It says so much more about Social Media than most can say, and it does it in a breezy, easy to understand style.
The main idea behind this rather detailed video consists of a retelling of the Nativity Story. The video does so through the medium of social media, with everything from Facebook statuses to Foursquare checkins, to tweets, and more. Even electronic mail gets into the act. The Virgin Mary apparently uses Gmail.
And then there is even more, with a look at Nazareth from Google Earth. Of course there is a check for directions from Nazareth to Bethlehem. A check for hotel space reveals only a stable available (but of course). Joseph buys a cow (from Farmville, I would guess).
The Magi discuss their offerings (over Gmail – man, Google has its hands in everything!). And they pick up their gold, frankincense and myrrh at, you guessed it, Amazon. Twitter gets into the act as the Magi, naturally, follow the star there (very clever play on words there).
Eventually, the visit to the baby by the Magi gets placed onto video and uploaded to – could there be any other place more perfect? – YouTube. The video shows, I suspect, a play.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
This beautifully made and cleverly written and produced video comes to us from ExcentricGrey, which is evidently a Portuguese advertising firm. They report that this viral video has over 20 million views. Viewers are concentrated more in the United States and Western Europe than elsewhere, a function (probably) at least in part due to the video being made available in both English and Portuguese. Oddly enough, Portugal did not seem to have a very big concentration of viewers. Neither did Portuguese-speaking Brazil, Mozambique or Angola.
So thanks to the fine folks at Canva, there’s a new holiday image and I’ve got to say I really love it.
Plus I was getting a little tired of reusing the older holiday post. Hence here’s something new which I hope will be a lot more timeless.
Because the year is drawing to a close, I get a bit pensive. So I often wonder if the year worked out all right. Did I accomplish everything I had wanted to? What were my obstacles? And how did I try to overcome them? That is, if I tried to at all ….
In addition, this is when I start to look forward to the following year. Some of this is in terms of resolutions. And some of this is in terms of goal making. Because I am working on becoming a more regular writer, many of these goals center around writing. But also around its ancillary activities. Because editing, proofreading, beta reading (both for me, and for me to do for others), and promotions are also important.
A writer, if they are at all serious, will have to do all of these things. And by the way, that is even true of big time famous authors. They have to accept editing. And they have to promote their works. Plus we all need to work on our craft. None of us are perfect.
So without further ado, here are some possible goals for next year.
Next Year’s Goals (More or Less)
Goals come in a few flavors.
So in 2018, one great goal worked out beautifully. It was to write every day, every other month. Now, sometimes that was a bit difficult to do. There were some days when I just plain didn’t want to write something on top of everything else. But the discipline, I feel, was good for me. So that’s one goal.
Dovetailing with this goal was writing short works during the off months. This I did a lot of although not enough. It came in mighty handy during my most tired days to already have a draft, and just need to polish and type it. Hence I need to do that more.
Another goal from 2018 was to use the off months to promote. This one did not work out quite so well. Life was busy and I was tired. And I was suffering from some wicked imposter syndrome on top of everything else. Hence I will need to work harder to promote. Fortunately, this blog is a part of my promotional efforts.
Yet another goal from 2018 was to query my unpublished works. And again, my adherence to that goal was kind of spotty. So I will need to do better in that area. It may help to get the whole process more organized. And I have been trying to do just that. In addition, I need to know when to throw in the towel and instead pull the trigger on self-publishing. For some works, that might be the best or even the only place to get them out there.
A related goal is to really learn as much about self-publishing as I can, from the top down. This also ties in with promotions, to understand how to best promote my work and get it in front of the biggest audiences. It might be in the form of giveaways, swag, conferences, conventions, or something else.
Finally, writing is a community and that means we need to have each others’ backs. While Facebook has splintered badly in that area, Twitter is still a good place. Following and participating in author hashtags like #AuthorConfession or #OneLineWed already help. It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve got over 1,000 Twitter followers. That is a tipping point in Twitter, I’ve noticed. In general, an account starts to get people following for the sake of following. However, one thing I need to work on is if I can shunt some of the accounts I’m following to lists instead, and then unfollow. Because if the number of people I’m following stays below the number of people who are following me, it should help to bolster my influence.
