Friday, February 27, 2015

Why Feedback Isn’t Always About Looking for “Mistakes”

"Looks like crap to me."
If beta-readers could be replaced by computers, they would be: much faster and they don’t give you as much lip. But, unfortunately, we still need to beg and prod our friends for their feedback because until A.I. creates the ability for human perspective, there’s only one place to get it.

Many beginning authors talk about feedback, referencing it as “people looking for errors.” Most recently, I read a post that asked, “If you could only pick one, would you rather have someone tell you what’s good about your book or just what’s wrong with it?”

Well, obviously everyone chose the latter because that’s the entire point of getting feedback before the “real” people are going to see it—readers, agents, publishers. You want warning of issues before someone else sees them and writes the whole book off, otherwise, you’d just send the book off without having to get on your knees first.

I do, however, take issue with the way this question was phrased mostly because the conflict in receiving feedback comes not from when people point out errors, but when they point out what didn’t work for them. Which, while still problematic, is not the same as, “doing something wrong.”

In editing, you have two types of problems: errors and the ineffective.

Errors are mistakes, issues that exist no matter the context. They are (for the most part) always wrong. They are things the author did not intend to do that either prove that it is fiction (re: made up), or commons rules of the core, rarely changing basics, like grammar, punctuation, and spelling. If the author is aware of them, he would not (unless he’s being a stubborn butt-face, which admittedly we often are) want them to remain.

The ineffective aspects, however, are much more complicated because they can change (and often do) based on the situation. Who the reader is, what the reader is comparing it to, what the reader wants to think, and mainly want the reader thinks he’s supposed to feel/think. There are many circumstances in which the ineffective aspects, while important to the current reader, may not be important where and with whom the writer cares about in the grand scheme.

For example, an “error” would be something like a gun that disappears mid-scene. One minute someone’s holding it, next minute he’s not.

Something ineffective would be that the character isn’t likeable. This made the reader not care about the character at all, but it might be that the reader doesn’t like sarcasm (and those who do would like the character) or that the character isn’t supposed to be likeable in the first place.

Both are problems, but the gun disappearing is a problem for anyone, whereas likability isn’t as simple.

Errors are easy and don’t require a lot of argument. You’ll find so much focus orients on typos and grammar because it doesn’t take any proof that it is, in fact, a problem. More abstract comments like, “I find the whole thing promotes sexism, and it turns me off,” is a much more difficult discussion to have because you can’t just pull out a dictionary and prove it. But, it’s often the more important one.

To clarify, I love when people point out typos as they see them. On page. In very specific places. But whenever anyone tries to “discuss” it, I get a little irritated. A reader who actually reads is very valuable, and while having them correct grammar errors is fantastic, it shouldn’t be the only thing they’re doing, or even their main priority, especially in an earlier draft. While I am one of the worst people about catching typos, if I really needed to, it’s possible for me to find them for myself. There are some exceptions, like phrases that I think are said one way which really, really aren’t, but I can, if necessary, sit down and read, word for word, and find “errors.” What I cannot do is find an outside, fresh perspective of someone with different priorities, moods, opinions, and experiences.

If something is truly a mistake, it’s something the writer will be able to solve for himself. While a reader pointing out errors as she finds them makes everything easier, the important thing is to keep an eye out for things that the writer wouldn’t be able to see, even if he was staring right at it. This is about personal perspective, what influences the reader, and interpretation. Which, unfortunately, are all arguable.

Now we all know how douchey authors can be, even when we’ve been a little bit douchey ourselves. Trying to point out that, “I don’t care about your book because I don’t care about your characters because they’re all a bunch of bastards,” is a difficult thing to say if you don’t want to cause conflict, primarily if the author never wanted them to be likable in the first place. There’s a good chance he’s going to have a hissy fit. But it’s something that, even if the writer chooses not to change, he should still be aware of. He might have other solutions (adding in a character that is likable, punishing the unlikable character more, adding in more epic moments, etc.), or maybe will decide later, when everyone can’t get into his book, it is a goal he does want to change, at least partially tweak.

The best criticisms are the ones that are honest, even when the reader knows what she’s saying is closed-minded and personal, ones that may not be true for anyone else. The writer is more able to decide what opinions are valuable to him than the critic, and has an easier time doing so when he has several people upfront about how they really feel instead of focusing on what they think they’re supposed to be saying.

More importantly, by acknowledging that expressing her personal opinion is exactly what she’s doing, it’s more likely that the writer will accept it and be less offended than if she were to act like she was trying to fix a grievous error.

When something doesn’t work for a reader and she explains it in that way, “After Sheila let that cat die, I just could not like her and didn’t really care about anything that happened to her. When I can’t empathize with someone, I just have a hard time being invested in the events,” rather than as a mistake that the author made, “You need to make your main character more likable,” he’s more able to compartmentalize it. There is no argument against how the reader felt, but there are thousands of arguments whether or not a character “needs” to be appealing.

The other side of it is that not all readers agree with each other. What’s important to one may not be important to another. Most criticisms come back lacking consistency with each other, especially those that tell the author what to “fix,” rather than explained a reaction.

The writer often has to go through the feedback and look for a common denominator. He is much more likely to find it within the “why” of the criticism than the “do.” There are thousands of solutions to any sort of problem, so two people solving the exact same problem might have two totally different and even contradictory options. Combine that with some problems only exist in certain contexts, and the author has a very difficult time figuring out what he actually should change.

On one manuscript of mine some time ago, I got extremely varying advice, all told in “shoulds.” Add more description. Simplify your prose. Talk more about that character over there. One person would talk about one problem and say nothing about what the others had suggested, sometimes even arguing with the other feedback when asked. What I came to find, however, was when I really examined why they were telling me I should change things, there was a common thread. They were trying to make it less confusing for them. In the end, I took just a little bit advice from each place with the one goal in mind, and the comments started to get narrowed down and minimalized all together, even though I had not fully implemented any one person’s opinion.

While a beta-reader should always point out errors if she sees them, it is important to focus not on telling the author what he did wrong, but rather how what he did affected her. Rather than fixing his issues for him, she reveals what issues may exist and he proceeds to figure out what ones are really things he cares about, and how best to solve them. Those issues that are most influential tend to be a lot less cut and dried than “right and wrong.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

Would You Be E.L. James If You Could?

The weight is heavy on his shoulders.

And, as with most things in my life, I’m really talking about me.

When Twilight first came out, I was about fifteen-years-old. I had been writing for three years at that time and had definitely decided that it was going to be my career. Harry Potter, of course, had already rocketed into popularity, which was my first memory of a book be coming famous like that, but Twilight was a whole different ballgame. The reaction to it was like nothing I’ve seen in my short lifetime, and I would wager a new experience even for people much older than me.

I would call Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey “notorious” more than famous; I find that the negativity is a large part of what made them household names, more so than anything else. When I read the young adult vampire series, I remember liking it pretty well, but it not being my favorite book of the time. I was a voracious reader in high school and I likely would have forgotten the series if it had not become what it was.

