10 Things I’ve Learned After 7 Years of Blogging

Today, according to WordPress, is my 7th anniversary of blog writing (nearly 6 with this blog).  I started this blog because I got my first story sale with my short story Death Watch, which was published by the good folks over at Liquid Imagination.  Originally my blog was my website, and though I have since separated the two, a lot of people still find me through this blog.

When I started out, I really didn’t know what to expect.  And seven years later, I still really don’t know what could happen.  But here are at a few things I have learned since starting out.

1 – Getting traffic to your blog is hard.

It took me a long time, a really long time, to gather up any type of blog traffic.  I tried funny posts, writing posts, life posts, and mixtures of all three.  What I learned is the topics don’t really matter, it just takes time to start showing up in search results and for people to come to your blog looking for certain content.  Which leads to number two.

2 – Pick a topic for your blog

Pick a topic for your blog and stick to it.  Does that mean I don’t blog about life? No.  It just means that the general topic of this blog is books and writing.  I love the movies, video games, and hockey.  Sure I mention those in my blog, but I don’t think I’ve written blog posts on those things.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to write on other topics, but you’ll get a better following if your blog has a theme.

There are exceptions to every rule.  My post, Eight Things I’ve Learned Since Moving to Washington is not writing related at all, but it is the only post that gets a hit at least once per day.

3 – If getting traffic is hard, getting a following seems impossible.

For the longest time, my family were my only followers.  It look a long time to work up to a decent following and to keep them following.  There are a lot of ways to get the regular following and keep them, and many of those are involved in these things I’ve learned.  The truth is, no advertising ever worked.  The only followers I ever got were from reading a post of mine and liking it enough to follow the blog.

4 – Losing followers is very easy.

People stop following a blog for many reasons.  The most common, you offended them.  Society has placed a lot of weight on being offended, as if it really means anything.  I’ve lost followers when they found out I’ve got LGBT characters in my novels. I’ve lost followers because I’ve mentioned I own guns.  I’ve lost followers because I made a Trump joke.  You will also lose followers if you don’t blog in a while.  I lost most of mine during my two year hiatus.

5 – You can’t please everyone.

So you may be thinking that you should sterilize your blog from any possibility of offence.  I tried that in the beginning of my blogging days.  Hell, I used to try that in the start of my writing days.  Well, fuck ’em. People will get offended by what you say.  If they don’t, does your writing carry any real passion anyway?  As I said above, people think being offended means something.  It doesn’t.  What I have learned is that more people appreciate the honest writer connecting with his audience than they do a sterilized blog.  You can’t please everyone, so don’t try.

6 – Listen to your audience.

Many of my blog post ideas come from blog comments or my social media.  I’m not saying you need to ask them what to blog about next, though you can a time or two.  But pay attention to what they are saying about your blog.  As a self published author, I noticed many of my readers were talking and interested in that aspect.  As a result, I wrote Self Publishing, a post in which I explored what Self Publishing was all about.  It took more work than most of my posts do, but it was also the most successful post.

7 – Read and connect with other bloggers

You really need to read and connect with other bloggers.  For one, you will see what is trending and discover what other bloggers like you are doing.  This will let you know if the topic you want to blog on is over-saturated or that it is of no interest to anyone.  But also you can work with others to do guest posts and other connections to attract their followers to you and your followers to them.

8 – Guest posts are great.

Guest posts are a great way to drive followers of others to your blog.  For a long period of time I was doing an author focus blog series that allowed guest posts from other authors.  It drove new eyes to my blog that may have otherwise not visited.  Don’t expect a ton of new followers from it, but you just might get someone poking around your blog for other stories.

9 – Don’t expect your blog to be a revenue stream.

I’m not sure I have made any book sales from people who came to read my blog.  In most cases it is the other way around.  People have come here after reading my work.  Some to complain, but most because they liked what they read and wanted to see more.  Also, ad riddled blogs suck to read (of course we have no control over the WordPress ads).  One ad maybe, or sponsored content is okay.  But some blogs read so heavily of sales pitches that they become no fun to read.

Also, don’t overly self publicize on you blog. It isn’t wrong, but it is a fine line between content and advertising.  The point of a blog is to connect with your audience, not sell them shit.

10 – It is okay to blog for yourself.

It is absolutely okay to write a blog for yourself with no aim to gain followers.  You might accidentally acquire a few anyway.  But not every blog has to be for fan connection or to gain more readers.  Some can be for the hell of it.  You can have as many blogs as you like too.  The choice is yours.

BONUS: We’re all full of shit.

Here is a bonus thing I’ve learned, everything on the internet about how to write a great blog is full of shit.  This one included.  What worked for me may not work for you.  Lord knows I read a lot of crap, that when I tried it, did’t work for shit.  More to the point, articles with things I’ve learned titles are there to help you see what was learned.  You can use it, or you can toss it.  The choice is yours really.

It is your blog, write what you want, but I’ve shared what I’ve learned.  Your results may vary.

