The Hashtag Challenge

Will you take up the Hashtag Challenge?

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new-twitter-bird-squareI enjoy using Twitter to share great content. It’s pretty straightforward, without the ever-changing parade of increasingly ridiculous rules that seem to accompany Facebook.

There’s really only one thing you need to avoid with Twitter, and that’s posting the same tweet over and over. That will get you suspended.

In reality, that’s a pretty decent rule. Who of us wants to see the same post time and time again? We all appreciate a little variety, and it’s not that hard to change your tweets up.

It’s important to use trending hashtags that people are using for their searches. We need to use hashtags that people are familiar with, and learn to look for, because that is the key way to attract new people to our content.

Hashtag_example

Some of the best ones that I seem to use over and over include:

#BookReview
#BookRecommendations
#WhatToRead
#greatreads
#shortreads

I do wish, though, that certain hashtags were a lot more popular. I’d love to see some of these as popular as #WhatToRead and #BookReview

#LeaveAReview
#SupportAnAuthor
#ReadThis
#ReadABook
#WorthReading

So, I’ve decided I’m going to do something about it and try to make it happen. This is what I’m calling “The Hashtag Challenge”.

I don’t propose that we try to make all of those tags develop a life of their own at the same time. Starting one by one is probably a smarter way to go.

As of today, I’m going to start using #WorthReading in conjunction with high-trending tags like #Authors, #greatreads, #BookReview, #BookRecommendations and #WhatToRead

Maybe if a bunch of us start doing that, we just might achieve something great.
Are you with me?

 

Follow me on Twitter.

The Story of My Life.

If a book were to be written of your life, what would the title be?

This question was asked recently in one of the authors’ groups I belong to on Facebook:

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

The answer came to me in a blinding flash of little-appreciated genius.

Slip Wrong Error Oops Accidental Slip Mistake

Alternate title: Crap That Wasn’t Meant To Happen.

Precis: A woman goes through life generally trying to do the right thing, but situations and people keep backfiring on her. This is further complicated by her own big mouth and her failure to learn the basics of human nature.

Tone: Initially comical, tending toward darkness and cynicism as the story progresses.

Chapter titles:

  1. How Not To Fit In… Ever
  2. How To Lose A Friend, Simply By Being Yourself
  3. Dairy Farming: The Idyllic Life
  4. How To Injure Both Hands At The Same Time
  5. How To Lose A Friend By Standing Up For What You Believe In
  6. Be A Teacher: They Only Work From 8.30 to 4, And Get All Those Holidays!
  7. The Sneaky Ways Awful People Conceal What They Really Are
  8. Apparently, I’m A Slow Learner
  9. How To Get A Tropical Disease 2500km South Of The Tropics
  10. Fibromyalgia: The Gift That Keeps On Giving
  11. No, They Will Never Understand That ‘Introvert’ and ‘Shy’ Are Different Things
  12. A Published Author: How Nice! You Must Be Rich.
  13. Oh, You’re An Author? I Don’t Read.
  14. Needles In The Haystack: There Are Actually Nice People Out There
  15. ‘One In A Million’: A Ridiculously Optimistic Ratio
  16. How To Get A Knife Out Of Your Back
  17. Why You Should Never Give That Knife To Someone Else
  18. When Adding Extended Family On Social Media Backfires
  19. Old Friends Can Turn On You, Too!
  20. Why They Can Post Whatever They Want To On Facebook, But You Can’t
  21. Why Doing Something Nice For Someone Is Often A Really Bad Idea
  22. The Block Function: How To Slam That Door Well And Truly Shut
  23. How To Offend Your Family And Friends By Succeeding
  24. Why You Should Never Assume That People Are As Sincere As You Are
  25. Vulnerability Explained: Discovering You Are An Empath
  26. The Achilles Tendon: ‘Heel’ and ‘Heal’ Are Not The Same Thing
  27. Still Hobbling? There Goes Your Other Ankle.

I know. It will never sell.

Marketing that kind of stuff is exhausting – I should know.  It is, after all, the story of my life.

Reciprocity: Magic or Myth?

A short lesson in how to be a positive and encouraging person.

I want to start by saying that the intention of this post is not to present myself as some icon of virtue or being any better than anyone else: I am definitely neither. But there are some things I am good at, and one of those things is supporting and encouraging other Indie authors.

