Sunday, December 19, 2010

Introvert's Holiday Survival Guide

Tis that season again, the season where introverts everywhere must dig deep to find the energy needed to survive the holiday--or pray they get snowed in!

In an effort to give you some tools to survive the holidays, I am re-posting our Introvert Holiday Survival Guide! 

1. Find a quiet spot in your day, even if it is just for five minutes, and allow yourselves to just be…still, calm, centered. At least for five minutes. A true gift to yourself.

2. Tell everyone you’re going Christmas shopping, but instead indulge in an hour alone with a warm, soothing drink as your only company. No, it's not being selfish; you will have more energy and heart to deal with all your holiday demands if you take care of yourself! Trust us on this.

3. Give yourself some time this holiday—even just fifteen minutes—to do some writing or dream or make big plans for the coming year.

4. If your time is too frazzled to actually make progress on your manuscript, consider personal journaling or maybe even character journaling. Journaling your character's thoughts and feelings can be a great way to stay connected to your WIP without having to actually produce pages. In fact, one of my favorite writing exercises one year was this: Choose a character you’re currently working on and write his or her Christmas wish list.

5. Don’t forget ear plugs. They can be a lifesaver. Especially when the TV is blaring, the kids are playing too loudly, or the snow-blower is going down the street.

6. Don’t forget to plot—plot for a few hours solitude, plot for a quick escape, plot to get everyone to leave early. . .

7. Naps! Either a long luxurious two hour nap where you sleep hard enough to get bed head, or quick refreshing pick-me-up of a 20 minute cat nap, allow yourself a luxury of a nap. Special Perk: Writer + nap = work. (Or at least, that’s what I’ve managed to convince my family.)

8. A plea on behalf of all the introverted children out there in the world—for introverted children, having to get up in Santa’s lap and TALK to this perfect stranger, usually IN FRONT OF other perfect strangers can be the six year old equivalent of public speaking.

9. Fill your holiday well by doing the things that make your holiday feel complete and yours. Remember, this is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation. It’s also a way to honor the spirit of the holidays in a way that has personal significance for you. Better yet if it is something that no one else really cares for: a local production of The Nutcracker, Watching Love Actually (my favorite Christmas movie EVER), a certain collection of holiday music that makes everyone else groan when you put it on.

10. Don’t forget to recharge your batteries—and no, we don’t mean Duracell or Eveready! We really can’t state this one strongly enough. It’s something introverts have to be vigilant about during the best of time, but during the holidays, it is critical! Take the time to recharge your battery! Do not risk depleting your reserves! (Yes, that’s an order. Or maybe just a sternly worded warning: Whichever makes you most inclined to follow it.)

11. Enjoy the dead zone between Christmas and New Years, when life kind of stops—or at least slows down. It’s a fallow, fertile time when we’ve just capped the year with a celebration and have yet to start the new year with all its resolutions, plans, and intentions. It’s a time for dreaming, reflecting, of reviewing and savoring. If you haven’t had a chance to refill your well or recharge your batteries, grab some time now, while everyone is in this lulled state.

Wishing everyone a fabulous end to 2010 and an even MORE fabulous 2011! We will be signing off until next year (I have a mss due on Wed., and haven't EVEN started getting ready for Christmas yet!). We'll return on January 10, 2011 with lots more thoughts and interviews and profiles.

(Also, if you are a regular Shrinking Violet blog reader and have a book coming out in the firsts three months of 2011, send me a quick email with a copy of your cover. I'll be updating the sidebar for the new year!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Eleven: Wrapping Up

Phew! You made it! You stuck with this workshop for all eleven sessions! Hurray YOU! (And yes I know, eleven is a strange, untidy number, but that’s how the cookie crumbled.) Hopefully you’ve gained some insights not only into why and how you are online, but also discovered some of the different layers and aspects of your self and how they might interact with your professional online presence. If not, well, you can repeat the course as many times as you’d like and no one will be any the wiser. ☺

Someone had asked a few weeks ago in the comments what sorts of numbers and metrics to shoot for in terms of followers. How many new followers/friends should we aim for each week? Month? Year?

The truth is, while I love measurable metrics as much as the next person, (Hel-lo Amazon Bookscan numbers!) I’m not sure this is the best way to approach your list of followers & friends. The thing we’re after here is building meaningful connections. It is much better to have a small, dedicated, truly interested group of 500 friends & followers than it is to have 1,000 who are all just mutually following each other to inflate their numbers. So . . I’m not going to answer that question. I think a much more effective approach—and saner—is to focus on the quality of the interaction between you and the community you are building.

Having said that, I also know it will not be enough to satisfy the truly metric-centric among you, so I will say that there seems to be a general sense that if you can garner 1,000 dedicated followers, that then you begin to have something. (If you Google 1,000 followers you’ll see lots of talk about it, but basically the concept revolves around a committed, dedicated core of true fans, not mutual number-padders.)

The truth is though, not all of us will find 1,000 followers—at least not for a long time. It takes a lot of work and stick-to-itiveness, very much akin to building a writing career. It will also depend HUGELY on your genre and who your ultimate audience is. Genres that are able to interact directly with their audience online (YA, romance, fantasy) will be able to build a following faster than those who rely on gatekeepers (PB, MG).

The vast majority of us will have friends and followers who find us after they’ve read our books and decide to seek us out online. We want to be sure and have a solid presence ready for them when they do. Another, smaller percentage of us will manage to build a significant online presence that will then lead our friends and followers to our work. You have to decide for your own self and your own path where you will put your energy. Where you WANT to put your energy. For every person who found a book deal through their blog, there are many more who sold the book first and developed on online presence to interact with the readers that book brought looking for them.

Where do you want to spend your emotional and creative resources? This isn’t a trick question and there isn’t one right answer. You have to do a cost/benefit analysis of how maintaining an online presence fits into the current stage of your writing career. If you are getting up at 4:30 every morning to write before work, then falling asleep at night sometimes before your kids do, then time is probably your most precious resource right now and best not to squander it. Better to spend your time learning the craft and pursuing your dream. But if your engine is set to high idle and you’re just raring to go, by all means, dive in and being putting some of that energy to work for you in building a social media presence. You can absolutely have a two-pronged approach to establishing your career!

By the same token, as an introvert, if your day job or family demands simply consume all your social energy, then you have to really think about whether or not you can be effective online if you’re socially drained before you even log on. On the other hand, if you feel isolated and alone and desperate for the company of other writers as you journey on your path, then you probably have a lot to gain.

One other thing that I think is worth mentioning is that there have been a rash of brilliant, honest, and soul-bearing posts lately about the ups and downs of the writing life and its demands. From the soul sucking experience of being out on submission for months and months to the very human feelings of envy and jealousy that nearly every writer experiences, to honest, realistic exposés of what the reality of being published is like when compared to our dreams. Take the time to read these posts and let them be an important counterbalance in your head to the constant inner whispering and urgings to go faster, do more, don’t fall behind, they’re pulling ahead, she has more followers, he has more blog readers. Just. Stop. Don’t only listen to (and try to keep up with!) all the success stories you see on the internet, but use the experiences of those who are willing to be honest as cautionary tales of what to avoid.

Most especially, don’t spend so much time and energy focusing on the cliques you don’t belong to and the friends & followers you don’t have, that you ignore or take for granted the ones that you do.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Ten: Friends and Followers

Because we all start from different places and come from different stages of our career, I’ve tried to bring a variety of guest bloggers on to talk about how they built their community of followers and friends. I have intentionally avoided including anyone who has thousands and thousands of followers because here at Shrinking Violet, it’s all about the baby steps.

Today we have some more tips and suggestions from Lisa Schroeder, Sherrie Peterson, and Becky Levine. As you read today’s tips, you’ll notice some repetition of suggestions and themes. This is not an accident; there really are a few key things that you simply have to do in order to build a following, no matter what stage of the game you’re in.