Dry Spells

We writers often talk about writer’s block.  I even had a blog post on the topic.  But sometimes we just have dry spells.  They can be caused by different factors, including writer’s block, lack of time, and lack of motivation.  For me it has been the motivation mostly.  The ideas have been flowing free in my mind.  Both for a sequel to Dissolution of Peace and the current novel I am working on have been very active in my mind.  But I just don’t sit down and write.  So for today’s blog I thought I would talk about how to ride out these dry spells and even do a little rain dance to get things going again.

The first step is recognizing the dry spell.  That may seem easy enough, and for some it is.  But for me it wasn’t so easy.  I only just started thinking about how little I have written.  And when I look at my work in progress, I see the file hasn’t been modified since May 10th.  That is nearly two months ago, and I wasn’t aware of it.  This is by far the longest dry spell I have had in some time.  The only saving grace is that I have still been writing in this blog on a weekly basis.

In fact it was this blog that made me recognize I was in a dry spell, and at the same time it was what made me not realize it for so long.  Each week I sit down and put together a blog post for you.  I’m writing, and perhaps writing these blogs kept my ‘writing sense’ working.  Blogs are great ways to keep people aware of your existence, and to break down writing blocks and walls.  But, in this case it tricked me into thinking it hadn’t been so long since I wrote.  But, when I only wrote a short ‘Happy Independence Day’ blog last week, it clicked to me how little I have written.

You may not blog, so you may see you haven’t written in a matter of weeks.  Or, it could take you some time to recognize it for other reasons.  The point is you have to realize you’re in a slump before you can move on to the next step.

The next step is identifying the cause of the dry spell.  Again this may seem easy, but that is not always true.  Writer’s Block is often the first thing to blame.  But, if your ideas are still percolating in your head, as mine were, writer’s block is likely not your cause.  You have things to write about in your head, you’re just not sitting at the keyboard and doing it.  If you think it is writer’s block, dig deeper.  If you find no other causes, then revert to the steps to break down writer’s block.

The next most common thing to blame is time.  That is what I blamed.  I told myself I haven’t had time because I have been running a magazine.  I’ve been trying to get the first issue ready for print.  But that wasn’t fair.  Sure, running the magazine has taken up a lot of my time, but so does work, and my family.  All valid things to be working on rather than writing, but I’ve worked around all of them before.  But if you work through all this and find that time really is the issue, then you need to revert to the steps to find a time to work on your writing.

You might find it is depression, lack of motivation, or you have something new in your life that you’d rather be doing.  You may even find out that writing isn’t what you want to do.  But chances are that if you’ve realized you’re not writing, and are looking for ways to start again, you genuinely miss writing.  Once you find the cause, you need to dig deeper and find the true cause.

For me, I found it was a lack of motivation.  The ideas were there, but I wasn’t writing.  I dug deeper to find the cause of my lack of motivation.  That was a series of bad news in my writing.  I have received five rejection letters in those two months.  Three of those were for a story I have really felt confident in.  It has been stacking up the rejections and it has started to take a toll on my confidence.  In fact I have two short stories that are not selling despite approaching a year in circulation.  I’ve reminded myself that my first stories sold remarkably fast.  I’ve also reminded myself that I have not turned out a short story in almost eight months.  That is not a bad thing though.  I’ve been focusing on putting out novels.  When the right idea hits me, I’ll write another short.

There have been other delays in my novel as well.  I still don’t have cover art.  The edits may be delayed.  That coupled with the lack of sales of my son’s children’s book, has me worrying about my ability.  I get frustrated when people are not as excited about something as I am.  I feel as though they don’t approve of it, or even thing it not as worthy of their time.  I am a pessimist by nature, so I see all these things for the worst rather than the possible truth.  I see cover art delays as an artist who is disinterested in my story.  I see edit delays as an editor who thinks my work is so bad it needs more time.  And I see lack of sales on my son’s book as validation of my worst fears (that I can’t do this).

Long story short the reason for my dry spell is a lack of motivation because I am suffering from the “I can’t do this” and “I’m not good enough to do this” mentality.  We all hit this.  Everyone, in anything they pursue, hits a point where they think they can’t continue.  But if you stop, you are only proving yourself (and your critics) right.  It is the people that continue and refuse failure, that make it to their goals.

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Next, you need to break past your road block.  You have figured out what the cause of your dry spell is, but now you need to break on through and keep working.  For writer’s block, it may be as simple as sitting down and typing until you get something going.  For a lack of time, you can schedule in writing time.  If it is more complicated, break it down into simple ways to motivate yourself.

For me, I inflated my ego a bit.  I went to the reviews of my short works that are previously published and saw what they had to say.  Reminded myself that people do enjoy what I write, and that eventually an editor will.  I also recognized that not everyone is able, or willing, to fall into finite deadlines.  I either need to live with it, or only work with people who will follow deadlines (likely a mixture of both).  Last, I think I am good with marketing.  But I had to recognize that when it comes to books, I am new at it.  And when it comes to Children’s Books, I am unsure where to start.  So I’ve started asking around for help on that.

