Counting Up To Networking

Summer?  It’s here?  Where?

It seems that summer is upon us.  At least, it is in some places!  Personally, I’m not convinced.  The weather here certainly doesn’t suggest it.  Anyway, judging by the stats, a fair number of people are now able to get out and about in good weather, and maybe even have vacations.  There’s definitely been fewer people looking around the blog over the last week or two.  Hopefully they’ll wander back when they aren’t off enjoying themselves LOL!  In the meantime, while the summer months may not get the same volume of traffic, I’ll maintain posting daily, if possible.

Numbers

Anyway, I was delighted to discover, this morning, that the blog has still managed to reach a total of over 7.000 views since I started it!  The vast majority of those views, more than 6,300 of them, have come since the beginning of 2013.  The blog also has just over 370 direct followers – kind folk who have either clicked on the ‘Follow’ link if they use WordPress.com too, or subscribed by email.  I would like to thank all of you who have done so!  When the Social Networks are added in, that’s a lot of followers or people who at least receive notifications of what’s happening on the blog.  In fact, there are 1280 Twitter and 370+ Facebook followers.  I also have way over 500 LinkedIn connections, 200+ fans and friends on Goodreads, and links with folk on Google+, Pinterest, tumblr, etcetera.  Of course, there’s duplication, but it’s still an awful lot of very good people!

The Same Old Advice?

I have seen a few posts recently extolling the virtues of Social Networks.  It still intrigues me that the message is still being pounded out that Social Networks are not only nice to be a part of, but fundamentally essential to success, despite my own recent findings to the contrary.  Don’t mistake me!  I have no intention of abandoning the Social Network scene!  What concerns me is the forceful claims.  Surely these must impact on those newest to writing and self-publishing?  If that’s true, just how useful, or damaging, is the advice?  Active participation in, for example, Facebook soon leads folk away from the matter in hand into strange lands, where peculiar graphically enhanced (GE rather than GM) quotations – many of dubious authenticity in regard to the alleged sources, humorous photographs of animals and other matter, status messages where folk have hit the panic button having read a piece of ‘news’ proven entirely false some years previously, invitations to participate in (fake) competitions for products that are too good to miss out on owning, invitations to join groups/like pages/play games… well, you get the idea!  So, the one absolute certainty of devoting significant time to Social Networks like Facebook and Twitter is that there’ll be no hope of ‘distraction free’ writing!  Other networks can be approached with a little more confidence, but even they have their dangers, circling like sharks, ready to strike.  For example, Goodreads.  There is, in my honest opinion, nothing to compare with Goodreads!  It is a superb system for readers, authors and reader/authors.  But, there are perils, mostly in the form of the hundreds (maybe thousands) of ‘special interest groups’ and more generalised forums.  Join more than a handful, and you will be pulled and pushed, poked and prodded, to be active in them.  And that’s when the trouble starts – just like Facebook and Twitter: overload!  So the potential damage to the actual writing process is obvious.  What about benefits?  Well, I guess there are some.  When an author’s website or blog is very new, then the Social Networks may bring a few visits from the curious, and I do mean a few!  The evidence simply can’t be disputed.  A more significant benefit is in finding other authors!  But even there, it’s good to be wary.

Mistakes in Social Networking

Believe it or not, many authors who have been using the Social Networks for a significant amount of years are actually abusing the system, deliberately or otherwise.  It may be that they simply haven’t got the message, or they may have ignored or discarded it.  There is, however, a very simple truth that must be given heed to!  It is very bad practice to issue post after endless post advertising your book(s)”!  Don’t believe it?  Then you evidently enjoy being continuously Spammed via email, social network sites, and so forth.  More, you enjoy Spamming others!  Because that’s what it is.  If all you ever post is advertising your work or you, then people will flock to the doors – the exit doors!  Apart from the Spam aspect, it’s just bad manners to do it.  If you blog, then let your blog system post updates about your blog.  Don’t repeat the effort.  Social Networks exist to keep people in touch with each other, in a sense that sees constant advertising as an evil.  If you do the same to people you know in real life, then I pity them, and the chances of you having many real life connections are very low indeed.  No, you have to work at it properly!  You have to provide interesting, humorous, sometimes informative information, with only the occasional advertisement for your work, almost as an aside.  This is true at all levels – from blog to network.  Anything else, and the only visitors you’ll have in any numbers will be Spambots and worse – and many of those won’t bother with you, either, because your statistics are so shockingly low.  Everything is open to abuse, intended or misguided.  If you’re determined to use the available facilities, learn to look beyond yourself, beyond your work.  If you’re not inclined to provide ‘informative’ posts, at least try to amuse your readers!  It’s like any social situation.  You have to ‘court’ your audience, even if you don’t appear to have one.  If you get it right, people will find you!  More, if you truly engage in a friendly manner with both readers and fellow authors, others will support your efforts – not just in direct responses but by Tweeting, posting to Facebook, and numerous other ways.  But I’ll sound another note of caution here: if you set out to use others, they will find you out!  In other words, just be a real, ordinary, sociable person – willing to help others not because you want something in return, but simply because

The best advice I have to give?  Be ‘good people’.