We’ll start with Lisa Schroeder, who not only has published four YA novels, (Chasing Brooklyn, Simon Pulse 2010) but a MG series and a picture book as well. Inevitably when I’m reading a comment at another blog that makes me nod my head and marvel at the wisdom and insight, it is one of Lisa’s comments. Her top two suggestions for cultivating online connections are:

1) Take a genuine interest in other people and connect with them as much as possible from a human perspective, not just an author perspective. Comment on blogs when you read something you find interesting, even if it's just to say thanks.

2) The best blogs are inspirational, educational or funny, or a combination of the three. They give something back to the blogging community. Be intentional about your blog while being true to who you are.

Sherrie is a pre-published author who started blogging about two years ago and totally impressed me with how quickly she developed a friendly, polished blogging presence and impressive following. She attributes her blogging and online success to the four Cs. (Also? She just landed an agent this week, a HUGE step in any writer’s journey! If you get a chance, do check out her excellent post on why you shouldn’t give up.)

When I first started blogging I found a Comment Contest hosted by Mother Reader and Lee Wind. The idea was to visit blogs of the people participating and leave a comment in the spirit of driving more traffic to little-known blogs. I signed up and visited at least three different blogs every week day for a month. I commented on posts that interested me and quite often, the people I visited would visit my blog, like what they saw, and become followers. You don't have to be part of a contest to comment on blogs. Just be sure that your comment is sincere. Instead of saying things like, "Great post!" let the author know what specifically you liked about it. Meaningful comments build relationships between bloggers.

Make sure you have information on your blog that people want to read. Think about the blogs you follow. Do you go there for writing tips? Interviews? Book reviews?For the author's sense of humor? Find your own niche and then add your personal flair. Blog readers tend to gravitate to blogs that infuse personality with useful information. Nobody wants to hear every detail of your personal life, but if they get a sense of YOU, then they'll have more of a personal investment in your site.

Pick a schedule and stick to it. I've never posted a schedule on my site, but if you look at my Google stats, you'll see that most of my hits come on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. People know that those are the days I have new posts up and they come looking for them on a regular basis. If you can only post once or twice a week, that's okay. You don't need to make excuses for your busy life, just make sure that you consistently provide great content for people who come to visit.

Cooperating with other bloggers for special events like the Comment Contest I spoke of earlier will drive traffic to your blog. Whether you decide to sponsor a contest with a few blogging buddies or sign up for Agent Appreciation Day or another type of blogfest, working with other bloggers raises the profile of everyone involved.

And we're going to end with three terrific tips from Becky Levine, the author of THE WRITING & CRITIQUE GROUP SURVIVAL GUIDE (Writer's Digest--January, 2010) and is one of the most connected people I know of online. (Seriously? I don’t know how she does it and often wonder if she’s developed the secret to cloning and simply hasn’t told us about it.)

-Take a few seconds to leave a comment on an update or three that you agree with, that made you laugh, that hit a chord. People will notice you're there, be happy for the comment, and will come back to read your updates and get to know you better.

-Go ahead and take a tiny risk every now and then. Put something out there that's funny or friendly or just goofy, and don't worry about whether everybody will agree with you. We're usually much harsher in judging ourselves (negatively) than anyone else will be.

-If you're in doubt as to whether you "should" post a particular update, or make a specific comment, think about whether you'd feel good about saying the same thing out loud, in public, face-to-actual-face with this other person. People can get their feelings hurt, or become angry, just as easily in a virtual world as in a "real" one. And in social networking, there is a much bigger crowd watching and listening.


And just in case that isn't enough terrific advice, I've got some links!

A recent #YALITCHAT on Twitter that discussed social media.

And Jane Friedman always has fascinating things to say about being online. I don't always agree with her (although often I do) but I always love to hear what she has to say. Here's a link to some of her posts on building an audience. Her suggestions can be a little overwhelming for an introvert, so only pay attention to those that resonate with you. (Always a good guiding principle.)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Nine: More On How To Find Your Peeps

Today we have another entry in our expanded section on how to find friends and followers, this one contributed by the delightful Vivian Lee Mahoney. Vivian is a writer, blogger, and a Postergirlz for Reader Girlz.

Vivian and I became acquainted online when she first started stopping by my blog. Earlier this year when I was in Boston, I considered asking Vivian if she wanted to try and meet in person, but I was too shy. However, while I was back east, she and her lovely daughters came to one of my booksignings, wherein she confessed she had considered seeing if I wanted to try and get together, but she was too shy. Is that the quintessential introvert meet up or what??


When Robin asked me to write a few tips on how I found my niche in the virtual world as an introvert, it made me happy. How cool is it that a writer I admire so much, thinks I have a voice in the blogging world?

Then I started to panic. What can I write about that hasn't been covered in all the wonderful Shrinking Violet Promotions posts? I thought about this for some time, and then realized I might as well share the truth with you. I wear a mask.

Not a real one of course. I know, I know. A few of you are probably giggling or rolling your eyes. But, think about it. Isn't it somewhat intimidating that gazillions of people are on the internet and of those numbers, 99.99% of them are strangers? Now add to this equation the strong possibility that people you don't know will visit your blog and/or your website. Maybe it's through a Google search, a recommendation from a friend, or serendipity. In any case, people will find you. What will you do? You can't freak or run away. This is your space, your virtual home--or if you use your writerly imagination--your masquerade ball. It's up to you to create the right atmosphere.

Before I continue, I happen to have a few extra masks. Here you go. Ready? Look at yourself in the mirror. No need to hide your smile. You're absolutely fabulous. Come on now. Let's walk down the steps to the ballroom. I have three secrets to tell you...

1. Use anonymity to your advantage: Except for the .01% of the people out there, no one knows who you really are. You've got a mask on and can be whomever you'd like, as long as you're welcoming and respectful of your guests. Think of the mask as a buffer, something that will give you courage to be yourself in exponential form, without the worry of being found out. Share information, engage in conversation, and have fun! People will be intrigued and come back for more.

2. Be vulnerable: The mask allows you to be vulnerable, without the fear of being discovered. Sometimes it's easier to open up to strangers, and share things—your hobbies, your expertise, your loves, your life—within reason. Maybe the mask makes you feel safe to express yourself—after all, who will read what you have to say? Or maybe you're afraid/embarrassed to share things with the people in your real life, and the mask gives you the courage to let it all out. It's the things we can't always say and finally let out that will make people respond, because they relate to you and see themselves in what you have to say.

3. Be true: People can spot a fake a mile away, even on the internet. Although the mask gives you freedom, remember it will only give you bravery as long as you're true to who you really are. Your virtual peeps stop by to visit because they like you, trust what you have to say, and enjoy the conversation. There's no need to pretend you're something you're not. And you certainly don't need to prove yourself to anyone. You're perfect just the way you are.

It wasn't so hard, was it? Look at all the people having a lovely time at your masquerade ball. You made this happen!

Wear a mask and open up your virtual world. You'll find power you never knew you had. You'll be able to use your anonymity to your advantage, be vulnerable, and true. Your peeps will want to spend more time with you because they connect with you AND they like who they are when they're with you. Soon enough, you'll find you no longer need the mask and even better, you'll find yourself surrounded by a supportive group of virtual peeps. Be brave and let the world see what you have to offer. You can do it.

Thanks so much, Robin, for allowing me to stop by.

Thank YOU, Vivian, for such an honest look at such a terrific management strategy for being online!


And the winner of last week's contest is Chris Eboch!
Chris, email me  with your address and I will get a copy of the aMaZinG SHIP BREAKER out to you!

More tips on gaining friends and followers next week!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Eight: Finding Friends and Followers

 Because finding friends and followers is such a big part of the whole online presence thing, we'll be having a few posts on this topic. This week, we'll hear from Jennifer Hubbard, a long time Shrinking Violet, YA author, and successful user of social media.

 Introverts Finding Followers and Friends Online

I once read an interview with Brent Hartinger where he said (I’m paraphrasing here) that our public presence should be about the readers, not the writer; that the question should not be what do I want, but what do they need.