I have yet to read Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m hoping to see the movie eventually, and I anticipate on being scintillated, uninterested in the characters or any non-sensual related topics, and primarily getting my jollies out by analyzing it from a writer’s point of view.

What interests me most about these series is that with the authors exuberant success comes a lot of backlash. Anything popular has backlash, of course, but nothing save for maybe Kanye West has this much success rise from hatred. People are outright horrible, albeit sometimes in a hilarious way, and that anger keeps the books into conversation.

These writers are millionaires, making ridiculous sums of money off of writing alone. The characters are beloved icons by many, the creators have an unprecedented say in the film’s productions, and I would argue that if anyone has the creative freedom that any author would wish for, I would say it would be them.

And yet, with all that, would you ever want their career?


First, I have to clarify that I have a very specific idea of what I want to be writing—in terms of the actual process, in terms of the results, in terms of the reputation. I don’t even want to be George R. R. Martin (despite having a high affinity and respect for his books) if it meant I had to write in the style of Game of Thrones. Not because I don’t like it, but because I want to write the way I want to write. My goal is to create certain moods, and if I could have success but meant that I needed to lose my voice or my vision, honestly, I would reject the idea.

So, no, I would not write the next Fifty Shades of Grey, even if hypothetically it meant popularity was guaranteed. Style, voice, mood, and even the smiggen of my own personal philosophy is important to me. If I’m not writing my books, then there is no point.

This isn’t what I’m wondering though. The bigger perspective is not based around the kinds of books James wrote, but the actual reaction to her success.

Would I want mass fame, fortune, and fans if it meant I would be the target of millions of people’s hate mail? A constant example of bad writing?

Whether or not this is an accurate assessment (keeping in mind I do not believe in a linear quality of literature) isn’t the point. Would you be willing to be considered a terrible author if it meant success in every other aspect?

And I’m not talking about the typical hate mail most writers get. I’m pretty obscure and I still get some myself. I’m talking about the barrage of insults that come along with the mention of your name or your books. Is it worth it to have loyal, fanatic fans when they are matched with equal haters?

I bring this up because when I empathize with E.L. James, it makes me question what I really want out of being a writer.

Have a lot of readers? Yes.

Have a lot of readers that fall in love with the characters? Yes.

Entertain people? Yes.

Have enough sway for creative freedom? Yes.

Make enough money that I can focus on writing? Yes.

Make a ridiculous fortune that I wouldn’t know what to do with? That would be nice.


Have my name be synonymous with terrible writing? No. No, way in hell.

Even though it has always been about connecting to people, even though I have always known that criticism comes with the job, even though I have long been aware that you’ll never get agreement on what is good writing, and by the nature of the beast, if someone loves you, it’ll make someone else hate you, still the idea of being an infamous writer makes moderate success much more appealing.

If I could have a decent amount of readers with a decent amount of funds and a decent amount of criticism, I would be happy. I would feel successful, and I would prefer that to having ridiculous fans, ridiculous money, and ridiculous hate.

On the other hand, what if it meant complete obscurity? If I had to choose between no readers, no money, and no hate, wouldn’t I prefer to be E.L. James?

Maybe. I guess it all just depends on the options.

Friday, February 20, 2015

New York, New York: Should Writers Move to One of the Big Name Cities?

After long deliberation, Dimitri has made his decision; he's apathetic. Because he's a cat.

My long term fans have known (and weighed in) on my decision to move and to where. For those of you just joining us, here’s the situation:

I’m 25. My job closed down last December. I have money saved up, no bills, no debts, no contracts, no boyfriend/children, and I have been living with my parents for the last few years. (A decision that, while embarrassing, has allowed me to pursue my artistic skills and experiences without distraction of fiscal responsibility.)

I can move anywhere at any time. This made me completely incapable of making a decision. It wasn’t until the guy I was seeing made it absolutely clear that he wanted me to go that it finally became real. I wanted out of this town, and I wanted out now. So, I finally took action.

Where I’m living:

Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

My living room.

It is a beautiful, near-rural countryside, located near Yellowstone National Park. Also housing some of the richest people in the world, it has great culture with four (sometimes five) theatre groups going on, several art galleries selling the works of famous painters and sculptors.

But a place like that is expensive. We are surrounded by nationally protected wildlife preserves and parks, making a lot of people want to live here, but not a lot of land for it. My family has been here for generations, back before Rockefeller came in and bought up the area for Grand Teton National Park, hiking up the prices. We can live here because of inheritance, but trying to make ends meet as a young, single woman—and a starving artist no less—is difficult.

Then you have to add in the demographic. I have wonderful friends here, but of those who are actually still here tend to be much older than me. I’m talking 20 years. It’s hard to connect with someone like that. They’re going through totally different parts of their lives, and you really can’t remove the maternal/paternal aspects of it. How can you be honest with someone about your petty little problems when they have the life experience to realize how unimportant they all are?

There’s not a lot to do if you don’t have money. We have skiing and a movie theatre, and that’s about it. Of the few people my age who stick around, partying tends to be the go to. You go to the bars and you drink. While I’m not against this on principle and even enjoy it on occasion, it takes a lot out of me. And when trying to date—which I hate anyway—getting to know someone where it is loud with music and people making asses of themselves is problematic.

Lastly, there is definitely a glass-ceiling here. Not being a woman, but just by location. While Jackson has a lot of opportunities compared to other similarly sized small towns, it still has limitations. Not a lot of people, not a lot of different businesses, not a lot of shopping options, (both our fabric store and art supply store have closed), it sometimes makes me feel trapped.

So, why New York?

Whenever I talk about moving, the most typical response is, “Haven’t you ever considered anywhere else?”

Most people would like to move, but it’s a hard and extreme choice to make. When the discussion of what I’m planning on doing comes up (which it inevitably and unfortunately does), the response is always, “Why New York? I don’t think you’d like it. What about New Orleans?”

Thou doth project too much me thinks.

I have considered all kinds of places for all kinds of reasons. But mainly the benefits, lacks, and consequences of most other options don’t win me over.

The pratfalls of New York are the pratfalls of many other cities, or if they aren’t, the benefits don’t make up for the losses. Places like Atlanta and Seattle appealed to me. Unlike New York, Atlanta is warm. Like New York, it has great theatre opportunities and is still a city with varied activities and shopping. But its rental expenses are comparable, Atlanta doesn’t have the reputation of New York, and I’m not sure about the diversity. When I was living in L.A., my biggest issue was the homogenization of personalities. Everyone had their defenses up, were polite and friendly, but often ingenuine or insincere. Self-censorship prevents true diversity. California is the place where all the fruits and nuts fall… but then sort themselves into categories. The people around me had the same flaws and qualities (or pretended to), making for a lonely and uninteresting experience.

Obliviously I haven’t been there (a big part of the problem in making this decision was the kind of people there is important to me, but you really don’t know how they are until you’ve experienced it), but even if Atlanta has a wide range of personalities, it can’t beat New York.

Seattle is just as cold, just as expensive, and definitely has that West Coast Bohemian attitude that too much exposure to makes me want a career in Wall Street.