~ Steve

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Blogging: “Longform” or “Sound Bite”?

I’ve read several articles on how to write good blog posts, but I freely admit that I’ve tended to go my own way.  Of course, that may mean that I’ve also lost out on followers.  There are a couple of things most articles recommend that I’d like to take a look at, though.

Divide it up

It’s always suggested that long posts be split up by using subheadings.  Now, I can actually say that I have done this, on occasion.  However, there are times when I feel that doing this would be intrusive and break the flow too much.  Subheadings are all very well if the content of the post is suited to them.  This post, for example, can use them to highlight each point of discussion.  In other posts, I believe that it would just annoy readers to put in what would amount to be arbitrary subheadings!  In a book, paragraphs work very nicely.  I’ve happily never read a book which has every paragraph preceded by a subheading (other than some manuals).  They effectively create mini-chapters, and I see no value in changing the writing practices of centuries of authors to accommodate a perception of the modern reader in which they can’t cope with anything more than snippets.  Perhaps I’m wrong and the impact of television’s penchant for “sound bites” has damaged everybody’s minds, making it impossible for the vast majority to cope with anything of length.  I find it interesting, however, that, despite the “sound bite culture”, documentary makers are still finding plenty of audiences.  Surely the television documentary is “longform”?

Images, give them images!

Yes, many of those advising on good blogging want blogs to contain images, and even videos, to “jazz up” the look and to draw the eye, and hence the mind, into the blog’s content.  Now, I’ve used images, but I’ve again tended to restrict them to where I think they are appropriate or genuinely attractive or fun.  You can see that this post has none.  Personally, I think there are times when pictures are a distraction.  Worse, some blogs use them in a way that can only be described as “dishonest”, as the images they lead with are frequently irrelevant to the posts.  There are times when I see some stunning images on blogs, only to discover that they may prettify but they don’t support or inform.  Just where is the value in that?  Would this post have any greater validity if I had led with a stunningly beautiful photograph of a landscape?  I seriously doubt it!

Honest values

This is my own view of what a blog should be about!  A blog post should present honest views above all else.  It doesn’t matter whether the writer is correct or not, as long as they truly believe what they’re saying.  Obviously, I don’t intend this to mean that blogs should be used to present attitudes of hat, such as racism or sexism.  Controversy for its own sake, used knowingly and often despite the real views of the writer, has no great value.  “Playing Devil’s advocate” on some issue is fine, if it’s part of a full exploration of a subject, balanced by the opposing view.  Using it to inflame readers and thereby push up the number of views and comments is dishonest.  I believe that a blog writer gains a better, more substantial, reputation by demonstrating fairness and honesty.  Those who employ controversy often devolve into spouting hatred and insults at all and sundry, losing any message they might once have had.

I can’t know whether I’m getting it right!  All I can do is to be true to myself.  I take comfort in the knowledge that I believe what I’m saying.  For example, if I write a book review, then it’s an honest review, not just an exercise in flattery, or the reverse.

~ Steve

“The Forever Saga: Flash” by Sean C Sousa – A Review

Flash Cover Foxtrot - eBook cover The Forever Saga: Flash, by Sean C Sousa, has an opening chapter that leaves you wanting more.  The first scene is a classic science fiction location, filled with remarkable constructions and characters, that is far beyond our understanding.  Beyond this, however, you discover some clever juxtapositions: age against youth, the extraordinary against the mundane.  The story’s pace ranges from the amble of the aged, through the quickness of youth, to the soaring of the overarching peril.  There are also subtle links between each, such as the troubled love lives of Brian and Jason Renney.  Some readers may find the shifts in pace and content difficult, but it really is worth the small effort required to read the story without skipping over parts.  You are, after all, being presented with genuine characters, with lives beyond the story itself.  I found the strong characters most impressive, as was how quickly they become “real”.  In fact, the characters, and their relationships, are refreshingly realistic.

From the very beginning, the science fiction aspects of the novel are very well presented, creating a believable science.  It’s good, hard core stuff, which I believe actually enhances the contrast between it and the “mundane” nature of the other, more “real life” portions.  I will admit that the moment the mundane collides with the fantastic might have benefited from a greater sense of unreality and confusion on the part of the ‘normal’ characters, with a healthy dose of disbelief and denial.  There are one or two places where characters possess knowledge which seems rather inexplicable at this same point in the story, which is a shame when continuity has been so well maintained up until then.  The hardest part to swallow is in the flashbacks to Vietnam experienced by Brian Renney, who is presented almost as some kind of super soldier, capable of feats of daring and physical prowess far beyond what I would regard as credible.  Those moments could do with toning down somewhat.  The other action sequences are well written, making you want more.  The pace of the novel picks up so gently that you barely notice that it’s become far more urgent, demanding that you continue to read as quickly as possible.  The growing sense of an impending collision between good and evil is inescapable.  I have no desire to spoil things for readers and, as a consequence, I’ve really struggled to know how to say this: there is a part of the novel that I find immensely moving.  It is very well written indeed.  I will say no more on it.