I think of the blog, or any online site, as a way to give. I talk about myself on my blog, but I try to talk about the things I’m going through that I think will resonate with others. “Here’s what I’m dealing with—how about you?” is the main message of my blog. I share tips, quotes that I find interesting, links to other posts that I admire. A couple of years ago, I started a “Library-Loving Blog Challenge” because I wanted to use my blog as a force for a greater good (in this case, raising money for libraries). In keeping with the above principle, I don’t require my blog readers to leave money; all they do is leave a comment, and I donate money. I invite other bloggers to do likewise, and I celebrate those that do. I did not start the blog challenge as a way to beef up my blog readership or promote my book; I did it because I wanted to help libraries. And it turns out to be incredibly fun!

I do talk about my book, but I try to keep it to the occasional mention of my biggest milestones. I don’t want my blog or Twitter stream to be an endless list of my awards, my appearances, my foreign-rights sales. In his essays, whenever Andrew Rooney talked about himself and the details of his daily life, he often said something along the lines of, “I’m writing about this not because you necessarily care about this little aspect of my life, but because I believe it will get you thinking about this aspect of your own.”

The trickiest thing for an introvert in carving out an online presence is balancing the privacy and solitude that introverts crave with the “social” aspect of social networking. But we manage to do this in our writing, too: we share deep and intimate parts of ourselves with total strangers. Yes, we have the filter of fiction or (in nonfiction) selectivity and a specific narrative voice. But what we’re doing in books is what we can do online, too: share the inner parts of ourselves that will resonate with others.

I had an interesting situation with my original agent, Nathan Bransford, because he had a very popular blog on which he showed my book cover, posted a couple of guest posts and contests related to me or my book, and often linked to my blog. Also, I often link to his blog, not just because he was my agent, but because his posts about writing and publishing are excellent.

Because we both have online presences, some people assumed that my agenting relationship itself was public. But in fact, it was a very boundaried relationship, and here are some of the boundaries we observed:

--The information we discussed online was already public. My book cover, my release date, my blog posts, his blog posts: all of that was public before we blogged about it or linked to it online.

--I was okay with being mentioned on his blog. I know that at any time, if I’d decided to be a hermit and ask him not to mention me there, he would have respected that wish utterly. Similarly, if he’d become a hermit and erased his online presence, I would have respected that. Not all of his clients had online presences to the extent that I did. But I was quite happy to be featured on his blog.

--We never blogged about details of my works in progress, when my manuscripts were being submitted, where they were being submitted, what my offers were, or any details of my contract negotiations. He did not disclose that information about any of his clients, ever.

--We respected each another’s confidentiality. If we knew behind-the-scenes details about each other’s personal or professional lives, we did not reveal them online.

And I think those are useful guidelines for any online relationship, especially if we have relationships that extend into the offline world. Early on, I set boundaries around what I would and would not talk about online. My relatives: almost entirely off limits, especially those who are minors. My cat: fair game (he doesn’t have the same privacy concerns that my relatives do!) My day job: Off limits (it’s irrelevant to my writing career, anyway). My writing toolbox: Fair game. My angst about writing: Fair game, unless it starts to sound whiny.

The thing for an introvert to remember is: you can choose what to say, when to say it, and to whom. The risk of revealing ourselves brings many rewards, but we can take those risks at our own pace.


Thanks so much, Jenn, for those terrific words of wisdom! And for this week's exercise, try and spend some time thinking about what you can give others through social media! All commentors will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi, which was nominated for a National Book Award! And it's an awesome book!

And this week's winner is Laura Ruby*! Laura, you win a copy of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Email me and I'll get that out to you!

*I numbered qualifying comments one through eight (not counting Kimberly Lyn's since she was just acknowledging her prize) then hit the ol' Random Number Generator.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Seven: More On Content

~ One of the biggest questions about blogging is how often does one need to do it to be effective? Daily? Almost daily?
While there are advantages to blogging daily (the more often your content is updated, the higher up on the search engine returns you are placed) in terms of building and connecting with an audience, consistency is probably more important than volume. Blog every Monday or every Tuesday & Thursday, or whatever works for your schedule. But be consistent.

~ Tagging your posts with labels and subject tags is another good way to get them picked up by the search engines and included when relevant text strings are searched for which help drives traffic to your blog. It is also a great way to index your archives for your blog readers—something that is absolutely on my To Do List here at SVP.

~ There are lots of opinions out there on the advantages of having short posts, with the general feeling being short and sweet captures more readers. But personally, I don’t ascribe to that. (Clearly!) ☺ Some of my entries are like magazine articles and others are essays and others still are only a few paragraphs long. I think you should use however many words you need to make your point but also know that sometimes people won’t have the time to read the longer posts. However, if your content is consistently good, they will.

~ Pictures and graphics are a great way to help capture people’s attention, and there are a ton of places on the web where you can access free public domain, or creative commons licensed images. Here are some sources:

Wikipedia commons


Public Domain Pictures

You can also buy credits at a place like iStock Photography or Getty Images.

~ While we’ve spent a ton of time thinking about and identifying core content messages, but it is also okay to change the subject once in a while and announce your book sale or reveal a new cover, or talk about upcoming appearances.

~ A really important part of blogging is interacting with those who stop by and engaging with them in the comment section. That might seem like a no-brainer, but when I first started blogging, I was told by a number of different ‘experts’ that authors shouldn’t respond to comments because there simply wasn’t going to be time to do that. My own feeling is that it depends. Many hugely popular authors don’t even have the comment function turned on. Others ask questions and have ongoing dialogs with their commenters. I think when you’re just starting out, unless you’re swamped with 100s of comments a day, it’s much friendlier to respond to comments and it could very well end up being that connection that brings people back.


The thing to remember is that most social media rules are a lot like writing rules—they don’t have to be religiously followed, you just need to understand what you lose/gain by not following them.

Each of us get to create and define our own social media parameters and boundaries. For every wildly successful blogger who got a book deal and hit the NYT bestseller list because of their huge online platform, there is a matching introverted, hermit of an author who barely has an online presence that has equally impressive sales.

A lot of introverts don’t care for small talk and find surface chit chat tedious at best. (And that’s not to say it’s either of those things in an absolute way, but it is for some). Because we move in an extroverted society, we’ve come to think of our interests as being out of the norm. One of the key things is to give yourself permission to talk about those things that ARE interesting to you and trust that, with a little bit of work and effort, you will be able to connect with similarly inclined souls.

But that’s the amazing, wonderful thing about the internet. We are not limited to our geographical sphere any more.

While I will be talking more about followers and such later, I will say that whenever I think of myself blogging or tweeting to connect with a huge group of people, I freeze. I get stage fright because I am certain that nothing I can say will be interesting to that many people. But when I think about talking to fellow introverts, or sharing a writing epiphany with a handful of other writers, or talking about the puzzling intricacies of human relationships with others who are equally fascinated by those interactions, that barrier disappears. It’s kind of like Elizabeth Gilbert talking about the writing of Eat, Pray, Love and telling the story to ONE person, one of her friends that she thought would get a lot out of it. If you blog and tweet like that, it will come across as authentic and real. Because it will be.

And lastly, I want to direct you to a DYNAMITE post about marketing called SHOULD I TWEET? from Betsy Lerner, former Houghton editor and author of the highly acclaimed, THE FOREST FOR THE TREES. It’s a terrific essay about marketing in general that is an absolute must read, but here are my three favorite excerpts:

It’s about finding the nerve your book strikes and going after it.

Maybe the best way to market your book is to send a hand written letter to every pastor in the country, or create a hoax, or stage a spectacle in Herald Square. Or maybe it’s just to write a book that will take everyone’s breath away.

Whether you should tweet is a little beside the point. The task at hand is to decipher what is most powerful in your work and connect it to every person, institution or media outlet who will listen. It’s not the form, it’s the content. What do you have? Why does it matter?

Which brings us to this week’s exercise. Can you name what is most powerful about your book/work and why it matters?

Commenters will be entered in a drawing for a copy of Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. (This week’s winner can choose that book as a prize instead of MADE TO STICK if they want.)

And speaking of this week’s winner—Kimberly Lynn! Step right up to the podium and claim your prize. Or, you know, email me. ☺

Monday, November 8, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Six: Creating Content

I don’t quite know why I feel compelled to add a disclaimer here, but I do. So here I go.

