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??

HOW I FOUND MY VIRTUAL PEEPS by Vivian Mahoney

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!

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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.

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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

Flickr

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.)

Information
Support
Community
Inspire
Entertain

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 clich├ęd. 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.

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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.