I realize this was a bit of a heavy topic for the holidays. Are you looking forward to next year? Are you planning, or just winging it?
Community Management – How to be a Terrible Netizen
Are YOU a Terrible Netizen? I have been managing Able2know for over fifteen years and I have seen my share.
It is a generalized Q & A website and the members are all volunteers. I have learned a few things about making yourself the biggest jerk online during this time. Because I have seen a lot of people being awful, as if it were their aim in life.
How to Be a Jerk Online
Post as fast as you can and don’t think about it. And anything worth doing, is worth doing fast. Editing is for wimps.
When you’re being attacked, never step away from the keyboard. Because the way you feel about people online is never related to the offline world. It only comes from online events.
Be vague with your words. Because anyone who cannot figure out what you really mean is an idiot, and you should tell them that. Clarity is for other people.
Everyone should/must get you, oh terrible netizen, even the aforementioned idiots. What you have to say is perfectly wonderful for every audience and needs no tailoring.
Yet More Jerk Advice
Be First and Best, every single time. Why let anyone else be happy? They’re a bunch of idiots anyway.
Always get in the last word, terrible netizen. And this is even if you have to do that over and over again while someone else tries to do the exact same thing. That person is an idiot. You, of course, are not. Never!
Call people by names, because there’s nothing that says maturity like using a taunt from second grade or a word that trips a profanity filter.
Discuss as many controversial topics as you like, and don’t expect hard feelings. Because if people become defensive, their skins are too thin for them to be online in the first place. So have at them.
Never stop, and never surrender, and never ignore anyone. All comers deserve your pearls of wisdom, 24/7! Therefore, even months later, when the other person has clearly gone off to do something else, go back and pick at that scab some more.
I hope you let me know if you’re going to do any of these. So I can find a way to cross the street and walk in the other direction when I see you online. ‘Course, that probably just makes me an idiot.
Our senses shape the real world, so why not the fictional one as well?
When we talk about the senses, what do we really mean? And how can our thoughts about them lead us to writing inspiration? To begin, let’s look at them in order. This is more or less in order of how important many people feel they are. However, your list’s order may vary.
First off, when we talk about sensations, we inevitably go to sight. Sight is likely the first sense ever evolved by us (probably about 600 million years ago, at the time of the so-called Cambrian explosion). Hence it is important and a lot of our brain power is devoted to it. But what does it mean to write a story based upon sight? Since our vision is fairly sophisticated (as opposed to that of, say, flatworms), that can encompass shapes, colors, or sizes, or even perceptions of textures.
Hence why not write a story where the scene steals the show? Or one where the narrator is a static object, such as a tee shirt or even a computer? Another idea: write a story based upon a color.
When we think of hearing, inevitably we consider music, but we can also think of the sounds of voices or even the mundane sounds of life. When you write, think about how people sound. Do they speak with accents? Are they loud? And what are their pitches and tones? Could some characters sing soprano, whereas others are basso profundos? Maybe someone is a horrible singer. In addition, a lot of us know someone whose voice goes up at the end of sentences, even when they aren’t asking anything. Why do they do that?
Other sounds can be of interest, such as barking dogs, running water, or the gentle hum of a space heater. What about explosions, or creaking doors? Nails on a chalkboard, anyone?
Why not write a story where the sounds are the main focus? Or one where music flows through the action, or one where silence reigns supreme? The film A Quiet Place has taken that idea and really run with it.
Touch and, by extension, feelings, can make a great topic for storytelling. Think of hot and cold, or various degrees of comfort. Touch connotes everything from caresses to slaps. Feelings naturally make us think of emotions. So maybe the reaction ends up being more important than its cause. Or a character’s depression or their nervousness or contentment become the focus.
Why not write a story where touch steals the show? Or one about odd touches like itchy sweaters or dog bites or the rain beating against a character’s face?
And when it comes to feelings, why not let them take center stage? A story based upon anger will compel in one way; one based on humor will compel differently.
Smell has a number of great synonyms and near-synonyms which add nuanced shades of meaning. When something reeks, it has far different connotations from when it has an aroma or a bouquet. Aromas also link us to some of our deepest and oldest memories. When smell becomes part of a story, that often adds more realism. Because there’s nothing like saying a planet smells like wet dog to immediately put you there.