A vast majority of people online do not sit down and strategize their online presence. They kind of jump in and splash around until they find a dog paddle stroke that works for them. So if you’re comfortable with that, that’s fine. Just like there are a thousand different approaches to writing books, so are there a thousand different approaches to your online presence.

But for some, an online persona will be a primary way for our readers to connect with us, we might want to put a little more thought into it. That doesn’t mean it is inauthentic—it merely means it is not 100% spontaneous. And that’s okay. Just like we can’t write a publishable book with our first attempt at a first draft, we should expect to have to spend some time thinking and planning how we want to come across online.

So. Content. It’s the core of your online presence. It’s not only how you communicate who you are, but it makes you relevant to others.

From your previous week’s exercises, you should have a pretty good idea of what tools are in your online persona toolbox: your passions, your general blog style, your unique interests, things you love, some places where those intersect with your writing self/themes/mission statement, the reasons you want to be online in the first place, and your writing strengths. Phew. I’m exhausted just listing all those!

Hopefully, some connections and ideas have begun to form in your brain. Some new angle or approach to a familiar topic, some passion that connects to your writing in a way you haven’t seen before. Some layer of yourself you haven’t been comfortable sharing until now.

You also probably have some idea of your communication style. (That doesn’t mean you need to limit yourself to that. In fact, I HIGHLY recommend you give yourself permission to experiment and take some risks, try on new blogging personalities. But I’ll talk a little more about that later.)


It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many different approaches to each of these communication styles.

Let’s take information. Think of how very many different ways there are to inform: compile, synthesize, report, develop an expertise niche. (I truly believe that there will be a bigger and bigger need for compilation and synthesis. With over 14 billion blogs out there, the sheer tidal wave of information moving in our direction is beyond daunting. How do we even know where to begin looking?)

Not to mention all those ways of informing can be applied to thousands of topics that pertain to writing and publishing. Craft, industry, publishers, editors, agents, rejection letters, query letters, genre, writing processes.

What we’re looking for is a unique facet of ourselves that intersect with one of those broad based categories.

Similarly, there are many ways to entertain. Some bloggers entertain us with their voice. Others’ entertain by having their blog presence become almost an extension of their books (Deanna Raybourn, Gail Carriger). Some post short fiction or blog in character (Gilda Joyce, girl detective).

And if all that fails to jiggle something loose, you can always fall back on brainstorming. (I’m going to pick a few random examples from our comments and play with them for brainstorming purposes.) The thing is, you want to be certain the topic will sustain you and offer enough for you to  talk about for a long time.  Ideally you should be able to come up with about twenty topics relating to your broader subject matter. Then we’re going to expand each individual topic into specific posts.

If I were going to start fresh today, I might focus my online presence around being a Writing Craft Junkie, because the writing process—and creativity in general—fascinate me.

Writing Craft Junkie (Broad Subject)

(list of topics related to that subject*)
  1. Different plotting methods (3 act structure, 4 act structure, GMC, Snowflake method, Hero's journey, etc.)
  2. Different writers writing processes (There are so many writers! Endless possibilities!)
  3. Different structural tools (charts, graphs, worksheets, templates) 
  4. Different characterization techniques and worksheets
  5. Different schools of craft thought
  6. Definition of common craft terminology
  7. Nature vs nurture in building creativity
  8. Writing craft book reviews/discussion
  9. Writing craft website reviews/discussion
* I only did the first three just to illustrate what I meant. You will need to do it on all of them. :-)

Now that’s only nine topics, BUT, each of those has an almost endless supply of things that can be discussed within each of those topics. For example, the number of writers to interview on process is huge, as are the number of books or websites to review.

So even if you can’t go deep on a given subject, if you can go wide, you might be okay. As long as there are a ton of possibilities due to an ongoing, replenishing source of material, then it works.

Another example:

Happy Hermit (Broad Subject)

(list of topics related to that subject)
  1. Joys of being alone (quiet, no demands, in control of own destiny, getting to know oneself)
  2. Advantages of hermit lifestyle (use less energy, need less space, self sufficiency)
  3. How to be alone (dining, walking, traveling, entertaining oneself)
  4. Defining a hermit lifestyle
  5. Things to do when you’re alone
  6. Activities that are better alone
  7. How hermits navigate the holidays

Get the picture?

Another fun angle would be to take something like Melissa’s passions and interests, which were: Uninspiring Cook, Lackluster Housekeeper, Reluctant Laundress, Houseplant Murderer, and play with an online personality surrounding that. It could easily connect to writing and writers, since so many of us share those same qualities—usually they are the first things we ditch trying to make the time to write! That would be such an awesome support/connect/humor type of blog! I think there is a great seed/nugget for a dynamite, affirming community there.

So, this week's exercise is to comb through all the work you’ve done in the previous five weeks and see if you can find two or three broad subject areas that have an angle or perspective that is unique to you, then brainstorm and see if you think it can sustain a blog or online persona.

If you’re feeling brave, share your exercise in the comments and you will have a chance at winninga copy of MADE TO STICK. This book is great at defining what elements go into making ideas 'stick' with us, something that will come in most useful when writing your blog content!

Content is SUCH a huge topic, that I am going to talk more about it next week.

Also, if you have any specific questions about topic you want to make sure I cover, include those in the comments and I’ll be sure to address them.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Five: Taking Risks

As one of last week’s commentors pointed out, sometimes we hold back on our online persona for fear of boring people or exposing too much of ourselves. I know I am absolutely guilty of this on my author blog. I hold back, mostly because I’m a little bit worried (read: afraid) that I will offend someone or a potential reader won’t get my humor and not pick up my book, or will think I’m too sincere, or or or or whatever. The reasons are as numerous and varied as my fears and neuroses, of which I have an abundance.

But here’s the thing. As creative beings, we need to take risks or our work is in danger of being bland or stale or clichéd. I know this. Absolutely know it and am happy to stretch myself in my work, pushing and digging, forcing myself to try things I haven’t. This same sense of creative improvement also needs to apply to our online personas.

People admire authenticity more than blandness. They may not agree with everything you say or do, but they will appreciate and admire that you are being authentic.

But there’s no getting around it; being authentic takes a lot of risk.

So let’s talk about risk. We avoid risk because we are afraid; we’re afraid that in exposing our true selves we will drive people away. But, if being plain vanilla and boring is going to keep people away anyway, why not throw caution to the wind and drive them away with the force of your views or personality? At least YOU will have gotten something out of it. And the chances are very, very high that more people will connect with that authenticity than your bland mask.

In order to create an impact, whether on blogs or in our stories, we have to take risks.

And here’s another thing about risks: If YOU don’t believe enough in your work, your voice, your self, to take a risk, how can you expect others to do so? Can we really ask agents or publishers or readers to risk their time and energy by spending time with us and our work if we aren’t willing to also risk?

I know everyone and their brother has seen the you tube of Susan Boyle’s phenomenal introduction on national television. (Or should I say, international television?) If you haven’t go watch it now. Just the first bit. Or even if you’ve already seen it, watch it again, because I want you to experience risk in a visceral way. (You can stop after the two minute mark.)

Think about this plain, frumpy, middle age woman in her unstylish frock walking out in front of an audience of millions. Oh the risks she takes! She is one of my risk heroes! In a society that is all about youth and beauty and success, the fact that she dares to walk out there and claim her dream is HUGE. Do not undervalue the risk that took. And then to compare herself to Elaine Paige! Well, you can hear the audience snicker. And when she—looking like she does—does her little booty shake? Never in a million years would I have risked that.

And then she opens her mouth. I think at that point if she’d even been averagely good, people would have been receptive, but that she was so phenomenally good! Wow. And the audience is totally with her, BECAUSE of the very things they were snickering about earlier.

A second video I'd like you to watch this week is Libba Bray giving her Prinz acceptance speech.* Watch  how real and authentic she is. How she talks about Spanx and politics, things that would have been on my list of Things You Must Never Mention. Look at all the risks she takes, and yet it works so brilliantly because it all comes from such an authentic place.

