Monday, July 30, 2012

Linked In Tips for Authors

Linked In is another over-hyped social medium being recommended for writers. The service may be useful for helping you find a job or a freelance gig, but what if you want to find readers, an agent, or a publisher?

Finding Readers

1) Your Linked In profile includes options for linking to your blog and Web site. Adding these links improves SEO, as Google likes to see inbound links to your site, which can help increase your Web traffic. We all want to please Google, so this is a no-brainer.

Other ways to add links to your profile:
- If you also freelance, you may want to list your freelance business in Link In's company directory.
- Include links to published articles. If you've made PDFs of those articles and posted them on your site, all the better.
- Post useful links to your Web site in Linked In Groups (more on this below and next week)

(Click on image below to enlarge)

SEO Anyone? Create an entry in Linked In's company directory that includes a link to your Web site.

2) Linked In has thousands of groups that act as online trade associations. If you're a non-fiction author selling to a business or professional audience, this is another no-brainer. Posting useful links and tips for group members can drive traffic to your site and position you as an expert in your field. For example, if you wrote a book with tips for writers, you could post sample tips to various groups for writers

If your audience is not a business audience or you are a fiction writer, using Linked In groups is trickier. Joining groups for writers and making bald pitches for your book is boorish, rude, and amateurish. Did I mention that it's boorish, rude, and amateurish?

A better idea is to consider themes and subtopics for your book and find related Linked In groups. For example, my novel is about a never-married hypochondriac who takes a trip around the world looking to change his luck with love. In researching the book, I learned a lot about travel. So, I've joined some travel-related groups and post tips and humorous bits. Are these my readers? Probably not. But travel professionals and travel bloggers know lots of people who travel, who are all potential readers. Also, there is a remote chance that a travel agency or travel conference may want to have a writer speak to their customers at a conference or event. This is a long-shot and may not be worth your time. (I'm trying it, anyway.)

Finding an Agent or Publisher

Linked In can be useful for stalking agents, acquisition editors,  publishers. Can it help you land you a publishing deal? This is a really long-shot. (I'm trying it, anyway.)

Note: Unless an agent specifically says otherwise, making bald pitches to them through Linked In is probably a really bad idea. (See: "boorish, rude, and amateurish" in previous section.)

The Tips:

1) Clean up your profile -- it's your resume, you want to look cool, competent, like someone people want to know, at least online.

2) Join Linked In groups for writers and publishing types. If you are a member of a group, it is easier to add other members as connections. Don't send connection invites to too many people at a time, particularly people you don't know. Wait till you get some people who accept and then invite more.

3) Search through your Linked In network for agents or people who work for in publishing. What other agents are they connected to? What groups do they frequent? Note: If you already have a list of agents you plan on contacting, try to locate them in your network.

4) Once you're connected to agents and publishing types, or at least know which Groups they frequent, start posting useful, interesting links and articles about current events in the publishing industry.

5) Once you're connected to an agent or acquisitions editor on Linked In, now what?

- If you send them a query letter, you may want to mention that you're connected on Linked In.

- Some agents and publishers have been known to check the online presence of authors they're considering. So, if you're been posting interesting updates on your Linked In Home page and in groups for publishing types, someone important may recognize your name.

- Note: If an agent has hundreds of connections, their accepting your invite may mean nothing more than they are trying to boost their own online presence by having lots of connections.

Next week: Using Linked In Groups to Drive Traffic and Attract Attention

Tips for Linked In Newbies

More of My Book Promotions Tips:

- Facebook Fan Pages: Does it Matter When You Post?

- Is Online Book Marketing a Waste of Time? (Often, it is)

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Tips for Reading Your Writing in Public

Though my book isn't finished, I've read excerpts from it more than fifty times at venues in Boston, New York, and once while on a ski vacation in Revelstoke, Canada. I've also received instruction from a friend who is a professional performer.

At this story slam, I was terrified. I was there to video-tape a friend and wasn't expecting to perform. (Despite my jerky performance -- note the left hand flopping around-- I won.) Worth noting: I face different directions depending on which character is talking, and each character has a different accent and cadence. All things described below.

The Tips:

1) Choose Short, Complete Scenes that Stand Alone (This can work for fiction, non-fiction, and memoir)

A complete scene is like a miniature story: there's a beginning, middle, and an end. There's narrative tension, conflict, and some kind of resolution. If the scene has some dialog, all the better.

Ideally, you want to rewrite the scene for a reading so that any background is woven into the story. Nothing is more boring or tedious than listening to an author provide a laundry list of characters and background material before he starts to read.

2) Did I Mention: Keep Each Piece Short?

In my experience, seven minutes for a piece is probably the maximum. An ideal length is five minutes. An even better length is three minutes.

If you're doing multiple pieces, mix in pieces of different lengths.

