Focus: Looking Beyond The Cloud In My Silver Lining.

It’s time to focus my time and energy on what really matters: writing.

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A week of camping by the river has given me opportunity for reflection about the past year, particularly in terms of my writing. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished – two new books of poetry, two deliciously macabre horror titles, and two reinvented fairy tale novellas in a completely unique and absolutely gorgeous anthology collection. I’ve also had poems included in a couple of themed anthologies and a number of magazines. I have received emails and messages when something I’ve written has moved or helped someone else in a powerful way, which gives me confidence that what I write is actually pretty good. At this point, I’m highly motivated to move on and write more.

There is, however, a cloud in my silver lining. In my experience, the biggest downside of being an Indie author is that the demands of social media can be a whirlwind – marketing, promotion, teasers, creating new material to keep up momentum, engaging so that others don’t think you’re only there to push your own stuff… It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex and start to believe that marketing is the be-all and end-all of your writing career.

Yes, marketing and promotion matters. I want to find readers who will be interested in my books. But it’s not the most important thing. The most important thing for me to invest my time and energy into is writing.

The time has come to redirect my focus. Of course, I will still engage in social media and promote my work there, but I need to do it differently so that I spend more time each day writing than I do trying to leap across people’s screens to get noticed. I’m going to work out how to use Facebook‘s mysterious algorithms, which are set to change yet again, to my advantage instead of the other way around. Furthermore, I’m not going to give them one cent to achieve that. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing on Twitter, as that’s working well for me thus far. My blogs will see some revision, and hopefully some renewed focus there will have good results.

There are so many stories and poems I want to write. Some of the stories are planned and outlined. Some are just ideas at this point in time. The poems happen when the muse overtakes me, but I have quite a few ideas written down so that they can simmer away on the back burner of my mind, developing slowly until they’re ready to go. A renewed focus on bringing my ideas to life on the page for others to read will serve me well: writing is the most satisfying and therapeutic thing I do.

 

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ScreenHunter_434 Jan. 16 23.45Find out more about my books here.

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My New Years Resolutions for 2018.

My goals for 2018 are realistic and achievable… so here goes!

I’m not the world’s biggest believer in New Year’s Resolutions, because I’ve seen plenty of people make ridiculous decisions that fall over before January 5th.

Even so, I decided at this time last year to write down a few things I needed to do, and I did fairly well at achieving them.

So, I’m doing the same thing for 2018. Here are my goals for this year, in no particular order:

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1. Beat the TBR Backlist – read and review the books in my kindle that I have not yet read. I haven’t counted how many books are on it… but I know it’s a lot.

2. Write and publish three more books.

3. Be kinder to myself. I am probably my own harshest critic and most demanding taskmaster. That needs to change.

4. Unleash the Squirrel! Grow his profile with Twitter, Facebook and the Book Squirrel blog with continued reviews, featured author interviews and a regular mailing list.

5. Build my Twitter list to 5000.

6. Be more consistent in posting to Instagram.

They’re certainly achievable, so here goes!

2017: My GoodReads Year in Review

There are a number of things I quite like about Goodreads.

 So, I enjoyed looking over the page of stats they collated for me about what I’ve read in 2017.

As a reader, I enjoy Goodreads as book-nerdy social media.

I like being able to organise and “shelve” my books so that others interested in those sorts of books can find them easily.

I like being able to leave a review and a rating for those books so that people who find them can know more about them and hopefully choose to read them.

I like the goalsetting element of the “Reading Challenge” where you set a number of books that you plan to read in a year, and then the website keeps track of them for you.

I like it that my connections there can see what I’m reading and when I’ve left a review.

And I like being able to recommend a book I’ve read and enjoyed to friends with similar interests and tastes.

 So, I enjoyed looking over the page of stats they collated for me about what I’ve read in 2017.
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I have read a wide variety of books this year – short and long, popular and… less well known, from a wide range of genres. Historical fiction, adventure, horror, romance, mystery, thriller, contemporary, fantasy, sword and sorcery, magical realism, urban fantasy, kids’ books, Christmas stories and humour… they’re all represented. I’ve found some new all-time favourites and broadened the horizons of my knowledge and imagination.

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Reading through the highlights and looking at the great cover art of the books I’ve read gave me a lovely sense of achievement and brought back some great memories of books I really enjoyed.

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If you’re on Goodreads and would like to connect, you can find me there at

What’s on your list?