If I were giving one of my writing workshops, I would encourage—no, I would insist—you take big risks. Embracing any kind of creative calling requires that we do that. And since your online presence is an extension of your writing self, I’m afraid that risk is required there as well.

Here’s a little secret I’ll share. Every single one of my posts here at SVP that has drawn the most traffic or garnered the highest number of comments has been one I’ve sweated and fretted over, considered taking down two minutes after putting it up, and generally had serious poster’s remorse over. Almost without fail, those are the ones that you guys respond to the most favorably. Clearly there is a lesson in there, and so I am sharing it with you, grasshopper.

This week’s homework is to explore what we’re afraid of.

Truly, what are we afraid will happen if we get a little more authentic on our blogs, or if we let our hair down as we tweet, or really cut loose with our FB updates?

The first exercise is to make a list of ten things you’re afraid people will discover about you.

Now look at that list, and make a second list of what you fear will happen by sharing more of yourself or your interests online.

Are those fears realistic? Are they even something to be feared?

See if you can pick one thing from that first list and play around with ways to let yourself bring more of that into your online presence.

When trying to decide on an online niche for yourself, keep in mind that sometimes we need a cause we feel strongly enough about to force us to take risks. It’s much easier for me to take risks here on SVP than it is on my own blog becauseit is almost always about using myself as an example of how if a terrified/incompetent/blundering introvert can overcome something, and so too can you.

As you look at all your layers and pieces of your self, try not to automatically reject those very quirks, foibles, and neuroses that will make you infinitely interesting to the rest of us.


And because I'm a big believer in irony, there will be no contest for sharing the exercises this week because I think exploring risk is just too private.

However, the winner of last week's drawing is #6, Alex Beecroft**!   

Email me, Alex, and I will get  your prize out to you. Remember to tell me if you'd like a copy of The Hero Within or Made to Stick!

*I have spent hours trying to figure out how to embed it, and have given up. Apologies for my lack of technical expertise.

**Methodology: I assigned two consecutive number to every commentor who was willing to talk about their strengths, then plugged 1-16 into the random number generator.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Four: Playing to Our Strengths

Since your online presence is most definitely an extension of your writing self, when trying to put together the most comfortable, highest impact persona, you’re going to want to play on your strengths.

It’s not just about who we are and what we have to say, although that is a large part of it. The key to making this work for you is to have it spring naturally from your authentic self. Which means using our writing strengths to feed the online persona.

So, do you know your writing strengths? This week’s exercise is to write down what you think your top five writing strengths are.

The second part of the exercise is to think of three trusted people who know your work well. They can be writing group members, critiquers, beta readers, your agent, fellow writers. When they give you feedback on your writing, what do they say your writing strengths are? Your voice? Your use of language, humor, ideas, storytelling?

If you and your writing buddies/partners/group haven’t discussed this before, pick two or three people who know your work well and ask them what they think your core writing strength is.

Compare your list to theirs and see if there is a consensus.

The reason this is important in terms of your online persona is this:

To keep people coming back, your blog/FB page/Tweets will need to do one of the following:


Your writing strengths will go a long way in determining which of those approaches will feel most natural for you.

Some blog topics or angles will only work if someone has a dynamite unique voice. It’s the WAY they tell it that makes it fascinating.

For others it will be their ability to CONNECT emotionally on the subject matter, or bring INSIGHT to the topic. Or perhaps simply they way they turn everything into a STORY of some kind.

To get a firm grasp on these different angles, go back to your own list of your ten favorite blogs that you like to read. Look at each one on there and ask yourself, Does the blog entertain me? Offer me much needed information and guidance? Give me strength and inspiration? Make me feel like I’m connecting with a larger community?

Which of those most closely match your writing strengths?

Some writers (and bloggers) have very distinct voices that come through loud and clear no matter what they’re writing about. No matter what they talk about, we’re entertained.

And then there are the rest of us. ☺

So for example, both here and on my personal blog, I think the ways I connect with blog readers are by informing and inspiring.

What I am sure about is that I am not entertaining. In fact, the mere idea of trying to entertain someone makes me freeze up, unable to think of a thing to say. I might be entertaining by accident, but pretty much never by intent, so writing an entertaining, voice driven blog is pretty much outside of my skill set.

That makes sense when I look at my actual writing strengths, one of which is, I think, my ability to slip inside wildly different skins and feel and be that person. It’s what allows me to write a 10 year old timid boy being dragged around the world by his intrepid aunt, a precocious eleven year old Edwardian budding Egyptologist, and a medieval teen assassin. So having a unique, defining, always recognizable voice simply isn’t one of my strengths.

But that’s okay because this exercise is about identifying what we DO have.

Do you love to research?
Are you totally obsessed with certain topics and consequently pretty keyed in to new developments and discoveries in that area?
Are you a lush, descriptive writer?
See things with a unique, unusual perspective?

These are just a few of the different sorts of writing strengths people have. I would lovelovelove if people would feel comfortable talking about their writing strengths in the comments, because then we could talk about what sort of blog those strengths play to. But I also recognize that can feel awkward to talk about—especially out in the wide open internet. To help out with this, all those brave souls who DO talk about their writing strengths will be entered TWICE in this week’s drawing. How’s that for motivation?

However, if talking about your own strengths isn’t comfortable, maybe you could tell us if the blogs you are drawn to entertain, inform, inspire, connect, enlighten, or share. Or if they do something else entirely.

Speaking of which, the winner* for last weeks prize is…#3. lizamich! Please email me and I’ll get that out to you.

This week’s prize will be a copy of Made To Stick, a fascinating book about creating ideas that resonate, and that relates to the stories we tell. However, if you would rather have a copy of last week's The Hero Within, I’d be happy to send you a copy of that instead. Your choice!

*Methodology: I numbered the comments 1-10, skipping my own responding comments, then hit the ol’ random number generator.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Three: Connecting the Dots

So by now you should have a couple of lists:

  • Lists of blogs and online haunts you love
  • A list of reasons you want to be online
  • A good strong list of all your unique layers, roles, and facets


This week we’re going to examine your writing self and look for natural connections or links to those other lists. There might not be any, and that’s fine. But there might be some dots that connect naturally and lend themselves to shaping and refining your online persona or niche.

The exercises this week focus around getting a sense of who you are as an author. We’re looking for that hidden core that links your stories together, and in turn, links them to you. (And some of you might recognize them from back when we posted about whether or not branding was for you. Which makes sense because an online persona is pretty much an extension of your brand.)

~List a dozen words that describe your work. Don’t be shy or falsely modest—think about what qualities your writing and stories have.

~List five stories you’d love to be able to write someday. Write a short paragraph or blurb that captures the essence of that story—the story juice that ignites your passion and imagination.

~List the last five books you’ve written. Again, write a sentence or two defining that core idea that compelled you to write it.

~Look at the themes of your books, both written and unwritten, are there a few you go back to time and again?

Do you see a pattern emerging? Are there connections to be made? If so, you are beginning to see the nuggets of your writerly persona.

So put this list next to the list we made last week. Are there any connections or pairings that make sense? Hopefully there will be a few.

And then we can step back and see if there is a larger authorial mission statement that can be created that includes both your ‘self’ and your writer-self.

As we said when we talked about branding:

Even though you write mysteries, historicals, and realistic fiction, if each one deals with mothers then you are exploring the landscape of mother/child relationships. Or maybe it’s more specific than that, mother/daughter relationships.

Or you write stories to help readers recognize the absurdities in life. Or you like to explore the limitations (or lack of limitations!) of emotional connections, or to help kids on the road to empowerment.

That’s what you’re looking for here, that core something that is uniquely you, that your comfortable talking about and that connects in some small way to your work. That is the nugget that you can begin building your online presence around.

You can let your core mission statement from the above exercise be the centerpiece of your interactions, then build on that. Instead of only writing books that deal with those topics, your tweets, your blogs, your school visits, your author talks all at least touch on some aspect of that core mission statement.

So for me, if I write about empowering kids and like to use fantasy as a stand in for personal power, and I am a research geek, it makes sense that I write historical fantasy for kids. However that doesn’t lend itself naturally to a blogging presence. I could conceivably blog about historical oddities, but I like to save the punch of those for the books. And kids don’t really read blogs, so blogging about their empowerment doesn’t make much sense. And the truth is, I’m more comfortable talking about that kind of stuff in the context of stories rather than lectures, which is what I’m afraid blog entries on that would feel like.

