On Writers Conferences and Book Fairs

Recently I went to North Carolina for a book fair. I had a wonderful time, met some great people, and came back with books, business cards, and a wealth of information.

I decided not to make this post a conference review, but rather just share some things that I’ve learned about writers’ conferences, workshops, and book fairs.

Note: I’ve never participated in a conference or event from the vendor’s side (yet) – so far I’ve only been an attendee. But since a bookish event should be, ideally, designed for the attendees, I can comment on the things that are appealing and done well, and the things that could use some work.

Bring business cards. Whether you’re an author selling books, an agent, a publisher, or just an amateur writer checking it all out for the first time, business cards are a must. You’re going to meet some people you want to stay in touch with, or an author or agent you want to follow up with later. And scribbling names and emails on random pieces of paper is just awkward. If for some reason you don’t bring business cards, at least have bookmarks to advertise your book, or flyers for your company, or something. At one event I stopped at an author’s table and she told me she hadn’t bothered to bring business cards. She had no bookmarks or anything else, either. I didn’t buy a book right then, and do you think I remembered her name long enough to go home and look her up on Amazon or GoodReads? Nope.

Don’t be embarrassed to set up a table even if you have only one book. There are plenty of prolific authors who have to bring just a selection of their stuff to an event, because they have too many titles to fit on a table. But don’t be intimidated by them if you have only one book out so far. I’ve bought just as many books from authors with full series laid out on the table as I have bought from writers selling just one title. Be friendly, have a professional-looking book (and bookmarks or business cards), and have fun.

Be on social media. And have a decent-looking website. Really, this point should be a post all to itself, but I’ll save that for later. The point is that if you’re a writer, an agent, a publisher, an editor, or an illustrator, you need to be represented online. I understand that not everyone is a social media nerd like me, or has the know-how to create a fancy website. But basic blog templates are free, as are Facebook and Twitter. At one book event, I spent some time speaking with a representative from a small publisher. He had a good sampling of books on the table, and he had business cards. However, when I went to the website I found it visually very hard to read because of the design; also, there were several broken links, and no social media links at all. I’m sure it’s a great publisher, but I will not be submitting my manuscript to a company that is still using a website design from 1998 and isn’t on Facebook. It’s not that I’m a social media snob – it’s just that I expect professionals in the writing industry to at least try to keep up with the current trends of said industry.

Another note: With all of these points, good and bad, I am not referring specifically to the event I just attended in NC. These are observations gained from my (admittedly limited) experience of attending bookish and writerly events in general. I also didn’t name any names because a) I want to be polite and protect people’s identity, and b) I’m not that great with names so I’d probably get it wrong if I linked a name to a specific point.

Anyway. Have you attended a writers’ conference or book event of any sort? Do you have any comments or observations to add to this list? Please share!

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So you Want to be a Social Media Expert?

I wrote this post for the blog at Helps2, the social media company that I work for. You can view the original post here.

Social media manager. Content creator. Platform consultant. Growth hacker. Yes, this is a thing now.

Ten years ago, social media as we know it today didn’t exist at all. So is there such a thing as an “expert” in a field that is not only brand new, but is changing on a daily basis? And if you’re not Mark Zuckerberg or a Google employee, can you actually become one of these people?

Yes, you can. While I may not be considered an “expert,” as compared to the real pros, I have learned a thing or two about the social media world and how to stand above the crowd. I’m still learning, growing, practicing, and adjusting, but I will share a few tips that can help you move out of the “newbie” realm and on towards “expert.”

It’s okay to try all the platforms till you find your niche. If you’re just starting out with social media, especially if you’re wanting to use it to represent and promote your career, business, organization, or other pursuit, just experiment. There are the big social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc – but there are dozens (no – probably hundreds) of others, too. Some platforms suit a specific niche or industry – like Flickr for photography, for example. Don’t be shy about trying a lot of social media sites for a little while so that you can narrow down your list of favorites where you want to focus your efforts. This not only lets you find the sites that you enjoy and where you can reach your audience, but it gives you experience with many different platforms. Knowledge and experience are part of becoming an expert.

Interaction is key. Social media is all about being social. If you don’t interact with your fans/followers/clients, they will be less inclined to follow you or to seek you out when they need your product, service, or advice. The ways of connecting with other users differs from platform to platform, but again, this is where experimentation can help you. Making the effort to learn how to communicate effectively on social media – whether it’s comment strings on Facebook or retweets on Twitter – helps you to stand out.

Study the pros. The old adage is true – find someone who has what you want in life, and learn what they did to achieve it. Most social media professionals share much of their knowledge freely through blogs, podcasts, and the like. Read articles about social media tips. Find people who you respect who are doing it right (whether they are social media professionals, or just using social media effectively). Interact with them, ask questions, read blogs. Also know that no matter how much you might learn about social media, because of its very nature, there’s always something new to learn. You don’t have to keep up with every single trend, but develop a passion for constant study.

Be consistent! Consistency is the glue that holds this all together, and in my opinion is one of the main ingredients in the making of an “expert.” No one wants an “on again, off again” professional in any field. Be consistent with your learning – social media changes every day, both from a technological side and in the way people are using it. Be consistent with your own social media, whether you have just a personal Facebook page or you’re managing a website and a presence on five other platforms. Be consistent with your updates and with your interactions. If you want to be on the road to “expert” status, then people need to see that you have both the knowledge and the discipline to keep going over the long haul.

So there you have it. These tips are things that I myself have done (and continue to do. Consistency, remember?) Whether I’m truly an expert or not isn’t important, really. I’m learning, applying what I learn, enjoying what I do, and becoming more effective every day. And you can do it, too!