If it’s cold, might as well be New York. If it’s expensive, it might as well be New York. If it’s diverse, it might as well be New York. If it offers a great deal of opportunities, it might as well be New York. If it lacked a theatre scene, it wasn’t going to happen. If it lacked options, it wasn’t going to happen. Truth was, most other places couldn’t offer me what New York couldn’t.

Are you sure you'll like it there?

No, I'm not. Truth be told, I went to visit Boise, Idaho because I was, unfortunately, afraid of New York City. I truly did love Boise. It has a great climate, enough of a city to offer me new opportunities and new people, but was always easy to get away from. It had young people my age, it has a decent amount of theatre groups, and, better yet, it had great prices for residence. I was really gunning for Boise by the time I left.


If you're considering moving to a big city, visit it first:

I knew my primary hesitation was fear. I didn't know what to expect from New York, and even though I had lived in L.A. for a while, the city is different than any experience I thought I had had.

My mother graciously funded a trip to New York, which eased me into it. It wasn't as much of the unknown I thought it was going to be. It was cold and miserable (January) like I expected, but the subway systems were relatively easy, the people were not as cold as everyone suggested, (In fact, I did the exact amount of small talk I wanted to) and I could easily get away from the crowds if necessary.

I realized it was something I would regret not doing.

The rent in New York is terrible. Currently, I'll be lucky if I can find a place for less than a thousand a month. Being that I wanted to move to the city to allow myself more opportunity to do what I wanted, if I spent all my time working for rent, then it didn't matter the options were there.

Yet, I know that I really don't know what it's going to be like, and while I am very sure I could be happy in Boise, if I'm happy in New York City, I'll be happier than if I had taken the safe route. And the truth be told, I would rather spend an unhappy two years in the city and know I hated it then spend the rest of my life happy wondering what could have been. This might be the only time I could easily move there, and I should take the chance.

Do you need to?

Many writers, especially those in film and television, feel compelled to move out to the big name cities like L.A. or New York. As a novelist, I'm not really doing this for my career. Sure, it's great to say I'm a writer from New York, but really, I'm going for the people, for the availability of basic shopping needs (I'm not talking fashion. I'm talking like glue guns. If you've ever lived in a small town, you'll know what I'm talking about), and for a better ability to find the sorts of activities I might be interested in doing. If New York City doesn't have it, no place will.

Only fear is holding me back.

If you too are considering moving and have hesitation, the question is what is really holding you back. I honestly would have changed my plans if this guy I had been with had wanted us to work out, and I don't think that that's a bad decision. If you have a relationship you want to prioritize, a good job, a family, or anything that you'd have to give up in order to move, then seriously reconsidering is a perfectly acceptable and necessary part of the process.

But for me there really wasn't anything truly preventing me. All of my excuses were petty. I didn't want to get rid of my car, I didn't want to pay the huge rent, I didn't want my cat not be able to go outside (Note: he doesn't go outside anyway because he's a wimp.) I wanted to be with this man, but I knew that he didn't really want to be with me, and I couldn't foresee a long or secure relationship with him. Any reason I had not to go was just a mild inconvenience and I knew that. If you realize that your reasoning is petty, if you were looking back on your life from later years, or in from an external point of view and you would tell yourself to go, then you should.

So, I'm leaving Jackson soon.

I'm not going to go into too many details because I do have some followers I think just might be psychotic (Not you.), but I am packing up, getting ready, and am about to leave. I don't have a place to live or a job, but I'm staying with my cousin for some time so that I can be closer to actually see places for myself and do interviews. I just have to get some things done, say my goodbyes, and then I'm off to, what I'm assuming, either experience the worst or best part of my life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How to Hit on a Writer

True love.

So, in reply to an unexpected overwhelming response to my little giggle post, “How Not to Hit on a Writer,” I got several requests along the lines of, “Okay, smart ass, so how do you hit on a writer? Or, any woman in that case?”

At first my reaction was, “Do you know how insane women are? AND writers? Do you know what you ask of me in trying to find some consistency?”

But then I thought about it some more and realized if I just narrowed it down to antisocial-female writers, (i.e. me) I could probably come up with something.

To balance out my cynical sense of humor from Friday’s post, here’s some positive actions you can take when trying to get those ever isolated beings to come out of their shells and socially interact with you.

1. Let her catch you reading.

Any girl who loves books loves a man who loves books.

Personally, I find few things sexier than walking in on a man with a nice, thick fantasy book in his hands. (Take the innuendo as you will.)

It doesn’t really matter what kind of book you have. Pick something you’re actually interested in—if you hate reading, the truth will come out in a very painful way, and it probably wouldn’t have worked between you anyway. If she’s interested in fantasy and science-fiction, graphic novels count.

This will not only draw her interest, but it makes for a good conversation starter. If she’s attracted to you, odds are she’s looking for an ice breaker.

2. Get yourself away from the crowd.

Not all authors are antisocial and shy, but, let’s face it, there’s a good chance that’s what you’re dealing with.

After she’s developed interest in you, she’ll probably try to talk to you when you’re alone. If you’re constantly surrounded by people, she will keep her distance. Crowds make her nervous.

And even if she’s not yet interested, you have a better chance of bonding with her in one-on-one situations. This is hard to do if you’re not willing to ask her on a date yet. But luckily, if she is introverted, she’ll tend to separate herself from the crowd anyway. This is your best opportunity to approach her because she’ll be less likely to speak the more people are around.

If you’re in a situation where you know you’re going to see her, come early and leave late. You want to get there before other people do. Once she picks up that you tend to be by yourself before class/work/rehearsal, there’s a good chance she’ll start showing up earlier too. At the end, don’t grab your things and zip out the door. Take your time. Be the last to leave. If you see her finding reasons to stick around—talking to someone about something inane, doing something that could be done later… or maybe not at all—it’s a good chance she’s trying to get you alone.

That doesn’t mean she’ll actually approach you because she’s shy and possibly narcissistic, but gives her an opportunity and is an indication she’s interested.

And again, even if she hasn’t noticed you yet, she’s more likely to give into conversation when it’s just you and her.

The hardest part of alluring the writer is more about knowing her feelings. There’s a decent chance that she is awkward and unapproachable. But her defensiveness might come from her fear of making a fool out of herself (especially true if she is interested in you), or it might be because she wants to be left alone. It’s often hard to tell.

So, while in social settings, watch to see if she tends to follow you around. She will do this subtly—most men don’t pick up on it. If there’s two groups and you’re both in one, switch to the other. If, suddenly, she appears in that second group, it’s a chance that she wants you to talk to her, but is too shy to start it. (Don’t keep switching though; she’ll take this as an indication that you’re not interested, or maybe even trying to get away from her.)

And make sure once you catch her following you, let her catch you following her. She is watching to see if you’ll follow her to the second group. If you’re not sure, play a game of cat and mouse. Sometimes follow her, sometimes don’t. This will prevent you from creeping her out, keep the fun of questioning still in the game, and prove to your paranoid mind that she does really like you. Without encouragement, she’ll think you’re a wash and back off.