Another reason for shorter pieces:
- At a poetry slam or a poetry open mic, you can read anything you want -- including pieces that are not poetry -- as long as the piece is under three minutes. If anyone asks, you're doing a "narrative poem." You don't need to win the slam, you just have to get up on stage and read your piece.
- At many story slams, your piece has to be less than five minutes in length. If you're over the time limit, you'll be penalized. Too far over and they may yank you off the stage.

3) Dialog

Attributions: Move them to the beginning of the sentence; this makes it clear for the listener who is speaking.

Better yet, use a different voice or accent or cadence for each character. For internal dialog or a character's thoughts, talk in a softer voice. Starting every sentence with "he said" or "she said" gets boring, fast.

Try a physical gesture to differentiate a character. If a character has a beard, scratch it when he's talking.

Also, the narrator should always face the same direction, while other characters can face the opposite direction. In my pieces, I turn my head to the left for the narrator and to the right for other characters.

Some easy voices options:
- quick and nervous for neurotic characters
- slow for confident for braggarts
- a Spanish accent
- a Russian accent
- a Southern accent
- a flirty woman's voice
- a deep man's voice for an authority figure

You also may want to avoid scenes with too many characters. Three characters in one scene is the most I've been able to pull off.

4) Rewriting a Piece for a Reading

- Simplify: Unless you're writing poetry -- which we aren't -- simplify or cut descriptions of scenery and people unless they're really memorable. The scene should focus on action. Instead of using three words to describe something use two. Instead of "a giant, three-headed snake," say, "a three-headed snake." Instead of "white, crusty stains," say, "crusty stains." (In the videos above and below, I used the three-word versions of these phrases, which I have since cut to two.)

 - Remind: If you have a detail or character mentioned early that returns later in the story, emphasize the detail on first mention and then remind readers when it appears later-- don't assume they'll remember something from three minutes. As a listener, you have less time to absorb the story.

5) Other Stuff to Remember

- If you're reading of a printed page, print out the text in a large font. (I use 18 point). If will make it easier for you to look up at the audience without losing your place.
- Mark in pencil on the page, when you're supposed to make certain gestures.
- Pause after jokes, or key lines, let them land, let people laugh. But start reading before the laughter has completely subsided. If no one laughs, take it like a man and keep going.
- Practice at open mic events, where nothing is at stake.
- Memorize a short piece or two -- you'll stand out from the other readers.

- Record video at one of your readings and post individual stories on Youtube or your Web site. (Useful when you're pitching yourself -- you can direct organizations to a recorded performance.)
- Stage fright: Yes, you will have it. Sometimes the day of a big performance, I develop flu-like symptoms, including aches, pains, a sore throat, nausea. I wonder why I'm doing this to myself, again. But once I start performing, it all disappears.
- You will bomb occasionally. An audience will be small, too politically correct, too politically incorrect. (I've read pieces to an audience one week who loved and the same piece to an indifferent audience the next. That's show biz.)

This piece went over well at the this Cambridge story slam, but bombed in front of a younger audience who found the title, "The Day I Almost Became Gay" offensive. (Before performing the piece for the first time, I ran it by a gay friend who said it was fine. Did I mention that's show biz?)

6) Where to Find Venues at Which to Read

- Open Mikes.Org
- Google: "Story Slams." Most big cities offer them.
- Walk into a small bookstore and offer to read. If person you're addressing is behind a computer, direct them to your Web site -- you did post a video of you reading at an open mic, right?
- Other venues: public libraries (they often pay), adult education centers (they also pay), art festivals, folk music open mics (they often allow a story-teller to tell a short story. You are a story-teller, right?)

For More Tips for Writers, 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."
- Query Letter Confusion
When one agent says A and another says B  and a third says ... How I dealt with the situation and what I learned. Includes links to sample query letters. Oy.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Tips for Managing the Twitter Mess

Has your Twitter feed turned into an unmanageable mess? Organize it with a free, simple tool and a handful of tabs. Also: Twitter etiquette tips many writers don't follow.

This article assumes three things:

- You are not sure if Twitter is worth the effort.
- You are making the effort, anyway.
- You have chosen to save time by using a free Twitter management tool, such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. The tools are similar, and since I'm using Hootsuite, we'll will use it for examples.

Last week we discussed finding potential readers by following influential people -- other writers in your genre, industry experts, and magazines/Web sites.

My novel involves travel and relationships/sex for people over 35, so I'm looking for people interested in those topics. But if there are a lot people and conversations scattered all over Twitter, how do you keep track of them? Create Topic Tabs.

Topic Tabs

I created and labeled tabs for my audiences: "travel" for people interested in travel, and erotica and single-boomers for people over 35 interested in relationships. (My book also has some naughty content for those interested in erotica.)

The "Add Stream" button, shown in Figure 2, allows you to search for and create sub-tabs, or Streams, for people, hashtags, and even your own lists from Twitter. In the example below, #TTOT, #travel, and #Travelling are hashtags that exist in Twitter. @rsquaredd/travel is a list of travel experts I created in Twitter. (single click to enlarge the screenshot.)