Why not let smells take over? How about a story told from a dog’s point of view? Or one connecting an aroma to a memory (Proust did that!)?
Because taste is dependent upon smell, we can often lose a lot of our sense of taste if we have a stuffed nose. For writers, taste can add a feeling of home to a story. Or a story can feel very alien if a taste is particularly odd. The taste of chocolate or ice cream might add pleasant connotations. Yet the tastes of blood or bile will take those away just as quickly.
Why not give taste the spotlight? How about describing a meal on another planet? What about the taste of blood or coffee or a dollar bill?
Want to know how to add believability to a scene? Cover three senses at the very least. Most people go with sight and sound as no-brainers, but what about adding something else? The taste of a lover’s kisses, the smell of a soldier’s old boots, or the texture of a prison uniform can get the reader right into a story.
Community Management Tidbits – Let’s Get this Party Started
Let’s Get this Party Started! You’ve made the decision to have a forum on your website. Great!
It can be for any number of reasons, such as to cut the number of lower level technical support calls, to generate buzz for various advertising campaigns, to generate sales leads, or maybe to bring together people interested in a common cause. And you have a site with forums, done up in Drupal, or maybe using a PHP application out of the box. Or it might exist on Facebook exclusively. Or perhaps you’ve conjured up your own proprietary software.
And … nothing.
You’ve got no users, no content, no conversations. The community should be a hubbub of activity, a virtual village. Instead, you’re stuck with a ghost town.
Whaddaya do now?
Recognize that no one wants to be first attendee at a party. So, you’ve got to get the party started. But how?
For any website to succeed, you need to be strong in four areas:
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
So let us operate under the assumption that you’ve got the first two set (and, if you don’t, make sure you fix, perfect and beautify your design as much as possible). If you’re not already getting metrics, go get Google Analytics and Yahoo Site Explorer and get started on Compete (Compete takes a few months to gather data, so get cracking now). Add Alexa and Quantcast if you wish, as well.
Now with those two set, you can, fortunately, work on the other two together. First of all, let’s work on some elementary Search Engine Optimization. SEO divides into optimizing onsite and optimizing offsite. So start with a few basic offsite measures. It used to be that you had to submit your site to the DMOZ Directory. Yahoo runs this human-edited directory. At this point in time, that advice is out of date. Don’t worry about it. You can do just fine with social media and indexing on social bookmarking sites instead.
Submit your site to the follow social bookmarking sites:
There are any number of others but these are the really big ones and give you the most bang for the buck (most readers) versus others out there. You don’t need to pay some service to do this. It will all take you less than half an hour, no lie.
For onsite SEO, let’s move onto Content. Because the two are intimately intertwined. Furthermore, your future users are going to want to see topics. And they are going to want to see them started by a number of different people. You’ll need to pull in some friends for this, and divide the new topics up as much as possible. Be sure to start with topics like this:
Welcome to the New Members/Getting to Know You
Basic News from outside your company, about you (if you’ve got a company blog or press page already, link to them here and
A few (say, half a dozen) topics showcasing your best keywords but are written for humans to read
That brings us to keyword research. Go to your competitors’ sites, right-click and select “View Source”. Which keywords are they using? Consider using similar if not the same ones. So if your site is about, say, infant and child care, your main keywords and key phrases are probably going to be words and phrases like infant, child, child care, childcare, children, baby, babies, pregnancy. Do Google searches using these keywords and key phrases, with and without the words forum or community added. Look at those sites’ keywords and key phrases as well. Because you want to keep thinking of terms that your target audience will use for their own searches. Incorporate these words into your site and into the titles of some of your first topics.
Look at synonyms! If baby works better than infant, then use baby in the title but you can still put infant within the body of the post. Think like someone searching. What are they really looking for?
Don’t be afraid to be specific, for the child care site, try topics on such subjects as teething, sibling rivalry and readiness for kindergarten. Keep the keywords in the titles if you can logically and grammatically put them there.
Consider some really niche topics, such as handling siblings who are acting out because one child has special needs or a terminal illness. Because searchers are looking for those answers as well.
