Supporting Indie Authors

Supporting Indie Authors

Supporting Indie Authors – do you do it?

I am published, and one issue that comes up, time and again, concerns how people can go about supporting indie authors. In particular, friends and family far removed from the business of writing or social media or public relations or marketing or the like still want to help out.

And for the writers, who may feel strange suggesting or requesting such support, I hope this little guide can do just that. Instead of asking, perhaps they can simply point to this blog post.

The #1 Way You Can Support An Independent Author

This one’s easy. Buy their book! Which version? Any version!

However, authors might get better percentages of the take with a particular format. If that is the case, and you don’t mind which format you purchase, you can always ask your friend the writer. While we always want you to buy the book (and a sale beats out no sale), if we have our druthers and it really makes a difference, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

The #2 Way To Support Independent Authors

Supporting Indie Authors
Untrustworthy by JR Gershen-Siegel

So once you’ve bought the book, a fantastic way to help out even more is to provide an honest review. Amazon, Smashwords, and many publisher sites provide a means of reviewing novels and other creative works. Be sure to review where you purchased the book. Why? Because then you can be listed with verified purchase next to your name. This adds considerably more credibility to your review (and some places require it now).

The Sum and Substance of Your Review

What should you say in your review? If you loved the book, say so. If it was a decent read but not your cup of tea, say that as well, as it’s honest, fair, and remains supportive. After all, not everyone loves the same thing. If you’re not in the demographic group the work is aimed at, then no problem. You gave it the old college try and that’s just fantastic. The longer the review then, generally, the better. Specific references to events in the book, without giving away spoilers, really help. E. g. something like: I loved the character of ___. She was believably vulnerable.

Negative Reviews

What if you hated the book? Should you lie? Absolutely not – and, I might add, don’t lie even if the author has specifically asked for positive reviews only (an unethical request, by the way). If the book stinks (I’ve read books that have made me want to burn people’s computers, they were so horrible, so I know exactly where you’re coming from), then you have the following options:

  1. Don’t post the review at all, and say nothing to the author.
  2. Don’t post the review at all, but mention it to the author. However be prepared for, potentially, some negative push-back, in particular if that person specifically requested just positive reviews. You can sweeten the pot by offering some other assistance (see below for other things you can do to help).
  3. Post a short review. Reviews don’t have to be novel-length! You can always write something like Interesting freshman effort from indie author ____ (the writer’s name goes in the blank). There ya go. Short, semi-sweet, and you’re off the hook. Unless the book utterly bored you, the term ‘interesting’ works. If the book was absolutely the most boring thing you have ever read, then you can go with valiant or unique (so long as the work isn’t plagiarized) instead of interesting. Yes, you have just damned with faint praise. But sometimes faint praise is the only kind you can give out.

Really going negative

  1. Post a negative review. However, be prepared for your friendship to, potentially, end. Is that the worst thing, ever? I’m not saying to be mean. Don’t be mean and don’t take potshots at a person’s character or personality. This is about the book and not about your relationship with the person (although it can sometimes turn into that. But keep the review about the creative work only). But if the friendship means more to you, then seriously consider options #1 or #2 instead.

Furthermore, many sites have star systems. Adding stars (even a single star) is helpful as this signals to readers that there is at least some interest in the piece.

The #3 Way to Support an Independent Author

Post and/or share the links to either the creative work or the author’s website, blog, Facebook Author page, or Amazon Author page, onto social media. This method is free and anyone can do it. This means tweets, Facebook shares, Pinterest repinnings, Tumblr rebloggings, clicking ‘like’ on Instagram, voting up a book trailer on YouTube or adding it to a playlist, mentioning the book in your status on LinkedIn, or sharing the details with your circles on Google+, and more. Every time you provide these sorts of social signals to social media sites, the content is delivered to more people. Without spending a dime, and barely lifting a finger, you can provide a great deal of help.

The #4 Way to Support Independent Authors

Be sure to follow your friends’ Amazon Author pages, and their blogs. Hit ‘like’ on their Facebook Author pages and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. There are agents who give more weight to indies who have larger social media followings. You can hate the book but still follow the author.

You can also work some magic in person. Show up to any signings or discussions, even if you just drink coffee and don’t participate. Ask for the book at your local library or bookstore. Read the paper version in public (train stations are really great for that sort of thing). You can also talk to your friends, or email them about the work. Consider your audience, and don’t just spam your friends, but if your writer pal has written, say, a Christian-themed love story, then how about sending the link to your friend who has a son studying to be a pastor?