I have always been very clear about the fact that nothing I do in the Indie Author community is done with the hope of receiving anything in return. I am more than happy to buy and review the books I do, share posts, help answer questions, and encourage others as much as I can.

You might be tempted to assume that, as a result, I have a veritable army of people ready to fall over themselves to do similar things for me. Well, that would be nice!

In fact, that’s very rarely how it works. More often than not, those who are generous with their time and energy receive very little in return. That’s life: I accept that, as do others I know in the same situation, and keep going.

There seems to be a groundswell of folk, however, who have taken it upon themselves to resent others that they perceive as being “more successful” or “more popular” than them, and to insist that they’re not going to do anything for anyone who hasn’t done anything for them.

Just last week there was a situation where a friend tagged some people in a Facebook post to ensure that her post was seen, and didn’t some of those tag-ees complain! One of them took the opportunity to launch a personal attack and completely degraded the conversation into a most hurtful state of affairs. Another had plenty of very demeaning things to say, not just about the friend in question but also those who sprang to her defence.

Well, isn’t it a good thing we don’t all work that way? What sort of a world would that be. where we all carried on like six-year-olds in the playground?

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Folks, that is not how we Indie.

Assuming that someone will share your post because you shared theirs will sometimes work out that way, but often not. Hoping that someone will buy your book because you bought theirs is not at all realistic.

There’s one thing you can be sure of, though: If an author – or anyone else, for that matter – is horrible to people, those on the receiving end are not going to forget that. There is absolutely zero chance that they will share the post, buy the book, or attend a Facebook event for someone who has abused or belittled them. In addition, the chances of their friends doing any of those things are remote. Tearing someone else down on social media— or anywhere— is entirely counterproductive.

As Indie authors, we’re all in the same boat. We’re all trying to find readers, sell books, write the next number one bestseller, and get noticed by the universe. We’re all tweeting, Instagramming, Facebooking, blogging and whatever-else-ing we can in the hope of putting our books, or whatever it is we’re doing to make our way in the world, in front of appreciative eyes who want what we’ve got to offer. We’d all like to be able to quit our jobs and pay the bills with our royalties.

2015-11-27 10.51.43 Choose The PositiveBut here’s the thing: this isn’t a competition. Readers will always be interested in another book, another genre, another great read. There is absolutely no need to snuff out someone else’s candle so that yours can burn. We make more light and warmth together than we can on our own. This is something that my friends, especially the Indie Fabs, and I have experienced and proven time and time again.

Encouragement costs nothing. It doesn’t even take much time or energy. If someone asks you for one or two clicks of a mouse button that doesn’t end in costing you money, where’s the harm? If someone does something praiseworthy, commend them. If someone has a great cover, or hits the bestseller list, or writes a great book, congratulate them… and then go one step further by telling others. Who knows? You may even find that they do return a favour one day, or you might discover that someone has done something for you out of the blue, just because they can.

Reciprocity as most people perceive it is a myth. But initiating goodwill by being positive and encouraging? That’s magic. And that is how we Indie.

Indie and Proud!

Indie Pride Day 2018: A Fantastic Way To Celebrate Being Indie!

July 1 was Indie Pride Day, on which Indie authors  worldwide posted selfies with their books to show the world what we have achieved. Posts were made with key hashtags to get those tags trending and get attention across all social media platforms.

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It’s just one way we can stand up and say “we’re here!” to a world that still focuses on traditional publishing and looks down its nose at Indie authors, even though Indie artists and musicians are almost revered as  artistic heroes – which, of course, they are.

The encouragement I’ve received from other Indie authors today has been incredible. I’ve seen people following other writers on social media, sharing other authors’ pictures, leaving encouraging comments, and cheering one another on. It has been an enormous wave of positive reinforcement, friendship and camaraderie that any other industry would, and should, envy.

So, while my social media posts for Indie Pride Day  may at first glance appear as though I’m trying to sell my books, that’s not my intention. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think putting my face beside anything is going to help sell it.  Those pictures of me with my books are intended to be an encouragement to others to be loud and proud about what we do, and to encourage writers to embrace Indie as a viable and legitimate route toward getting their work read by audiences worldwide.

It’s also fair to say that, having made a mission of going out to take themed photos, I had quite a bit of fun doing it. These shots didn’t make the final cut, but they’re actually some of the ones I like best.

And all you readers out there? If you choose to bypass books because they’re Indie, you’re missing out on some truly excellent reads.

Friday the 13th 99c Ebook Sale

Don’t miss this fabulous little sale on Friday the 13th. 