Now, you’ve got some content, and you’re getting some SEO, even if you are still low in rankings (don’t worry, it’s percolating). But you still need users. Here’s where invitations come in. You, me, all of us – we have online networks. We’ve got friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter and a network on LinkedIn, and a whole host of other groups of online acquaintances. Plus we’ve got friend and family email addresses.
So craft an invitation. Make it polite, pleasant, simple and short. Be definite about what your forums are about (e. g. write more than “Please check out my site.”). In particular, if you know people who like forums (perhaps you already regularly post on some other forums site, even if the main subject is radically different), invite those people. And do this in small doses, say, 30 people at a time. This will keep an influx of new members from overwhelming you. And you can greet everyone personally, at least to start. Furthermore, it will add to the feeling of exclusivity that a small site can engender. Don’t worry if people start inviting others to your site, even people you’ve never heard of before. Because this is a good thing. You want them to do this.
So look for sites to link to you, and be sure to get reciprocal links. Consider adding Google News Reader, and a blog to provide directed quality content if you don’t already have one. Furthermore, it will keep your users updated as to outages and new features as you add them. Add a Facebook fan page for your site, although I’d recommend waiting at least a little while after launching. After all, if no one likes you on Facebook, you’ll have the same issue. It’s trying to attract people who don’t want to be first. Furthermore, you’ll need at least 30 Facebook fans (that number may rise in the future) to get metrics. And then you can really get this party started.
But above all, have fun. And get this party started!
My personal writing process may or may not help you. After all, mine differs from, say, Stephen King‘s. And while he is a bestselling author several times over, that still doesn’t mean his method is better than my own.
Furthermore, his method will not work for me. And that’s not a failure on either of our parts. Because we are, simply put, rather different writers.
For longer stories and novels, I find planning to be essential. And this can take the form of everything from an outline to some random notes. Either way, though, I create what I refer to as a ‘wiki’ although I am the only person who contributes to it.
The term ‘pantsing’ refers to flying by the seat of your pants. So essentially you write with very little idea of plot or structure. And the intention is to fix it later. For the most part, I write shorter stories this way. However, they might be part of a larger overall story arc. Hence the actual writing might end up a tad haphazard but the scene or scenes fit into a greater whole, which has been planned.
See, I’m a planner. Usually.
In the Middle
Sometimes, I’m in the middle. Mettle was a lot like that, where I had a detailed outline for the first three quarters or so and then I had absolutely no idea of how to finish the piece.
There’s also the act of going in the middle by writing a far sparer outline. That’s another idea, to know the arc of the chapter and maybe even the first and last lines of it. But nothing else. So you have both the planning and the flying by the seat of your pants.
Currently, aside from the Obolonk stories (which are still deep in beta reading hell), the only real series and arcs I write tend to be fan fiction.
One piece of my process is the addition of Easter eggs. Stories include the following (usually – Untrustworthy has very little of this, due to the nature of the story):
Boston, somehow, although sometimes it’s just an accent.
Somebody named Shapiro (a cousin had this as her maiden name, but I also think of the character from Stalag 17).
Jews, and often not just Shapiro. They aren’t necessarily terribly religious. But they are there all the same.
Dreams, but I am relying on them less as a crutch these days. Characters have inner lives but that’s not necessarily front and center in a story anymore.
Planning can’t really be avoided. Even if your personal writing process is 100% pantsing, you usually end up paying for that with a lot more time spent editing. This does not mean that planners don’t edit! Of course we do. But the scenes are better ordered or at least they should be. So that can save on editing time.
This is what works for me. It may or may not work for you.
Now that you’re on, it’s time to start optimizing Twitter.
What are lists on Twitter?
You may have noticed people who have a rather different follower to following ratio than you do. What do I mean by that?
Let’s say you follow 100 people. And 1000 people follow you. The ratio of follower to following is 100:1000, or 1:10. This is fantastic. Celebrities often have ratios that look like this, or even better, where they might be following 100 accounts but there are 100,000 people following them.
Newbies often end up at the other end of the spectrum, with 1000 people they are following and 100 are following them, for 10:1. If you want to just read for the most part, this is perfectly fine, except it doesn’t mark you as a thought leader.
Now, most people don’t sit down and calculate ratios. But they do glance at profiles. Sir Patrick Stewart, for example, might be following some 200 people but he’s followed by 2,000,000. Hence people will really notice if he starts following them.