The point is whatever is holding you back needs to be addressed.  You need to either make peace with it, or solve it.  Either way you have to get those things out of the way before you can start writing again.

Last, perform a rain dance.  You will never get past a dry spell if you don’t start getting things going.  If you have a work in progress, open it up and get working.  You’ve worked past all your issues, but your desire to write won’t magically spark up.  You need to start writing.  You might find that you will jump right back in.  Or, especially in the case of writer’s block, you will struggle to start up again.  But after a little time at the keyboard you will find the rains will fall again.  And hopefully once you get going again your next dry spell will be a long way off.

Some people hit dry spells and give up.  For some people they simply don’t feel the need to write anymore.  But, chances are they would not be interested in finding a way to start writing again.  If you have the desire to keep writing, but you just can’t seem to do it, you are a writer in a dry spell.  Don’t give up on it.  Clearly writing is something you enjoy doing, or you wouldn’t seek out advice on how to end your dry spell.  Now get to work on fixing it, and get those words on paper.

 

Multiple Projects

Working on multiple at one time is something I am very accustomed too.  Having worked as a manager and business owner for many years, I am well aware of the difficulties involved in multitasking.  However, until this month, I wasn’t aware of how hard it would be to do that with my writing.  You see, before this month, I had only one work in progress at a time.

I think more of my problems come because I am typically not an outline writer.  I don’t create and outline to work from, I just type.  Well, that also makes the ideas stored in my mind a bit harder to track.  There where a few things I was already doing that helped dramatically and there are some things I learned recently.

Juggle

Being an writer, and doing it a lot, is like juggling chain saws on a unicycle while up on the tight-rope.  If you don’t know what you are doing someone is bound to get hurt, and it will likely be you.

You may be planning to only work on one project at a time.  That you will complete one manuscript and move on to the next.  While, I don’t think you should do that, I can respect that.  But, there are still some other things to consider.  Lets look at what I juggle right now (and this is just writing related).

  • Novel A
  • Ideas for Novel B
  • Ideas for Novel C
  • Short Story A
  • Ideas for Short Story B, C, D, E, F, and G
  • Critiques and edits for Short Story A
  • Copy editing for Children’s Book
  • Keeping track of illustrator’s progress on Children’s Book
  • Researching best publishers for Children’s Book
  • Writer’s Group meetings
  • Critiques and edits for the works of writers in my writing group
  • Self Publishing research
  • Weekly Blog Updates
  • Webpage Management
  • Twitter Updates (to promote myself)
  • Facebook Page Updates (to promote myself)
  • Self Promotion
  • Planing to see if I can attend OSC’s Boot camp
  • Submission tracking
  • Short Story Market research

I am sure I have already forgotten a few things.  But, that is a lot.  Most of it has little to do with writing multiple projects at once.  The funny thing is, it didn’t become overwhelming until I tried writing my short story while working on the Novel.  The fact of the matter is that I refuse to trim back on any of this (and I still have personal obligations as well).  Each of these things is enriching and rewarding to my craft and my future in the craft.

So, let me share with you what it is that I have learned.

Organize

Organization is absolutely key to surviving the onslaught of things I need to do.

Schedule. I use my Google calendar like crazy.  It links with my android phone and my wife’s Google Calendar.  Aside from the list above, it keeps track of my kids’ appointments, my wife’s appointments, my personal appointments, my volunteer appointments, and my writing appointments.

Story notes.  I know I said that I don’t outline.  But often while I am writing one scene an idea comes up for a future scene in the same work.  So I have a file on my computer called “Story Notes” and on it I keep track of my daily word count, ideas for future scenes, characters (and their quirks), and much more.  It helps me to refresh my memory when I open my novel, especially after working on another project.

Ideas notebook.  Every good writer needs an ideas notebook of some type.  Maybe its a file on your phone.  Maybe it is a little notepad.  Whatever it is, you need to be able to carry it with you everywhere.  Ideas hit me at the weirdest times, from the middle of the night to the drive to the kids’ schools.  This gives me the ability to write them down.  Many of them don’t work out to a story right away, but recently two separate ideas merged when I was flipping through that notebook.  That became Short Story A that I mentioned above.

Submission Tracking.  If you are not tracking your submissions, you will be in big trouble.  I currently have two short stories out at different markets, and one more that will be going out soon.  The worst thing that could happen to those would be for me to forget about them or to even confuse them.  You might forget you sent one to a market already and resubmit it to them (wasting your time and theirs) or you might skip a market thinking you already sent it there.  I use Duotrope, it’s free and it works well.

Folders.  Organize your computer’s writing folders in one spot.  This keeps your works together while also making back up easier.  I have one folder called “writings” (original I know).  In that folder, I have a folder for novels, short stories, contracts, and the miscellaneous files.  I can drag and drop the ‘writings’ folder onto my Passport hard drive for simple back up.  Also, when I decide I want to write on a particular piece, I find it quickly.

Project Tracking.  It might be a cork board in your office.  It could be a program on your computer.  But you need to keep track of what projects are where and when was the last time you worked on them.  Set up three categories for your works in progress:  Writing, Editing, and Submitting.  Each project should be under one of those categories.  And, keep a date attached to it.  Otherwise, you may keep writing the newest thing while your other piece sits and collects virtual dust waiting for the edits.