What’s on your list?

I’d love to hear your ideas!

Human Girl Person Silly Blond Making A Face Child
I just found that I have a follower on Twitter called “Buy Followers”.
 
Weird.
I haven’t bought that one, or any other.

 
Which leads me to wonder… why would someone even bother?
In a world full of things I *would* buy if I had the cash, followers on social media isn’t going to be among them.
The top three things on my permanent list of things I’d like to buy are:

1. Another, longer trip to Canada.
2. Books. More books.
3. Another Labrador puppy.

What’s on your list?
I’d love to hear your ideas!

Keeping Yourself Nice.

Every now and then I stumble across a social media post that really disappoints me.

How hard is it to be nice?

The Indie Author community is one of the most incredible groups of people I’ve ever had the privilege to be part of. Support, encouragement, commiseration and shared victories are the order of just about every day.

However, every now and then I stumble across a social media post that really disappoints me. Those posts fall into two groups.

1. Posts that rant at others for a perceived slight. 

I’ve seen authors abusing people for not buying their books, not sharing their posts, or generally being less than 150% supportive.
How is this fair?

We’re writers. Most people have day jobs. Most people have families. Life is demanding. I don’t know anyone who can  afford to be on social media 24/7, supporting others and buying six copies of every new release.

We cannot expect that all our friends and family are going to buy, read, and review our books. I can tell you from personal experience that this simply isn’t realistic. Shaming them on public media is hardly going to encourage them to change their ways.

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2. Posts that demand people do something. 

This morning I saw a “request for support” that was phrased as “do it now” and “I need this” and “you’ve been told, so do it”.  There wasn’t a please or thank you in sight.

Am I likely to give my support? In all honesty, no. I scrolled past.
This is not my habit – anyone who knows me can affirm that I do everything I can to support my fellow Indies.

I felt belittled and taken for granted by that post. I don’t even talk to my dog like that.

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It’s important that our public presence on social media is seasoned by good manners. 

If we want to present ourselves as a public identity whose product – be it books, music, handcrafts, beauty products, or whatever – we want others to buy and enjoy, we have to make that engagement a positive thing, or it will never follow through.

I am in no way advocating being a doormat or accepting poor treatment. But that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about keeping ourselves nice.

There is no place for arrogance, selfish demands or rudeness. Nobody is doing anyone, including themselves, any favours by carrying on like that.

My final piece of advice is one I apply every day in both my professional lives: you’ll get a lot more with honey than you do with a stick.

Making Your Facebook Pages Easy to Like.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints recently about Facebook removing the “Like Page” button from Facebook page links in comments and posts.

I absolutely agree – it’s a pain.
But I have found another way to share links and like/follow pages more conveniently than having to open every page and click on “like” or “follow”.

If you tag yourself or your page in an individual person’s post, people can hover over the tag and click on the “Like” button in the small window that pops up.

To tag your page, start typing its name. It should cause a small window to appear with your page name in it. Click on the correct option and your page will be tagged.

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Once tagged, your page name should appear highlighted. Then you can keep typing.

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By putting more than one link in your post, you’re saving a lot of work and tidying up those “like for like” threads that can have hundreds of comments in them.

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Keep in mind that this won’t work in groups or on pages, but it does work on individual people’s posts.

To tag your page in a group or page post, you need to do the same thing, but use your page @username instead.

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You can still use more than one tag in each post.

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Top Four English Language Podcasts

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you. 

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Pleasantly surprised by how popular last week’s post on my top five history podcasts proved to be, I decided to share a little more of my podcast-loving joy with you this week.

It’s common knowledge that I’m pretty nerdy about words.

I love them. I love the way they work. I love knowing where different words and phrases came from. I love using them to write and communicate ideas in interesting ways. I love knowing which words are related to each other, even when they don’t actually sound much like each other anymore, like long-lost cousins who bump into each other when they leave home to go to university, and discover their common history that the family has been hiding in the dust and cobwebs behind the skeleton in the closet.

So, it should come as no surprise that I enjoy listening to podcasts about the English language, its roots and evolution, and how it works.

If you’re someone who takes knowing the difference between “your” and “you’re” seriously, if you experience a secret thrill when someone uses a semi-colon or an Oxford comma properly, or if you just want to know more, these podcasts could be for you.

So, without further ado, here are my four favourite word-nerdy podcasts.