So now I have to sift through the lists again, looking for different connections. The truth is, my author blog is an odd amalgam of talking about the writing process, craft, books I read, observations on life, and talking about my books. It’s probably not the best example of a strong online persona. My presence here on SVP is a much better illustration of a cohesive online presence.

Which segues into this: It is probably best and most authentic if your online presence kind of evolves, much like we do as people. However, there is so much pressure to create this presence, and many introverts aren’t particularly driven to do that on their own (although some are) that sometimes we kind of have to jumpstart ourselves.

That, and this is what you all voted on. ☺

Also, to help spur comments on this, we’re going to have a drawing, and all you have to do is leave a comment to enter. You’ll win a copy of The Hero Within, one of my favorite books for delving into internal arcs for my characters.

But don't worry. You don't have to share your very personal exercises.  However, if you DID find a defining nugget for your work and your self, or if you think you have an angle that might work to blog from, or you just want to say what you'd like to see covered in future workshops, any of those will qualify you for the drawing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Online Persona Workshop Week Two: The Many Layers of YOU

We are all of us more than just one thing. Many of us fulfill dozens of roles in our lives and those of people we care about. Today we’re going to explore all those different facets of ourselves and look for fertile ground from which to create our online persona.

List all the roles you fulfill or all the things you do or are interested in. Include your hobbies, your profession(s), personality traits, Yeah, it could be a long list. All the more material to work with!

Spouse, parent, sibling, child,
Excellent cook, poor housekeeper,
Household tech support,
Writer, reader, publishing professional, critiquer,
Research geek, writing craft junkie,
Writer of MG, writer of YA
School presenter, workshop teacher
Introvert, reluctant public speaker
(unintentional) collector of clutter
(have you recognized this person yet? ☺)

Other things you could include on that list:
Seamstress, intuitive mechanic, homeschooler
Artist, Musician, Poet
Teacher, librarian, literacy advocate
Political junkie, pop culture geek, reality TV connoisseur
Ambidextrous, dyslexic, multi-lingual,
Life coach, dragon lover, wannabe hobbit
SCBWI volunteer,

You begin to get the idea. We are all comprised of so many different pieces and parts, and some of them or some odd tangential combination of them are what make us uniquely us. So this week’s assignment is to list all those parts of you. Take as much time as you need. Ideas may occur to you over the course of the next few days, so just add to the list. It’s a common fact of brainstorming that often those items at the bottom of the list are the most unique or unusual.

For Part Two of this exercise, once you’ve finished the list go back and examine it. You’re looking for traits or layers that feel unique and fresh to you, something that you haven’t seen someone else do already, AND that gets a little flutter of interest or passion moving when you think about it. Circle or put an x next to all those that apply.

In my list above, clearly the introvert and reluctant public speaker were the foundation for this blog. The other most interesting things on the list (I think, it’s hard to be objective about your own traits) would be unintentional collector of clutter, research geek, writing craft junkie, poor housekeeper. However, looking over that shorter list I also know that there are a TON of other writing oriented blogs out there already, so I would probably cross that one off. I would also suspect there are other blogs out there about being a poor housekeeper, but is there one that combines that with being a writer? IS there a way to do that?

Of course, it can also come from your area of expertise. A definitive blog on the ins and outs of school visits, say. Or a life coach. Or based on your passion for reading and writing middle grade novels. Or a geographical location, even.

A related but optional and FUN exercise is to start a list of things you love. Sit down for fifteen minutes and just begin listing all the things you love. Add to it over the next few days and weeks. It will be great raw material for later in the workshop.

I’ve learned my lesson from last weeks post and will be keeping today’s workshop short.

Next week we’ll explore those points where our most interesting layers connect with our writerly selves.

Also, if any of you are feeling brave, you can show us your list in the comments, again, anonymously if that’s more comfortable. If the blog feels too public to you, we could also take the exercise sharing to the (very quiet) yahoo group. Let me know if that sounds more comfortable.

Hm…I may have to start handing out prizes for class participation. ☺

(Also, if you note, I went back and split last week’s workshop into two posts so when I move it into the archives it will be less overwhelming. If you haven’t had a chance to do those lessons yet, you might consider tackling it in two parts.)

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Shrinking Violet Online Persona Workshop: Week One

The demand on authors to get out there and create a name for themselves is huge. Publishers, editors, agents, and marketing professionals all exhort authors to market themselves using social media. But clearly there are wildly different sets of expectations as to what being online means.

And that’s the goal of this workshop; helping you create an internet presence that you are comfortable with, that makes you accessible, and doesn’t feel like shilling. The workshop isn’t only about creating a new presence, but can also be used to refine, tweak, or revamp an existing one.

The truth is, the pressure to market ourselves online starts before we are even published! The problem is, there are already something like 14 billion blogs in existence, billions of Facebook users, and billions of Tweeters. How in the name of publishing, is an introvert supposed to get noticed through all that noise?

The answer is slowly, building one targeted connection at a time.

[Please note: This is an approach designed for introverts. If you are a extroverted online entrepreneur, this will most likely NOT be an approach that works for you, or even appeals to you, and that's okay. Since our mission statement is about introverts, that's what we're focusing on.]

Discovering one’s online persona is very much like discovering one’s writing voice; a fascinating and enriching journey inward. It’s more a matter of uncovering and re-connecting with what already exists in the first place. To really be effective at this, you need to wipe away market considerations and popularity considerations and go authentic. Just like the strongest writing voice, the strongest online persona will come from that truly authentic place.
What we will be doing for the next few weeks is going through a bunch of steps and exercises that will explore all the different areas that connect to our writing selves. Then we will sift through those and try to find the one that makes the most sense for you to work from as you develop an online presence.

This is not about creating a mask to hide behind or developing a fake persona, but rather discovering then developing an existing part of you.

That also means you have to be willing to go where the journey leads.

It may be that your most authentic online persona has only a loose tie in to your books. When Mary and I first conceived of Shrinking Violets, it had very little to do with marketing our own books. In fact, I’m pretty sure the number of books we’ve ‘sold’ through our presence here is minimal but that’s okay because an online presence doesn't have to be about selling.

A good persona can be about educating or informing or entertaining or supporting. It’s about providing something that resonates with people so they want to come back again and again and spend time with you. It can be about offering a service, but it can also be about building a community or a moment of respite from the frenetic pace of life. Be willing to be open to where this leads. Do not dismiss a particular angle because you cannot see how it will sell your books. 

One of the first things you need to do is ask yourself: Why do you want to be online? What is the reason you are creating an online persona? This will vary greatly depending on where you are on your path to publication. Is it to create fans? Or connect with existing readers? To be a part of the writing community? To share your journey to publication with others?

These are hugely different goals and require different focuses and strategies. 
To make it all even more confusing, our reasons for being online will often shift over the course of our career. A new writer starting out might want to connect with others for support and camaraderie, then once she sells a book, her presence might need to shift to focusing on the readers who seek her out online.

Clearly, as per last week's conversation, it is worth reiterating that an internet presence does not automatically translate into promoting yourself. Very few people (and even fewer introverts) are comfortable with that. So maybe instead of thinking of this persona/presence you’ll be creating as a sales, marketing, or publicity tool, think of it as simply raising your Visibility Quotient. It is a way to make connections with people so that they know you (and your work) even exist. It’s putting yourself in the path of the gods so that happy accidents can occur.

So. Why do YOU want to be online?

  • Do you want to learn about writing?
  • About publishing and the business end of things?
  • Do you want to create an online community?
  • Find an emotional support group as you go through your writing journey?
  • A network of peers or fellow professionals?
  • Talk shop with other writers?
  • Advocate for a cause that you’re involved in?
  • Fill a niche that you see going unfulfilled?
  • Do you want to be an internet entrepreneur?
  • Do you just want to sell books?
  • Connect with existing fans?
  • Create new fans?