If your friend is local, try contacting your local paper and asking if they’d do a profile on the writer. They can always say no, but sometimes reporters are hunting around for short feel-good locally-specific blurbs. It never hurts to ask.

The #5 Way to Support an Independent Author

Here’s where it gets to be a time investment. Help them. A lot of serious authors ask questions about all manner of things, in order to perform proper research. Can you help with that? Do you have personal experience, or are you good at Googling? You can also act as a beta reader. Beta readers read either the entire draft or a portion of it or sometimes just the first chapter or even character bios. Here’s where you can be a lot freer with criticism, as this is all private. Is the mystery too easy to solve? The character names are confusing? The protagonist isn’t described clearly? The scenario is improbable? Then tell the writer. This isn’t correcting their grammar or their spelling (although it sometimes can be). This is giving them valuable feedback which will help them become better.

As always, be kind. This is your friend’s baby, after all. But if you can’t tell the difference between Susan and Suzanne in the story, then other readers probably wouldn’t be able to, either. Better that that is fixed before the book is released, than afterwords.

Final Thoughts on How to Support Independent Authors

The life of a writer can be a rather topsy-turvy one. You’re high on good reviews, and then you get one bad one and it depresses you. You write like the wind for weeks, and then you edit it and it feels like it’s garbage. You get writer’s block, or life gets in the way.

Sometimes the best thing you can do, as a friend, is to just listen, and be there.

Podcasting for Fun and Possibly Some Profit

Podcasting

Podcasting can get you to a wider audience. It’s a different medium from what you might be used to. And it offers practice and the opportunity to polish some skills that you, the writer, might not have realized you needed, such as thinking on your feet and being an interview subject.

Getting Started

What do you need for podcasting? This image is a pretty good summary of what you need –

Podcasting
Podcast 1 (Image by user Tim Wilson on Wikimedia Commons). File is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The good news is that you have most of this stuff already. In fact, you don’t even need everything that’s in the image.

Computers

It doesn’t seem to matter too much which type of computer you use. You really just need an Internet connection. You will need some speed, so dispense with dial up if you’re still using it (someone out there is, right?). I would, though, recommend using an actual computer as opposed to a phone for podcasting, as the resultant file is going to be huge.

Microphones

The image shows a studio-style mic, but the truth is, you don’t need to get quite so fancy. My own microphone is part of a headset from an outfit called Hama. I know I bought it a few years ago. It works just fine and most importantly, the mouthpiece is adjustable. You want adjustability because, inevitably, you’re going to sneeze or cough, or the phone will ring or whatever.

Software

To be able to talk to your fellow podcasters on your show, or to your guests, you’ll need some software. Essentially what you are looking for is chat. My team and I like to use TeamSpeak. I imagine you could do as well with Yahoo! or Facebook chat. Just make sure that whatever you are using is private. Oh, and turn any sound notifications off.

If you’re going to put your podcast on YouTube (I think this is generally a good idea), you’ll need software for that, too. I use software that comes from my school, Screencast-o-matic. The school also uses TechSmith Relay but I prefer Screencast-o-matic. Either way, you want software which allows you to record a fairly long video.

You may not think that you need any sort of visual art software, but I beg to differ. At minimum, your podcast needs a logo or at least a slide that you can slap onto the front of your YouTube video. Photoshop or Gimp is ideal, but Paint or even Microsoft PowerPoint can do in a pinch.

Image Permissions

If you are going to use an image that you didn’t make, check the license! I like to use Wikimedia Commons as a lot of their images have open licenses or they just require an attribution and nothing more. Remember – just because an image exists online and you can right-click and save it, does not mean that you have permission to use it! When in doubt, use one of your own images. I like to use scenery images if I don’t have a logo. Scenery can even be something really tiny, such as one flower bud.

For sound editing, the beauty of TeamSpeak is that it allows for sound recording. But you will still need to trim something or other. I have Audacity though I admit I don’t use it for much (I don’t do the sound editing for our podcast). But Audacity is otherwise useful.

Practice

You should practice before you try to go anywhere with podcasting. It doesn’t need to be long or involved. Get to know the software. For example, TeamSpeak allows for a push to talk feature. Use it! This will help a lot when you are recording, as you need to consciously press a button for any sound to come out. Practice using this until it’s second nature.

Use Audacity, and record yourself saying something simple and scripted. It can be a nursery rhyme or the like. You don’t want to be doing this for more than a minute or so.

The idea here is to listen to playback. Can you be understood? Are you too breathy? Does your accent push through a bit too much? Do you talk too fast? Every single one of these issues can be fixed, including the accent.

