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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

internet

Why Writers Must Learn to Love the Internet

Is the internet really all that important? You bet it is!  Especially for those whose books are not handled by the traditional big five publishers.  If you are an Indie author and/or publisher, your books appear in two formats: Print on Demand and electronic editions. They are seldom to be found on the shelves of a traditional book store, so where will your readers go to purchase your book? The internet, of course. Your readers are people who use the internet.  They have Amazon accounts, or Apple iBooks apps.  If they look for your book in a Barnes & Noble storefront, they’ll end up looking in an electronic catalog.  Make no mistake.  Without the internet, you won’t be selling many books unless you spend your time going door to door or hosting wine and cheese parties.
 
The formula is simple.  You go where your readers are. And your readers are sitting in front of a computer, or using a tablet or smart phone to find and order their reading material. Your readers are people who send e-mails or text messages, keep track of their friends’ birthdays on Facebook, make snarky comments on Twitter, send out job applications on LinkedIn, and turn to Pinterest for ideas for tonight’s dinner.
 
Some of them – the most dedicated readers – will turn to Goodreads for guidance on what to read, check all the reviews of a new book on “Ask David,” and play silly matching games on Freado in hopes of snagging a free copy. They will Google your name to find out who you are, and they will expect to find a website featuring your books.
 
There’s no way to avoid this. You need to start right now to build your internet presence.  This may not be exactly what a big-name publisher means by demanding that an author have a “platform,” but it comes close. You must become active, friendly, and clever on the social media sites. You need to join Goodreads (which is now a part of Amazon) because your readers will expect to find you there. You need a great website – attractive, appealing, easy to find, easy to use, and full of interesting tidbits about yourself and your books. And finally, although possibly most important, you need a blog -- one like this, where you can talk directly to  your readers, offering them quality information they can only get from you.
 
You won’t become an overnight internet sensation. It takes a long time to break into this latest club, which is why it is vital that you start right away.  My blog started with 75 readers a month. After the first year, that number increased to 200 a month. The third year it jumped to a thousand, then ten thousand. Now in its fifth year, I regularly get 1500 readers a day. Do they all buy my books? Of course not. But lots of them do.
 
If you have to choose between establishing your internet persona and writing your book, I suggest you hone your writing skills on internet posts. Save the book manuscript until you know readers out there are waiting for it. 

e-Convergence: Scotland, a Mouse, NY Library, Sean Connery, and a Hot Dog

I’m finding that the internet is having a strange, although enjoyable, effect upon me.  Maybe I can call it “e-convergence.” What happens is that I spend an hour or so each morning wading through email messages, Facebook postings, the latest figures on how many people read yesterday’s blog and how many others bought one of my books, the online version of the New York Times, and a few of my favorite bloggers. And more and more often, the ideas from one item leap across the screen to make some sort of connection with another that is totally unrelated, or so it would seem. 
 
For example, we have a cat calendar hanging in the bathroom, and the first thing I noticed this morning was that I had missed “Burns Night,” a Scottish holiday, celebrated, according to my calendar on January 25, the birthday of poet Robert Burns. That brought a fleeting smile, a quick memory of his poem to a mouse, and then I moved on.
 
A Facebook post led me to an article about the damage the internet has done to our ability to concentrate.  It argued that we are all learning to think and write in short spurts – a pithy and obscure status post, a 140-word tweet, a link to an article rather than a reasoned response.  Yeah, I thought.  That might be so, but I had too many other posts to check.  Moving along.
 
On a blog, I ran across an article about whether or not a scholar attending an academic conference should, or should not, skip some scheduled talks to explore the city in which the meeting is being held. Briefly I thought about the number of such conferences I have attended without seeing anything except the inside of the hotel where the sessions are happening.  Too many, I’m afraid.  So I came down firmly on the side of the argument for getting out more, if only for a non-conference local meal.  Then I moved on.
 
In the New York Times, I paused to read an article about plans to remodel the iconic New York Public Library, and suddenly that e-convergence happened.  I was back in New York City 10 or 12 years ago, supposedly attending the annual meeting of the Medieval Academy of America. By that time I was close enough to retirement that I had quit worrying about making the “right contacts” or pitching a new book proposal to some bored publishing rep.  It was a beautiful day, and I couldn’t stand listening to one more graduate student stumbling through a presentation only to be savaged by the old salts in the back of the room. I literally moved on.
 