Do you view your online hangouts as the office water cooler?
Or the bar everyone stops by on the way home from work?
Or perhaps an intimate group of a few like minded individuals you’re having coffee with at your kitchen table?

Okay, I can already see a lot of you thinking, All of the above, but at this stage in the process, you should probably try to prioritize what you want.

When deciding what you want to gain from being online, I think it’s crucial to understand what your publishing/writing goals are. (Since this blog is directed at readers, I’m going to assume writing, but feel free to substitute art, drawing, painting, book reviewing, whatever.)

If  you haven't done this already, you might want to explore what role you’d like writing and publishing to have in your life. You can do that here. The answers to those questions are a huge factor in understanding why you want to be online.

Now you’re ready for this week's exercises:

1. Make a list of all the reasons you want to create an online presence. We talked about some of the reasons above, but there are dozens of different reasons. List as many reasons as apply to you. When you are done, mark the top three reasons with the numbers 1-3.

2. What emotion you want your online relationships to get out of their interactions with you? What do you expect them to take away from the experience?

3. What are you hoping to get out of these online relationships? (Be honest! If it truly is only a means of getting sales, you have to be willing to admit that to yourself.)

4. Make a list of your top ten online haunts. Study that list. What is it about each of those places that draws you or feeds you? What benefit do you get from those places?

Since these four exercises aren’t terribly personal, it would be great if some of you listed your answers in the comment section. (Anonymously, if you prefer!) That way we can clearly see any consensus or pattern in terms of why people want to be online, which will help with future workshops, and also WHO people are drawn to as blog readers, which will also be hugely helpful as we move forward and begin to analyze successful presences. You can absolutely leave the comment anonymously. Also, even if a ton of people have already listed the same reasons/blogs as you, go ahead and list them anyway—the reinforcement that comes from seeing how many people are drawn to a given thing/reason will also be helpful.

This is the first in a series of workshops on this subject, so check back next week when we begin to examine the many different facets of YOU and how those might connect to your online persona.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Online Persona Publishing Goal Exercise

Sometimes in order to gain clarity, we have to back up and see the larger picture. When deciding what you want to gain from being online, I think it’s crucial to understand what your publishing/writing goals are.

Some of you might have already done this when we first talked about it here on SVP, but if you haven’t, one of this week’s tasks is to explore what role you’d like writing and publishing to have in your life.

  • What is it you enjoy about writing? The creativity? The freedom? The discipline?
  • Why did you START writing? Because of the voices in your head? You wanted to earn a little extra cash on the side? It was the only path you could find to fame?
  • Why do you KEEP writing?
  • Why do you want to get published? What do you think that publishing will bring you that writing has not? Make a list of those things you hope being published will bring you. Be honest, and then study that list carefully. Is what you want really something that can be obtained through the publishing industry? Or is it something more nebulous that is actually attained through personal growth?
  • Where does the act of writing fit in your life? Would you do it no matter if you ever got published? How much does it take away from other things you love? Are you willing to keep making those sacrifices? How will creating/sustaining an online presence feed that?
  • How do you define success in general? How do you define success in your writing? Getting a book published? Getting a book published well? (There is a difference!) Money? Critical acclaim? The contract in hand? A bestseller list? Connecting with readers?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Solutions: One Way to Deal with the Self-marketing Frenzy, Plus a Shout-out to Publishers.

Today, Sarah Prineas talks about the things publishers, editors, and marketing departments can do help their authors not feel quite so desperate and help turn down the volume on the AllMarketingAllTheTime Channel.

Solutions: One Way to Deal with the Self-marketing Frenzy, Plus a Shout-out to Publishers.

First, I’d just like to reiterate that yesterday’s post was a rant. My opinion, and the result of seeing social spaces co-opted by what I consider to be authors wasting their time promoting their books. Rant. Rant!!


So anyway, authors are marketing their books on social media sites, and I know why they’re doing it.

It’s because writers are control freaks.

No, it’s okay. I’m a control freak, too. As a writer, it’s part of the job description. We write our books, controlling every aspect of the setting, of our characters’ lives, and then we’re supposed to just let the book go and move on to the next book.

But we can’t. We can’t let it go. Many of us spend years, maybe, trying to perfect that first novel, get an agent, sell the book. So much of our sense of self is tied up in that process that we lose perspective and feel that our debut is our one chance to make it as a writer. Our entire career is riding on it. We delude ourselves into thinking that somehow we can control not just the book, but how the book is received, how many copies it sells. If we just do enough, somehow….

I can think of two ways to deal with these control-freak tendencies.

One, authors need to understand that every career trajectory is different and success has many different definitions.

It’s true that some debut books, a very few, do take off. Some careers start in the stratosphere. And that’s what we want for ourselves. Still, do you think those stratosphere authors stress about maintaining that kind of orbit? You bet they do. The control-freak problem affects every author, no matter how far out in space she is. For the rest of us, when we don’t hit the stratosphere on our first launch, we worry and stress that somehow we have blown our one chance, that we have failed.

We—all of us, both the authors in a high orbit and the ones living down where the atmosphere is breatheable—might do better if we change our perspectives, try seeing the big picture, the long game. We need to think about our careers instead of getting caught up in the success or failure of one book.


The next thing has to do with publisher expectations. So many of us get desperate because we have no idea how our publishers define success or failure. We think they want every book to be a bestseller. Well, maybe they do, but they don't expect every book to do that. Some books--the ones with a smaller marketing push--will succeed if they meet certain lower expectations. Hey, a book with huge expectations that sells only a few more copies than a more modest book could be a bigger failure!

The problem is that the entire publishing process is so opaque to us writers. We have pretty much no clue how our publishers feel about us. They tell us almost nothing. We get clues, little crumbs of information, and we parse these coded messages, trying to figure out what is really going on. Our editors may say nice things to us, and that makes us happy, but we generally don’t know how committed they are to our careers. Goodness knows, we’ve all heard horror stories about authors being dropped by their publishers. What if that story turns out to be about us? Ack! Nooooo! The problem is that we assume, because of our publishers’ opaqueness, that the publisher doesn't care about our books and isn’t going to promote them as much as our books deserve, so in desperation we try to make up the ground ourselves.

Incidentally, I think publishers care very deeply about our books, and they are not trying to make us crazy by keeping the process opaque. I think they see how wrapped up in our books we are, and they treat us tenderly because of it, but they don’t really understand it. Their solution is to keep us in the dark because the opaqueness keeps us freakazoid authors out of the book-making/book-marketing/book-selling process. Which is where we belong, because we are not book-makers or book-marketers or cover designers or copy editors or part of a great sales team. We are writers. We need to shut up and write, and be cheerfully available if our publishing team needs us for something.

On the same hand, for editors and the rest of the publishing team, putting out a book is business as usual. They don’t explain stuff to us because they already understand it, and it may not occur to them that we need to know all that stuff, because it’s not our job. No, our job is to, ahem, see above about shutting up and writing the next book.

But we are control freaks, after all, and we do want to know what is going on with our books. And there are things our publisher could do for us to help us writer-freaks deal with the anxiety and horror (and, yes, occasional awesomeness) of having a book published. All they need to do is be less opaque about their expectations for our books. Here are some examples of the kind of things our publishers might tell us about their expectations which would, in turn, help us to manage our expectations:

"We are putting a lot of marketing money behind this debut and have announced a print run of 100K, so if it doesn't hit the NYTimes list we'll be a little disappointed. However, if the preorders for the author's second book in the series remain steady, we'll be happy."

"We expect this debut to sell mostly to libraries. If it sells 5,000 copies we will be thrilled."

"This quirky debut novel is not commercial, but it's a house favorite and we're hoping it will find an audience. We'd love to keep building this writer's career, though we don't expect overnight success."

"This literary book feels like an award contender to us. We'll publish it hoping teachers and librarians take notice, and we'll focus our marketing efforts on them. If it doesn't win an award we probably won't do much more for it."

"We bought this novel based on a strong proposal from an established author, but the book she turned in disappointed the editor; it is not the strong book we expected to see. We won't give it a marketing plan and don't expect big sales."