If I have a gripe, it’s one that’s all too common these days.  Whether it’s a fault in proofreading or in production, I can’t know, but there are many problems with typographical errors, spelling mistakes and missing or misplaced words.  This isn’t a criticism aimed at Mr Sousa!  In fact, as already intimated, it’s not even aimed at this novel.  These problems appear in every book I’ve read in recent times.  I tend to read more than one book at a time, which now usually means a traditional book and an ebook.  There’s very little difference in the number of errors in either.  It is a pet peeve of mine,I freely admit.  It is a shame that authors are, effectively, being embarrassed by such problems.  The problem that tends to plague ebooks, specifically, is one of formatting – which often seems “broken”, but this might be a result of formatting for one type of ebook but publishing in multiple forms, by just converting the original ebook format rather than publishing from the original document file(s).

Now, to close.  If anything I’ve said above is putting you off reading this book, then please reconsider!  Any review is subjective.  Things I may love, you may hate, and vice versa.  This is definitely a novel that deserves more exposure.  Apart from the charming nod to the Flash Gordon comics, and the fact that this is an adventure worthy of the early days of heroic science fiction, it’s also bang up to date too.  That’s quite an achievement.  I would recommend The Forever Saga: Flash to all science fiction fans, and especially those with fond memories of the early ‘pulp fiction’ (no, not the movie!) days of the genre.

Five stars all the way.

~ Steve


Sean C SousaAuthor Bio for Sean C Sousa

Sean C. Sousa never planned on writing a novel – that is, until the idea for The Forever Saga came along.  He first conceived it as a video game design concept, then a screenplay, and finally a written work of fiction.  His debut novel, The Forever Saga: Flash, marks the end of one six-year journey toward publication, and also the beginning of another: to bring his stories to a worldwide audience.

His dream is to see fiction inspire positive social change in the world, calling attention to issues of social justice and mobilizing his readership to meet the needs of those afflicted.

Mr. Sousa resides in Southern California with his wife, Shelley, and when he is not writing further adventures about the Renney family, he is usually up to socially acceptable mischief with his friends and family.

The Forever Saga: Flash may be purchased from Amazon.com.

Penning Perils

I’m slowly coming to recognise certain facts about making efforts to become a published author.  There are many perils out there, lurking everywhere.  What’s worse is that, apart from  the very fact that they exist, many come disguised as worthwhile!  There’s no shortage of those who will offer you the world, or more, if you will just pay them this very small amount, just so they can do what they do, and they promise to do all those jobs you hate doing, so that you will be free to concentrate on your writing.  Sadly, there are many of these that won’t get even close to your expectations, and a surprising number have the audacity to actually ask more than legitimate services.  You will likely encounter their advertising in various places that are less than selective in what they are willing to allow on their sites.  There’ll be even more of them scattered across the social networks – both the general networks and those aimed at the world of authors and readers.  The moment you put yourself out there, posting on a social network or maybe starting a blog, you will use certain trigger words.  You can’t help do anything else!  Unfortunately, the bad guys, or ’black hats’ in internet parlance, have software which constantly scans for the use of those words.  When they find them, they ooze out of the virtual equivalent of woodwork and begin to make your life difficult.  Emails start coming in, especially if you haven’t been cautious enough to never post yours publicly.  Adverts pop up in places they shouldn’t.  Spam assails you from all directions!  Life can quickly become a living hell if you make a wrong move now.  You’ll never be free of them, but if you actually respond to any of them, the situation will spiral out of control.

What’s truly sad is that some of the black hats can sound so genuine, so honest.  The best (in the sense of success) will have you utterly convinced of their honesty, their heartfelt desire to help you, to lift all the burdens from you.  It’s a pity that they aren’t all like the worst (least successful), who are so transparent, so obviously false, that nobody could possibly be drawn in by them.  These latter usually use such atrocious English, and utterly incomprehensible spam, that they are actually laughable, if you set aside what they’re trying to do.  The golden rule is: never click a link if you don’t know where it comes from!  If you do, you may unleash an endless inundation of more spam, or you may find yourself the victim of identity theft!  If you have never heard of a site, don‘t click that link!  I don’t care if it is an ad on Facebook!  Trot on over to Google and do a search on it, check the “whois” entry, if there is one.  And don’t just take the first page of the Google search results – go deeper.

Much of this may sound pretty general, and you’re right – it is.  The important thing to remember is that a lot of the Spam and fakery will actually be targeted!  It will often talk about things that have become very important to you.  Just because it’s dressed up to look like something you should pursue doesn’t make it legitimate.

Having spoken about the activities of the black hats, I should put in a word about the honest folk who may land you in trouble.  They may start an online business meant to provide a very genuine service.  Unfortunately, you only have to look at the statistics for failed businesses!  A genuine intent to do what you set out to do doesn’t mean that you will be successful.  That applies to everybody.  Be cautious.  Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!  Don’t make commitments that may bind you to a failed business, or brand you as unreliable yourself because you supported somebody else who then failed.  It’s sad, but you really can’t afford to take risks.