Outside I went and started walking. Within a few blocks I realized I was standing in front of that New York Public Library. What a wonderful morning I had! I climbed those steps eagerly, gaped in wonder at the Reading Room, plundered a few open shelves for strange books that had nothing to do with my career, and shivered with pride when I discovered my own book in the card catalog. Then again I moved on, feeling guilty and intending to return to the hotel in time for the scheduled chicken luncheon.
 


But outside on those same steps, I ran full tilt into a man dressed in a complete Scottish tartan. He laughed as he caught my elbow to keep me from falling, and acknowledged that it was hard to take one’s eyes off that old building. So I looked down and couldn’t see anything but his bare knees below his kilt. Again he chuckled and asked me if I was coming to the parade. 


A parade? Yes, it turned out to be a Scottish holiday, and he was eager to tell me about his bagpipe band.  “You must see our parade,” he said.  “We even have Sean Connery leading the way as our Grand Marshall.” That did it! I learned their route, and the starting time of the parade, and set off – in the opposite direction from the conference hotel – to find a good viewing spot.  I even bought a street cart hot dog that made a better lunch than that promised rubber chicken. It was a day I thought I would never forget, even if Sean Connery’s knees did turn out to be as knobby as the others I had seen. 
 
But I did move on afterward.  I hadn’t thought of that day until this morning, when casual but completely unrelated internet blurbs – those short spurts of ideas --  caused that e-convergence that brought all the memories together one more time.  Such is one value of our current fascination with the internet.  It has the power to give us links to other times, other places, other people – all coming together as one interconnected world.
 
 
 

4 Problems That Suggest It's Crisis Time for Indie Authors

I wish I could start this blog by promising to bring you new solutions to current problems, but unfortunately all I can manage is an identification of those problems.  The topsy-turvy world of publishing is facing a whole series of crises at the moment, and e-book authors are not immune.  In fact, we are at the very center of some of these problems. Here are some of the trends I’m noticing.  What are we to do about them?  I have no easy answers, but I suspect the first step comes with recognizing that there are problems.
 
1.     The big crisis of the week was the revelation that Todd Rutherford and others like him have been selling 5-star book reviews to anyone willing to pay for them.  You’ve likely heard the outcry! Once it becomes known that not all reviews are legitimate, all reviews become suspect. Those of us who work hard to earn the praise of strangers who read our books are tarred by the same brush as those who have laid out thousands of dollars to fill up their Amazon ratings. Because, after all, how can a prospective customer know if that great review came from a happy reader, or your doting Aunt Sally, or one of Rutherford’s lackeys who churn out reviews based on a picture of the cover?

If there’s any comfort in this, it comes from viewing our less-than-stellar reviews with a certain amount of gratitude.  In one location I have a 2-star write-up that goes on for some time about how boring my book it. Now I can say “Thanks” for demonstrating that at least I haven't purchased my reviews!

2.     The second crisis that disturbed me this week was triggered by a status that appeared on my Facebook page from someone I have never heard of.  How did this gentleman get there? I have no idea, which is in itself troubling.  However, what really worried me was his message. This was a writer who, based on the popularity of “50 Shades,” had determined that no one wants to read anything but sex today. So he had just issued a 12,000 word, 40+ page “book” that contained nothing but one prolonged sexual encounter – no plot, no setting, no names beyond “he” and ‘she” – just steamy scenes. He offered the “book” for free, with a link to a Smashwords page, where a prospective reader could download the first few pages to whet the appetite – or something!  I have no idea how many downloads he chalked up, but his approach to writing a “book” must cast a shadow over all our legitimate efforts.

3.     And in the midst of unscrupulous people out for a buck without caring about the overall effect of their actions, we’re getting word that the rules of social media are changing – faster and more quietly than we can keep up with.  I pointed out a couple of changes on Amazon last week, having to do with the way they count free downloads as “sales.” Now I’m wondering what they will do about some of their lists, like the ones that rely totally on customer reviews to provide the “top-ranked” books in each of their categories. If reviews are now suspect . . . . . . . .?