Fix Your Audio

Generally, you will need to slow down and enunciate. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, but at least in the beginning you’ll want to talk more slowly, in particular if you have a thick accent. If you’re too breathy-sounding, try bringing the mic farther away from your mouth. As for outside noises, you’ll need to close windows and doors, put pets outside, and turn off fans and space heaters. Set your phone on mute.

When you work with co-hosts, practice with them at least once. Remember to not talk over them and, if you’re laughing at their jokes, you need assure that even your laughter is being recorded.

Hosts and Guests

Consider your subject and your potential audience. On the G & T Show, we talk about Star Trek and Star Trek Online. This includes the novels and cosplay. We will also branch out to talk about other gaming and other science fiction. Having this broad a topic but with its own limitations makes it fairly easy to come up with show ideas. As for guests, our hosts network at conventions, in the STO game, and on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

Cohosts

A co-host is an extremely good idea, as otherwise you’re talking to yourself a lot. While you could carry a show by yourself, it’s a lot easier if you don’t have to. Three hosts tends to be a really good number, particularly if the third is not too active. You’ll quickly find your hosts unconsciously dividing into three groups:

  1. The talker – this person won’t necessarily stay on topic all the time, but they can fill dead air.
  2. The organizer – this person understands creating a theme and keeping the show on target. This person often remembers to thank the guests.
  3. The utility infielder – this person can chime in and also cover if either of the first two cannot podcast. Along with the organizer, this person often performs research and gathers potential podcast material in advance.

Guests

As for guests, consider your circle, both online and off. You can podcast without guests, and you will most likely need to get a few under your belt before anyone will want to visit.

However, when you do get guests, the usual details apply, e. g. be polite, give them ample time to plug whatever they want to plug, and prepare questions for them in advance. If your guest writes, for example, you might want to talk about the themes in their book, where they get their inspiration, how long they’ve been writing, and how they first became published. Think outside the box and consider guests a little removed from your basic subject. Hence if your subject is books and writing, why not have a cover artist on as a guest, or a professional editor? Maybe feature a literary agent or a representative from a publishing house.

Extras

At G & T we have a Streaming page and use a minicaster. This also includes a hosted chat room – the show broadcasts live and the audience can listen and follow along in the chat room. This is not necessary, but it’s fun.

Blogging

We also blog about the show, which means that we take notes (in our case, the utility infielder does this). The blog is a great place to get the URLs in that we may have talked about but our audience might not have gotten the first time we mentioned them. With the blog, we can just make clickable outbound links. We also make sure that a player is embedded into the blog, so that a reader can listen to the show if they would prefer that.

Distribution

We always upload our podcast to not only iTunes, but also MixCloud and YouTube. These spread our broadcast even further. We use a regular logo card as the image accompanying our YouTube videos. For special interviews, we make different images, usually with our guest’s provided headshot.

To introduce new segments, we use bumpers. These are just short (less than half a minute long) introductions to various segments (e. g. Star Trek News). Ours consist of our utility infielder’s niece giving the title of the segment and then some introductory music that we have permission to use (always get permission or make sure that music is public domain!). Bumpers help because they provide a smooth transition between segments and they can cover up any ragged transitions. We splice these into the completed file. Our announcer girl has also recorded our intro and our credits portion (with music we can use), so we added these as a part of post-production. Again, these provide recognizable transitions for our audience.

Promotions

We promote our show on social media, with mainly our YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. We also have Tumblr, Google+, and Pinterest accounts but use them less. Our main promotions come from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. We also promote at conventions, including a table at Star Trek Las Vegas for the past few years.

Why Not Podcast?

So what are you waiting for? Why not give podcasting a try?

Janet Gershen-Siegel is freelance social media marketer and a Master’s degree candidate (Interactive Media, ’16) at Quinnipiac University. Her novel, Untrustworthy, was published by Riverdale Avenue Books in 2015 and is available on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback editions.

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results

Tips to Quickly Boost Results. Rebekah Radice of Canva offers some great ideas for how to improve your engagement on Google+, a social platform that even a lot of experienced social media managers can find rather confusing and daunting, and hard to break into.

Google+ Tips to Quickly Boost Results
Google Plus (Photo credit: ivanpw)

Images

It should come as no great shock that images are key. But that is true for pretty much all social media platforms these days. Posts without images are just contributing to the enormous tidal wave of text that we are all dealing with, all the time.

The 800 x 1200 size is optimal for Google+.

Share Fun, Inspirational and Educational Content

Well, sure, that makes sense. For most social media platforms, the mix should be of fun and smart content, with a smattering of inspirational. If your business is angel flights for children, you’ve got no shortage of inspirational content. If it’s The Daily Show, you’ll never have to hunt around for fun content. And if you’ve got Harvard to promote, you can get educational content.