3. Books are her comfort zone.

This idea is another branch to letting her see you reading. When you want to date a writer, you have a lot of information in your arsenal.

For starters, it’s an easy means to begin a conversation. You’ll note that the shy and introverted female author might not have a lot to say when first approached. Every question you ask she gives a muttered, monosyllabic answer, and you’re starting to question if she wants you talking to her at all.

But then, strangely enough, books come up in the conversation. She lights up and all of the sudden she’s running at the mouth. Having her associate with you the joy of reading, and you got a huge bonus behind you.

Writing and books are what she knows about, what she feels comfortable talking about. If she likes you, there’s a decent chance she’s gone brain-dead. And even if she doesn’t like you yet, she might just be shy in general and still brain-dead. If you’re struggling to get a conversation going, books are a great fall back. You can ask her what she’s writing, what she’s reading, tell her what you just read, ask questions about writing rules, or even just bring up anything literary base like, “So what do you think about this whole Fifty Shades of Grey controversy?”

Writing is a way of life, and there’s a lot to go off of there.

4. She probably feels more comfortable talking in text.

So she says one quick word to you and then she’s gone. You have no idea of what to make of that. She’s probably standing around the corner admonishing herself right now.

She sits at home, thinking about you, and decides to send you a message on Facebook.

Unless she has a real reason, no girl will ever message you if she doesn’t like you. That line about “Where did you put your costume?” could very well be a simple question, but if it’s some random bullshit about “Did you hear Stacie got fired?” or “You were right about Mark Twain being a penname,” it means that she’s just trying to get your attention.

You might find that she won’t speak to you in person, but you have a totally different life online.

This also works in reverse. You might not be able to get her to speak to you, but send her a message and all of the sudden she’s an open book. Her shyness might disappear in text form.

It’s important to be careful, of course, because female authors get a lot of guys sending her, “Hi,” that end with messages like, “May I kiss you?” despite her lack of response. (True story.)

This is a little less of a problem if you know her in the real world, but still, if you’re going to message her, make sure to have something to say simply to show her some effort (therefore less likely that she's the 16th girl you've messaged today). Again, books are your best fall back. In any case, you might find that she’s a lot more friendly while using the written word.

5. Give her a book.
 (See a pattern?) 

Want to get her attention? The most romantic thing you can do for a writer is to randomly give her a book, especially one you love. A man once bought me a version of his favorite Neil Gaiman novel because he saw me reading Stardust. I had never really noticed him like that before, but it definitely got my attention and had me thinking about the possibility. He was only temporarily around for a show, leaving in a few weeks to go back home, 1,000 miles away, so it never happened, but it felt pretty good.

Unless you’ve already creeped her out in some form, this intimate gift is a fantastic way to make her feel wanted. It’s personal, it says you know something about her, and that you think of her outside of when you see her.

It’ll creep her out if she doesn’t remember ever seeing you before, if you have sent her several messages and she didn’t respond, if she keeps catching you staring at her, if she’s caught you taking a photo of her (true story), if she has never made a point to be near you, and sadly enough—the most ignored sign a girl isn’t interested—she’s told you to leave her alone.

But truth is, men don’t creep girls out as often as you might think (We’re just vocal about it when they do). So while you should always help her feel like she could “escape” you if she so chose, don’t worry too much about her being weirded out. Even when you don’t like the guy, it makes you feel flattered.

If you’re worried, after giving her the book, back off. If she’s interested, she’ll find a way to talk to you. She might not be sure for a while, but eventually she’ll reach out in hopes of you paying attention to her again. Or she doesn’t like you.

7. Let her know you like her without telling her.

So you’re dealing with a shy woman. Shyness comes from situations where a lot of questions are still up in the air. The introverted person likes to observe people first, understand where they’re coming from, predict how they will probably react, and then they start to come out of their shells.

The trick to pursuing an introverted writer is to let her know the situation without forcing her to give you an immediate answer. If she has no idea who you are/really are, if doesn’t yet know if she likes you or not, you do better if you let her keep gathering information because an immediate reaction will fall back on her natural impulse is to flee from social activities.

So, you tell her you like her, you just don’t say it.

How? Body language. The good news is that women are excellent on picking up on tiny pieces of evidence that you’re into them. This means that, with the right execution, you can make her feel confident in pursuing you without you risking rejection and making her feel in control. (The moment any woman feels she’s lost control is the moment she bails because, honestly, guys can get dangerous and cruel.)

Let her catch you staring at her. Once. Having a guy look at you—your face, by the way—can be flattering the first few times. If it keeps happening, then he starts to unnerve you. Deliberately watch her until she makes eye contact, then look away. One of three things will happen: 1) She already likes you and this helps confirm that you might like her back, encouraging her to try and talk to you. 2) She doesn’t know if she likes you or not, and by the suggestion you might like her will encourage her to consider you as an option. 3) She hates your guts, but it’s flattering, and probably relieves some tension because you’ve given her a little bit of power.

Making yourself physically available to her. (Not like that.) In the same vein of getting yourself alone, you want to place yourself in locations that will make her be near you. If there’s an empty seat next to her, sit there. You both will know why you’re doing it, but if she’s not interested, there’s enough denial there that you did it on purpose. When you walk up to her in a group, stand next to her. When you’re across from her telling a story, face your body towards her. She’ll realize what you’re doing, which will make her in return, consciously try to give you body language that she’s not interested—like she walks away—or that she is, by staying, or feeling more comfortable standing near you.

Dress better. Girls notice this. If you dress up just a little more than you have been, our narcissism will suggest it’s about us.

The name of the game is to show more interest so that she’ll feel comfortable showing more interest until one of you gets the balls to ask the other out.

8. The direct approach.

As Neil Gaiman answered this question:

In my experience, writers tend to be really good at the inside of their own heads and imaginary people, and a lot less good at the stuff going on outside, which means that quite often if you flirt with us we will completely fail to notice, leaving everybody involved slightly uncomfortable and more than slightly unlaid.

So I would suggest that any attempted seduction of a writer would probably go a great deal easier for all parties if you sent them a cheerful note saying “YOU ARE INVITED TO A SEDUCTION: Please come to dinner on Friday Night. Wear the kind of clothes you would like to be seduced in.”

And alcohol may help, too. Or kissing. Many writers figure out that they’re being seduced or flirted with if someone is actually kissing them.

Nothing is more attractive than a guy you like directly and straightforwardly asking you out, and in a clever way. But, I understand why this easier said than done, and sometimes it’s acceptable to be more cautious.

But if you’re pretty sure she likes you, I would say this is the best and most memorable approach. Having someone directly ask you out on a date is really nice, and she’s more likely to take your interest seriously.

Just remember that girls feel obligated to stay true to their feelings once they reveal them. It is very hard for us to change are minds after we’ve started showing interest in someone, getting labels like tease and ice queen. Add that into the already social-avoiding nature of the writer, and you’re going to get a girl who is very reserved. She hides her feelings until she is more sure they will stay that way.

