White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen, a Book Review

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen is a beginning design book. And I purchased it because I definitely need assistance with design. While I (at least I think I do) have something of an understanding of which color goes with which, it is sometimes difficult for me to make something look good. Seeking some inexpensive professional help, I turned to this book.

Practical Help

White Space is not your Enemy by Kim Golombisky and Rebecca Hagen

So apart from the obvious title, the book offers tips on color combinations, font selection, focal points and even how to prepare a document for a professional print job. And the chapter on design sins really resonated with me. I have seen poorly designed advertisements (both online and offline) and websites, and have never really been able to adequately articulate just why they were so hideous. So now I can.

Exercises

The exercises in the back of each chapter seemed, I thought, somewhat superfluous. However, I did find myself beginning to look at designs with a more critical eye. For example, I noticed a print advertisement where the background photograph was of varied colors. Some were light, some, dark. The print, however, was pure white, and cut horizontally along the middle of the photograph. Hence this would have been fine, except the copy crashed straight into a white space, so some of the print was invisible. Which part? The company’s name. Epic design fail.

Foolproof

Another extremely helpful chapter: the one on the “works every time” layout. This layout is all over the Internet and all over print media, and for good reason. It is, essentially, a full width photograph or other graphic across the top third of the screen or page, with the remaining two-thirds divided into two vertical columns for text. A cutline (caption) goes directly underneath the visual (if appropriate; some visuals don’t need a cutline), with a more prominent headline directly below that.

Break up the columns into paragraphs and beware widows and orphans (one or two short words on a line). Place tags (these aren’t Internet meta tags), which are the logo, company name and small nugget of information such as the URL or physical address, in the lower right-hand corner. In addition, round it all out with generous margins all around. Voila! An instant beautiful (albeit somewhat common) layout!

If nothing else, that chapter has a greater value than the price of admission.

Learning Creativity

Creativity cannot, truly, be taught. But the peripherals around it can, such as how to gather ideas and nurture them, and how to place those ideas together in a coherent format. It’s like teaching pottery and smithing but not cookery: you get enough so that you can set the table, but not nourish anyone.

For that, you need to be an artist. And that, sadly, no book can ever teach you.

Rating

5/5

The Karmic Wheel Turns

Social Media Karma

What is the Karmic Wheel?

I was once contacted by a friend, Phil Butler, to write an article for the Examiner.

Representation of a soul undergoing punarjanma... Karmic Wheel
Representation of a soul undergoing punarjanma. Illustration from Hinduism Today, 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, Phil and I had known each other for a few years. We met through LinkedIn.

We have never actually seen each other, in person. He’s not even on the same continent as I am. Yet I wrote the article all the same. It’s on Food Addictions and Treatments.

Now, did I expect fame and fortune from all this?

Well, I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be nice. But do I honestly think that empires will rise and fall based upon my one little article?

Of course not.

Karmic Wheel Spinning

But I think it illustrates the point I have made about collaboration. That is, sometimes you just up and do something for someone. And you do it because you just, well, want to do something for someone.

So that ends up a reward unto itself, is it not?

And by the way, I hope you do read the article. Because I think it’s the kind of thing that’s got to be written about. And it continues to shock me that other writers wouldn’t touch the subject matter with a ten-foot pole, as if it would give them cooties to talk about addiction. As if being at all sympathetic with people who are ill would, somehow, mean they were condoning those lifestyle choices or admitting that they, too, were imperfect.

Hey, I will shout it from the rooftops – I’m imperfect!

And if I’m not mistaken, the sky did not just come crashing down.

Go forth, and I hope you’ll collaborate, and do things for others. And the karmic wheel will turn for you, too.

Social Networking/Social Media Tips

Social Networking/Social Media Tips

Social Media Tips? Yes, please! A while back, Grassroots Giving Group published some great Social Networking tips. I agreed with their ideas but would like to expand upon them a bit.

English: A pie chart created in Excel 2007 sho... Social Media Tips
English: A pie chart created in Excel 2007 showing the content of tweets on Twitter, based on the data gathered by Pear Analytics in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And they were essentially exploring when Facebook and Twitter are useful. Here are some of their ideas.