Then there’s the rest of us.

But Radice has some great ideas for engagement, printed here in their entirety –

  • “Share your thoughts, expertise, mission, vision and values.
  • Give a nice shout out to your favorite blogs and websites.
  • Share inspirational thoughts, funny quotes and timely news stories.
  • Share other peoples content with context around it.
  • Don’t post and run away. Interact, connect and engage!
  • Be grateful. Thank people that share your content.
  • Be personable and share details about your business in a fun and interactive way.
  • Follow people within your industry and niche and create a conversation. Get to know them, share their content and spread the good word about their business. This creates reciprocity and more meaningful interactions.
  • Repurpose your content. Just because it’s old to you, doesn’t mean it’s not new to someone else.”

Optimize Your Profile

This includes adding details about what you do, links to your other online content, and sprucing up your profile/logo image and cover image.   The 2120 x 1192 size is optimal for Google+ cover images.

Return to Your Buyer Personae

Why are people on Google+? And how can you align your strategy, and what you provide, to what they want, need, and crave?

Don’t forget about Google Plus.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More

The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More

Best Lengths for social posts can seem elusive. What’s right?

The fine folks at Buffer and, in particular, Kevan Lee, have done it again and have everything you always wanted to know about social post lengths but were afraid to ask.

The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More
English: Red Pinterest logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my travels online, I have seen blog posts that were under 50 words long. I have seen blog posts that were a good 10,000 words long. Tweets, of course, are limited. But there have been plenty of Pinterest pins with just an image and nothing else. Or they’ve got enough verbiage behind them to seemingly rival War and Peace. So, what’s ideal? Is there any science behind it?

Blogs

How long should blog posts be? Buffer likes blog post titles to be six words long (oops, this blog post’s title is too long). Interestingly enough, the blog post where I got the inspiration for this blog post from also has a title that is too long.

Sometimes, six words is just not long enough.

Thanks to Buffer for this graphic.

The Best Lengths for Social Media Posts and More

Interestingly enough, Buffer says blog posts are best at 1,600 words in length. However, Yoast (the fine makers of an SEO plugin I use for my own blog posting) provides good SEO credit for blog posts that are at least 300 words in length. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but one thing is for sure – those fifty-word blog posts just plain are not long enough.

Facebook

How big should a Facebook post be? Buffer says forty characters. Keep it short, snappy, and to the point. According to Lee, Facebook posts that exceed forty characters degrade in engagement as they get longer. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that 700-word screed you wrote? Better make that a blog post instead and just link to it. But if you put the whole thing on Facebook, people will scroll right on by.

Here’s a trick to get around the forty-character wall – links show the title and some text, and you can always change these. Or add an image with some text. But don’t go nuts! It is very, very easy to hit and exceed critical mass.

Google+

How long should a Google+ post be? Buffer puts the figure at sixty characters. After that, you’re hitting a second line of text. How do you get around it? The idea is similar to Facebook – you have a little room to play with images and even a short subtitle.

LinkedIn

How long should a LinkedIn post be? Buffer clocks in at twenty-five words, based upon clickthrough data.

Pinterest

How large should a Pinterest image be? Buffer’s got you covered – 735px x 1102px. These taller pins seem to stand out more, and are therefore shared more often.

Twitter

How long should an effective Tweet be? Buffer says to limit it to 71 – 100 characters, in order to provide some space for people to comment before sending out a modified tweet (MT). So keep hashtags at six characters for maximal impact. Yes, we all know that people sometimes use hashtags as a bit of wry commentary. Tumblr in particular seems to inspire hashtags like #DudeLooksLikeALady (and not just for fans of Aerosmith). Excessive hashtagging is one of the characteristics of Instagram. However, the best length hashtag on Twitter has six characters.

Upshot

TL; DR – Check out the chart, and the cited article, for more information. The research on best lengths for posts is sound, and fascinating, and the article was a hell of a find.

Quinnipiac Assignment #10 ICM524 – Google’s Monopoly

This week in class, we prepared HTML code with semantic categories and we also wrote about Google’s monopoly.

My essay is reproduced below, in its entirety.

Google’s Monopoly

Introduction – Ma Bell and Her Demise

We in the United States have been down the monopoly road before.

I well recall the telephone company being a monopoly. We were told, back when I was studying economics in High School, that it was a “good” monopoly. The teacher said that it was just the way that communications ran, and that it all made sense. The technology all went together. Installation, repairs, number assignment and indexing, and recordkeeping all went together perfectly.

