- Me: "Maybe 10 - 25 percent. I have visited all the countries in the book."
- Agent: "Have you ever thought of making this a travel memoir? Also, kill reference to Portnoy; all people think about is the masturbation scene."

2012: Rewriting novel again, now none of it is true, but I'm having a blast writing it. I remove reference to EPL and Portnoy in query letter.
- Agent D:
- "Not really sure of genre or positioning of this book."
- Me: "Well, it's kind of like the personal journey of Eat, Pray, Love with the sexual frustration of Portnoy's Complaint."
- Agent 4: "I like that, put that up high in query letter."

(for a sample of query letter, see Query Letter Circa 2012)

Upshot: All agents' comments conflicted and made sense. In the end, I'm going to pick and choose and cross my fingers that someone likes it. For example, instead of Portnoy and EPL, I'm going to follow one suggestion and mention current authors with books with similar themes: "The Ask," by Sam Lipsyte and most stuff by Jonathan Tropper.

For Publishing Tips and Tribulations, see:

- Easy, Sleazy Book Marketing Tips
Change you traffic measuring tool, join a Facebook Like-fest, and if anyone asks: "But officer, everyone else is doing it."

-  Book Marketing for Nitwits: Keyword Phrases
What's my brand? Who's my audience? Who cares? I don't have all day for this; just help me boost my traffic enough to impress an agent.

Versions of Query Letters

<Note: these query letter versions are background for a post called "Query LetterConfusion.">

1) Query Letter Circa 2008: Travel Memoir

Dear Agent A:

I think your author J. Maarten Troost is the funniest non-travel writer/travel writer. In Lost on Planet China, I really liked the addition of the chain-smoking sidekick, Jack.

My non-travel/travel book, Rats in the Lobby, Snakes in the Wine, chronicles how a never-married hypochondriac takes the trip of a lifetime and spends most of it alone reflecting on why he's still single at age 48. This 65,000-word memoir combines the personal journey of Eat, Pray, Love with the sexual frustration of Portnoy's Complaint.

2) Query Letter Circa 2012: Novel 

(Note new the new title. When I read this at a class run by two agents in New York in 2010, it drew laughs. Both agents requested to see the finished manuscript. An agent at a conference in 2012, didn't think it was funny and suggested I put back the line about "personal journey of Eat, Pray, Love with the sexual frustration of Portnoy's Complaint.")

Dear Agent D,

The Loneliest Planet features Randall Burns, a never-married hypochondriac who takes a trip around the world looking to change his luck with love. Planet is a novel about relationships as seen by a man, a difficult man.

An old Life cereal commercial starred a fussy boy named Mikey who hated everything. Imagine Mikey at 48, recently laid off, and spending his days pounding away on as if it were a game of Whac-A-Mole. That's Randall Burns.

One day, Burns reads a chirpy travel book promising love and romance abroad. Soon after, he blows his severance on a $20,000 solo trip overseas. During the journey, he strikes out with women on three continents, experiences loneliness that would have broken Papillon, and ruminates about old girlfriends. Jay with the cute shiksa nose dumped him because of a pair of socks. Ricki? A pair of shoes. Why hadn't he married Jackie with the nice trust fund? Why did all his exes have masculine names?

On continent four, he meets a Western sex tourist and his girlfriend du jour who offer a tour of Phnom Penh brothels. Burns is lonely and desperate. But he is also a germaphobe, and the one thing he fears more than dengue fever and squat toilets is V.D. In the end, he learns to enjoy undercooked beef, to embrace solitude, and to accept himself the way he is -- single.

Unlike Burns, I have kicked the habit and now focus my online energies building a platform by blogging, publishing a travel site, and using social media. I have taught travel seminars and read excerpts of Planet more than forty times at venues in New York and Boston. In 2011, an excerpt was a finalist in the Drum/Side B Dual Publication Award and was the winner in a Boston story slam. Previously, I was an executive editor at PC World magazine for seven years.

The Loneliest Planet is about 75,000 words long and ready for review.

<Back to main story on agent contradictions.>

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Book Marketing for Nitwits: More Twitter

Last week's encounter with Twitter left me feeling a little raw.

