Six Ways to Celebrate Social Media

 

Social media is half most people’s social lives. 65% of Americans use social media in 2015 versus just 7% ten years ago.  Likes, followers, retweets, and blog entries are so important to us that it’s easy to take them for granted. National Social Media day is June 30, so here are six ways to celebrate that crazy, duck-faced, trending world we live in:

  • Post a selfie of yourself on social media, using social media

Totally meta, like one of those looking at yourself in a mirror while looking in a mirror, things.

  • Boost a new social media platform

Join and post about a breakout app that’s connecting people. Get at least one friend to join and review it on the app store. This is how new platforms get traction!

My recent favorite is Litsy– a hybrid of Instagram and Goodreads. It’s fab.

  • Write an obit for your favorite social media outlet that’s passed on.

Xanga, we hardly knew ye.

  • Do a social media fast.

Going without something makes you realize how much space it takes up in your life. Warning: one day without Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, and Instagram might just be eye-opening for you, but warn your friends you’re doing it or they might think you’ve been kidnapped.

  • Follow someone with completely different views than you.

It’s so easy to live in a social media bubble. For one day, follow someone who takes the opposite view in politics, likes that musician you hate, or just panned that restaurant that you eat at four times a week.

  • Post to your social media followers how much you adore them.

Only the best gifs will work for today, so bring your A game.

giphy

#pitmad- No Reason to Get Mad about Pitches

The next #pitmad event is coming up on Thursday from 8AM- 8PM EST. Never participated before? Well, first things first– read the link above. Done that? Okay. Double check that you meet all of the key qualifications:

  • Is your manuscript completed?

When you get a request for that awesome project that you’re only 1/3 done with, you’re going to be sad about that bridge you just torched because you couldn’t hold off for a few months.

Being completed also means having the elements of your submission ready, too, not just your book. Make sure your query letter is complete, and it’s a good idea to draft a solid, full synopsis as well.

  • Is your manuscript polished?

If no one else has read your words and your manuscript is as virgin as untrodden grass, hold off this round. Instead, find a good beta reader (who reads and gives an overall impression of ‘this works’/’this doesn’t work’) or critique partner (who gives the real, gritty feedback and who you should make cookies for at least once a month).

  • Is your manuscript unpublished?

That means no self-published books. Great as they are, self-pubs are already out there in the world, in the hands of readers (hopefully). They aren’t going to have much appeal to most agents/publishers as far as acquiring a new project/client goes (not that they don’t have their benefits!)

Good manners (and professionalism) also dictates that if you’ve got an exclusive with an agent right now in the cold-query game, don’t join in on pitch contests.


So, you’ve got your manuscript that fits all three criteria… what next? Well, assemble your pitches. You’ve only got 280 characters to grab the attention of an agent or publisher, so what do you include?

Stakes. Character. Hook. Don’t waste words on what makes your book like every other book of your genre. And, just like in your query letter, your voice needs to connect in the pitch, too. Remove cliches and “verdant verbage”. If you read your pitches out loud, do they sound awkward? If so, they just might be.

Make sure to save room in your pitches to include the hashtag #pitmad (or else you’re not technically participating) and a hashtag of your genre (a full list is on Brenda’s post, but #A for adult, #MG for middle-grade, etc.)

Create THREE unique pitches for each project you’re pitching (only three allowed!) and prepare to post them throughout the day or schedule your tweets ahead of time so that they appear at different times. If you get a favorite, make sure to follow the agent/publisher’s submission instructions. Also, don’t tweet at agents. If you’re interested in querying them, you can do that through traditional querying methods.

 


But I’m not pitching at #pitmad, so why should I care?

Already agented? Not ready to query yet? #Pitmad is still a great day to watch the feed and see what’s being written right now. Remember not to favorite posts that you like since that’s how agents and editors are expressing their interest. If you see a book that you can’t wait to read some day, comment on the post and let the writer know that or quote/retweet it with #pitmad to spread its goodness. Writing can be a lonely business, and querying, even more so!

Reminder: If you don’t have luck with #pitmad, you’re not alone. I quite a few requests from #pitmad, but that wasn’t how I found my agent. Cold querying works well, too!