Does he (or any other celebrity, major or minor) have a sparse news feed? Probably not. Because he might be using lists.
Go to the profile of someone you want to follow but, instead of hitting follow, pull down on the gear wheel and select Add to or Remove from Lists. Your lists will show up, and you can add someone to several at a time, or make a new list. You can even decide whether you want your list to be public.
Go to your own profile (e. g. click on your profile rather than your settings) and you’ll see whose lists you are on.
Why use a list rather than follow? You’ll still see that person’s tweets in your feed, but your ratio won’t change. Furthermore, a public list tells everyone what you’re interested in. How about lists for indie authors, agents, or publishers?
You can also follow others’ lists. Maybe someone will find yours to be definitive and will follow it.
Who to follow
Who should you follow on Twitter?
Sometimes you want to publicly follow someone, rather than add them to a list. So long as you keep these people special, then this is perfectly great. I tend to keep friends as open follows and anyone more business-related on lists. But you may prefer otherwise.
Follow fellow indie writers (this is a community, after all), or publishers, or agents. Consider who can help you, and who you can help, and follow accordingly.
How to hashtag
What’s a hashtag, and how do you make one that isn’t lame?
A hashtag is a means of searching on Twitter. Hashtag something as, say, #amwriting, and click on that, and you’re led to a slice of Twitter of everyone who used that hashtag. Hashtags don’t look good if you use a ton of them. Don’t just indiscriminately hashtag! Also, keep them short. #ILovePuppiesAndDolphinsAndUnicorns is probably not going to be something used by anyone else, or at least not that frequently. But #ILovePuppies is pretty popular.
Experiment by searching before you hashtag. Beware, your innocent-looking hashtag might already be coopted for an unexpected usage. Just do a search on #NeverForget or #IStayedBecause and you’ll know what I mean.
Agents and publishers have seen it all, or at least they think they have. They are on the lookout for something new but not so new, if that makes any sense.
Huh? you ask. Originality is important, yes, but the main objective for both agents and publishers is to acquire works which will sell. Does your work have a coherent buyer persona, or ideal reader? Does it fit neatly into one or two genres? And what about works which are harder to define? What do you do?
If Manuscript Wishes were horses …
For #MSWL, at any time during the year, agents and publishers tweet about what they are looking for. Pay attention to their verbiage! Usually it’s something like Looking for cowboy version of The Hunger Games. If your manuscript fits the bill, answer them. If not, don’t waste their and your time.
A tip: if you’re answering an #MSWL, add something about your genre, e. g. #SF for science fiction, or #Romance, etc.
Above all, be sure to have fun with it. Who knows? It just might work out for you. However, there is a chance that it might not. In the meantime, you’ll keep getting better at presenting your work and, by extension, yourself.
Aging happens to all of us, even if we die young. And much like children experience various developmental stages, our aging has some stages, too. However, in order to avoid repeating myself, let’s throw out a caveat here and only look at age forty and up.
For most people in their forties, this decade is a good place to be. Any children are often out of the house or are just about to be. Perimenopause has started for most women. And while that can sometimes be challenging, it’s a signal of things to come. Work can be at or near its zenith in terms of pay and responsibilities. And the house might even be paid for by this time, or close to it.
However, for some people, this is the age bracket when early-onset Alzheimer’s begins.
Going beyond the forties means more wear and tear on all bodies. By this time, most women are fully menopausal, although on rare occasions a woman in her fifties becomes pregnant. However, if she does decided to keep her child, she and her child have increased risks of problems.
For people who had children while in their thirties, this decade means sending them to college (and paying for it). Or it can mean getting them married (and possibly paying for that) or starting to work. Furthermore, not every child can afford to leave home and so people in their fifties may find they are still living with their kids. In addition, many people become grandparents during this decade.
This is also a decade to catch up on retirement savings and begin to assess options.
While 65 was once the standard retirement age, that’s no longer the case. For people in more sedentary jobs, they might continue to work throughout this decade. In the United States, Social Security rewards you the longer you stay in the work force, so some people may try to make it through the decade.