Ideas

  • Announcements – don’t just announce upcoming or new things but also add links in order to drive traffic. Agreed! However, I would add a targeted landing page. If you’ve got people coming in from Facebook, why not create a new landing page to personally welcome them (e. g. Welcome to our Facebook Friends!). The best part about that is that, since it’s a separate page, Google Analytics will track the clicks separately. You’ve got a fighting chance of getting good metrics, so you’ll know whether your announcement of the opening of a new branch of the Widget Factory played better on Facebook or on Twitter.
  • Sending shortened website addresses on Twitter – use an URL shortener. Of course! But why not use one (such as from HootSuite or Social Oomph) where you can get some click metrics? Using both a personalized landing page and an URL with click metrics can give you an even clearer idea of how traffic flows. Oh, and they don’t tell you why you should shorten an URL on Twitter (even if the URL fits), but I will: to make it easier for people to retweet.

Planning

  • Planning in Advance – nothing new here. You should keep up with things and plan in advance. Absolutely. And that means, when you’re hot and creative, write, write, write! Keep drafts and ideas going, and also think about how you can expand on your own blog entries or others’ (such as this blog entry). Get yourself a stable of other blogs/blog writers, news sources, etc. Who inspires you? Who interests you? And don’t repeat or steal, of course. Rather, expand and comment. These are perfectly legitimate ways to update your blog.
  • This Day in History – Commemorate occasions in your company! There must be something you’ve done that is good blog fodder. Of course, not every day is memorable, but it’s another way to keep the pipeline going. If July 12th is an important day in your organization, make sure that the July 12th blog post and Tweets are ready to rock and roll, and they are updated to the correct year. Heck, in HootSuite and SocialOomph (mentioned above), you can schedule Tweets. Why not schedule the Tweets for July 12th (or whatever your special day just so happens to be) and be done with them?

Quotes

  • Quote Collection – I like this idea, and I think it can be used for a lot of purposes. This is not only quotes about your specific organization or its work, but even more generalized quotations. Surely there is something from Shakespeare (My Kingdom for a horse!) or the Bible that could work for you in some capacity or another. It can be another jumping off point for creativity.
  • Ask Your Audience Questions – I think this is more useful if you have a somewhat large and actively commenting readership. While a rhetorical question is lovely, I think it’s just better if you can get at least a little feedback. Otherwise, it feels like you’re just shouting out to the wilderness.
  • Staff Introductions – this is another great idea. While your site might already have staff biographies, that’s another way to get the readership acquainted with who’s making the product.

Notes From Your Day

  • Notes from Your Day – I don’t know about this one. Your day, maybe. Mine? I guess this is, in part, centered around the event reviews I’ve done. But otherwise, my days tend to be spent, well, here, blogging. Which may or may not be thrilling to others. But I can see where my coworkers could have some very interesting days. The process of invention is pretty fascinating.

So there you have it. Some pretty amazing ideas for getting and keeping things going. And, while the post wasn’t, specifically, about blogging, it rings very true for that very specific – and sometimes challenging and elusive – task.

Finally, many, many thanks to the Grassroots Giving Group.

For more information, see the December 16, 2010 edition of Grassroots Giving Group.com’s blog.

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Social Media’s Seduction AKA Oops, Did I Do That?

Social Media’s Seduction AKA Oops, Did I Do That?

Seduction is usually a good thing. Hmm. Instead, this post riffs on Seduced: For Lawyers, the Appeal of Social Media Is Obvious. It’s Also Dangerous, which is a post on ABA Journal Online.

The Background

Free speech doesn't mean careless talk^ - NARA... Seduction
Free speech doesn’t mean careless talk^ – NARA – 535383 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So here’s the scoop. An attorney named Sean Conway wrote a blog post, about a perceived injustice going on in the Florida courts. According to him, “Judge Cheryl Alemán was asking defendants whether they were ready for trial only about a week after their arraignment”.

Okay, so far, so good.

Except Mr. Conway decided to use inflammatory language in order to get his point across. However, he did go through normal channels initially, and got no satisfaction. Because the problem with the one-week prep lead time is that the lead time, apparently, is normally some four or five weeks. Hence Mr. Conway felt there was an injustice being perpetrated, e. g. the right to a speedy trial.

Over the Top

In addition, he apparently referred to the judge (who is now deceased), as follows:

  • “evil, unfair witch”
  • “seemingly mentally ill” and
  • “clearly unfit for her position and knows not what it means to be a neutral arbiter.”