 

 

Litsy App Review

New social media tool for book discovery and review? Instagram meets Goodreads? Yes, please. Litsy is a book ranking and discovery app (for iOS only at this point) which lets you create ongoing discussions about books you’re reading with other users as well as share bookish pictures.

img_5781
Buttons on top decoded: The list button: your timeline— The open book button: your currently reading shelf — The closed book button: your reviewed books

The buttons allow you to see a timeline of the users whose reviews you follow (the house icon), a notifications lightning bolt, a magnifying glass to search for books to add to your shelves, and a fast action button to add a blurb, review, or quote.

img_5782

I’ve had the app for, oh, three days? So far, I love it. Going to the page of a book you’re reading and seeing cool pictures, quotes, and status updates all in a single timeline really adds to the fun of reading a book (especially if you’re trying to read Infinite Jest for the first time like I am— and a lot of other people, I discovered!) The blurb and quote feature are much more stylized and in focus than on Goodreads and you can create Instagram-like pictures to go along with them, including frames and filters and all of that fun nonsense.

And really, all that extra noise is a bit of nonsense, as fun as it is. The main point of this app is the connection between users and the incentive to help other readers find good books and to read as much good literature as you can. This number is gamified into a Litfluence total. This total starts at the number 42 (thank you Douglas Adams fans who get the reference and thank you to Litsy for the homage– side note that it is #TowelDay.)

My biggest complaints so far about the app:

  1. No tags. If you’re looking for suggestions for #scifi or #debut or want to read some #ARC reviews, no such luck– you’ve got to know what you’re looking for.
  2. No way (yet) to import your Goodreads reviews (I swear I’ve read more than 26 books…)

Otherwise, it’s good fun. If you’re on there, find me and I’d love to see the reviews you’ve added so far. User name: rachelm. You can leave yours in the comments if you want to connect with others!

img_5783

Conference Wrap-Up

This past week I had the good luck to attend five hours of Book Expo America and a full day of writing discussion during the Writing Workshop of Chicago. Both taught me different lessons and both helped inspire me this morning as I went back from the dreamlike land of conference-world to the sweat of the keyboard.

BEA is an annual meeting of book industry professionals (publishers, authors, editors) and book distributors and consumers (librarians, bookstore owners, as well as bloggers and educators). Overwhelming doesn’t even begin to describe the atmosphere, but despite the SWAG and ARCs of books everywhere, the biggest takeaways for me in my short time there were that first, there are so many good books out there. Second, community is key and participating in that community as a responsive reader is good practice. Everyone knows this already, but it can be hard to remind yourself to leave that review on Goodreads or Amazon after finishing a book. But it does matter. Finally, befriending a librarian is a really good idea (lucky for me, I have a few!) I sat in on a panel at the end of the day Friday of librarians who were sharing their best picks from discoveries at BEA that they thought would circulate this year and my “to read” list grew exponentially (for the better).

I actually went to Chicago with the purpose of attending Writer’s Digest’s Writing Workshop, a one-day event full of panels and opportunities to pitch. Particular highlights include Lori Rader-Day‘s fabulous panel on mystery/thriller tips and a social media talk by Amy Sue Nathan. The most eye-opening event of the day was the first-page reading event. Jessica Bell read anonymous first pages aloud while a group of ten agents gave feedback on what worked and didn’t. Even without hearing my own pages judged, I learned a lot about what makes agents stop reading (weather and waking up to an alarm clock, anyone?) and what hooks. Beyond the panels, I met several writers who I “clicked” with on a personal level.

Heading home from a weekend of literary abandon meant a bit of a reality hangover this morning, but a good one. While conferences are fun and refreshing, I realize that they aren’t what makes you a writer. Writing makes you a writer, and now I’ve got to get back to it.

 

A Case for Rereading

It’s hard to beat the shiver of recognition when you read words you’ve read before, almost like hearing a friend’s voice over the phone for a first time in a long time. As writers, reading is essential and it can be hard to make time to reread a book, but I’m learning how important it can be. A mentor of mine, Dave Griffith, once told me he rereads Great Gatsby annually because of the lessons the prose taught him. I’ve also taken a fiction class where the main text was a collection of Chekhov short stories. Reading, rereading, and dissecting the structure and plotting taught me a lot.

Sometimes rereading is a completely emotional experience, rather than one you’re trying to learn lessons from. When I was a kid I reread my favorite books all of the time. I loved Garth Nix, C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, the Babysitter’s Club series, and Beverly Cleary (especially the Ramona books). Recently I stumbled back across The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and couldn’t resist reading it in a sitting. Rereading a book reminds you of when you first read it, much like hearing music can bring you back to an old time. For me, this is especially true with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Every year from fourth grade on, I’ve reread Hitchhiker’s Guide in memorial to sci-fi loving brother who passed away when I was young. Beginning in front of the bulldozer in front of Arthur Dent’s house, Jesse and I can reunite for two hundred or so pages.

If you’re anything like me, your “to read” list grows as fast as a kid’s Christmas list. There’s not enough time for every book (even if you ignored those pesky interruptions like your paying job or those wonderful insertions like friends and family). I challenge you, though, to think of that book you should reread, for craft or for guilty pleasure. What book would you pick?