Ultimately, you have taken on the job of author.  You need to spend your time in writing – not defending yourself from the worst that the internet has to offer.  Be true to yourself.

~ Steve

Dissecting Getting Published

When I first started on this journey, I was confident of only one thing: I would have a lot to learn.  Needless to say, I wasn’t wrong.  In fact, I was being too conservative in my estimation!  Self-publishing is a wonderful, scary thing.  I had, many years ago, discovered that the world of publishing had three routes to getting into print: finding a literary agent willing to take you on (along with your money) so that they might make a deal with a large publishing house, finding a small publishing house specialising in your favoured genre, or being suckered into “vanity publishing” (whereby your masterwork is printed and bound just as you’d wish, regardless of quality, errors or other blunders, and having the delightful task of hawking your published book to every bookshop you could get to, unless you wanted stacks of boxes of your book, unread by anybody).  The one beauty of this was the simplicity of it.  Today, things are nowhere near as simple.

Very recently, I had my first ever sale of  priced ebook!  It will sound silly but I was ecstatic and would have capered with joy if able.  The ebook is self-published through Smashwords.  They provide an excellent service, and I have no complaints. In fact, I consider myself immensely lucky to have found them first, before discovering the numerous alternatives.  In a very short space of time, I have learnt that the service sites differ widely (and wildly, at times).  They may shout about a “free service”, and provide just that, but the quality of that service is another matter.  On just one issue, I have found that Smashwords is unusual.  You can publish your ebook and offer it for free, in multiple formats that will serve the vast majority of eReaders.  Some others will allow you just one format, or perhaps more than one as long as the prospective reader is willing to pay membership fees.  Many will allow you to self-publish for free, but insist on you charging a minimum price for your ebook.  There are several other factors, too.

Apart from these “free service” sites, there are publishers clamouring for submissions, allegedly. Some of these are seemingly legitimate, though I can’t vouch for any.  They offer all that you could want, from editing, through proofreading to professional cover design.  Of course, it all comes at a price, which varies considerably between publishers.  Most of these are actually offering real, printed books.  Some, if not most, of these publishers don’t print a quantity, however.  They print on demand, when an order is received.  It’s a very sensible concept, in many ways.  The potential pitfalls, however, are that your book won’t appear on any book shop’s shelves, unless it’s second-hand, and just what happens if the company folds?  You could find yourself with a pile of orders (let’s be optimistic) and no way to fill them!  How so?  Well, you’ll find that, as is commonplace with all self-publishing, you take on an enormous burden – marketing!  You will lose a significant amount of writing time to publicise your book, creating promotions, giveaways, and various other devices to try to win an audience.  Of course, you could pay another company to do all that for you, or the publisher (really more of a printer than a publisher) may offer the service for a hike in their fees.

There is, of course, still the option of finding, satisfying, and paying a literary agent to do it all for you – at least as far as getting published is concerned.  And there are still traditional publishing houses, many of whom disguise themselves under the names of various less well known names.  You will, naturally, still find the same old obstacles to dealing direct with these big publishers.

Having a publishing option sorted, you may want to recheck the terms and conditions, and any royalties arrangement.  There are services out there where you will be expected to give them exclusive rights, which really isn’t a good idea.  The amount of royalties offered varies widely, too.  Be wary on this one!  A service that has only just started up and hasn’t yet gotten a proven record of success could offer a high royalty rate, but then you may not sell anything through them. You also have to beware of things like transaction fees ns other ways to minimise what you actually receive!  So, don’t sign over any rights and make sure that royalties are fair and that fees are minimal or non-existent.

Ah, the joys of self-publishing…

~ Steve

Blogging – Behind The Words A Person Sits

500 Likes

Imagineer-ing got to 500 likes earlier this week!  Really happy about that, and looking forward, now, to getting it up to 1,000…

I’d like to thank everybody who took the time to click the Like button, especially those who actually read what they clicked it on!  I regard these milestones as very important indicators of progress.  Like most bloggers, I would guess, when you start a new blog, you always wait nervously to see whether you will gain an audience.  To gain a good sized audience is an even greater achievement.  Every time you hit a milestone, you get the courage to continue.  You no longer feel that you’re talking to yourself!

To Blog Or Not To Blog…

When you first venture into the world of the internet, you learn that certain things seem to hold great sway.  Facebook, Twitter and blogs are forever being quoted as sources, interconnected and feeding off each other like cannibalistic bacteria.  You join Facebook and soon discover that, in the jumble of pictures and outbursts, many folk are repeating their Twitter tweets, or those of others.  Then there are those other posts, directing you to other web sites.  Some of these just go to ordinary sites, but many more go to blogs.  A quick search reveals that “blog” is the shortened form of Weblog, and that a Web log is a kind of journal site, ranging from simple diary types to very professional journalism.  Many are also out there to sell.  They may be selling anything, from some very dubious products to a the idea of buying services or products from a company.