Now, let’s see. I can go along, perhaps, with unfair as a descriptor, particularly if other defendants, perhaps in other area courts, were being given more lead time. However, after that, Mr. Conway, what the heck are ya doing????

Seriously. So why did he have ever believe that this sort of overly inflammatory rhetoric would be acceptable, at any time, ever? Now, I am not, specifically, suggesting a Bowdlerization of language, or of using softer words to describe hard actions. But we’re not talking about genocide here! Furthermore, we are not describing babies being pummelled or any other awful image you’d like to conjure up (I leave this to your own devices, Gentle Reader). Rather, it is a difference in lead prep time of three to four weeks. And it’s nothing more.

Yet is it a Civil Rights violation? Possibly. I’ll even give him that one, although neither he nor I are the arbiters of same (er, that’s why we have courts in the first place). Rather, the over the top language is just, well, it’s a very, very bad idea.

Alternatives

Because surely the point could have been made with far less negativity. Conway feels that the invective was necessary to get the point across. According to the article, “[t]he Florida Bar, however, concluded that he had violated five ethics rules, including Rule 4-8.2(a) (making false or reckless statements regarding the qualifications or integrity of a judge) and Rule 4-8.4(d) (engaging in professional conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice). However, Conway argued that his actions were protected by the First Amendment, but the Florida Supreme Court rejected this. Finally, in the end, Conway acquiesced with a public reprimand and a fine of $1,250.”

The Real Issues

No one said he couldn’t talk or write about this. It’s just the overly inflammatory rhetoric, truly, at issue here. Although, by making the statements, possibly without too many supporting materials, he could’ve still been dinged on Rule 4-8.2(a), the “false or reckless statements” clause. However, truly, the very stuff that he added to try to make his post stand out (e. g. the over the top statements and name-calling) were, most likely, the very things that made the Florida Bar not only sit up and take notice. Those statements probably also made the Florida Bar ding him an amount that, for some people, equals close to one month’s worth of mortgage payments. It’s not a huge sum, but it’s not a small, one, either. Because clearly the Florida Bar was less than pleased.

So, what have we learned here? To my mind, it’s two things. One, we’ve got Free Speech! Yay! Awesome! And, two, that doesn’t mean we should be reckless with it. Because, certainly, if we’re gonna make accusations with our free speech, we might want to do some research and back up our statements well.

Oops, we’ve also, I hope, learned a third and fourth thing as well. Three, Social Media is actual speech and it’s pretty dang permanent. Therefore, we might wanna think twice before putting stuff out there. And four, yeah, we’ve got free speech (yay!). However, it doesn’t mean we have to be jerks about using it.

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Social Media: Hope, Hype or What?

Social Media: Hope, Hype or What?

Hype? Hope? Now, this subject has probably been done to death but, here I will do it all over again. Perhaps (hopefully!) my perspective will be fresh and/or of some value.

Social Media Marketing Hub and Spoke Infographic Hype
Social Media Marketing Hub and Spoke Infographic (Photo credit: DigitalRalph)

First of all, this post is inspired by The ABA Journal’s take on Social Media. As in the online magazine for lawyers. And they went on about Social Media, much like I have and others have, as well.

It Feeds Itself

And I can’t help feeling that that, in and of itself, is feeding the ole hype machine. Is Social Media hyped? Well, let’s put out an article about just that, and we’ll rev up the hype machine and get the word out and and and …. Suddenly, there’s hype about the hype.

Ai chihuahua.

However, there is, perhaps less of a hype issue than there is one of unrealistic expectations. I suspect that most people, if they give Social Media more than a passing glance (and, in particular, if they need to touch on it for business), take one look at it and think: free. Ooh, goody! This marvelous free thing will supplement (and perhaps eventually supplant) all of the things I have to actually pay good money for! My wealth will increase, in an incredible and exponential manner, because I can put my advertising and marketing dollars elsewhere, outside of traditional (read: expensive) channels, and instead shove it all into some investment that catches my eye. Llama ranching, perhaps.

Traditional vs. Social Media Marketing

Okay. Let’s back up. The real thing is, Social Media marketing isn’t really an apples to apples comparison with traditional marketing. It’s more like holding a town hall meeting and seeing what people have to say about your product. Or like doing community outreach (e. g. having your company send people to work at a soup kitchen or build a house). It’s like a million networking events. In short, it’s that dreaded, over-used term: relationship building.