But Internet book marketing experts say Twitter is the way to go. So, I'm back at it. (My Twitter page)

Quick review of last week's Book Marketing for Nitwits article about Twitter:

Step 1:  Determine how much time to spend on Twitter.
I set a goal of 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening. Ha! Spent twice that the first day, but my goal is to whittle it down with tool suggested in Step 2.

Step 2: Downloaded a bunch of tools.
Only one I'm using is Hootsuite, which makes tweeting, responding to other people's tweets, and scheduling tweets for the week relatively painless. It also let's me follow certain discussion groups, such as #pubtips and #amwriting.

Now, on to this week

Step 3: Find Good People to Follow

When considering who to follow on Twitter I had two goals:
- Stalk agents and publishers in hopes of getting them to notice me and buy my book manuscript, if I ever finish it.
- Attract followers who might visit my blog or one day buy my book.

a) Stalking
First, I searched Twitter for "literary agents" and got a bunch tweets from desperate people like me asking where they could find a literary agent. Then I looked up an agent I had met at a conference and looked at who she was following and who they were following. I followed and followed. I lost track of where I began or why I was doing this. After two hours, I stopped and asked myself: Why am I bothering with all these agents who will probably never follow or notice me? And does it matter? We'll all be packing boxes for Amazon in six months. 

Can't give up. 
Experts say Twitter is the answer.

The next day, I returned to following and stalking with a better attitude. I checked out more agents profiles and looked to see what hashtags they used to post their tweets. (That's how I found #pubtips. Here's a good list of existing hashtags and info about how they work.)

I also used Twitter's List feature to create my own private list of agents who were active tweeters. It turns out some of these agents mainly tweeted about their love of artichokes or their clients' books. I will soon dump them.

Two agents that seemed worth following:

Then I created a separate list of publishing experts and added an industry pundit that many agents followed:

I also added a few book editors who were cited in agent tweets.

Finally, I tried to track down authors in my genre (comic novels about whiny white guys) and their agents. One author, Sam Lipsyte, didn't have a profile (at least not one I could find.). Another author, Jonathan Tropper, had a profile. I followed him, but couldn't find his agent.

The nice thing about the List Feature: When I'm in a rush, I can check only tweets from people on my lists instead of scrolling through tweets by everyone I'm folllowing.

b) Attracting Followers

- The more I've been tweeting, the more followers I've gotten. (No surprise.) Some have even read my Twitter profile and clicked over to read my blog. (Nice surprise.)

- Would they ever buy anything from me or click my "donate" button on the right side of this page? Unclear.
(You did notice my new "donate" button, didn't you?)

- I've stopped automatically following anyone who follows me and I've abandoned some of the sleazy book marketing tactics I adopted earlier.

<Next page of Book Marketing for Nitwits: More Twitter>

Book Marketing for Nitwits: More Twitter-2

Step 4:  Start Tweeting

I'd always been a plain vanilla tweeter. I sent messages with links to my blog posts. I occasionally commented on other people's posts. I'd even added a few hashtags, which I hoped would make my tweets easy to search, kind of like keywords. But an online marketing book I've been reading listed more advanced tweeting advice and acronyms, including: "MT," "via," and "h/t" for letting followers know that you're cribbing someone else's tweet.

While I was contemplating these new acronyms and advanced tweeting techniques, I received a Twitter alert that a published novelist whom I'd never heard of wanted to follow me.

Twitter pay dirt!

The novelist had over 100,000 followers. I sent him a note asking how he got so many followers and did they buy any books. "Don't know, don't know," he said. Obviously, he was holding out on me.

The secret must be in his tweets, after all, he was a published novelist and I was an unemployed writer. But his tweets looked like those of everyone else, like the lyrics from a tired Beatles's song:

8:00 a.m. "got up, crawled out of bed"
8:12 a.m. "ran a comb across the two hairs on my head."
8:31 a.m. "and looking up, I recalled I had no job.
8:47 a.m. "stumbled downstairs and had a beer."
9:30 a.m. "back in bed in seconds flat."
10:00 a.m. "mother knocked on my door, and I went into a dream."