Time Management

Time management is important.  You can’t expect to get everything done in every day.  There are only so many hours in a day.  I don’t plan out every hour of every day.  Life with three little boys doesn’t work like that.  Instead, I only plan for a few activities each day.  If I can get more done then great.

Check the Calendar.  Don’t tell yourself you will write for three hours today, when the Calendar says you have to be at the Doctor’s at noon, take the car in for an oil change at three, and you have a volunteer meeting at six.  With everything else you have to do, three hours of writing is not practical on that day.  But, perhaps you can fit in some smaller activities in between.

Know what fits.  I can’t write for one hour.  It’s just not how I work.  I have to write out a whole chapter and once I get going, there will be no stopping me.  So I know that I can’t sit down and write during the hour between when my two older kids get out of school.  I’m setting myself up for failure if I do that.  I do know, that I can read during that time.  So, I often sit in the car and read.

The point is, the first step to failing at multiple projects is assigning the wrong projects for the wrong times.  For example, my wife has the kids today.  She handles getting them to school and home.  That means I can focus on my writing today.  You won’t see much from me on Facebook or Twitter.  But, Wednesday through Friday you will see a lot more for me on the social networks because I can easily squeeze in a quick tweet or post while I am making lunch or entertaining the kids.  Every day you should work on your craft, but that doesn’t mean that everyday you have to type in a manuscript.  Take your weekly writing to-do list and plug it in around your life.

The best-laid plans of mice and men.  Plan on forgetting something.  Listen, you are human.  I know that may come as a surprise to you, but you will forget something you wanted to do.  Yesterday I forgot to write this blog post.  Even with all the plans in the world, something will be forgotten.  If it was a crucial line in your manuscript you can go back and add it.  If it was to even write, there is always a chance to make up for it tomorrow.  When I first pledged to write 1,000 words a day no matter what, I knew I would miss a day or two.  So, I have revised that plan to be an average of 1,000 words a day.  Much easier to manage.

Just know that you can’t do it all in one day, or even in a week.

Priorities.  Get your priorities down now.  And writing shouldn’t be number one.  Your life should be first.  Once you know what is important to you, you can better plan what needs to go where in your schedule.  Writing is very important to me, but my family is always first.  My own sanity is next.  So on a busy day, I may not plan to write in the hour I have to myself.  I may plan for a game or to zone out on the TV.   I won’t be writing anytime my kids deserve my attention.  I won’t be writing anytime the San Jose Sharks are playing.

Writing can’t be number one in out lives.  Recognize that, and place it where it really falls.  Then plan around that.  Your priorities change daily depending on what else needs to be done that day.  Once you get into a rhythm of your own priorities and schedule you will quickly realize there are certain days you won’t be writing in that manuscript but you may have time for reading, editing, promotions, and of course ideas come at their own times.   But, you will also see when you can maximize the writing time you do have with minimal distractions and without letting it consume your life.

Know your own limits

If you can’t juggle two tennis balls on the ground, I don’t recommend the tight-rope stunt above.  I know that I am just getting started in this multiple writing projects realm.  So, even though I have an idea for the next novel, I won’t start writing it until this current one is at least into editing.  I did put together a short story while I was writing this novel.  It is still waiting for it’s first round of edits.

I knew that one novel at a time is my current limit.  I also knew that I needed to push myself just a bit and try writing a short story while I was still working on another project.  It’s okay to push those limits just a bit from time to time.  But over doing it will result in burn-out and the possibility of dropping the craft all together.  That is something to be avoided.

Summary

In the end, I can’t tell you what will work for you.  You may not like my ideas, but I can hopefully point you in the right direction.  If you organize yourself, manage your time, and know your own limits; you can juggle all that life has to offer and still get your writing done.

As always share your ideas in the comments section below.  Let the readers know what works for you, and I am always willing to learn something new myself.

Video Games and Story Telling

I haven’t mentioned this much, maybe a few posts here and there, but I love video games.  Like many people in my generation, I have grown up with the video game industry.  As it has grown so have I.  I started with Mario on the NES, and this week I began playing Battlefield 3 for my PC.  That is a lot of growth in a short amount of time.

Just like writing, I don’t have as much time for games as I used to.  In life, you have to make time for the things you love to do.  So I make time for the games when I can.  And, of course, when a new game I love comes out (such as Battlefield 3) I tend to spend a lot of time with it.  And, while getting my butt kicked last night, I thought a lot about my uncontested favorite video games: Tomb Raider.  It got me thinking about a different aspect of video game evolution.  So this morning, I figured I better get this blog out now before I started in on the Battlefield.

Its easy to notice the evolution of graphics, controls, consoles, or even the sheer size of the games.  But, story telling has almost become a requirement in the video game world.  Take a look at the original Mario Bros., a game that is still great today, but really tells a limited story.  Scroll Right and save the princess.  The story has since grown, so that even the newest Mario games have a far more detailed story.