This is the hardest part of pursuing a writer—knowing that they’re interested. She probably won’t flirt or ask you out, she might sit as far from you as possible when there’s hundreds of empty chairs, or excuse herself from the conversation right when you start one, but she will tell her in her own way. Whether it be catching her staring at you, dressing nicer than normal, or even showing up at social events because she knows you’re going to be there, she will find ways to try and tell you she’s interested without, ironically, using many words.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How Not to Hit On a Writer

Authors, like cats, are solitary creatures who only come out for food.
Writers are romantic, sensitive creatures, often a lot of work for the significant other—especially those who don’t want to end up the murdering puppy-kicker in the next book. But with our enigmatic, mysterious ways (re: fleeing social interaction), our romantic notions (“No, I’m sure we’ll be able to buy a new car with the sequel’s royalties”), and perchance for poetry, (“I can use ‘shattered’ however I want, asshole!”) it’s hard not to fall in love with us.

So when you set your eye on one of these strange beings, here’s a few tips on how not to tick us off.

Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is probably your narcissism talking. Or at least that's the story I'm going with.

1. Giving unsolicited writing advice (that your English teacher told you.)

Writer: I’m having such a hard time with this third draft. I know it’s not there yet, but there’s not really anything really wrong with it. I don’t even know what I’m looking for.

Pursuer: Try getting rid of adverbs.

Writer: …

Pursuer: Have you checked for passive sentences?

Writer: Yes, Shakespeare. I’ve also used this newfangled option called, “Google.”

Pursuer: I also hate when people overuse “furthermore.”

If you don’t can’t say anything new… Tell her she’s pretty.

2. Asking what he/she does when you’re talking through Facebook.

Pursuer: Hi

Writer: Hi.

Pursuer: how are u?

Writer: Good.

Pursuer: where u from

Writer: The U.S.

Pursuer: i am in India.

Writer: …

Pursuer: wat do u do?

Writer: Did you look at my profile before friending me?

Pursuer: Yes

Writer: Do you see where it says my name? And the word “author” before it? And profile photo that has a book cover on it? And my status where I talk about second drafts being the spawn of the devil?

Pursuer: ya

Writer: Guess.

If you can’t take the time to look at her profile, she can’t take the time to Skype herself topless.

3. Make sure to never support his/her current project.

Writer: I don’t want you to pay for this meal.

Pursuer: But I invited you out.

Writer: I know. It’s like forty bucks. I want to pay for it.

Pursuer: Well, okay. But if I happen to meet the waiter on my way to the bathroom, there’s no reason I shouldn’t take the opportunity.

Writer: I really don’t want you to. I mean it.

Pursuer: Sure, sure. So what are you working on?

Writer: Well, I just got some copies of my book. I’m going to go around and try to sell them to people… twelve dollars instead of fourteen.

Pursuer: Let me see. Is it in the bookstore?

Writer:  Yeah.

Pursuer: I’ll get it at the bookstore then.

Writer: I’d give it to you for free, but then you’d have to come up with an excuse about not reading it too.

Remember, don’t waste your money or effort on what’s important to them; spend it on flowers. And when in doubt, lie.

4. Compare him/her to other authors. Especially to ones you don’t like.

Writer: It’s about a young man and woman whose village has been destroyed by a phantom beast. There’s rumors of disappearances and people turning into creatures. They have to go find the phantom and where it came from before the man becomes a monster.

Pursuer: So what genre is that? Fantasy?

Writer: I was thinking maybe paranormal romance.

Pursuer: Oh. You trying to write the next Twilight or something? I hate that book.

Writer: Yeah. I’m thinking of changing my name to Steve Meyer and putting a decapitated hand on the cover. What do you think?

Nothing gets a writer into bed faster than being told his idea sounds a lot like that book you think is stupid.

5. Side with his/her critics.

Writer: She wrote that I needed to “simplify everything.” Which I could do, you know? I could go through every single sentence and make it short and straightforward. But then it would sound like a Dick and Jane book. I don’t like that style at all. I never have, and it’s not fun. So I go to her and ask, “Can you point out specific places where I could simplify my prose?” And she says, “Everything! Just everything!” Yeah. I’m going to write, “See El’erlear. See El’erlear run. See ogre. See El’erlear slice off ogre’s head.” There is no way to be simple and diverse, and I don’t see a reason to. I like stylized prose.

Pursuer: Yeah, but sometimes writers can overwrite and come off as confusing or pretentious. She’s probably right.

Writer: …

Pursuer: What?

Writer: You know how you ask me if you look fat?

Pursuer: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Writer: Well, I just asked if I looked fat, and you said, “Yep. I don’t understand how you could even consider you don’t.”

There is a time and place for feedback. When they’re feeling insecure isn’t it.

And always remember, we're artists. We may be overly sensitive, but crazy is what you have to deal with if you want genius. Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 9, 2015

New Business Cards! (Are They for You?)

This is his good side.
So, after returning home from New York, I found my new business cards waiting for me. (Not at my house, of course, because that would require someone to pick up the mail in my absence, and who are we kidding?)

I had heard of writers getting business cards, but for a long time I didn't really see the point. Cards seemed handy when offering up services, not actual products like a book.

Why did I bit the bullet? Do you need them? How do you know?

You will know you need business cards because you find yourself saying, "I wish I had a card on me," over and over again.

Over the last year I focused on my web presence. Currently I have all sorts of online projects that I will often need to direct people to my website.

I realized I needed a business card because...

1.) My name has to be spelled out.

Most of my websites are deliberately straightforward:,, But not only is my last name hard to remember, my first name isn't spelled typically. Directing people with a "Just type in my name," doesn't work. Even if a person knows me, they might not know what my name looks like written out.

If you're lucky, you have a name that is unique to you and isn't difficult to spell. Remembering is easy, and not just because he's famous. It's spelled exactly how you would expect. If your name is spelled phonetically and traditionally, if your last name is a noun (King) or adjective (Brown) or any common word, people are more likely to find you without aid.

If it's is too common, a little weird, or has a lot of typical variations, or if your website isn't straightforward, having numbers or maybe the title of your work, having a business card is a good idea.

2.) It's easier to self-promote.

If a person looks mildly interested, that's when to attack. But, I'm not going to take the time to find a pencil and paper (even though I carry them with me) to write my info down. I will, however, throw out a business card. They can do what they want with it. And because a lot of the business is about impulse, I'm much more likely to get their attention when they randomly find that card and are reminded about it then trusting even the interested people to remember anything I told them.

Plus, they don't have to say no to you. The worst part about being pitched to (and pitching) is the responsibility to answer. They can accept the card and throw it out later, giving them permission to just smile and nod and not feel guilty about saying, "Not gonna happen."

3.) People want the information.

After a while, it stops being just an issue of readily available advertising, but actually needing quick access to your personal details when someone actually asks.

I'm not giving out business cards asking people to like my Facebook page. (Although, in some situations they would come in handy.) I find myself getting asked for information about certain things, like my giveaways, and constantly had to take the time to write it down or explain it, which always comes off as awkward, even if they really are interested.

4.) It makes it easy to give advice.