After you’ve been around a while, and discovered that your hobbies interest others, you begin to consider the idea of a blog.  That’s when the first headache hits!  There are numerous blog platforms to choose from, and being a novice, you have no idea what to choose.  Sensibly, you do a quick survey of the blogs popping up on your Facebook and Twitter feeds.  In all likelihood, two platforms will stand tall: BlogSpot/Blogger and WordPress.  The first will probably outweigh all the others, so you toddle off and join there.  If you’re like me, though, you’ll soon discover the limitations and restriction.  No matter how I tried, I couldn’t get a really nice looking blog that suited my wishes.  I abandoned blogging because of that experience.  Years later, I had WordPress recommended to me.  Oh boy!  What a difference!

WordPress comes in two flavours: a .com and a .org.  The first means you don’t need a web site or domain of your own, but there are rules that must be obeyed and the space is restricted (not that I’ve gotten anywhere near closing on that maximum space allowance), plus certain things are not possible – such as most affiliate selling and full customisation.  The second is the framework platform which you can upload to your own site, meaning you’re only limited by whatever your hosts stipulates.  Personally, I believe that WordPress, in either form, is the best blog platform available.

Whatever platform you do choose, you have made the decision to write a blog!

The First Blog

You’ve got your platform chosen, and you’ve made it look as good as you can, using the themes that are available.  You have replaced any sample pages with your own writings.  Now, the big moment comes!  You have to write your first blog post.  Let’s say that you elect to write about the thing you love, your hobby.  Empowered by your feelings for the subject, you write something you’re really proud of, maybe even including some pictures.  You’ve finally entered the ranks of the bloggers.  You sit back and wait for the eager hordes to flock to your post and hit that Like button… and nothing happens.  Not one visitor!  You’ve just discovered why bloggers use Facebook and Twitter to advertise their blogs.  Without such advertising, no blog would get off the ground.  Those who fail to grasp that fact seldom remain bloggers for long.  And even with the advertising, it takes time to build a following.  You have to be prepared to be patient, to watch visitor numbers go from a flow to a trickle and back again, until you post something that hits a chord with people and you suddenly have a real influx.  With some effort, you may even keep these new visitors, and perhaps even see their numbers increase as they start spreading the word about your excellent blogging.  And that’s one of the big secrets of blogging – getting others to talk about your posts.

To Blog Readers

I appeal to blog readers, especially commenters: please remember that a real person sits behind every blog!  They are human, fallible and unique, capable of great thoughts and subject to human emotion.  They have views that are their own and may express them, and you may not agree with them.  That doesn’t mean that you should use the anonymity of the internet to attack them or their views!  If you have differing views, express them, but in a quiet, reasoned, unabusive way.  And even if you wish to express agreement or appreciation, keep your tone at a sensible conversational level.  Remember that you are reading the words of a courageous person, who has dared to put themselves out there and attempt to share something that they feel is worthwhile, and perhaps even helpful.  That doesn’t make them any less sensitive than you.  If you can think of nothing but inflammatory remarks, it is best to leave saying nothing.

A blog is often a very personal thing.  It may, deliberately or inadvertently, expose the blogger at a deeply personal level.  Blogs can be a rich resource not only for those sharing an interest, but also for students of human nature.  I know nobody who doesn’t say something about themselves whenever they write anything.  Blogs are wonderful places for amateur, and professional or prospective, psychologists.  And here I will reiterate.  Don’t abuse the blogger!  Remember, if a blogger’s posts are so revealing of the writer, then so can your comments be of you, the visitor.

~ Steve

A Look At Web Sites For Authors

These are just some observations I have on the various web sites that I’ve used for self-publishing and/or marketing since becoming a self-publishing author.  What I’ve learnt is that something might seem like a good idea, but that doesn’t mean they are.

Facebook

The “big daddy”, as it were.  These days, it’s almost impossible to do anything without having a Facebook presence.  It certainly has benefits, if it’s used properly. I can’t tell you that I’ve cracked it yet, myself, but there’s no doubting that, if nothing else, it’s a good way to drive traffic to your web site and/or blog.  From what I’ve seen, I think it has also helped push some folk to the right place to download an ebook.  Personally, I don’t have a page for every ebook – I just have an author page.  I believe that’s sufficient, at least until I get a blockbuster bestseller!  All of that said, Facebook is often frustrating, annoying and downright risky!  Facebook changes things often, and not always helpfully.  It’s very easy to become totally swamped with posts from others on your Newsfeed.  It’s also easy to become a Facebook junkie – spending far more time on it rather than on more important activities.  Then, too, Facebook is the target of hackers and other malicious folk, rendering your security virtually nonexistent!

I would suggest that you give the absolute bare minimum of information on your profile page.  The same applies to your author page and/or book page(s).  I would recommend that you try to avoid using the Add Friend button!  Try to limit yourself, as much as possible, to using any Follow option or just Like pages.  Keep the Add Friend option for family and trusted friends.  I have been rather bad at that and now have a totally insane number of “friends”.  I would suggest that if you wish to network with somebody who only has a personal profile, you suggest to them that they create a page, so that you can Like that instead of adding them as a “friend”.