And creating relationships is hard. And messy. Plus it’s not necessarily terribly free, at all.

A Sense of Entitlement

Because I have seen, in many instances, when software on a website changes. And in particular with community forums, people tend to freak out. They have a mislaid proprietary interest in a whole lotta sameness. Or they want the site to be the same from day to day, because that’s familiar to them. Hence moving the post button from the left to the right, or changing its color, is akin to moving their cheese. So it tears at them.

But, ultimately, they figure it out. And they give it a chance and come back, and pretty soon, so far as they’re concerned things have always been the new way, and were never the old way. Because for them, it’s not about the tools; it’s about the people.

And the same thing should be true for you – and that should knock the hype right out, and for good. It’s not about the tools. It’s not about Twitter, or Facebook, or Foursquare, or Groupon, or Yelp, or MySpace, or LinkedIn or StumbleUpon or Snapchat or a billion others. Instead, it’s about the people.

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The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott, A Book Review

The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott

The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott was a fascinating book that I had as required reading for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Platforms course (ICM522).

The Premise

World Wide Rave Spotted In Ireland David Meerman Scott
World Wide Rave Spotted In Ireland (Photo credit: Krishna De)

First of all, the premise is, like a lot of other books about the Internet and social media marketing, that marketing has become less of a one-size-fits-all/push system. Instead, it has instead evolved into a far more balanced bilateral conversation.

And perhaps the most interesting part of the book consists of the rules themselves, which are in Chapter 2, on page 31 and are as follows –

The New Rules

The New Rules of Marketing and PR

  • First of all, marketing is more than just advertising
  • In addition, public relations is for more than just a mainstream media audience
  • You are what you publish
  • And people want authenticity, not spin
  • People want participation, not propaganda
  • Instead of causing one-way interruption, marketing is about delivering content at just the precise moment your audience needs it
  • Furthermore, marketers must shift their thinking from mainstream marketing to the masses to a strategy of reaching vast numbers of underserved audiences via the web
  • In addition, public relations is not about your boss seeing your company on TV. It’s about your buyers seeing your company on the web
  • Marketing is not about your agency winning awards. Instead, it’s about your organization winning business
  • And the internet has made public relations public again, after years of almost exclusive focus on media
  • Furthermore, companies must drive people into the purchasing process with great online content
  • In addition, blogs, online video, e-books, news releases, and other forms of online content let organizations communicate directly with buyers in a form they appreciate
  • And social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn allow people all over the world to share content and connect with the people and companies they do business with
  • Finally, on the web, the lines between marketing and public relations have blurred

Because customers are talking back.  And companies and their marketing departments had better start listening.

Rating

Review: 5/5 stars.

Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics 2.0, a Book Review

Avinash Kaushik‘s Web Analytics 2.0 – Yeah, I’m a Fan

Web Analytics Matter!

We Go Way Back

First of all, the first book that truly caught my eye and made a huge impression on me was Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer Centricity.

Avinash Kaushik's Web Analytics 2.0

As a (hopefully) former data person, I can relate to the idea of needing analytics. E. g., the measurements of how your website does. Why do you want to measure? Why, you need to see whether your message is actually going anywhere.

For e-commerce sites, the ultimate test is, naturally, whether you’re getting sales. But it’s hard to tell – particularly in a complex organization – whether the website drives sales or offline marketing efforts. And even measuring orders via these channels may not tell the entire story, as customers may see offline advertising and then come online to buy, or they may do the reverse and buy in-store after researching a product online. Or they could just be coming online to think about it and compare and mull it over and could convert to a paying customer days or weeks or months later. Or never.

What if You’re Not in e-Commerce?

And what about sites (such as my own) where nothing is offered for sale? My ultimate customer becomes, of course, someone to hire me, either permanently or temporarily. And this would mean as a consultant or a partner or a founder or a director or whatever, but that might be months away. What happens in the meantime? I might be able to dope some of that out with SEO and seeing where I am in search engine rankings, but just because people can find my site doesn’t mean they’re going to convert into hiring me or are even in a position to do so. My mother (hi, Mom!) can find my site and read it, but she won’t hire me any time soon. Unless I want to come and clean the gutters or something.

How do you or I know what’s happening?

Enter analytics.