A lot of fans I get are aspiring bloggers or writers. Conversation starts up about what I do, and they mention their interest in writing. As casual small talk at a check out counter, you really can't have the conversation they want, or that would be most beneficial to you. Instead, I give them my card and suggest they get in contact with me if they want any help.

These connections are more lasting than anything and are extremely powerful. When you don't have a moment, a card can be a great rain check.

5.) I'm often in networking situations.

I go to writers' conferences, writers' groups, book signings, and all sorts of situations where I make a real-life connection with someone. Making that connection last often needs to transfer into social media world (unfortunately), and again having info written down will make it more likely to be remembered.

It's something to give out to fellow authors or even just potential readers you've engaged and would like to keep in touch with. Again, real-life interactions and deep, long conversations is where you'll get your continuing fans, so making it easy to get in touch via the internet is extremely useful.

Where do I get business cards?

I used Vista Print. It was quick, cheap, and reliable. Also, for once I wasn't worried about having a unique, original graphic, (it's just about the information) so I could just pick a pre-made design I liked and had it done in less than a half-an-hour online.

It was flexible and $16 (including shipping) for a glossy, backless set of 500 cards.

BUT, sometimes it's important to support the Ma and Pa businesses near you. Any place that offers copies, flyers, or any sort of paper-based products will offer cards.

You can also make them on your own, if you wish. Use Adobe Photoshop or, print it out on card stock, cut it up, you're done. I know many people do this with professional results.

I don't believe this saves you all that much money, especially considering the time involved, and how much card stock that comes in a package. It is important for it to look good (it's advertising), so you should have a graphic design skill set if you plan on doing it yourself.

How many should I get?

I got 500. I don't need many (I probably give out one a month unless I'm attending an event, and even then it's like ten.) Five hundred was a little cheaper than less, and I'm pretty well stocked without being overwhelmed.

Unless you're going to do some sort of interesting promotional event, you won't need much.

What should they say?

This varies based on who you're giving them to and what you're giving them for.

Because mostly mine are going to random fans who show mild interest, I didn't use a phone number or personal address, not professional contacts (potential bosses, agents, etc.)

I included...

-What I do: Writer
-What genres I write.
-My main website.
-My blog.
-My email.
-My Facebook.
-My Twitter account.

You want the business card to immediately remind them who you are and why they have your card. You should clearly state your name, your job, and anything else to tell them if they're interest. You should have direct links to what they would care about, making it as easy as possible for them to find what is important to you.

If you have an agent who fields most of your questions (Will you come to my school for a signing?) You may include a way for someone to contact them (or just carry around their business cards.)

You might include a direct link to where they can buy your book, or just your book's name. If you have more than one, pay for a double sided card and list out the titles on the back. (Do not just put "" They can find that on their own.)

Make the card easy to read, without clutter, but with complete information. If you are getting requests for something ("Where do I enter your giveaway?"), write it so it takes the least amount of explanation. ("Go to my blog, which is that one.")

If you're considering getting them, it's a low risk proposition. If you're still questioning important details (pen names, domain names, etc.), then I would wait until you have to make an absolute decision. People use their business cards as an excuse not to make an important change all the time. But, for the most part, it might be nice to have them on hand, even if you never use them. At worst, you're out twenty bucks.

Plus, they're nice to look at.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Things for Writers to Know about Social Media

As a writer, do I need to be active on social media?

No. The great thing about being an artist is you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. But, you have to deal with the ramifications and handicaps of your actions, so the bigger question is, “What are the pros and cons?”

For me...

First, if you go through traditional publishing, they will pressure you. Second, if you go through traditional publishing, already being active on social media will give you a leg up of actually being picked up. It is not only useful (you have free access to 30,000 people) but it shows you are willing to put in the time and effort to market yourself. You are less likely to be a pain in the ass.

And, as I said, having a platform like that is hugely efficient. Especially if you don’t go into traditional publishing, being connected to people gives you room to promote yourself with little cost. Before I became active on Twitter I got ten hits per blog post, max of twenty. Immediately, and I mean the day of immediately, after advertising on Twitter, it had gone up to a minimum of fifty, an average of one-hundred. The majority of people who read this find me through social media.

It helps keep track of and maintain real-life relationships. Most of the people you meet at writers’ conferences, events, or just happen to chat up in general will not live anywhere near you. By friending them on the internet, you can continue a casual relationship without a lot of work. People you actually connect to and have conversations outside of a “buy my book” Tweet will be your biggest and most loyal supporters.

It gives you credibility. It shouldn’t, but the truth is that the more people who are listening to you the more other people will listen. The logic is pretty simple; if you are interesting/informative to so many, then there’s probably something I’m missing if I’m not immediately interested/informed. They’re more likely to give you a longer chance, and when you say something they haven’t thought of before, they are going to actually consider it rather than pass it off as the na├»ve ramblings of a peer.

You want to be stalkable. You want people to get to know you without you knowing them. It’s like giving an animal a name; the more they know about you, the more affection they feel. Not only will the more information you have about yourself be more interesting, but it also keeps the fans around longer. The amount of material you have on the internet affects the time a person can spend “with” you. I have, honest to God, passed up buying a book on the first pitch, only to go back and get it after reading their blogs and Tweets, and, essentially being interested in them long enough that they got plenty  second chances to pitch their book to me. Having Tweets I can skim, or Facebook statuses that I see every day will put your name deeper into my memory, and will give you plenty of time to interest me. And, if I am already a fan, it keeps my attention in-between books so I won’t forget about the sequel in the year after I’ve finished the first, because I’ve been seeing your Tweets and blogs in the interim.

It’s stupid.

People do look down their noses on Facebook and Twitter and those who spend a lot of time cultivating their pages. And honestly, it’s sensible. There’s a lot of faults of social media, and reputation is often what bothers authors the most.

Depending on the image you’re trying to establish, it might be in your best interest to avoid social media all together, because even those of us who use it agree it’s stupid. It’s shallow, self-oriented, and tends to be just a popularity contest.

It’s feels like a waste of time. Most writers are so busy that they can barely find the time to write, let alone screw around on the internet. And I would agree that prioritizing things over social media is a good idea. Writing, editing, submitting, family, your day job, all of these things should come first. But, on the flip side of that, even spending a moment every day (post a comment then go to work), will eventually add up for you.

You have to deal with stupid people, cruel people, and possibly dangerous people.

I don’t find cruelty very often. The “hate” mail I have gotten is usually privately messaged to me, tends to be well thought out arguments that are often more about them than they are about me. (“You shouldn’t make fun of Hemmingway. He was a war hero. I wrote a biography about him. I went to his house once. It was nice. You should read my book.”) But there are a lot of my Facebook friends who do deal with trolls and critics. Social media is an easy place to harass someone, and the more open you are on the internet, the harder it is to escape someone who has a vendetta against you.

I have a guy who constantly comments on everything I post, giving his opinion on everything, despite not knowing me or having actually read the blog he’s enforcing an opinion on. “You shouldn’t move to New York. You should move to Orleans. Because of jazz and sports!” Yeah, that sounds like me. He’s not mean, just irritating. And while these comments are usually harmless, having someone constantly criticize you and tell you what to do when dealing with art can be problematic. We all know how the opinions of others can affect us, even when we don’t want them too.