Twitter

The other highly fashionable social network.  Twitter is something of an oddity.  You have a strict limit on how many characters you can have in a tweet, which can be immensely frustrating at times.  I find it much harder to establish how much Twitter helps to increase interest.  I can only assume that there is some benefit to using it.  Personally, I rarely actually write tweets directly – I let other things do that for me automatically, like WordPress (host of this blog).  Like Facebook, it takes very little effort to find yourself overwhelmed by the tweets of those you choose to Follow.  There’s no doubting that you will find thousands of folk who seem  to fit the profile of those you would like to network with.  And therein lies the problem!  There are thousands, or tens of thousands!  You will, eventually find yourself in the situation where, with your Twitter timeline open, tweets will appear too rapidly for you to keep up with them.

I have only one piece of advice on controlling how many Followers you Follow back, and that’s be selective.  You will receive notifications of people or organisations who have Followed you.  Some of these will be very undesirable folk indeed and should be avoided at all costs, while others will simply not fit into the type of activity that you want, or need, to embrace for your network.  Do not feel embarrassed at refusing to Follow anybody!  It isn’t rude to refuse, it’s simply good sense.

Goodreads

For both readers and authors, Goodreads is probably the best there is, to a point.  It’s easy to add both books by yourself and by others, building up a library listing.  Gaining friends takes much longer than on Facebook or Twitter, and I have been disappointed in one particular respect.  Members are supposed to write reviews of what they read, and rate them.  In reality, there’s far less activity on that than there should be, and getting your own books reviewed is extremely difficult.  And gaining fans is even harder!  You can link your Goodreads account to Facebook, so that some of your activity appears there as status messages.  If you have an author page on Facebook, then there’s an app that allows you to link to your Goodreads profile page, or Group.  Alternatively, if you have Facebook pages for specific books, then you can use the same app to link to your books (individually) on Goodreads.

As far as I know, so far I’ve had very little benefit from using Goodreads beyond its library facility.  It’s a pity as the potential is there for much more.  Admittedly, there are many very active Groups on Goodreads, but, as with Facebook and Twitter, it can soon become too difficult to keep up with them.

Smashwords

This is, without a doubt, the most important, and most useful, site of all those I have used!  It provides an excellent way to publish your own ebooks, in several formats, and lots of advice on doing so.  It is also a very good source for ebooks by many other Indie authors.  Smashwords will submit your ebook(s) to most of the major online retailers, as well as numerous web sites that are subsidiaries of their own, usually with specific genres as their focus.  The system is easy to use, which is paramount as far as I’m concerned.  To date, I have had no reason to be unhappy with Smashwords.  If i have a criticism, it’s that perhaps more effort could be made to encourage members to submit reviews of the ebooks they download and read.  But, it’s principally a site to self-publish your ebooks.  It doesn’t stress its networking potential.

WordPress

This is on a par with Smashwords but for entirely different reasons.  First of all, I should point out that there are two forms of WordPress: the WordPress.com hosted version, like this blog, which has a few limitations, most particularly in regard of just what you’re allowed to include, and the self-hosted WordPress.org version,where you have total control over what you include.  If you want to maximise your chances of making money, using affiliate links, then you need the second option.  Both versions allow you the flexibility to not just create a blog, but to create a complete, professional looking, web site!  Both also allow you to use a wide variety of free or paid themes, but you have to pay on WordPress.com if you wish to customise the CSS underlying your chosen theme, while that’s free if you’ve opted for self-hosted.  Best of all, perhaps, is that you can get both for free!  The biggest difference is that WordPress.org has to be downloaded and then installed to your own web host, and you will need to add several plug-ins to bring it up to the same level as WordPress.com’s package.  It’s a painless but lengthy process.

If you can afford it, I would recommend buying your own domain name and a good hosting package and then installing WordPress.org.  You really won’t need anything else!  You will have the framework for a full web site, and you’ll know that you can change the look easily whenever you want to.  It really doesn’t get any better than that!

Others

Gaining ground in the realm of social networks are Google+ and Pinterest, both of which I use to some extent.  The thing that I notice most with these sites is that, before very long, you start simply duplicating everything, with the same people on every network.  I’m not convinced that anybody gains anything from that kind of setup.  I’ve also tried Free-eBooks.net, but that seems to have had peculiar results, with huge numbers of my ebooks downloaded/viewed but little or no feedback, and nothing more than Like/Dislike being selected by the respondents.  LinkedIn is very good for networking, but it’s primarily aimed at those who are looking for employment of some kind.

I have tried numerous other web sites but, in all honesty, I can’t say that I’ve received any benefits from any of them.  Several have seen my ebooks downloaded from them, but without a single instance of feedback from any of them!  I can’t honestly recommend any of them.

I’m still trying new web sites.  If I find any that are worth you taking a look at, I’ll let you know in future posts.

~ Steve

Robin Leigh Morgan In Her Own Words: An Author Interview

I’m very happy to present an interview with Robin Leigh Morgan!

~ Steve

RLM image
When did you first discover the desire to write was so strong in you?