It is, admittedly, still an imperfect science. But Mr. Kaushik breaks it down and describes the reports that you need to understand what’s happening with your site. He talks about what is essentially a Trinity strategy: experience, behavior and outcomes.

User Experience

It’s not enough to just track sales (outcomes). It’s also about user experience and behavior. This is much like in the offline world, if you think about it. Going to a restaurant is an experience and many of them are packaged as such. But it is a far different experience going to a McDonald’s or a Chik-Fil-A versus a Bertucci’s. And that experience differs from going to Legal Seafood‘s which in turn is different from Blue Ginger (celebrity chef Ming Tsai‘s restaurant). You can intake the same amount of calories. You might even be able to get in the same quality and types of nutrition. And you might enjoy a Big Mac as much as you enjoy one of Chef Tsai’s specialties. Aside from price, what are the differences?

What Sort of User Experience?

When you go to a McDonald’s, a part of the price is wrapped up in the experience. For chain entities in particular, it’s about sameness and predictability. If you find yourself in rural Oshkosh and have never been there before, you see the golden arches and you realize what to expect. For Bertucci’s, even though it costs more and there’s table service, there’s a similar vibe. You go there because you can depend upon it to be a certain way. And Blue Ginger is also dependable in the sense that it’s very upscale so you know you are going to be treated a certain way and it will look a particular way and presumably the food will taste in a way that reflects that kind of investment, both by you and by Mr. Tsai and his team.

Enhanced User Experience

Mr. Kaushik shows how understanding analytics can help you to enhance user experience.  And this, ultimately, drives user behavior. While conversions (sales) are the ultimate in user behaviors, he doesn’t forget about other valid behaviors.

Hence for the e-commerce site, product research is a valid and valuable behavior. So is printing a map to a brick and mortar store. Or comparing prices.

And for a non-e-commerce venture (again, I’ll use myself as an example), valid user (reader) behaviors are things like reading my writings and getting to know me. I put myself out there in order to be known, because that’s a piece of the hiring puzzle (why are there interviews — it’s not to know about skills, which should already be known. It’s to see if there’s a personality and a culture fit). Plus it enhances networking. Know me, think I’m worthwhile (at least, I hope you do) and you might think of a place where they might need me, or someone I should meet. And I do the same, in turn, for you. And cosmic karma gets us both into better places.

Back to the Book

But I digress. Let’s get back to the book.

The book has a lively, engaging style. It’s long but I sailed through it. And Mr. Kaushik (who is very gracious and seems to be very approachable, by the way) is clearly having fun and loves what he does. It’s a refreshing joy to read a book where the author is constantly delighted.

Read his book. Learn about analytics. Make the web a better place.

May your bounce rate be low, and your conversion rate high!

Rating

5/5

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter, a Book Review

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter

Joshua Porter had some interesting ideas.

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter was recommended to me by Kevin Palmer as a good read about the fundamentals of creating and perfecting online communities and social software.

Designing for the Social Web by Joshua Porter

Not How, But Why

The book is less of a how-to and more of a why-to, if that makes sense. If you’re looking for code examples, look elsewhere. Instead, the book covers theory and explains how and why certain tasks need to be done.

Essentially, any social site, whether in the shape of forums or something else, faces the following user hurdles:

  1. Pay attention – users need to have an idea that they want your software, product, services, etc.
  2. Decision to sign up
  3. Input personal information
  4. Pay money (if applicable)
  5. Decide for someone else (if applicable)
  6. Give up the old way of doing things

Back Up a Second

Frankly, there’s even one item before #1, call it #0 if you will: the potential user must understand that he or she has a need. And, hand in hand with that, the potential user also needs to decide to fulfill that need online. Hence if a potential user, say, decides that they want support because they’ve just gotten a cancer diagnosis, but they further decide to only get their support via an in-person group and not an online board then, so far as you’re concerned, it’s game over. After all, not everyone “gets” the social aspect of the web.

Get Over Those Hurdles

Joshua Porter covers the handling of some of these basic hurdles, such as designing to favor signing up and hanging around. One main point he makes is: don’t make signing up too arduous a task. And its corollary: don’t ask for information you don’t need. Far too often, sites ask for what ends up being ludicrous levels of granularity of detail. After all, when was the last time that anyone, really, needed your middle name for you to apply for a job? Yet sites ask for this trivial piece of data. And, even if they don’t require it, that begs the question even further. Why is the field even there in the first place if the site so openly acknowledges that it’s just plain unnecessary?