#1. The History of English.  This podcast gets into the down and dirty of where the English language and many of the words and phrases we use came from. If you suspect that Mr Webster didn’t just go out into a cabbage patch and find a newborn lexicon crying for its mother, give this podcast a try.
twitter: @englishhistpod
http://historyofenglishpodcast.com/

#2. Lingthusiasm. This podcast explores different aspects of the English language in just over 30 minutes for each episode. It’s interesting, word-nerdy, and fun.
twitter: @lingthusiasm
http://lingthusiasm.com/

#3. The Allusionist. This podcast focuses more on lexicon and how we use words to craft and deliver meaning in particular ways. The episodes are a bit shorter than the first two placegetters, staying under 20 minutes a shot.
twitter: @AllusionistShow
www.theallusionist.org

#4. The English We Speak. This podcast from the BBC World Service explores those words and phrases we use every day in episodes that last about three minutes each. This might be a good place “to cut your teeth” if you don’t want to “go the whole hog”.  You’re catching on. Cool.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/the-english-we-speak

 

I’d really appreciate it if you would leave a comment.
And click “like”.
And if you shared my post, that would be almost like Christmas.

Almost.

Facebook Page Ratings and Reviews: The How and Why.

How did I not know that this existed?

How did I not know about this?

Even though I’ve been on Facebook for about a squillion years – I was an early adopter – I’ve only just discovered the feature called ‘Reviews’. It has been around for years, but I’ve never used it before.

Then again, I’ve not really had a page apart from my personal profile until late-ish last year when I emerged onto the world stage as a budding poet with many important things to say.

As an author, the way I’ve learned to use Facebook is entirely different than the “look at me” and “look at my selfie” way I used to drive the social media bus. These days, I don’t want people to look at me. I want them to look at my work, discover my books, and tell their friends about them, too. I want to be read, not noticed.

That’s where Facebook reviews and ratings come into the picture.

Facebook reviews and ratings help by leading potential customers to trust your brand or products.

According to Review Trackers,  71% of people say they “somewhat” or “completely” trust what they read on Facebook. At the same time, 66% of consumers regularly share feedback, thoughts and opinions on their purchases using social media.
In short – if someone likes your work enough to leave a review or rating, that’s going to be an encouragement to other people to try it for themselves.

Reviews can also help by increasing your engagement with your audience.
If a new visitor sees that you’ve responded positively to your previous visitors, that will also encourage them to trust you and your products. The more you engage with your audience, the more likely they are to become return customers.

How to add the Reviews tab to your page:

1. Navigate to your page
2. Click on ‘Settings’ at the top right-hand side.

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3. Click on ‘Edit page’.


4. Under Templates, scroll down to where it says ‘Add a Tab’.ScreenHunter_418 Apr. 24 19.12

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5. Click on ‘Add a tab’.

6. Click ‘Add Tab’ on ‘Reviews’, then on the ‘Close’ button.

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7. Rearrange your tabs by clicking on the icon that looks like three little lines next to the title of the tab and dragging up or down.

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I have rearranged the tabs so that the Reviews tab is at the top, immediately under ‘About’ and above ‘Likes’ so that it’s always in a prominent place and easily seen by visitors to my page.

When you’ve completed these steps, visitors to your page will be invited to leave a review.

There is one catch.
If someone leaves a negative review, you can’t delete it. Only the reviewer can delete a review.

You can, however, report it and have it removed if you can show that it is not a fair review.
Having a bunch of positive reviews and interactions on your page is your best resource in that situation.

If it turns out that you don’t like the Reviews feature, or if it’s not working for you, you can simply disable the reviews by removing the Review tab, following a similar process to that used to add the tab in the first place.

Leaving Reviews.

Leaving a review is easy. You choose how many stars out of five, and leave a short comment. The minimum length is 40 characters.  It can be as simple as “Your book covers are fantastic. I love the colours and design.” This would work perfectly well as a positive review.
This means that helping a small business or Indie author/musician/whatever  by leaving a positive review could take as little as 30 seconds out of your day.

If you’ve read the book, heard the song, received a beautiful hand-made card or eaten a delicious meal at a restaurant, leaving a review is a great way to acknowledge the work that went into bringing you pleasure.

My Commitment.

I’m going to spend some time over the next weeks leaving reviews and ratings for the Facebook pages for authors and books I’ve been reading and appreciating lately.

I’m going to make this an ongoing thing. In conjunction with the reviews I write and post on Amazon, Goodreads and my Book Squirrel blog, I’m going to make a point of leaving a review on the author’s and/or the book’s Facebook page.