A group of very generous authors have put together a collection of great books that are either on sale for 99c or free for Friday 13th.

It’s not just horror – there are mysteries, sci fi humour, YA adventures, poetry and flash fiction included. There really is something for everyone!

If you’re looking for a good new read for the weekend, or always up for a bargain, head over to visit Book Squirrel and see what’s on offer.

Friday 13th 99c sale

 

Book Squirrel Header Grey with URL
If you love reading, you should definitely follow Book Squirrel’s blog for book reviews, new release updates, and author interviews.

The Thrill of the Chase.

This week, I did something I haven’t done in quite some time: I put an item I really wanted on my “watch list” on eBay. That set in motion the next chain of events: checking in daily– or more often, as the end drew nearer– to see if anyone had placed a bid, choosing the precise time at which I would place my first bid so that nobody else could click the “Buy It Now” button, waiting with anticipation as time ticked away, and then moaning about how slowly time moves in that last half hour.

Honestly, that last half hour of an auction for an item you really want is like walking through glue. After a whole week of saying, “Far out! How is it 4pm already?”, yesterday afternoon d r a g g e d like you wouldn’t believe.

By the time there were just ten minutes left, I was poised like a cat watching the proverbial mouse. I was ready to bid if someone else outbid me. I was prepared for that battle of one-upmanship that often happens in the last five minutes, yet still breathing the mantra “nobody see this… please, nobody else see this.” The tension gripped my shoulders and I had to work to keep my breathing steady. When the auction finished without anyone else bidding, relief washed over me like a wave, right before the excitement of winning put me on a high for the rest of the day.

You may think I’m exaggerating, but this is a scene that is all-too-familiar to people accustomed to buying things on eBay and similar auction sites. It’s the thrill of the chase and a cat-and-mouse game, without even leaving the room. It can be quite addictive, although I only indulge occasionally.

Sure, I use eBay now and then for everyday items that my local stores don’t carry. Most of those, you can just buy casually because they always have more than one set of stainless steel drinking straws, for example. What I’m talking about here is the one-off item that you don’t want to miss out on.

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The last big thing I bought like this was a set of antique books – a complete set of Charles Dickens novels published in 1911, that I snapped up for $76. I’m pretty sure that whoever sold it didn’t know what they were selling, or how to list it properly, because that was an absolute steal. But hey – there it was, and there I was… what’s a book-loving girl to do?

Yesterday, the item in question was an out-of-production collectable teddy bear by Charlie Bears, a UK firm who make the most adorable bears ever. Their faces are ever so expressive, and every bear is just a little bit individual.

percival-2.jpg

I have a number of these bears already, but there’s always room for one more. As my husband says, “Some women buy shoes. Some women gamble. For Jo, it’s books and bears.”

This is Percival. He is super cute, and was listed for about a third of the retail price. Again, what’s a bear-loving girl to do? It just wouldn’t be right to leave a poor little bear all homeless and alone, would it? Just think of me as one of those altruistic animal rescuers, giving otherwise miserable bears a new chance at life in a sanctuary with others of their own kind.

If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, you will most likely have seen some of my bears posing with my books. It’s a marketing angle I’m trying out since Facebook and Instagram in particular seem to favour posts that major on visual appeal rather than advertising value. In a social media world where everyone needs to find their own niche for marketing, “A Book and A Bear” is mine. People seem to enjoy the posts and respond very favourably, so I’m running with it.

 

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Now that the auction is over, the next phase begins.
We just have to be patient and wait for Percival to arrive. It’s fair to say that Diesel is as excited as I am.

 

 

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How To Avoid Blocked Hashtags On Instagram

Did you know that you aren’t allowed to use the hashtag #books on Instagram?
Until today, I certainly didn’t.

Instagram have been blocking some terms – mostly to do with sexism, sexual content, body shaming and bullying, or so I thought. It’s called a shadowban: posts using blocked tags are less visible than others, and repeated use can result in more definite blocking of posts or accounts.

Surely there’s nothing offensive about #books though? Yet it’s one of the hashtags that will cause your posts to drift into obscurity.

As an author, reader, book reviewer and all-round book nerd, that’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, but thankfully my love for tags like #bookstagram and #booklover has been saving my bookish hide more often than I ever realised.