Eight Seconds to Impress

Porter makes the point all too forcefully: the decision to sign up for an online service is made in eight seconds. That’s an awfully short window of opportunity to convince a potential user that his or her time and attention should be paid to you and not your competition.

The book abounds with these kinds of helpful nuggets, and is also chockful of references to blogs and books to support the author’s recommendations. The generous sprinkling of citations was helpful as it was a clear signpost suggesting online readings. It can seem counterintuitive to learn about designing for the web by reading a completely offline book. Porter’s work bridges the gap back to the web and lets the reader in on where to find more information situated a lot closer to where the reader is going to be placing new social software or services.

A Quibble

Finally, Designing for the Social Web does not seem to draw an overall conclusion. Rather, the book instead seems to simply run out of gas in the end. It’s as if the author had run out of what to say. Hence a final upshot or even some words of encouragement would have, I feel, helped. But that’s a small issue with an otherwise interesting and eminently practical work.

Rating

4/5

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.

Community Management – Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen

Are you a good netizen?

I have been managing Able2know for over fourteen years.

It is a generalized Q & A website and the members are all volunteers. I have learned a few things about handling yourself online during this time.

Chill Out

  1. There are few emergencies online. Take your time. I have found, if I am in a hot hurry to respond, itching to answer, it usually means I am getting obsessive.
  2. When it’s really nutty, step away from the keyboard. I suppose this is a corollary to the first one. Furthermore, I pull back when it gets too crazy-making, or try to figure out what else may be bothering me, e. g. I haven’t worked out yet, something at home is annoying me, etc. Being online, and being annoyed, does not equal that something online caused the annoyance.

Be Clear

  1. All we have are words (emoticons do nearly nothing).
    Handling Yourself as a Good Netizen
    what are words for? (Photo credit: Darwin Bell)

    I like to make my words count, and actually mean exactly, 100%, what I write, but not everyone hits that degree of precision in their communications. I’ve learned to cut about a 10% degree of slack.

  2. Not everyone gets you. You might be hysterically funny in person, but bomb online. Or you might feel you’re a gifted writer, but you write to the wrong audience. You may be hip for your crowd, but hopelessly out of it in another. This is not, really, a personal thing. You can either waste your time trying to get everyone to love you or you can recognize that you didn’t convert one person and move on from there. Choose the latter; it’ll save your sanity every time.

Keep Chilling Out

  1. Be Zen. E. g. I’ve found the old, “oh, you go first” kind of thing smooths the way a lot. I am not saying to not have your say and let everyone else win all the time. It’s just, ya kinda pick the hill you wanna die on, e. g. what’s really important. Stick to those guns. The others, not so much. E. g. getting into a shouting match and kicked off a site due to your hatred of the Designated Hitter Rule – even on a sports or baseball site – falls in the category of you’re probably overreacting and being really, really silly. I doubt that that is a hill most people would try want to die on. But defending your beliefs, fighting prejudice, etc.? Those are probably better hills.
  2. And the corollary to #5: controversial topics are controversial for a reason. They get under people’s skin and make them squirm. Be nice; don’t do that all the time. So try to engage people in other ways. There are plenty of people on Able2know who argue a lot about politics. I am not a fan of arguing politics. But we also get together and play Fantasy Baseball (talk about your Designated Hitter Rule). Or we swap recipes, or pet stories, or the like. But then, when a forum member gets sick or becomes bereaved, people who just argued till they were blue in the face turn around. And they virtually hug and offer tributes, prayers (or positive, healing thoughts) and words of comfort. And this user multidimensionality warms the heart. Over the years, people have gotten better at it. If someone’s really bothering you, it’s possible that, in other contexts, you’d get along. You might want to see if you can find some common ground, and other contexts.

Sing Along with Elsa and Let. It. Go.

  1. Know when to stop, or even let others have the last word. When I am really angry, I usually just withdraw. However, this isn’t a surrender. Instead, I’m tired and life’s too short. You do not become a smaller, or less worthwhile person, and you haven’t lost (whatever that really means, particularly on the Internet, fer chrissakes) if you walk away and wash your hands of things. You are entitled to call it quits on an argument or discussion.

Finally, I hope you learn from my insanity and my mistakes. Life’s too short to let it get to you too much!