"To our surprise, this book received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal. Our expectations for it are changing and we're going to add a little more marketing push in hopes of seeing bigger sales than we initially expected."

Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of information up front? To have a clear, straightforward explanation of the publisher’s expectations for a book? It might not be nice to hear “we don’t expect a bestseller,” but wouldn’t it be good just to know?? That way we could chill and, you know, go write the next book.


That is all! Thanks for reading.

Sarah Prineas is the author of the hugely popular Magic Thief books, the first of which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Honor Book as well as an NCTE Notable Children's Book and has appeared on numerous state lists and has been published in twenty-one different countries. She has a PhD in English literature and has taught seminars on science fiction and fantasy literature. Her next book with HarperCollins, WINTERLING, will be out in 2011.

Thanks everyone, for participating in this lively discussion! See you all next Monday!  

Monday, September 27, 2010

I Will Be Your Friend, But I Will Not Be Your Fan: A Rant About How Authors Use Social Media For Self-Promotion

One of the upsides to Twitter is that you sometimes get to meet fabulous people you might not run into otherwise, which is how I came to meet Sarah Prineas. Turns out we had a lot in common, not the least of which is how we feel about people misusing social media. I stumbled upon a discussion on her blog a while back and asked her if she’d come over here and share some of her thoughts on the misuses of social media here with us on Shrinking Violets.

I Will Be Your Friend, But I Will Not Be Your Fan: A Rant About How Authors Use Social Media For Self-Promotion

A couple of months ago, I posted a blog entry in which I asked commenters to share their opinions of authors’ use of social media.

By social media I mean places on the Internet that would seem to exist for social purposes. Not places where you make business connections, like Linked-In, and not places where you sell your stuff, like Ebay or Craigslist. Specifically I mean Twitter and blogs. (I’m not counting Facebook because…you know, it’s Facebook. Ugh.)

We are, of course, still negotiating the boundaries of social media, figuring out how to create a public persona, learning to be friendly with people we’ve never met before, deciding what personal details to share and what is too private. We’re also trying to figure out what community is online and how best to build a sense of community with the friends, acquaintances, and random strangers that make up our social circles on the Internet.

Ideally, I think, social sites are for friendly conversation and debate, for sharing good news and bad news, for meeting new friends, for posting amusingly captioned cat pictures. The community we’re building is a community based on friendship. Now, we humans have verrrry sensitive antennae when it comes to our social interactions. We can tell when somebody is being friendly versus when they’re trying to sell us something. When authors intrude on social spaces with their self-marketing it can make our antennae twitch like crazy.

Granted, if you’re a writer and you’re blogging about your life and what you think about, of course some of your blogs or tweets are going to be about your book, or about your happy book news. That’s fine. That’s not what I’m talking about.

No, I’m talking about the blogs and twitter-feeds that may be partly social, but which pollute the social ether with self-promotion and book marketing. They exist, mostly, to sell books.

Unfortunately for them, author shilling does not sell books.

It just doesn’t.

You know what does? Sometimes it’s a top-down effort by the publisher. The big push. Just as often, it’s word of mouth. Almost like the book is speaking for itself! Or it’s a combination of the two (publishers, often enough, get excited about publishing good books that readers love!).

I know what you’re thinking. What about when a book isn’t getting a big push from the publisher? Shouldn’t the author pick up the slack and market herself? Won’t that be kind of like word-of-mouth?

No. Because…I’m sure I’ve heard this someplace before…author shilling does not sell books.

Still, it’s true that social media can sell books. My favorite example of this is Megan Whelan Turner. As far as I can see, the woman does almost no social media stuff herself, yet Conspiracy of Kings was a New York Times bestseller. It's the fourth book in a great series, and while MWT was not out herself urging people to buy it, the book had tons of enthusiastic readers spreading the word via twitter, their blogs, and a lively discussion group. Hey, I even blogged about it myself. MWT didn't have to push people to do this. They did it because the books are great and well loved. That is how social media should sell books. Not via authorial top-down selling, but via true fandoms.

It seems to me that authors who shill for their books online might be trying to replicate this phenomenon, like what we saw with MWT’s book. But I don’t think that kind of success is something within our control.

Okay, but what if the author’s editor encourages her to blog or join Twitter, or basically to create a more public, social persona online in order to market her books? Well, frankly, I think said editors should think more about what they’re asking their authors to do. There is this sort-of received wisdom in publishing that online marketing is the new big thing, the best way to get the word out about books. Also, publishers have this throw-spaghetti-at-the-wall approach to marketing. They work hard, do a lot of stuff, and hope that it sticks.

And really, truly, this particular approach doesn’t stick. Here are some of those non-sticky things that authors do that might make the social antennae twitch, things that might not be building friend-community, but some kind of more perniciously commercial space.

Blog tours and contests. The commenters to my entry agreed, by the way. Blog tour interviews are boring. How often do you actually read more than one of them? And the contests. What about the ones with the complicated rules, like that you have to comment to enter and tweet about the contest and post it on your Facebook page, and get a tattoo of the book cover on your face? To be the author’s street team—to do the marketing for her! How lovely for you, reader, to not only have your social space co-opted for marketing, but to be co-opted yourself!

Or the contest where the winner gets a bookmark or a postcard or a crappy magnet with the book cover on it. Sheesh. A contest where the prize is a marketing tool! Genius!

Or the “fan” page on Facebook. I don’t know about you, but every time I get an invitation to be somebody’s “fan” it’s an automatic delete. As in, I delete the social connection. I will be your friend, but I will not be your fan.

Or the twitterers who re-tweet every single freaking mention or review of their book. Boring!

Oops. That got ranty. Sorry. See title, above. This is a rant.

Anyway, the sad thing is, anybody who is using their blog or twitter to market their book is wasting their time and energy. Who are their books’ readers? Do they read the author’s blog? Maybe a few of them do. Is selling to those very few people worth annoying the many more people who are reading the author’s blog for social reasons? LiveJournal and blogs are an echo-chamber, an insular community, and so is Twitter. Authors who self-market are not reaching new readers via social media. They are reaching the same very relatively small group of friend-people over and over and over again.

This is especially true for writers of middle-grade fiction. You might reach a few gateway readers—teachers and librarians. But your kid readers are, for the most part, not reading your blog or your twitter-feed. A few kids will find these places and want to interact socially with you. But most are not online all that much.

Now, there will be rare exceptions to this rule. People who manage to use their blogs or twitter-feeds to successfully self-market their books. Props to them. They are still annoying.

So how does an author know if she is getting marketing all over the social spaces? She must ask herself: “Why am I on Twitter? Why do I blog?” If the answer is, “because I like it and to make friends,” then the author is probably doing okay. If it’s “because I desperately need to help my book do better,” well…

There you go.

The best writing advice I ever heard was from an extremely successful writer of MG and YA books, and it was about self-promotion. The advice was, essentially, this:

Don’t bother. Just write the next book.


To sum up, there's more to lose, I think, than gain through authorial self-promotion. As the comments to my blog make evident, lots of people are annoyed by it. We’re authors, we’re not marketers; we seem amateurish and desperate when we do it. Maybe we just need to quit self-marketing and write the next book.


(Still, I get why authors self-market. If you’re annoyed by this rant, do tune in tomorrow, because I have further, less ranty things to say about that.)

Sarah Prineas is the author of the hugely popular Magic Thief books, the first of which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Honor Book as well as an NCTE Notable Children's Book and has appeared on numerous state lists and has been published in twenty-one different countries. She has a PhD in English literature and has taught seminars on science fiction and fantasy literature. Her next book with HarperCollins, WINTERLING, will be out in 2011.

Hopefully that will give everyone some food for thought as we begin our online persona workshop next week. One of our first tasks in that workshop will be to determine the reason we're online and what we want to achieve with our online interactions.

Also a big, whopping thank you to everyone who added a comment to last week’s post on offering encouragement to discouraged writers. I’ll be compiling them all in a page (as time allows) and will announce when that link goes up. However, I did want to announce our winner who, according to Random Number Generator is Number 10! Earthsdivide! If you will email me with your info, I will get your prize out to you this week!