The Challenge:

It would be fantastic if you would do that for the writers and other Indies you know, too.

Not only will that brighten a writer’s day, it just might help them sell a book or two.

The Importance Of Minding One’s Manners On Social Media.

The choice between being either the low point or a bright spot in someone’s day isn’t so complicated.

I was motivated to write this post by an experience I had a few weeks ago.
I posted a question on a blog post by someone who presents himself as a successful and popular author.  He probably is, but his response to my question was quite scathing. When I explained why I hadn’t read every blog post he had posted, he was so rude that I took screen shots. Of course, he had no idea that I took screenshots, but it made me feel better because I had evidence to support my increasing dislike for him and his condescending attitude. Who did he think he was, anyway?
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(I’ve concealed his identity here because I don’t feel like getting sued or anything like that.)
At this point, I made a decision to never buy his books, nor to help promote or encourage him in any way. I suspect several others probably made the same decision. When a friend went to read the exchange between us, he had deleted the whole thing, so I am sure he realised it wasn’t a good look for him. I highly doubt that it might occur to him to apologise for his rudeness, but I will never know, because I had promptly unfollowed his blog, deleted him from my twitter feed and blocked him on all social media.

Sure, my question might not have been the brightest or best he’s ever read. Even so, his response was condescending and made me feel really low. Who needs that kind of negativity in their life? I certainly don’t.

As an author who uses social media to build a following and hopefully sell my books, I can confidently state this is the least desirable outcome from interacting with others.
There is a valuable lesson that, whatever our profession might be, we can all take from this: never, ever, be an asshat to someone on social media. It’s far too easy to damage a reputation or a brand that you’re trying to establish and promote.
The choice between being either the low point or a bright spot in someone’s day isn’t so complicated. If people ask a question about your book, your blog, or your dog’s hind leg, simply be thankful they are interested enough to ask. Engage with them. Being friendly doesn’t cost anything, nor does it mean you have to pledge eternal friendship.
You will walk away with your integrity and your potential readership intact, if not a little more loyal towards you. As a writer, you can’t put a price tag on that.
*My original working title for this post was, in fact, “Why One Should Never Be An Asshat On Social Media”. I tidied it up a little. You’re most welcome. 

The Basics: Why Spelling and Punctuation Matter.

Make sure you’re sending the message you actually want to send to your audience, every time.

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For the first time in a long time, I’ve recently abandoned reading a book. I’m usually fairly persistent, but I couldn’t get past the second chapter. It’s so full of basic errors, I’d be giving any of my students who wrote it a D.  That book – any book – has no business being for sale on any platform, Indie or otherwise, until it has been properly edited and corrected.

If I had a dollar for every time I have face-palmed over glaring errors of spelling, word choice or punctuation in someone else’s social media posts, I would be considerably richer than I am today.

As people who promote ourselves as writers, it’s crucial that we don’t make those mistakes.

I’m not talking about the occasional typo, and I’m not talking about the type of formatting error that can happen to absolutely anyone when converting a book to eBook format. I’m talking about really basic errors – missing punctuation, terrible sentence structure, shocking spelling. Of course, not differentiating correctly between “your” and “you’re” is always going to frustrate people. There will always be people who put apostrophes where they don’t belong and omit them where they are needed. The same is true for commas.

It boils down to the issue of credibility. If I cannot correctly construct a sentence to encourage people to buy my book, what is going to make people believe I could possibly write a whole book? A writer should be able to communicate their ideas and messages clearly and effectively, without frustrating the reader or making their eyes bleed.

Quite honestly, if someone’s social media posts are full of errors, I’m not going to be buying their book. I’m not even going to put my hand up for a free copy. And it’s not going to change my mind if people laugh it off and say, “It’s just Facebook… relax!”

I may be called judgemental  or overly critical. That’s okay.
As a reader and a frequent buyer of books, I’m entitled to be.
As a writer, nothing less should be expected.

proofreadingIf we want people to believe that Indie books are just as good as traditionally published books, we have to make sure they are. We must edit, and have them edited, as professional authors. We must promote both ourselves and our books as engaging, intelligent, and literate.  The example we set on social media is part of that, because that’s where we hope to find readers.

Please, folks, for credibility’s sake – in the interests of your own integrity – proof-read all your posts. Make sure you’re sending the message you actually want to send to your audience, every time.