For 11 years, from 1995 – 2006, I wrote almost weekly commentary type items for a community newspaper, which I loved doing; and along the way I started to slowly write a contemporary romance manuscript. However I never sensed it would be good enough to publish.  One day someone suggested I write something for a younger audience, which I did and wound up with my debut YA Paranormal/Time Travel/First Kiss romance novel in less than a year.

Do you usually write in the same genre you tend to prefer to read?

I seldom get a chance to read, I worked for 33 years with the same employer and had to commute about an hour each way. Now, being retired I’m busy with my writing and marketing/promoting my debut novel. When I have the time I like to read poignant memoirs, such as, And The Whippoorwill Sang by Micki Peluso. Otherwise, to answer your question I would say No to your question. I say this because I’d like to be as original as I can get, and I don’t really want to be influenced by any other writer for fear I might subconsciously write the same thing which had been written by that author.

When reading, do you prefer traditional printed books or ebooks?

I’m old-fashioned when it comes to reading books. I like the feel of a book in my hands rather than some cold electronic device that I must be constantly be concerned about it being charged, or to worry about the sun washing out the image on the screen.

Do past or current events in your life have an influence on your writing?

Generally speaking I would say No, but subconsciously they might.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I Kissed a Ghost0001 Selecting a title for a book had been a very challenging experience for me; but after racking my brain over it, I decided to merely summarize the premise for the entire story in as few words as possible until I had something which could be used as the title for my book. Hence, since the story is about a girl [Mary] and her kissing the ghost [George] she had living in her house; the story had to be called, I Kissed a Ghost.

Have you got a favourite author, who stands well ahead of all others?

I would have to say I have no favourite author. When I do read, I basically read for the moment. I do admire J K Rowling, and what she’s accomplished with her series of Harry Potter books. Oh, how wonderful it would be if each of us authors could be only 1% as successful.

Have you got both printed and digital books published?

Right now my debut novel is only available in a printed format.

Do you try to write to satisfy what is fashionable, or do you write pieces that you would want to read?

I write what I feel comfortable and satisfied in writing. I wouldn’t feel comfortable writing to merely write what is fashionable because I don’t want to be forced into a position where I’m not being true to myself as an author.

How do you fit writing into your life? Do you have set times for writing?

Being retired has finally allowed me to really start a second career as an author. In addition to having published my first novel, I market and promote it. I now have time to relax, socialize in the nearby community centre at lunch, go shopping, etc. I’ve set my own flexible schedule which includes time for writing my second novel, a yet untitled contemporary romance with a paranormal element running through the storyline. I don’t like having a rigid schedule now, I had enough of one for the 33 plus years I worked nonstop; a schedule which did not really allow me time to pursue my writing career.

Do you keep every jotting of ideas, just in case they might be developed at some later date?  Do you write freeform or do you faithfully plan every piece meticulously before you start on a piece?

If you’re asking me whether I’m a “plotter” or a “panzer”, I’d probably say a little of both. I make a skeleton of an outline, writing down the basic plot points I’d like to hit as the story unfolds; and as a sculptor starting with a wire base of what they’d like to have, I add material, then take some away, I keep on repeating this process until I have finished what I had in mind. I write, write, write and then go back and delete all the unnecessary fluff which doesn’t move the story along and keep the reader interested in what they’re reading and wanting to read more, by creating hooks in the story in, and towards the end of, as many chapters as possible.

When writing, most authors now use a computer of some description. Which do you find more satisfying: writing using any means available, using a computer, using a typewriter or using a pen/pencil?

I find using a computer most satisfying as I can see each word falling into its assigned place in my story. And if something develops as I write, I can instantaneously make a change.  However, I do keep a pen and paper on the night table next to my bed, just in case I wake up in the middle of the night and an idea hits me, which I don’t want to forget.

What is your greatest ambition in writing?

Being able to make the NY Times best sellers listing once in my life.

Finally, where can people find you and your book online?

My book is available on Amazon.com at: http://www.amazon.com/Kissed-Ghost-Robin-Leigh-Morgan/dp/1480030031   My book is also available on Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.es, Amazon.fr and Amazon.it

If anyone would like to read some unedited snippets from the book, just check out the Ghostly Whispers entries on any of my blog sites:
http://www.mypennameonly.blogspot.com or
http://www.mypennameonly.wordpress.com or
http://www.mypennameonly.webs.com [this is also my website]
http://www.mypennameonly.tumblr.com

I can also be found on:
Twitter = http://www.twitter.com/mypennameonly
Facebook = http://www.facebook.com/mypennameonly
Goodreads = http://www.goodreads.com/RobinLeighMorgan

It has been a pleasure sharing my answers in everyone. I hope you have learned something about me, my writing and my book.

Robin Leigh Morgan

A View on Reviews

This post has to be directed correctly, so I’ve split it by subtitles.  There may be some duplication, in thought principle at least, between the two parts, and I hope you’ll permit me those, in this instance.