But stories have gotten even more important in the over all game play.  Characters’ stories are often crafted and even the slightest of changes are contested by the fans.  Katie Fleming, the Queen of Tomb Raider Fandom, recently hosted a Youtube video debate on the changes to Lara Croft’s character bio.  I mention this because it demonstrates the affect of story telling on today’s games. This was a very passionate debate by loving fans to Lara and the Tomb Raider franchise.  There is true love there for the character and her story.

People can now get even more immersed in the game world by an entertaining story, a creative world to be explored, characters you care about, and a protagonist you love to hate.  Sounds a bit familiar doesn’t it?  The same recipe for a good story has now become the recipe for a good game.  Games have become more about being playable stories then just a game.  I have spent many nights up late playing one more “level” just to find out what happens next in the story.  Just as I have done so many times with the pages of a book.

I think the evolution of gaming in the direction of story telling started early.  Almost all games had a story of some sort.  But, it has become so important now that even games like Battlefield 3, that are primarily played for their massive multi-player interaction, have ensured they have a story to go with their game.  Picking up a gun and shooting other players has no longer become good enough for most of the gamers.

With the development of another Tomb Raider in the works, story telling comes to the forefront again.  Almost all the buzz about this game has been about the story:  The reinventing of Lara (again) for our playing enjoyment.  I have not heard much talk of graphics, moves, or controls.  The talk has been about Lara’s new look, the story of Lara’s past, and the world she will be stuck in.  The same things I talk about (and look for) in a good book.

In fact, video game characters have made the move into other story telling medium as well.  Of course you have movies like Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider, Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil, and Prince of Persia.  Tomb Raider had a great run of Comic Books.  Some have even made their way into novels.  In fact, if the right people are reading this I should note that I would love to write a Tomb Raider Novel (HINT HINT SHAMELESS PLUG).

As a writer you may have considered writing a novel, a comic book, or even a movie.  But the world of video games offers another chance for story telling.  And, video gamers can be the most fun and challenging group to write for.  We love our games, their characters, their worlds, and the story they have to tell.

Now if you will excuse me, I am needed on the Battlefield.

Dream Job: The process of crafting an idea into a story.

My story “Dream Job” in Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction, which you can read for free here, was the first short story I had written since High School.  And, the first thing I ever wrote with the intentions of having it published.  So now that it is out for the public to read, I felt I needed to say a bit about it.  After all, there is a lot to be said for it.

I talk a lot about ideas, you can read my post about them.  I had made up my mind I wanted to be a published writer, and I though it would be best to start with a short story.  The real problem was, I couldn’t come up with a good idea.  Well, scratch that, I had ideas but I was having trouble developing them into anything.  Finally, the idea hit me in a nightmare.

If you have read the story, you know this line (if not please go read it):

“An icy cold began to rush over her body, slowly flooding around her arm and across her body. She
began to gasp for air in panic as she realized the cold-flowing blood was reaching her heart.”

That was my dream.  One line.  Thirty-seven words out of about 4,600 words.  I had a dream that someone was in the room, I was injected, and a cool oozing feeling flowed towards my chest.  And, like Samantha, I woke up feeling the cold.  It scared the shit out of me.  So much so, that I thought about it for the whole night (I worked graveyard shift at the time).

I started to wonder what might cause that feeling, which had long since passed.  I wondered how I remembered it so clearly and how would something from the dream world transfer so easily to the waking world.  Then, but the end of my day, I wondered how I could make this into a story.

The first draft of Dream Job was a disaster.  Though when I wrote it, I thought I was a master of the craft.  I posted it for my writer’s group, Hatrack River, which I had just joined.  And, they very nicely told me that my intro was cliche.  They even referred me to The Turkey City Lexicon, a must read of new writers (which I re-read all the time). I had used the “White Room Syndrome” opening… ouch.

I realized I needed a complete rewrite of the opening lines (also known as the hook).  When I did that, it took the story in a different direction (although it was was along the same plot points), and thus my second draft was a total rewrite.

I posted the new Opening for my group to read.  They told me it was still missing something.  There was not much for readers to grab on to.  I was frustrated because I thought I was was writing gold, and they were not getting it.  Of course, they were right. After I looked things over again.  I went for a third rewrite of the opening lines.

Now, this third one was troublesome to come up with.  I spent a week mulling over different openings.  And then it hit me.  My dream was so emotional to me because it happened in my own bed.  My own house.  This was my house, my bed, and my room and it was invaded by this nightmare.

BINGO!

So I put Samantha at her home, and hat it invaded.  Government Agents had always been a part of the plot, so naturally they were the invaders.  The story took a third complete rewrite, very different from the first and second drafts.  Then I posted it again on my writers forum.  I don’t know if my forum LOVED IT, but they certainly liked it.

From there it was just a few minor tweeks for Grammar (ugh… grammar cops), a bit of tightening up based on suggestions from fellow writers, and then it was out for submission.  Shortly after submitting it, I got the idea for “Death Watch” and started this process all over again.  “Death Watch” was accepted first (12 days before its big brother).