After reading the published author's recent tweets, I returned to a contemplative state:

Do people really read this crap?

Do I really want to write this crap?

But at a recent writing conference, the experts insisted that Twitter was the best tool for finding new readers, so I'm going to give it another week. (I'll do anything to avoid working on my novel.)

<more book marketing tips and tribulations>

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Update on Easy, Sleazy Book Marketing

It's now been about a month since I joined groups on various Web and social media sites that promised to boost my online audience. My numbers have jumped as noted previously.

But since installing a tool called Hootsuite, which allows me to easily monitor my followers' tweets, I'm noticing a disturbing trend: A lot of my new followers are spammers, perverts, and other types of online cretins. I'm now going back and unfollowing many of them.

My strategy now is to follow only people who:
- offer useful tweets: interesting links and interesting short messages that don't require clicking.

- are agents, publishers, or writers that I'm interested in.
- are experts in fields related to my book: travel and humor. (I have yet to find a dating/relationship expert I want to follow.)
- are not promoting something, such as their book or latest scam in every tweet.

Yeah, I'm a knucklehead for trying to cut corners to build an audience.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book Marketing for Nitwits: Twitter

Diary of a Book Marketing Novice: Twitter

I've had a Twitter account for two years and it's generally been a waste of time. Realizing that problem had to be me and not Twitter, I borrowed not one, but three, social media marketing books from the library.

The bad news: SEO and keywords were a blast compared to Twitter.

The good news: Anything is better than working on my novel.

The better news: There are still other lucrative careers that don't require book marketing skills or finished novels. For example, this company now has an opening for a field biologist.

According to the three social media marketing books, I needed to think about my online marketing as a hub with spokes. The spokes are Twitter, Facebook, SEO and other tools that drive traffic to my hub, which is this blog. Unfortunately, the 12,000 page views I drove to this blog last year generated $8 in revenue. But that's all going to change. So, I opened the books and began.

Step 1: How Much Time Should I Waste on Twitter?

The books recommend tweeting two to five times a day. That seemed do-able if you don't have a job, which I don't. For a reality check, I looked at how often some people with jobs tweet.

- Chelsea Handler has 4 million followers and tweets about two to four times most days.

- Steve Martin has 2.6 million followers and tweets about the same.

In the end I decided my role model should be Zach Galifianakis who has 1.8 million followers and tweets two to three times some months and other months not at all.

Step 2: Install Requisite Tools

The books recommended dozens of tools to make up for shortcomings in Twitter. I started with tools that make it easier to track of followers and their conversations. These included Tweetdeck and Hootsuite. Tweetdeck needed to be downloaded onto my computer. Hootsuite runs off a Web site. I hate installing programs on my computer, so I went with Hootsuite, which then required me to install a bunch of its own tools.

Next, I installed other tools that were supposed to automatically send a thank-you message to anyone who followed me. One product called Autoresponder claimed to be free and then tried to charge me $2.50. (Image 1) I cancelled it, but not before it got into my Twitter account and sent a message from me to my followers that said how much I loved the product. (Image 2)

Image 1: Free product with fee I overlooked. Click to enlarge.

I used to create a new background for my Twitter page that listed my Web sites and a more extensive bio. It looked like crap. I removed it, but not before it sent a message to all my followers saying how much I loved the product.

Image 2: Two add-ins that inserted messages from me raving about their products.

I installed more and more of the recommended Twitter tools. I couldn't stop, didn't stop, until my virus checker flashed a message that it my computer was being assaulted. Minutes later a tool for tracking my Web traffic mysteriously stopped working.

Six hours had passed and I hadn't added a single follower or generated a single tweet. I stand corrected: Twitter is not better than working on my novel.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

How Writers Can Earn a Living

This group of previously unemployed writers found work!

The key is being flexible and adapting to the new publishing environment: remember we are not writers, we are entertainers.

Best of all, their new careers did not require book marketing, platform building, social media, or groveling before publishers.

(Content warning: men eating lightbulbs, being run over by cars, hit with sledge hammers.)

Here's the link

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Cable TV Interview: 5.1.12

I am the coordinator and opening act for a spoken-word event at Somerville Open Studios.

(direct link)