Lastly, I do get the pervert trolls fairly often.

So far they haven’t proven to become a real issue, but if anyone did want to harass me long-term, there wouldn’t be much I could do about it.
I personally find the pros far outweigh the cons, but it’s up to the individual to consider what is important to him. As long as you’re honest with yourself about why you decided to do/not do it, then you’ll be able to make the decision that’s best for you.

And, of course, many people don’t want others to know about their private lives, and authors have the right to keep non-writing things to themselves, which might mean that avoiding social media, or just limiting its use, is a good idea.

But, if you do decide to use it, here’s some things you should know.

Common Mistakes:
1. Not including accessible and direct links.

If you have a book for sale, put that link prominently on your social media pages. It is so frustrating to have someone advertise their book but make you have to go searching for it. I’ve found websites with “Books for sale,” in which they include a photo and a summary, but no purchasing buttons. I’ve had Tweets and statuses that say to buy their book and not only do they not include a link, but you go to their profile you can’t find one, then their website and you still can’t find one. Usually, I end up leaving, annoyed.

Whenever you pitch your book, make it easy to buy. Make sure that it is a direct link. Not only is it irritating to have someone take you to the homepage of, it also looks a little idiotic.

2. Lying about accolades.

It is always a little disturbing to see how many people will call themselves “bestselling” authors when there’s obvious evidence they’re not. If you are a self-published author with one short story on Amazon that has two reviews and a crappy cover, not only will the reader immediately know you’re full of it, but the damage you’ve done to your reputation is far worse than the benefits of if they happened to believe you. The prime goal of a writer is to be trustworthy. You must convince readers that if they get through your book they will be left feeling satisfied, that you have their best interest at heart, and that you won’t screw them for your own benefits. You must convince them before they’ve even read one word.

It is astounding the sorts of lies people think they can get away with. I read the status of one guy who, again, was self-published, not even on Amazon, without any reviews and several typos in the sample, claiming that Paramount and Universal were arguing over film rights.

3. Not talking about themselves.

There is a huge misconception about the ramifications of narcissism. People like people, and when they go to your page they often want to hear about you. BUT, there is a huge difference between genuine and interesting self-exposure and neediness or inane comments.

Essentially, it’s just like a first date. You won’t be interesting or trustworthy if you won’t reveal anything about yourself. That’s what you’re there for. Of course being self-pitying, hateful, and certain kinds of self-involvement won’t be interesting either, and always listening (i.e. interacting) is an important aspect, but ultimately you want people to connect to you, and they won’t if you hide any elements about who you are. Talk about yourself, especially in situations you’re supposed to talk about yourself (like a bio.)

4. Not enough content.

By “content” I mean anything entertaining. “Did you know…” “Today I…” “A priest, a rabbi, and a writer walk into a bar…” Essentially posts that are enjoyable on their own.

Advertisements—“Buy my book,” “Buy this guy’s book,” “Go to my blog,” etc.—should be secondary and limited. Self-promotion is just like television commercials. Make them quick, clear, and entertaining, and keep them to less than 1/3 of what your audience is dealing with. This will make them stick around longer. No one’s going to watch a show that is just commercials, no one will read tweets that are all, “Vote for my story!”

Also, you don’t want your page filled with uninteresting rambling, tangents, or thank you’s. Having a Twitter page filled with “Thank you for following!” is boring. So are a bunch of retweets, especially uninteresting ones.

5. No interaction/reciprocation.

Connections are imperative, and silence is a punishment. If someone goes out of their way to comment, it’s important to react. Like it, favorite it, verbally respond. Go to their page and comment on their status. Sometimes even just a subtle reward is a great idea (Mentioning them in a blog.) You don’t have to react to everything, especially if you’re getting a lot of feedback. In fact, that would be negative reinforcement. Seeing you like everyone’s comment will make your liking of their comment meaningless. But sitting atop your tower as you look down on the people makes you seem distant, aloof, and probably condescending.

The second way to tick people off and discourage them from helping or even interacting you is a refusal to help them. When a friend sends you a request to like their page, like it. When they ask you to see their play, see it. The more supportive you are, the more supportive they will be.

You can, of course, pick and choose some forms of reciprocation. I don’t retweet someone just because they retweeted me on the principle of maintaining interesting content. Having a page filled with advertising for other people is the same as having a page filled with advertising for yourself, so there are some limitations.

6. A non-human picture.

Get a picture of yourself for your profile picture. It helps people empathize with you, but also, people with non-human photos or no photos at all tend to be fake accounts, spam accounts, or trolls. Not all the time, but enough of the time.

7. Not respecting territory.

Because their page is a representation of themselves, and because so many people are trying to keep their media site spam free and interesting, the quickest way to tick them off is to force them to filter through your self-promotion.

Tagging people in pictures they’re not in, tagging them on statuses get them to read your poetry or watch your video, commenting on their page asking them to like you where the whole world will see, or anything that they have to go and delete is pushing things too far. Mostly, it’s just a nuisance, but I’ve had to defriend and even block a few people because they didn’t understand their boundaries, such as one man who posted his poetry to my page twice a day, including photos, some of which were of (albeit artistic) nude pictures.

Especially if you are an erotica writer or of a controversial niche, you want to respect a person’s desire to maintain their image.

Also, when posting anywhere, it’s important to read. Just as sending a sci-fi book to an agent who doesn’t work with your genre, posting book promotions in a place meant for questions, or blogs, or simply not reading the rules is a huge faux-pas. Even when people put right up at the top “No book promotions” or “No erotica,” people still post. Make sure to understand territory before promoting yourself.

How do I get an audience?

There are three simple ways to get followers:

1. Reciprocation.

The main way to find followers/likes is to like or follow other people. Seeking out those who are in your target audience and interacting with them will lead them to your page. Don’t expect them to reciprocate, don’t be angry when they don’t. They don’t have any obligation to, and indicating they do feels like a trick. But, naturally, people will try to give back, and, more to the point, every interaction is actually a form of advertising—even if they don’t follow you, you are getting your name out there one person at a time. Seeing your name over and over again in different contexts is a great form of advertising.

2. Provide a service.

Giving a genuine benefit to an audience will encourage people to follow, friend, or like you. The most obvious way is to be actually interesting. Provide jokes, unique tips, stories, experiences, or pictures people actually would enjoy having pop up in their feed. Offer giveaways. Offer up information they might like to know (interesting blogs about writing, books where you can find agents, etc.) This isn’t the most effective way, but it is the most organic, especially if you want a lot of people to follow/like you without you liking/following them.

3. Ask.

It’s hard to put yourself out there, and no matter how you approach it, someone will always be annoyed. That is not your problem. Don’t be obnoxious, don’t pretend to do something you’re not (like engage in a conversation when you just want them to like your Facebook page), but a simple, straightforward, “Consider liking me on Facebook,” once to an individual is the most effective method of gaining likes. Direct requests garner the most responses. Deceit, however, does not.