From the time I started writing until “Dream Job” went for its first submission was almost exactly two months (59 days).  From first submission to acceptance was just over five months.  I am proud of it, and to see it in print is a great thing.

The title may seem obvious to you after reading it (sorry no spoilers here, just go read it).  But, for me it was also a bit of an inside story too.  After all, writing is one of my dream jobs.  This being the first thing I wrote, it only seemed fitting.

So please, head over to Smashwords and download your free copy of Cygnus Journal of Speculative Fiction.  Read it and review it on Goodreads.  And on the topic of Goodreads, check out my Author page and become a fan.

As always your comments are welcome.

Marketing for Writers 101

A Brief Self Help Guide for Writers

One of the things that I failed to understand when I started out as a writer, was that writing is a business.  And if you want any business to succeed, you need to market it.  I don’t think many people understand the importance of writers to market themselves.  It is one of the only ways you will gather readers, reach out to your readers, and let them know when new works are coming out.

You may be thinking that you won’t need to market because you plan to publish in a traditional fashion.  You may assume the publisher will handle all the marketing.  Or you may simply think your works will sell themselves.

Well, I believe you are wrong and you can do so much to promote yourself for little or no money.

Social Media

Social media offers the best way to connect with your readers and fans.  If you are not much for technology it is relatively easy and helps.

You really need a presence on the three major Social Media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.  They all have their advantages and disadvantages so all three is almost a must.  Also, you need to use them.  I try to post something each day.  I certainly check them every day.

Facebook:

With Facebook, you really need an Author’s Page.  Pages are separate from your Facebook Profile.  Creating one is easy, relatively fast, and pretty effective.  You can visit my Page to see what they look like.  You may even want to create a separate page for a book you may be working on, or recently published.  Robert S. Wilson has one for his book that you can look at as an example.

Why use an Author’s Page instead of your regular Facebook Profile.  Well for one, you may not want to share personal matters, photos, and friends with your fans.  Second, it is far easier for your fans to click “like” then it is for them to send a friend request and wait for your response.   Third, Facebook offers a TON of tools for pages that help with promotion.  Tools you simply don’t get with a standard page.

You can create a page by visiting any page.  In the top right corner there is a link that say “Create a Page”.  Once you have a page post links to your other accounts on social media.  Also, post information about upcoming releases and the like.

Twitter:

I never found much interest in Twitter.  But at the advice of other writers I made a Twitter Account for myself.  I have found it far more fun then I thought it would be.  I have more followers on Twitter then I do on my Facebook Author Page.  I think Twitter gets its appeal because anyone can follow anyone.

Setting up and account is easy.

Use Twitter to share all sorts of things.  RT (Re-Tweet) posts that you like.  Reply to Tweets you like.  Here is a little help with Twitter from one novice to another:

“#” is a hash tag.  It is used to make searching for posts on a particular topic easy.  People add it to the tweet to help with searching.  Keep the terms together versus spacing out words.  Example “#amwriting” would be used; not “#am writing”.

RT is Re-Tweet.  This usually is used if someone replies to a tweet and wants to put it to context.

Example: “I wish I had ur motivation. Can a walk to the fridge count as cardio? RT @megselizabeth86: Cardio and legs. Yay. Gonna be sore as hell tmrw.”

And last, as you see in the example above is the @sign.  It represents the profile mentioned.  @Richard_Flores4 is mine.  When people mention you, this allow their followers a quick click to see your profile.  It results in great exposure.

Some will tell you to do your best to get a Re-tweet or a reply for major celebrity/business page just to get the exposure to a lot of potential fans.  I don’t go that far.  But I do reply to celebrity posts as appropriate.  I mention profiles when it is appropriate to.  And I always try to give a shout out to fellow authors.

Google+

I think this will be the most difficult for the social media novice.  I consider it the love child of Twitter and Facebook.  It does have a lot of the best of both worlds.  You can post things to the public or just to certain circles.  My fellow writers are in one circle, family in another, friends in another, and those I am just following in a fourth.  Once you understand it, and Google has good videos on it, you can start sharing certain posts with certain circles.  Or you can share with all your circle, or the general public.

Google+ is probably the one I use the least.  Mostly because I don’t have many people on there.  But, that is changing over time.  The one major disadvantage to Google+ is that they are taking down profiles that are not “real”.  While I support removing fake profiles, this may pose a problem for those authors that use Pseudonyms.  I don’t use one, so I don’t know how hard they are being on it.

Website

You need a website.  I have one right here.  I choose to combine my Blog and my Website.  Its free to use WordPress, Blogspot, and most other blog sites.  It gives you a free web presence and combines a blog.