4.     Another place where the rules are changing is Google. They, too, are changing their algorithms that show the relative popularity of websites.  I can’t begin to explain what’s going on, except for pointing out that one Google mogul has been quoted as saying, “We’re changing it, and  you’re not going to like it!”  I’m seeing the effects of it (whatever it is) already.  The report that tells me how many hits my website gets  has been running even, or growing slowly, every day for the past 18 months.  How, then, did it plummet from an average of 450 hits per day to 47? I don’t think I said anything offensive enough to cause a total black-listing, but there it it. Rumor has it that they are no longer counting back links or connections that come from other sites such as Twitter or Facebook. If so, internet marketers will have some major adjustments to make.
 
Have you noticed any other changes coming? Do you have any suggestions as to how we meet the new challenges? Let’s start a conversation.

A Biology Lesson for Social Media Butterflies

Despite the fact that I am a serious writer, with a deadline hanging over my head, I seem to be spending all my time lately on social media. Now, I know that social media websites are useful tools for writers. If you're a writer, you can announce the publication of a new book and, with just a few clicks on the cut and paste keys, send that announcement out to thousands of potential readers. Your followers are your most likely purchasers. Your friends are the people who will share the news and help you celebrate. The internet provides the cheapest advertising  you will ever get. But what about the downside? How much time do you have to devote to engaging all those friends, to providing your followers with useful tidbits of information, to share a joke with people you've never met?  Several experiences recently have almost convinced me that a nasty, green-horned caterpillar lurks behind every social media butterfly.

I still don't fully understand Google+ and what it hopes to accomplish. Perhaps it's just me, but I'm seeing two kinds of people turning up on my desktop.  The first group includes people I know, either through personal contact or previous internet interactions. A familiar face is always welcome when I go to a new site, but more and more, it seems that the people I know are simply reposting their comments from Facebook or Twitter.  I don' have the time to read most posts meveral times. Then there are the people in my Circles who have popped up without an introduction and asked to join the conversation.  OK, that's fine. At least they're saying something new.  But more and more, the ones I get are either trying to raise money or push a particularly offensive political agenda. No, thanks.

I'm also becoming more and more suspicious of the "Groups" appearing on Facebook and LinkedIn. Talk about agendas! It seems like a good idea to connect with other people who share your interests,  But these groups soon become monotonous if they can only share one set of goals or ideas. I go out into the internet to find new  tastes, not a steady diet of the same old meat and potatoes. Today was a particularly annoying one.  Someone in a group to which I have subscribed suggested that we all post the URLS of our Facebook pages, so that we could help to promote each other. I should have known better, but since I had recently developed a new style of Facebook fan page, I posted my URL. A plague  of locusts descended! Three times I found my mailbox jammed with messages from group members saying, "I liked  you page; now please go and like mine." I felt as if I were trapped in a revolving door.

And then there's Pinterest. I waited eagerly for my invitation, all the time believing that this new site was rapidly becoming the equivalent of Facebook. People kept telling me how wonderful the site was.  I should have listened more closely to the ones who said that they got lost in in for hours at a time.   If I understand how it works, members create little corkboards that reflect their personal interests. Then they pin pictures, sayings, blurbs, and whatever else they can round up to those boards -- for the purpose of sharing them with others. So members follow each other and look at each other's treasures, and maybe borrow what they see to add to their own boards. I still don't get the purpose of all of that.  And the time it takes is indeed a sinkhole in the middle of your day.  You have to find the items to be pinned, download the, assign them to one of your boards, and then identify each one with source and comments. I don't see the appeal, and I certainly don't have that kind of time.
 
I suspect social media sites are multiplying like those ugly green hornworns that will infest your tomato plants next summer.  Yes, if you leave them undisturbed, they will eventually morph into a lovely butterfly, but not until they've stripped your plants of leaves and bitten gooey chunks out of  your vegetables.


Oh, I'm not swearing off all social media.  I'll keep my Facebook page because it lets me know what my real friends and relatives are up to. It provides a quick way to say, "I care about you."  I'll keep my Twitter account, not only because it teaches me not to be wordy, but because among all the dreck, there are some terribly wise sayings that appear--bright new ideas that I need to hear. And I'll keep my LinkedIn account because its basic premise is to establish networks of professionals. But don't expect to see me every time someone comes up with a new idea for sharing. The caterpillars outweigh the butterflies.