For managing the Twitter mess, consider Hootsuite's Tab feature.
Figure 1: Use Hootsuite's tabs to organize Twitter posts by topic.

With a little luck, you can even combine search terms to save space on the page. For example, in the screenshot below I combined #rtwnow and #rtwsoon into a single stream.  (Note: For some reason: the OR command and other ways of combining search worked some times and not at others.)

Figure 2: Click on "Add Stream," and then "Search" to add or combine hashtags or other topics into a single stream.

Etiquette Tips:

- Work on one audience  -- travel, relationships, etc --  at a time, build a following, weed out streams that are worthless, and then move on. For example, I'm currently on working on streams under my Travel tab. The #Travel stream seems to have a lot of advertising spam and few comments from or interactions involving real people. I'm going to kill it.
- Your goal should be to have ongoing conversations with people. If they like what you have to say, they may be interested in your work -- at a later time.
- Don't bombard people with pitches for your book.
- Do present yourself as an expert by offering tips and useful links related to other peoples conversations. (If tips happen to be links to your Web page, even better.)
- Did I mention, Don't Spam People You Don't Know with Pitches for Your Book?

For More of Twitter tips, See:

- The First Frustrating Days with Twitter
- Basics on Following on Twitter
- Bad Advice for Writers

Begging and Pleading

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Twitter Tips for Writers Who Hate Social Media

One of the best uses for Twitter is connecting with potential readers.*

If you're a non-fiction writer, you simply use the Twitter search box to search for the topic of your book and start following influential people: recognized authorities, people with lots of followers, etc. You can also start tweeting using hashtags related to your topic. (More on this below)

For fiction writers, you'll want to search for readers who follow your genre. If your book, like mine doesn't have a well-defined genre, consider your subtopics or themes. My novel-in-progress is about a never-married hypochondriac who takes a trip around the world looking to change his luck with love. So, my novel has at least two subtopics: travel and relationships.

Tools to Manage the Twitter Mess
- You'll want to use a Twitter management tool like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. I've been using Hootsuite and I'm happy with it (More on "Managing the Mess" next week.)
- Within Twitter, use the List feature to organize people you're following by topic. For example, I have a list for Travel and here's how I added a popular author named Rolf Potts. (single-click to enlarge the image)

Figure 1: Clicking the little silhouette in the upper right-hand corner produces options for adding someone to one of your lists.

Find Your Audience

1) Follow influential people in your subtopic
For me, I searched for travel writers I like, and then looked at who they were following. I also clicked the "Similar to..." button to find other people to consider following.

(Note: With Twitter, you don't want to follow hundreds more people than you have following you. For example: following 500 people and having 5 followers makes you look like a loser. Instead of following, add people to your lists. You'll still see their tweets. As you add more followers, follow more people.)

2) Follow influential magazines and Web sites
If you can't find the publication by searching Twitter's search box, go the magazine's Web site to find the Twitter handle. Or simply Google the <name of the publication> and "Twitter." For travel, I Googled: "Lonely Planet Twitter."

3) Find related hashtags, which are essentially forums where people with similar interests hang out and post.
- Start by looking through tweets by influential people to see which hashtags they're using.
- Google "best hastags <insert your topic>. Here are my results for "best hashtags for travel"

*Allegedly: Experts claim Twitter is great for connecting with readers. I've only been pushing on Twitter for the last two months. I'm now adding followers -- albeit slowly, two to five per day -- who are related to my target audience. When I started with Twitter I was following agents, editors and other writers -- people who are probably not going to buy copies of my book. It is better to have fewer, influential followers who care about your genre than thousands of people who are only following you because they want you to follow them so they can have a large number of followers.

For more of my Twitter tips, see:
- The First Frustrating Days with Twitter
- Basics on Following on Twitter
- Bad Advice for Writers

Begging and Pleading

To help me keep this blog going, please consider signing up by e-mail or RSS (see options on the right-hand column of this page.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bungee Jumping in New Zealand

In New Zealand in 2007, I bungee jumped from a wobbly cable car suspended 478 feet above a river. The bungee companies claim you fall at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour. I was too busy yelling for my mommy to measure the velocity. (In the video at end of blog, you can hear me scream.)

In the stirrups about to be trussed up like a Christmas pig.

The view I didn't see because my eyes were shut.

Side view: I'm the little blue thing at the end of the cord, to the left. I've fallen about halfway. The cord will completely taught at the end of the jump.

A video of the jump.

If this kind of thing interests you -- actually, you should try it at least once -- here's more information:

- A piece I wrote describing in too much detail what it's like to bungee jump.
The piece describes a slightly higher jump I did in South Africa and includes links to Web sites for bungee jumping around the world and river boarding (white water rafting on a boogie board) in New Zealand.