Then came the 1980s and a court order to break up the Bell System. Apparently this “good” monopoly wasn’t so good after all. I had moderately high telephone bills then. Also, I was living in a dorm but we were still responsible for our local and long distance bills. I even recall standing on a line to get a landline telephone and sign a contract.

In 1984, Bell was broken up into a few regional holding companies and I had moved to an apartment in Delaware. My telephone bills, particularly for long distance, had climbed. Then later in the 1980s and into the 1990s, there would be all of these commercials for long distance carriers. But the prices remained high.

Fast forward to today. My bill is pretty close to what it was when I attended school in Delaware. But I don’t just get local and long distance service; I also get Internet and cable. For nearly what I was paying when the phone system was in the regional holding company stage thirty years ago, I get considerably more for my dollar. Breaking up Ma Bell ended up, after some initial chaos, saving me money and getting me, the typical consumer, much better services.

Google and Analytics

Let’s look at Google.

As Steve Ballmer of Microsoft puts it, “This [search] is a scale game because the market for advertising is auction-based economics. If we have exactly the same quality of algorithms but less scale in search advertising we get less revenue per search than Google which means they have more money to pay for distribution on Samsung or Apple.Rumor is they pay each $1 to $3 billion a year for distributing their search products. We have to generate volume to step up.”

It’s pretty bad when even Microsoft says you might be a monopoly.

Is Google’s attitude toward analytics driving some of this? After all, they offer it for free, and they strongly encourage website owners (commercial and noncommercial) to make use of it. But much like a man in an unmarked van offering candy, it seems to come at a price. A great analytics system definitely makes more online businesses successful. And what do successful and/or ambitious online businesses do? They buy search. And they buy apps. They click on ads and convert more, and then those ads can be sold for more. And that’s where Google makes its billions – Google websites and Google member websites. The analytics program seems to be yet another great advertisement for Google.

Furthermore, a great, free analytics package definitely inclines one to think more favorably about Google. Microsoft, on the other hand, feels like it is bribing Bing users by offering rewards. Yet when Google offers better search placement in exchange for using Google+, it doesn’t seem so disingenuous. After all, what’s Google’s slogan? Don’t be evil. What’s Microsoft’s? Where do you want to go today? It is still positive, yes. But it’s not specifically assuring a customer that no harm is intended. Is that a requirement? It might very well be, given today’s skeptical consumer culture.

Google lulls the website owner into a comfortable sense of security, that a small business can be better analyzed and make more money, if only you could rank higher in searches! Except they’re selling the same bill of goods to that website owner’s competition. What happens when everyone is perfect at search? Then it’s more money for Google, as website owners buy more paid search to try to get back on top of the heap. The analytics package rather neatly tells website owners where they’re failing. The subtle hint is – buy search and you could improve again.

It’s Not a Monopoly If you’re Really That Good

There is one corollary in all of this. A superior product or service should always rise to the top, given the free market. Consumers naturally are going to seek out better products and, when price is no longer a factor, then quality is going to be the main driving force behind usage, with convenience being important as well. Is Google a better service than Bing or Yahoo? Maybe. It’s bigger, yes. But is its size defining its superiority? As Ballmer stated above, it’s a scale game. Search Engine Watch says that Google has just over 2/3 of all searches. Bing held the second spot with 18.7%. Yahoo had 10%. The remaining 3.7% was divided between Ask.com and AOL.

A site that enormous is going to, by definition, have considerably more money to throw around. This will result in the hiring of better engineers, more development, more frequent updates, and more innovations. Right now, it just seems like Google has the best product. It does not seem to be actively trying to require usage of its services (unlike Microsoft, which bundled Internet Explorer with its PCs and was court ordered to stop doing that). An active attempt to require usage of goods or services would be a violation of the Clayton Antitrust Act. Google has been careful to not stray into Clayton Act territory. Yet if it continues to crush its competition, it may end up there anyway.

Conclusion

Google is offering the best search experience. It’s also offering the best free analytics package, which strongly encourages businesses to put their advertising eggs into the Google basket. Being better is not a Clayton Act violation. But I think Ballmer’s got a point (although of course he’s also got an agenda). The scale is so wildly out of proportion that almost anything Google does essentially promotes it as a monopoly. Much like Facebook, Google is the category killer.

Monopoly
Theodore Roosevelt

Perhaps the United States government needs to step into both areas, and put on the brakes a little on this kind of wild growth. It’s not your father’s monopoly anymore, but it sure seems to be a monopoly all the same. And the last time one that was this big was broken up, it resulted in an eventual win for consumers. Maybe it’s time the heirs of Teddy Roosevelt took an axe to Google.

References