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.

Demographics for Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest

Demographics for Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest

Demographics change over time and the specific numeric percentages could be off, but the gist of these measurements remains on target.

At Agile Impact, Hilary Heino compiled some impressive statistics about who really uses these image-based social media platforms.

Tumblr

First of all, Tumblr reportedly has loyal users highly dedicated to the site.

And two-thirds of all users are under the age of 35. In addition, nearly forty percent have not yet seen 25 summers.

Finally, there are about 300 million monthly unique users; the site grew by 74 percent in 2013.

Pinterest

Demographics
English: Red Pinterest logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, as of July of 2013, there were 46.9 million unique monthly users. And women continue to dominate the platform; around a third of all women online have Pinterest accounts. In addition, two-thirds of all Pinterest users are over the age of 35, making it a near opposite to Tumblr.

Furthermore, three-quarters of its traffic comes through mobile apps. Hence if you post to Pinterest, make sure that your content is visible, clear, and comprehensible on smart phones. Finally, 80 percent of total Pinterest pins are repins. It’s probably the sign of a strong community. In addition, the site boasts 2.5 billion monthly pageviews.

Instagram

So with 150 million active users, Instagram reports 1.2 billion daily likes.

Demographics
Instagram-logo (Photo credit: JAMoutinho ( almost photographer ))

And 18% of cellphone users in the 30 – 49 demographic report using it. However, the majority of users are teens and young adults.

Furthermore, the site ties with Facebook as being the second-most popular site for teens. Yet Twitter is the first for that age demographic.

So know your image-based social platforms. Because they are not the same!

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Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

Quinnipiac Assignment 11 – ICM 527 – Continuing Program Evaluation

This week, we continued studying the evaluation of public relations campaigns.

Ethical Issues Regarding Evaluation

As is true for any presentation of numbers, there are ways to spin findings which can lead a reader to believe one thing or another. Numbers can be used to make a case, and some numbers, if suppressed or deemphasized or just plain omitted, could alter organizational decision-making. This only gets into telling the truth with numbers. All bets are off if a strategic planner or any sort of analyst out and out alters the figures they have to present, or if they weren’t given accurate or truthful numbers to begin with.

But even if the analyst is completely honest about results and figures, there are still issues with emphasis and language. For the Cans Get You Cooking campaign, the initial purpose had to have been to increase the sale of canned goods. Instead, the campaign was labeled as a success for leading to an increase in awareness of canned foods. While awareness is a perfectly legitimate (and objective) goal for a campaign, the goal of increased sales seems to have been swept under the rug in favor of the one, demonstrable, favorable outcome – a boost in awareness.

On page 125, Place notes, “The role of ethics in public relations evaluation was described by participants as inherently associated with truth and fairness. For some professionals, this meant conveying evaluation data accurately and truthfully to organizational leadership or clients. For other professionals, this meant measuring whether the most accurate story or brand image reached an organization’s publics.”

Professionals, fortunately, realize that their words can be misinterpreted, even if they are reporting accurately on the numbers. If a campaign increases, say, signups for a class by five over an initial figure of five, then how is that reported? Is it a report of a new five signups, or does the professional state that signups have doubled? Both are mathematically correct, but there is an exciting spin to the latter which may be making it look more significant than it truly is.

The Real Warriors and Okay 2 Talk Campaigns

A review of both campaigns revealed good attention to detail. Both campaigns seemed to be rather carefully planned.

The Real Warriors Campaign was designed to encourage active armed services personnel and veterans of recent American military campaigns (since 9/11) to seek psychological counseling and other help for post-traumatic stress disorder, e. g. ‘invisible wounds’. Primary research included focus groups and key informant interviews. All of the campaign’s goals were awareness-based. The goal was to decrease stigma felt by veterans seeking mental health assistance.

The measurement of the effectiveness of the campaign included the distribution of campaign materials, website visitors, and social media interactions, plus news stories. This is good for an awareness campaign, but where are the actions? Where are the increased numbers of veterans seeking help? A far more germane measurement would be to show an increase in personnel hours for armed forces mental health professionals. Or perhaps there could be a measurement of the hiring of more counselors, or agreements with more civilian counselors. Without naming names or otherwise violating privacy, the number of patients being seen could be readily tallied, as could the number of appointments made, even if some of the appointments were never kept. Another objective measurement of success would be a decrease in suicides and fewer calls by veterans to suicide prevention hotlines. The campaign shows none of that.

Continuing Program Evaluation
Tumblr dashboard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for the OK 2 Talk Campaign, that campaign’s goals were to create awareness and also to launch a safe social media space. Tumblr was the chosen platform as it allowed for anonymity. It seems to have also been chosen for a demographic match although that is not spelled out.

The measurement of the effectiveness of that campaign was a lot more closely aligned with its initial goals than the Real Warriors report showed. For example, the OK 2 Talk report gave objective figures regarding engagement on OK2Talk.org. The page views are not necessarily indicative of much. It is the content submissions which seem to better reflect engagement. On the Tumblr blog, visitors are encouraged to anonymously post about how they are feeling. The blog makes it clear that not everyone’s writings will be posted. However, there are several well-written or illustrated posts showcasing various viewpoints. OK 2 Talk intelligently shows all kinds of posts, even those where the writers clearly need help or are just reblogging messages put together by creative professionals.

The campaign report shows the number of content submissions and the number of clickthroughs to a ‘get help’ screen. There is also a statement regarding ‘thousands’ of comments but no specifics; that could have been more clearly shown. But that does not truly matter. Showing the number of clickthroughs to the ‘get help’ screen was an objective and direct measurement of how the campaign is going. It answers the question, ‘did it work, or was it just a colorful and fancy waste of time?’ with ‘yes, it did’, and far more effectively than the distribution of materials ever could. As Smith notes on page 335, “Guesses aren’t good enough; Hard work and cost aren’t measures of effectiveness; Creativity isn’t, either; Dissemination doesn’t equal communication; Knowledge doesn’t always lead to acceptance; and Behavior is the ultimate measure.”