Eventually, I will have my own .com, but for now this works.  And all of the social media sites let you place a link to your website on them.  So there is some good cross promotion of your sites.  Here are some things your site should have:

Blog:

You should have  a blog too, even if you have your own .com.  Your blog can be hosted on your own site or separate from it.  Just make sure the two are linked together.  Blogging can be fun, it gets you writing for one.  It also inspires discussion and hopefully inspire new authors.  There are whole articles on blogging and what you need to do with your blog.  Here are some ideas:

  1. Pick a schedule and make sure to post something on it.  For me it is once a week.  For some it is once a month.  It just gives people a chance to know when to look for new posts.
  2. Announce new posts on your social media sites.  This will bring readers.
  3. Allow comments.  Allow commenting to encourage discussion.
  4. Have a Follow tab.  This allows people to set up email alerts when you post something.
  5. Establish some blog rules.  Having some rules will ensure there is less backlash should you have to remove a comment.
  6. Use HTML tags so people can click the word, and see what you are talking about.
  7. Respond to the comments you get.

About Me:

You need an about section on your website.  Tell a little bit about yourself.  This allows readers to know if they found the real you (Imagine how many Richard Flores there are in the world).  It also establishes some of your qualifications to blog on the topics you choose to blog about.

Bibliography:

Put a Bibliography down if you have works published (or have publishing dates for them).  Put links to purchase them and/or read them if you can.  Think of it like your resume.

Contact:

Put a way to be contacted.  Most blogs have a contact us form you can use so you don’t have to share your email if you don’t want.  Also you can link your social media there.  Facebook and Twitter have profile badges you can add to your site homepage.  WordPress even has widgets to use for that too.

Pictures:

In the world of websites, people like to see pictures.  So I urge you to add visual elements to your site.  Its something I still work with all the time.  I also think you need your picture up on the home page.  People like to see who they are talking to.  But that is more of an opinion of mine.

Store:

Put a store up on your site of some kind.  Even if it is just links to Amazon.com’s listing of your book.  I don’t have any books out yet, but when I do, you can rest assured there will be a store up.

Links:

Put up links to other bloggers you enjoy, sites you use regularly, and to other writers you enjoy.

Examples:

You have see my blog as one example of a Wordpess site.  Here are some others:

Robert S. Wilson’s Blog on Blogspot.

Michael R McDuffee and Karen T. Smith uses a blog format on a .com

Orson Scott Card and Jeffrey A. Carver have more elaborate web sites.

Now What?

You have the web presence now in Social Media and with a Website.  Best yet, it can all be done for free.  Now how do you draw attention to yourself.  Well, that requires the real work.

Cross Promote:

Get together with your fellow writers and share their sites.  Share them in blog posts when you can (as I have done here), link them in your social media site, announce when they have books coming out, share their sites in your LINKS page, and promote them as much as you can.  You will be surprised how many will do the same for you.

Comment on other posts:

Comment on blog posts, twitter, Facebook, and Google+.  Use your pages to make these comments and drive readership to you.  Reply to all the comments you get.  People like to be acknowledged and it gives everyone a sense of participation.

Link your website on everything:

Put a link to your website on everything within reason.  Any comment form that asks for it, any profile you fill out, add it as a signature to your emails, and post it for your friends.  The more you post it the more clicks you might get.

Brag:

Tell everyone everywhere of your site.  Writer’s Groups, Facebook Pages, Twitter, and other places.  Just make sure you don’t violate Terms of Service and get flagged as SPAM.

Network:

Networking is big business.  Its also hard work.  When you meet new people, you have to be willing to admit you write.  I do it almost every time I meet new people.  I let people know any time the topic comes up.  Go to conventions, writers workshops, and any other place where writers are gathering.  Put together some simple (and usually very affordable) business cards.  Pass them out like candy at every convention, workshop, and function you attend.   Have your name, website, and contact information on there.  You never know who’s hands it will fall into.  Word of mouth is the biggest advertiser out there.

Advertise:

If you have some money to spend, you can advertise your Facebook Page, website, and more.  There are some cheaper ways then others, but this cost money.  If you self publish a book, you may want to spend a bit of money on advertising.  But the rule I always follow for advertising is this:  Never spend more on advertising then you would make if someone buys what you’re selling.  That is to say, if you make $1 profit on every book you sell don’t spend $2 per flier to advertise it.

Summary:

There is obviously many avenues for marketing your work.  Each of these I mentioned could be a whole course of study by themselves.  My hope is this will bring you to a good starting point.  Get you going, and then you can fly on your own from here.

Questions, Comments, or more?  Feel free to comment.

Writer’s Block

I can hear all of you yelling at you screens:  “Where have you gone Richard?  Why did you leave us?”

I know I have been quiet on here. I haven’t posted in 10 days.  I think in blog time that is something like 3 years.  I have been stricken with a terrible case of writer’s block.  The only natural enemy of the writer.  Well, there may be others, but writer’s block is certainly the worse .

Writer’s block is that horrible condition where a writer has no idea what to write.  In can be minor; like not know what to write on Twitter.  Or it can be severe; like not knowing what to write anywhere.  Writer’s block affects all writers of all ages, there is no vaccine against it, and it often requires lengthy treatments that are not guaranteed to work.  Worst of all it’s not covered by most insurance carriers.

My case was moderate.  I managed to put together a few tweets, I think I got on Google+ with a post, and Facebook got a few posts.  But, I could not think of anything to write, both here or for a new short story.  I haven’t got anymore written on my novel.