Parents can often become grandparents in this decade, if they haven’t already. And their children may start to become a lot more financially independent. That’s a good thing, as people in their sixties need to think about the future even more. And it’s the decade when people start to (more often) become the target of scam artists. In addition, widows comprise about one-third of all persons aged 65 and older.
However, if you make it past 45, life expectancy for both genders is in the eighties. Hence if you are in a couple, and you’re still together, you may even be during much of this decade. The differences in life expectancy for both sexes flatten out.
For people who have grandchildren, they are often grown or almost grown by now. And pretty much everyone in this age group should at least be thinking about help with the basics of life, everything from navigating stairs to running errands or doing chores.
Aging to the Nineties and Beyond
It’s hard to say if the incidence of Alzheimer’s goes down. Some studies seem to support this although in all fairness, the sample size is understandably smaller. Hence if the doubling incidence continues, that would mean virtually everyone in this age group would be showing at least a few symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Furthermore, cancer is uncommon as a cause of death. However, even more people become widowed by now. And it might even be the second time that they have become widows or widowers.
Some people become great-grandparents during this decade (or during the previous one), although that depends a lot on a group’s age(s) at becoming parents. Very few people live alone or independently by now.
Is there an upper limit to how long we can live? That’s probably not something we can prove, at least not now. However, the oldest-ever confirmed individual was Jeanne Calment, who died when she was 122 and a half.
Aging: Some Takeaways
Beyond dry statistics about life expectancy, disease prevalence, and widowhood, aging can bring with it grace, or wisdom, or bitterness. All of these are choices, and many more, for your aging characters. Because not every interesting character is young, you know.
Consider beta readers and editors – what’s the difference? Does it matter which one you use to help with your manuscript?
Beta readers are people who read over your work. They evaluate it before it gets anywhere near a publisher. They might read for typos, spelling errors, grammatical issues, and punctuation problems, but that is not a very good way to work with them.
Beta Readers and Continuity Checks
Instead, you want them to help you with flow and continuity. If your main character is female and 5’2″ and has a chihuahua on page 4, then she should still be female, 5’2″, and the owner of a chihuahua on page 204, unless there is some on-page reason why she isn’t. E. g.:
They are transgender, and successfully transitioned (with or without surgery) to male. Or the character no longer identifies as female or male.
The character had a growth spurt and is taller, or has osteoporosis, and became shorter. Or maybe her legs were amputated (sorry, character!).
She gave away the chihuahua, or it ran away, etc.
The last thing you want is for your beta reader to wonder where the chihuahua went, particularly if the little dog isn’t a big part of the story.
Good beta readers are in the demographics of the people you’re trying to reach with your novel. They like your genre or at least are willing to read in it and offer feedback. They don’t tear you a new one when they don’t like something, but they are also unafraid to tell you if something isn’t working for them.
Some Questions to Ask Them
Are the characters believable? Are they distinguishable?
Do you think the situations are plausible?
Are there good descriptions for the scenes? Can you picture yourself where the characters are?
Do the transitions work?
Are the conflicts plausible?
Is the conclusion a satisfying one?
Also ask about genre-specific issues, such as whether your mystery was too easy or difficult to solve, if your horror story was scary enough, if the technobabble in your science fiction novel was credible, etc.
The best way to get a beta reader is to be one! Offer a trade with another indie. Usually this work is done for free. So be kind, and either recommend your beta reader friend or at least donate a little something to one of their three favorite charities.
Editors are more professional than beta readers and are generally people you hire. They will do copy editing, where they check for typos, etc., although there should be a last pass by a proofreader before publishing, no matter what.
Editors can also check for continuity, but they will mainly read with the audience in mind. They are a good enhancement to the work of a beta reader, and are a good idea before you send your work out for querying.
The best way to get an editor is to do some research. Ask people you know are published. After all, an editor no longer has to live in the same city or country as you (but you will do best with someone who is a native speaker of the language your book is in). Work with the editor on a sample chapter. Do you get along? Are his or her suggestions reasonable? Are they slow?
And if you are absolutely, utterly stuck for funds, try a local college or university. You might be able to get an English major to help you, but be aware they probably won’t have experience and they may not be the best fit. But they may be all you’ve got.
And make sure to have a written agreement with them! This is a sample copyediting contract, and it’s pretty good. Be sure to change the contract to indicate the laws of your state apply!