In particular, Real Warriors should have remembered that dissemination does not equal communication. After all, the distributed campaign materials could have gone right into the trash. Without some demonstrated actions (yes, the campaign’s stated goal was awareness, but it could only really be measured with some form of observable action), Real Warriors seems more like a lot of paper redistribution.

The two campaigns have similar goals, and both have the valiant ideal of helping the mentally ill. But it’s only OK 2 Talk which is showing objective and relevant results.

Relating it all back to the ILSC

For the Institute for Life Sciences Collaboration, deciding what to measure, and to make sure it is being accurately measured, are important steps to take. While it is pretty easy to count website visitors using Google Analytics or the like, a better measurement is actual engagement like blog comments, Facebook comments and shares, and LinkedIn comments. This will tie directly to awareness objectives.

For objectives regarding adding high schools to the Small World Initiative, good measurements include the number of times that educators click through to a ‘get information’ page which should be added to a revamped website. Such inquiries could also be expected in the comments and messaging sections of a possible future Facebook group devoted to the ILSC. A similar vehicle for obtaining such inquiries could be a possible future LinkedIn group for the ILSC, and its topics.

Measurements of the campaign reaching donors could be a look at the number of visits to a donations page. It would also be the percentages of site visitors who went all the way through the online donations funnel. Knowing where they stop (if a visit does not lead to a donation) would be extremely helpful information to have.

For the website, Google Analytics should be used to tie back to visitor acquisition. If Facebook turns out to be the most popular place for visitors to come from, then the ILSC should be concentrating their efforts there. A surprisingly small amount of money (e. g. $20.00 or so) can boost a post and reach even more people. This measurement is useful for all types of objectives, as it helps to define where the ILSC’s social media time should be best concentrated. There is little use in devoting hours and hours of time to LinkedIn if the publics don’t come to the website and don’t donate any funds. Awareness needs to be related to action, for it is action that will get the SWI out of its funding gap and help keep the ILSC going for years to come.

Ditto Labs and Photo Recognition

Ditto Labs and Photo Recognition

What is Ditto Labs, and what do they do?

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, there is a start up company that is doing something pretty revolutionary when it comes to social media (and more traditional) marketing. What is it? It’s the ability to scour the enormous fire hose full of data out there, the thousands if not millions of images that are shared on a daily basis, and it looks.

What is Ditto Labs hunting for?

Brand logos! In May of 2014, Ditto Labs raised over $2 million for its photo analytics software.

Ditto Labs and Photo Recognition
Green logo used from 1987-2010, still being used as a secondary logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Essentially, the software allows a typical company (say, Starbucks coffee) to view its brand imagery in the ton of photographs that are uploaded daily. Is a government official drinking from a hot cup with the logo? Did the paparazzi get a picture of a royal ducking into a Starbucks? Is someone wearing a tee shirt? Did someone take pictures of a 5K race sponsored by the company, and catch the logo in the background of the image? All of these are fair game for Ditto Labs.

What is Tumblr’s Connection?

In August of 2014, Ditto Labs announced that they were partnering with Tumblr to capture all of the logos on the many, many images shared, manipulated, commented upon, voted for, and re-shared on that blogging service. There are an estimated 120 million posts created on Tumblr on a daily basis, and most of them have at least one image. Many of them sport several.

The search for brand logo recognition makes some sense, as brand logos mainly change in size but not in color or aspect ratio (although that is possible, of course). That is, a Starbucks logo is going to look like a Starbucks logo.

 

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Dis...
Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Displayed in Museum of Modern Art in New York. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If Starbucks changes their logo (and they have in the past), they will simply hunt for all possible iterations of it. And if an artist on, say, Deviant Art, looks to make art with the logo (a la Andy Warhol and Campbell’s soup cans), there really can’t be too much alteration. Otherwise, the logo turns unrecognizable, and the artist’s use of the logo is not understood by the people he or she is showing the art to.

When will this work for people?

Not so fast! For humans, the differences are a bit too tricky. Even assuming more or less steady weight and hair styles throughout a person’s life, there are still going to be changes that reflect the aging process. Facebook can still be fooled when it comes to suggesting tags. It will be harder to make something like this work for human facial recognition.

But I bet that’s coming.

Quinnipiac Assignment #1 – A Day in My Life in Social Media

A Day in My Life in Social Media

This was my first assignment for Quinnipiac University‘s Social Media Platforms course, with Professor Eleanor Hong. I had not made a video in years and was anxious to get it right. This was also the first time in several years that I had taken any sort of a class where I would be receiving a grade.

This class was the first of three for Social Media Certification.  Or it can count as an elective for Masters’ Degree in Communications  with a Social Media concentration. As of the original writing of this blog post, I was not sure whether I wished to continue all the way to a Masters’ Degree.

I need not have worried about this grade. And, it turned out, I need not have worried about nearly all of my grades in the Social Media Platforms class.

A Day in My Life in Social Media

A Day in My Life in Social Media

I ended up creating two separate videos, as the first one was too long, and I hadn’t mentioned podcasts, Tumblr, or Pinterest.

So you tell me – which one do you think is the better video? I handed in the shorter one.

I think this second video rambles too much, it jumps back and forth a lot, plus I missed a few things, as I mentioned above.

But these are, essentially, the social media hangouts that I go to the most. And of course neither video takes into consideration the non-social media work that I do on computers, such as reading homework, fiction writing and editing, and dealing with the ever-present onslaught of email.

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