Obscenities and Fiction

So I recently finished polishing up my work in progress and started querying it. After having gone through this process once with my novel-in-the-drawer, it was so much easier this time to feel when it was “ready.” One of my last read-throughs I had to have a heart-to-heart with my red pen about all of the “bad words” on the page and things got real.

I’m not someone who swears casually in conversation. It’s not appropriate at work (even though my college students wouldn’t really care, my bosses certainly would) and at home, it can only really happen after 8PM. Obscenities are important to our language, though. Still, I checked how many times my draft had the word “shit” in it (38 pre-editing), even I thought it was excessive.

Elizabeth Sims has a great post on Writer’s Digest where she defines all of the types of rough language (or “raw talk”, as she calls it), so I won’t dig into classifications here. All the same, you can tell a lot about a character by what they decide to say when they’re angry. My father, for instance, once got into a car accident when me and my sibs were in the car with him. His curse? “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” said in a shout. It’s all about the tone and context, I think, just like anything else.

I scrubbed a lot of the rough language, but not all of it. An editor someday may advise differently, but a character half-drunk and arguing may pull out some less polite phrasing than they did before, and I think there’s value in the difference.

Do you include “raw talk” in your fiction? When did you decide to include it?

Ransomware and writers

You’re writing and all of a sudden your computer freezes and a message appears demanding money, in the form of bitcoin, in order to keep all of your documents from being deleted or from staying in permanent gobbledygook. Is this a nightmare? No, it’s ransomware, the fastest growing form of internet crime, and one which effects those who make their living from their writing particularly hard.

While the ransoms for entire systems of computers (like hospitals or governmental organizations) is typically in the thousands of dollars, most individuals are asked to pay somewhere around $500; still, that cost — on top of an already stretched budget– could put any working writer down and out for rent that month.

The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT) exhorts people not to give into these criminals demands. After all, while your files may become unencrypted, but that doesn’t mean the infection has been removed from your system.

How can you protect yourself from ransomware? Well, treat this major issue as you might flu season. Wash your hands– or rather, run updates from your internet security application. Next, minimize your contact with possible infections by not clicking on suspicious links (though some ransomware is contactable without these links now). Finally, stock up on necessary supplies so that if you do get “sick”, you’re not in trouble. Run a back up to a disk NOT connected to your internet server. As stated on the NPR program On Point, back ups connected through an internet server are also at risk to become infected themselves. Invest in an external hard drive and make it a routine to back up files weekly.

Don’t let ransomware be the downfall of your creative project. If your work is reading like gobbledygook, make sure it’s because you didn’t have enough coffee, not because you didn’t prepare yourself for a cyber attack.

Plus, isn’t it just a good idea to save your work frequently?

Why be bored?

This is about writing, so stay with me here…

I’m Catholic and we just finished the season of Lent.  Lent is supposed to be a time of self-denial and people give up all sorts of things: meat, candy, beer, Facebook, etc.  This year I looked at my life and tried to see what was distracting me the most in my free hours.  I came to the conclusion that I was watching too much streaming video (HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, whatever you associate that with).  When I washed dishes, I would watch VEEP.  When I cleaned, I might stream a Good Wife episode. I might watch Downton Abbey in the bath.  I cut the cord, at least for Lent.

What I discovered is that it is really hard to allow yourself to be bored.  I don’t watch much TV otherwise, and streaming video was kind of my background noise while I did meaningless/easy tasks or unwound at the end of the day.  Suddenly, my brain had to cope with silence and it did not like it.

At first.

Several studies, including a recent one in the UK and several in the US, show how creativity can come from the brain being presented a boring task.  Simply washing the dishes, taking a walk without listening to a podcast, or riding the subway without playing a game on your cellphone can be enough to elicit your brain to keep itself interested.  I thought this claim was a bit dubious at first, but as my time without video went on my word counts on my novel went up (WAY up.)  No one else was writing plots for me to enjoy, so I had to write my own.  This phenomenon is mentioned in Stephen King’s book On Writing.  He writes rather off-handedly about how idiotic most television is (though his books and movies have become TV themselves.)

So, I challenge you to take your own Lent from something that you fill the entertainment quota in your life.  Matt Cutts has a great (and very short!) TED talk about his personal challenges to improve his life called Try Something New for 30 Days.  In just 30 days you can experiment with leaving something behind that distracts you and see what comes of it creatively.  Maybe nothing will happen, but you never know until you try.

(Plus, if you start today, you’ll have exactly29 days until the Game of Thrones season 6 premier, and you could cheat by just one day… but only for that.)