What The Wizard of Oz can teach us about Social Media

We have been singing along with “Somewhere over the Rainbow” for a lot longer than social media has been around. The Scarecrow, the Wicked Witch, and the ruby slippers were cultural icons long before Mark Zuckerberg went to college and launched Facebook. And L. Frank Baum first penned those memorable stories even longer ago. So what is it about this magical children’s tale that relates to our modern Internet-driven lives?

Social media takes brains. Not a lot, mind you. You don’t have to be a Rhodes scholar to manage a Facebook page or send out some tweets. But there is a learning curve – new technologies, new ways of doing things, learning the value of keywords and hashtags. But mostly, effective social media requires that you be intentional, consistent, and (relatively) polite. These are the sort of smarts that everyone has. If the Scarecrow could figure out how to get Dorothy to the Wizard, then you can manage a basic blog or Facebook page.

Social media takes heart. The most effective people – in life, not only in social media – are the ones who are passionate about what they’re doing. If you’re excited about a cause, a career pursuit, or any other subject matter, then let that excitement come through in your online posts. Genuine enthusiasm goes a long way. Keep your dreams and passions always in mind. And so if, like the Tin Man, you get slowed down by a little rust, your heart – and the hearts of your dedicated followers – will pull you through.

Social media takes courage. It can be intimidating to post things about yourself and your life online for the world to see (let’s not go overboard the other way, though, with posting too many details). If you’re sharing your photos, your product, or your words with the world, you open yourself up to the good, the bad, and the ugly of feedback and interaction. Managing all your profiles and maintaining a thick skin might make you want to turn around and jump through an Emerald City window like the Cowardly Lion. But just keep pushing through and you can do it!

Social media is about friendship. Those who are most effective with building a following (and/or selling their books, products, or service) are friendly. Support, teamwork, give-and-take, and love are the building blocks of good relationships – both on and off line.

Now go start in your own backyard! If you’re just starting out with using social media for the purpose of building a platform or making a name for yourself, it’s okay to start small. Start networking with the people you already know, the professionals in your industry who you already follow, or local organizations who can help you.

See? Basic social media competency doesn’t have to be that hard – everyone has it in them! Just put on your ruby slippers and go start your adventure!

Writing Updates – February 2014

Happy new year! It’s still early enough in the year to say that, right? It usually takes me till about the end of January to stop dating things with the previous year.

For 2014, I set some reading goals and some writing goals. I set goals for last year, too, and missed just about all of them. But that’s okay, because at least I know where I stand right now. Without goals, it’s hard to measure your progress or results. I know what I did and didn’t do that caused me to come up short. So this I know what to change.

I’m still editing the first book of The Light-Whisperers of Kalevala fantasy trilogy. The critique group I’m part of has been of invaluable help in getting some pretty rough scenes into something readable. My goal for this year is to finish a full revision/rewrite of the book, incorporating the feedback from my critique partners for the parts that they have read.

I’m on the home stretch with the first draft of book two. This past year I discovered that I am a first draft lover. I’ll go out of my way to start something new just to avoid the rewriting process of something I’ve finished. This is not very productive if I ever want to get something published and have it be of decent quality. So that’s where goals (and discipline) come in.

In other news, I started a second job at the end of 2013. I’m working for a social media company called Helps2, writing and managing content for the Facebook and Twitter accounts of several of their clients. I love writing and I love social media, and this job has been a fun opportunity. And I’m basically getting paid to write. Always nice!

And talking of goals, I’m also planning on attending two writers conferences this year. One is the James River Writers conference in October – it’s pretty local for me, but I’ve managed to miss it for one reason or another the past couple of years. Not this year!

The other conference is not so local – it’s in Iceland. As most of my regular readers know, I love Nordic things, and I’ve been to Iceland before. This writers retreat in like a dream opportunity, and it’s the first of its kind. It’s a big (but worthwhile) expense of time and money to commit to going, and so I launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to help me get there. Please consider donating if you can, and please share the page. Much appreciated!

So that’s how my 2014 is shaping up so far. Anyone else set any reading or writing goals for this year?

How to be Annoying on Social Media in Five Easy Steps

I read a lot of blog posts and articles about how to properly utilize social media to share and promote your content. Since I’m a big user of social media myself (this fabulous blog, my Facebook, my Twitter, etc.), I thought I’d make a contribution to the how-to’s of social media etiquette – with a little twist.

So in no particular order, here are five sure-fire ways to annoy your followers and alienate your readership. If you’re tired of the decent or even excellent success you’ve been having with your social media, then try these tips to make everything worse.

  1. Write in ALL CAPS. All capital text is the type-written form of shouting, and shouting for no good reason drives people away by the hundreds. Why save all caps for only URGENT STUFF when you can confuse and irritate your fans by making EVERYTHING SEEM URGENT?
  2. Post at least once a minute. Posting every fifteen seconds is even more obnoxious, so try that. If your tweets are constantly in your followers’ newsfeed, or your emails filling up their inboxes, they’ll never forget your name – even if they now hate you.
  3. Send direct messages only. Direct or private messages on social media, especially to people you don’t personally know, is what all the best spammers do. No communication gets ignored faster than a DM (direct message) from a stranger on Twitter or YouTube.
  4. Never respond to comments or tweets. This lets all your fans know that you’re much too busy doing important stuff or other sorts of marketing to bother chatting with them in an informal manner.
  5. Never share other people’s content. You’re on social media to promote your product or service, right? Sharing posts from other profiles or websites lets your followers know that you value others’ content and enjoy learning from everybody. Make sure you let everyone know what a self-centered egotist you are by making all your social media posts all about you.

So there you have it – five simple ways to become that person that nobody likes on Facebook or Twitter.

Just remember that if you actually want to gain fans and make positive connections, do the opposite of these and you’ll be soaring high with your social media!