I tried all the treatments.  They don’t work.  I brainstormed, I read, I wrote nonsense, I opened the documents to type, and still nothing got down to the page.  I tried hard to get something down on paper some where.  Nothing.  Not even a sticky note on the fridge reminding me to buy my son Ice Cream toppings for his school party.

I had an awesome dream.  I woke up and thought, This will make the most awesome story known to man.  Sure enough, my writer’s block was so severe that I didn’t write the idea down and fell back a sleep.  That is a cardinal sin in the writing community, and I did it.  And now, I still can’t remember even the smallest detail of what that dream was about.  All I can remember now is, You fool.  You could have been the next Heinlein, and you didn’t write it down.  Your note pad was arms length from your bed and you were too lazy to write it down.

Then yesterday I got a rejection letter from a publication for my latest short story.  Its okay, it was only the first market I have sent it too so I was not really surprised.  However, when you have writer’s block it is a bit more discouraging.  I sent it off to another publication as I promised myself  I would always do.

And then I had a great idea for a blog post.  I will write about Editors.

Then I realized that might be career suicide if I wrote down what I was thinking of editors after getting a rejection.  So I decided that post should probably wait.

Well then my Van broke down… yes I drive a mini-van.  Stop looking at me like that.  Men drive mini-vans too.  Well, as you have read in other threads, writing provides stress relief for me.  Well, I needed it and I still couldn’t think of a damn thing to put on paper.

Then today, I went through my routine.  Checked Facebook, Checked the Facebook Author Page, Checked Twitter, Checked Google+, and then I got to this site.  And I thought to myself, I need to blog.  My adoring fans need to hear from me.  It has been three blog years since I posted.

It didn’t work.  I couldn’t think of anything.  Then after going back to Facebook and then back to this site.  It dawned on me.  I should write about the tragedy of Writer’s Block.  And so, I give you this post.  I managed over 700 words here.

I AM CURED!

So what is my point is all this?  I am not sure I really have one.  Give me a minute, let me see if I can make one up…

Okay I got it.

Writer’s Block is a debilitating disease to a writer.  And really only time can cure it.  The more you force yourself to writer something the more resistant the disease becomes.  Sometimes you have to just take a break and let the disease run its course.  And when you are ready you will have something great to write.  Or at least something to write.*

If you have suggestions on how to cure Writer’s Block, please feel free to comment.

Now if you will excuse me, I have things to write.

*Note:  The statements made in this blog have not been evaluated by the FDA, your 
results may vary.

Muse (Where I get my Ideas)

Once people found out I was a writer, and more so now that I have this blog, the most common questions I get is this:

“Where do you get the ideas for your stories?”

My answer is always the same.  Getting the ideas is the easy part.  Taking that thought and making it into a story is the hard part.

I think the common misconception about writers is that we get the idea for a whole story in our heads in a flash of brilliance and inspiration.  It has been my experience that is not how things really work.  I have yet to have a sudden epiphany and instantly a whole story come to my mind.  It is usually one line that come to mind, or even just a fleeting thought.  Odds are you have had one too.

For example, you may have wondered “What if the sky was green?”  or “What if I could visit Venus?”  That’s all it takes for me to get started.  I start thinking about it.  How would life be different under a green sky, could it change our skin color?  Could it change the way things look around here?  I play with the idea in my head until I am either ready to write about it, or I throw it out.

That’s right, not all my ideas became stories, I’ve had to throw a few out.  Throw them out is not really accurate.  I keep a book of my random thoughts and ideas.  Since I think of them a lot at night, and have a nasty habit of forgetting by morning, I write them down.  Some have turned into stories, others are still sitting there.  Some of them joined with other ideas in the notebook and their love child became a story.

So when do I think of all these great ideas.  All the time.  At night when I am about to fall asleep.  Some come from dreams I have had.  I have to write those down in my notebook fast since I forget my dreams easily.  At the gym on the treadmill, I mull many a story idea over there.  What else am I to do walking all that time and getting no where?

Ideas come all the time.  Its the ones that stick in my head that become stories.  The ones I can’t seem to stop thinking about.  They grow in my head, until I am dying to write them down.  I have to constantly ask myself, “So What?”  The sky is green, so what?  So, I can visit Venus, now what?  As I keep asking myself what is next, the story just form in my mind.

However, that is hardly the end of it.  The next challenge is getting the idea on paper.  Developing the right way to say things; to paint a picture with my words.

What do I like to do to help me catch my muse, to keep coming up with those ideas and playing with them in my head?  Music is always a good way for me to clear my mind.  I mentioned above, the gym always works for me.  Sometimes a long drive also helps.  Some authors find reading helps them.  I tend to get wrapped up in the story I am reading, and while reading is very inspirational, it doesn’t allow me the chance to play with my own ideas.  But, I know it works for many.

So, while getting the ideas is easy, using them is hard.  That is what really takes time.  Good luck with yours, you just may have the next big idea just waiting to be developed.