And, if you do reciprocate, sometimes this will be a relief to the person you’re talking to. When I ask, “If you’re interested in trading Facebook likes, send me a link!” I get a lot of positive responses, often even grateful ones. (Every once in a while I get, “Facebook is the work of the devil!” but for the most part they’re friendly.)

How do I get engagement?

How many people like, favorite, retweet, comment, or share your post affects the number of people who see those posts. Engagement is not only more interesting than a simple status, but it also directly correlates to the size of the audience.

So how do you get engagements?

1. Positive, motivational statements.

They must be somewhat clever, but for the most part any sort of “You can be a writer!” posts will return with a lot of positive feedback, though more in the form of likes and favorites than comments.

2. “That sounds like me!”

Relatable posts like, “Writing is for those of us who only grew up enough to get embarrassed about playing pretend in public,” will get a lot of reaction. (Note: If you include something that is unique to you like, “My name is Charley and I’m a recovering grammar Nazi,” you will receive more favorites than retweets on Twitter. Something generic will often get more retweets.)

3. Start a post with a personal label.

Men, boys, guys, women, feminists, lawyers, writers, New Yorkers, etc. will grab the attention of your readers. Addressing someone by an identity they have taken possession of will compel them to engage and comment. It is their thing, after all.

4. Ask an interesting question (but only when you know someone will respond.)

It doesn’t look good to ask a direct question and have silence in return. If you don’t have many followers yet, you might start out with a question and then continue on with some sort of answer. People will be less likely to answer for themselves, but once you can get someone to start, others will follow.

Banal and secretly rhetorical questions don’t work. If it’s obvious you’re not interested the answer—you’re just trying to get responses—most people won’t say anything. The questions have to be interesting, unique, and something you’re actually curious hearing about. “What are you working on?” will not receive as much as “What was a bad piece of advice that you later realized was useful?” It also shouldn’t be something that puts the workload on the audience: “What should my next blog be about?” often returns with silence.

Also, again, starting with “Question:” or “Opinions:” will make people think you’re serious about wanting an answer, and encourage them to respond.

Some things you should know about Twitter:
1. doesn’t offer many common features used in Twitter.

What does that mean? Auto-reply, auto-follow, unfollowing people who don’t follow you are options OTHER programs, like Just Unfollow will offer, meaning you have to sign into Twitter through them. While a common practice for most Tweeters, it is technically against protocol and you can be temporarily banned for using these other programs. But, this isn’t always strictly enforced, which is why people use them.

I was once banned because I allowed my iPad connect through Twitter, and it decided it was a foreign program, which is also a common complaint.

2. You cannot direct message a person who doesn’t follow you.

Meaning if you send a direct message to a follower you don’t follow back, they will not be able to respond. Not only that, but even if they aren’t just following people to get followers, when you’ve asked them a question and they make the effort of responding to just get a message saying they can’t because you don’t follow them, it will piss them off.

For this reason, don’t ask questions in an auto-reply. And don’t ask questions you don’t really care about the answer to, this is extremely frustrating.

3. The mobile Twitter app displays your content differently than the website.

It does not have pinned Tweets, (A Tweet you can fix to being the first Tweet people will see on your page) and will fill up your page with your conversational Tweets (responses to other’s Tweets). When considering the readability and content of your site, remember this.

4. You can mute people.

If you want to follow someone, but they are bothering you—by posting too much, by posting hashtag gibberish, by promoting self-promotion—you can continue following them, but mute them so they don’t appear in your stream. They won’t know you’ve done it.

5. Lists are your best friends.

One of the biggest complaints people give me about Twitter is they don’t want their feed to be filled with people they don’t know. There are several solutions to this, including keeping one separate from your personal page. But the other solution is to have lists.

You can use lists to separate people into categories, like people you actually know, and then get a feed that only has their tweets. Or maybe you’ll have a writer list, or list of people who you want to keep connected with or that are especially interesting.

Also, when looking for people to follow and thereby gain your followers, finding lists other people have made can make it easy. Get a list like “sci-fi writers” and you can just go down it and follow those members, keeping your feed to people you actually care about, and yet allow you to extent your network.

6. You can tell people who’ve paid for followers because the majority of their follows won’t have pictures or bios.

7. You can only follow the first 2,000 people without having many followers yourself. After that, it is based off of an unrecorded ratio of how many followers you have to how many you can have.

8. You will get temporarily banned if you follow/unfollow 1,000 people in a day.

Some things you should know about Facebook:
1. Twitter is better for a quick audience, Facebook is better for a sustained audience.

Facebook is much more personal and people are more likely to remember you. Facebook is much more strict about not spamming people, and is more likely to ban you for more things, like liking too many pages/statuses, private messaging too many people, friending too many people who don’t accept. BUT, it does offer apt warning.

2. The difference between a personal page and a fan page:

A personal page is a regular kind of page, but a fan page is an extension of your personal page for things like business. A personal page is supposed to be for an individual human, where a fan page is for commercial advertisements.

Facebook allows more personal page statuses to appear in your friend’s stream than it would in a fan page. Meaning your personal page has more of an organic reach. But it has more limits; you can only have 5,000 friends, but you can have as many likes as you want.

3. You can “unfollow” people and still like their page.

Just like the mute button on Twitter, if you want to like someone’s page, but you don’t actually want to see their statuses, just go to their page and click unfollow. They will not know you have done this.

4. It is easier to get friends than it is to get likes.

Once you start finding authors to friend, Facebook will start showing you more writers under your suggested friends list. More people are likely to respond to a friend request than a like request. But, again, trying to friend too many people at once will get you banned, and the limit of 5,000 is a problem.

5. People can see if you didn’t like their page.

There’s a location on a fan page where you can invite all your personal page friends to like your page. Normally, there’s an accessible one right out in the obvious, but it only shows a few options to “invite your friends,” and it doesn’t say if they liked it or not. But there’s another place under the Activity Tab that allows you to scroll down through the list of all your friends. It will either say, “Invite,” “Invited,” or “Liked.”

It’s hard not to notice if your best friend is still reading, “Invited,” and not take that personally, so keep it in mind when refusing to like people’s pages.

6. You get “followers” by denying friend requests.

Today on Facebook you can follow someone without them agreeing to be your friend. Most privacy settings will require someone to be a friend of a friend (or however the owner of the page has it set.) Some people will want to follow you and not friend you, but for the most part, if you request someone as a friend, you automatically follow them. If they deny your request, they get a “follower” instead of a friend.

7. Check your privacy settings.

Be aware of what your privacy settings are set on. You want to make sure that the things you want kept private are private, and the things you want shared can be shared. I’ve had plenty of people send me a link to something (a note, a picture, whatever) and have the link be broken because of these settings.

If you want your fans to have access to you, be sure the settings are set right.

8. If you’re on a mobile phone, make sure to send the right URL.

Facebook has a mobile site which comes out looking strange on a computer. When sending a link, don’t just copy and paste the URL on your iPhone. If it begins with m.facebook, it means it’s a mobile design. This is also sometimes true for Amazon.