I did find a rather extensive list of hashtags banned by Instagram, courtesy of the great people over at Instavast.com, but I don’t really want to go and consult another site and spend my valuable time reading through horrible words – and some of them are horrible – in order to find out if something relatively innocent is also blocked.

I’d rather be able to check quickly and easily inside the app itself. And that is quite do-able, even if you’re a novice.

Follow these handy and simple instructions to discover if a term you want to use is acceptable without consulting a long list somewhere that may even be out of date by now.

1. When you’re using the Instagram app, click on the search icon. It’s the one that looks like a magnifying glass.

2. Type in the hashtag you want to use. A list of possible tags will come up. So far, it looks like #books is okay.

3. Next, click on the Tags tab of the search window. #books is still there and still looks alright. However…

4. Tap on that tag in the list and scroll down, you will find only a few images, followed by a message that says the tag has been banned because reports have been made regarding inappropriate content.


If you go ahead and use the tag, nobody will see your tag because they can’t find posts using that tag, either. And your other tags might also end up being blocked. So might your account.

Nobody wants to end up there.

So, as authors and book lovers, we need to tag our posts differently so that other book lovers will find our posts.ScreenHunter_439 Mar. 13 19.13

When you click on a tag that is not blocked, you’ll see some further “related” tags that you could use in your posts. Notice, though, that this does not exist for #books.

I’ve slogged through a whole bunch of these “related tags” to find some great hashtags with good popularity that you can use safely – for now, anyway.

Try some of these great tags for your bookish posts:
#bookstagram
#booksofinstagram
#bookworm
#book
#booklover
#booklove
#instabooks
#booklife
#bookish
#instaread
#bookblogger
#bookaddict
#bookphoto
#booknerd
#booknerdigans
#bookstagrammer

If you’re posting images or reviews of books you’ve enjoyed, consider some of these:
#ilovereading
#epicreads
#amreading
#bibliophile
#lovetoread
#bookaddiction
#readingbooks
#readabook
#igreads

My final piece of good news is that if you have been using a blocked hashtag, you can rescue your posts and make them fully visible again.

1. For each post, click on the three dots to the right of your username.

2. Choose edit from the menu.

3. Scroll to your hashtags and change or remove the banned one.

4. Click on ‘done’ and your post will be back to full visibility.

 

Handy hint: if you “like” your own post once you’ve changed it, your post will re-enter the general Instagram feed.
It’s a good idea to do this one or two posts at a time, not all at once, so you don’t flood your followers’ feeds.

Branded Short Links.

Branded short links make your posts instantly recognisable as yours.

Promo Seal of Approval Fur Real Nova TPOTNShort links like bit.ly/whatever and buff.ly/something are becoming more and more popular. I’ve been using bit.ly as a link shortening service for my social media posts for some time, and have loved the convenience and the ability to personalise links for myself.

Last week, though, I made a significant discovery: I could have my very own short link domain, and use my own branded short links across all my social media. This makes my posts and products more immediately recognisable. It gives me consistent and affordable branding. And it means the short link I want for a particular book or post is never going to have been taken by someone else!

I read a few blogs and website articles about it to make sure it was something that I understood before I signed up, but it’s really not that complicated. I explored a few different sites to see which ones offered the best service, and although they’re all quite similar to one another, I settled on Rebrandly because it’s very simply laid out and easy to use.

Getting hold of my own short domain name was easy. I clicked on the “domains” tab and then on the “New Domain” button. That took me to a page where I could browse domain names relevant to my branding – jvlpoet – so that I could choose whichever one I liked best. There’s a range of prices, and plenty for $2 for the first year. I chose jvlpoet.link for my branded short domain because it seemed the most straightforward, and it’s easy to remember.

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The slashtag is whatever comes after that link. I can use that short domain name and then the slashtag of my choice, which I set up at Rebrandly on the “links” tab. So, jvlpoet.link/nova is the branded short link for the universal link to my book, Nova, in all digital stores. It’s much more personal, and recognisable as mine, than www.books2read.com/jvlnova.

Now that I have set up my branded short links, Rebrandly keeps track of how many clicks each link has received, and when, so I can see how effectively each one is working.

They also offer a range of apps which enable me to synchronise my links on Rebrandly on my phone and tablet, and in conjunction with bit.ly, goo.gl, Clickmeter, Chrome, and all sorts of other services.

This gives me a tightly coordinated approach to branding and publicising my posts across social media, websites, blogs… everywhere. And thus far, all it’s cost me is $2. Even when my domain costs me $14 for the following year, it’s still a bargain for that level of visibility and recognition.

 

The links I’ve created with bit.ly still work, so I don’t have to rebrand the images or posts I’ve already made. They’re all still great, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with bit.ly’s service. I just like having my name there instead of theirs.

 

Author’s note: This post is not affiliated with Rebrandly or any of the other services I’ve mentioned. It’s simply my account of my choices and the steps I’ve made in achieving the desired outcome. 

 

How to Achieve A Visually Attractive Twitter Feed.

Just because you can use 280 characters, doesn’t mean you should.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of people commenting on how they love the new 280 character limit for Twitter. I’ve also noticed a lot of people writing long tweets with no line breaks, and barely any space in them to take a breath.

My message here may be unpopular with those folks, but it must be said: just because you can use 280 characters, doesn’t mean you should.

Remember, people are basically lazy. They don’t want to have to work to figure out what you’re saying, and they don’t want to wade through thirteen hashtags to do so, either.

When it comes to writing tweets, I’ve always assumed that the rule of “less is more” applies. I want my message to be short, easily understood and digested, and easily acted upon.

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I’ve always tried to keep my tweets to well under the 140 characters, as short as 100 characters if possible. A short, effective message is more attractive to people than a slab of text.

As an author, I’ve heard more people than I care to try to count tell me that they don’t like reading. (I know, right? I don’t understand it either.) However, it’s something that I’ve taken to heart when writing anything promotional. Any ad, tweet, or invitation is completely ineffective if it puts people off before they even really look at it.

I always leave a line of space between my main message and my hashtags. It breaks up the tweet so it looks more accessible. I also think that it makes the hashtags a bit more obvious, given that some people might take notice of those before the actual message.

When it comes to hashtags, I wrote a few months back about ‘How To Avoid Hashtag Hell’ in social media. I advised then to use two well-chosen hashtags, and no more. Given the increased word limit, I’m about to start experimenting with using three to increase the discoverability of my tweets, but that would be my upper limit. This isn’t a rule, as such, but simply my desire to keep my tweets looking simple and attractive. I’m no expert in advertising or design, but I go by what I experience myself: when a message is easy on the eye, it’s going to get more attention.

On that same assumption, I always include an image. People are very visually oriented and will, more often than not, look at the picture before the text. I try to make the image relevant to the post, and will often superimpose text and web addresses on the image in a way that won’t detract from the visual effect I hope it will achieve. Where appropriate, I use logos that will build familiarity with my work. Otherwise, I use my own images or stock images that are copyright and royalty free, so that I’m not infringing on copyright, either. There are lots of places that offer them, but I find pexels.com and pixabay.com to be excellent sources of quality images that are free for reuse for any purpose.

ScreenHunter_437 Feb. 20 21.33I use a link shortening service so that half the tweet isn’t taken up by an enormous web address or link. Bit.ly is free, so are many others. I use Buffer to schedule my tweets, and it shortens links automatically, so that’s a double win!

A further advantage of using Buffer is that it enables me to recycle my tweets so that I don’t have to spend hours each week coming up with new content. I regularly change the hashtags and messages on a reused tweet so that I’m not just giving people the same old thing time after time.

When it’s done a few rounds, I’ll rest a great tweet for a while, and pick it up again down the track if it’s still relevant. I save them in files in Evernote, so all I have to do when I come back is copy and paste it into a new message, attach the image, and off I go.

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Some of my tweets don’t have links. This is a deliberate decision on my part – sometimes I just want to offer a thought, a joke, or a compliment to my audience without asking them to do anything in return. That’s not a rule either – it’s just how I like to do things.

Finally, mix it up. If all you tweet is ads for your book or service, or quotations from your work in progress, it can get a little humdrum. I keep things varied by tweeting about great books, free reads, short reads, book reviews, magazines, great blog articles, and interesting tidbits of history, science and general interest far more than I tweet ads for my own books. My books are worthy of advertising and attention, and I would love to find more readers, but I don’t believe in shoving them in people’s faces at every opportunity, either.

I know all that seems like a lot of work, but being active on social media does take effort and thoughtfulness if you’re going to have something meaningful to offer.

Since I have been following these guidelines, I have had new followers every day. I started 2017 with just over 300, and now I have 3000 more than that. It’s slow growth, but it’s organic growth – my audience actually wants to be my audience! And that is worth far, far more than being able to fit a bunch of stuff in one tweet.

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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