Readers

So you’ve read that book.  I acknowledge that the sense of accomplishment in dong so varies from reader to reader.  Some may be speed readers, consuming books at a rate that I could never comprehend.  Some may be like me, digesting each sentence like a meal for the mind, making slow, gentle progress.  Many more will fall between these two extremes.  Nor would I wish to ignore those readers who must battle some impediment to their reading.  To these last, the greatest respect must be given!

Now, with the book closed for the final time (for now, at least), the question is: what do you do next?  DO you set it aside and take up some new book?  It’s a simple thing to do.  You’ve drawn your pleasure from that collection of words and, like an empty bag of sweets, the remains can be discarded.  But wait.  Ask yourself just one question: did you enjoy it?  Having considered your answer, is it overly demanding of the author to ask you to let them know?  All that’s really required is a few words about what pleasure you derived from the book, or not!  If you expand upon the simplest answer, explaining how you reached your reaction, then that’s even better.  You really don’t have to go into things too deeply.  A review can be anything you like, though something a little more expansive than “I liked this book” or “I hate this book” takes your response out of “yes/no” and into a more genuine review.

I admit that there are numerous guidelines floating about the internet, exhorting reviewers to follow a particular format in their reviews.  Of course, the formats being put forward vary, which demonstrates the fact that flexibility exists.  Personally, I say: write what you feel like writing!  I doubt that an author would be offended by a 200 word review and respond by demanding one of 2000 words.  They really just want to know whether you enjoyed their work or not, and maybe a hint as to why.  Anything beyond that starts to drift out of “review” and into “critique”.  Of course you can opt for writing a critique, but nobody’s expecting you to.

Finally, please copy your review to whatever locations the author lists (if they don’t offer a list of locations, then all you can do is to place your review on the site you bought the book from, your blog, or maybe Facebook if you bought it from a bricks-and-mortar shop).

Authors

Your book is out there, available to a wide audience.  It may be available only from a bricks-and-mortar shop, or perhaps it’s also available online.  Maybe there’s an ebook version.  Anything is possible.  The important thing is that it is out there.  Presumably, you would like some feedback from your readers.  The question is: what do you do to obtain that feedback?

I know I’m just as guilty as any other author.  We want to hear the thoughts of our readers, or even just a simple expansion on “Like/Hate”.  But what do we do about it?  Do we include anything that guides the reader to places where reviews can be posted?  It’s quite simple.  All you need is a principle site that carries the necessary information.  That site should have links allowing the reader to post their review to as many locations as you think helpful, alongside a suggestion that all they need to do is to write a brief review, once, and copy and paste it to each location, not forgetting to also register a rating if that facility also exists.

This is theoretically where ebooks have an advantage.  You can include a clickable link that smoothes the process.  And I’m not suggesting including that list of locations!  You just include the principle link.  Physical books have a slightly harder job, in that the reader has to be persuaded to enter the principle site’s URL.  It is obviously much easier if you can keep that URL as short, and simple, as possible.

Assuming that you can persuade even some readers to submit some kind of review, you need to think about what you expect or hope to get as feedback, and how you treat such feedback.  You will get some negative feedback, even if you’ve written the greatest masterpiece of all time!  You just have to accept the fact that you can’t please everybody.  Do not get involved in a dispute with such respondents!  And don’t take it to heart.  If you can honestly assess their comments and find some merit in at least some of their remarks, then take them on board and let them help you become a better writer.  Equally, if you have enormous praise piled upon your work by a reviewer, be wary.  Don’t think that their effusiveness is indicative of you having achieved something truly extraordinary.  It takes more than a handful of such reactions for you to be even thinking that you may have achieved something significant to anybody but yourself and these few fans.

One thing I ask of you: please don’t issue demands that willing reviewers adhere to some arbitrary minimum standards!  A review of any kind is all you should be asking for.  Don’t supply a “format guideline”.  A review is, after all, as personal a work of writing as your book!  Respect the reviewer and their right to do things their way.  And remember: the majority of your readers who do provide reviews, do so voluntarily – they aren’t being paid.

~ Steve

The Intrepid Chris Allen: An Author Interview

I have great pleasure in presenting an interview with Chris Allen, author of the Intrepid series of thrillers.  I’m sure that you’ll find what he has to say, especially the insights into his remarkable past.

~ Steve

Chris Allen 2012

When did you first discover the desire to write was so strong in you?

I grew up in the sleepy town of Rossmoyne, Perth in the 70’s and I loved two things, equally: one was playing the drums in a jazz band, and the other was reading Ian Fleming‘s novels (and to a lesser extent, watching the Bond films). Reading an Ian Fleming book was a way to escape and see the world through the eyes of the sometimes-dark, ever-attractive James Bond. In fact, I joined the Australian Army aged 18 so I could get out and see the world and write action scenes convincingly, just like Mr Fleming had done himself ( of course, he served with the Royal Navy, but I did a secondment to the British Paras, so close enough).

Do you usually write in the same genre you tend to prefer to read?

Well, the authors I return to time and again for entertainment or support, inspiration, adventure or comfort – the equivalent of a hot cup of strong tea, or tumbler of whiskey – are the aforementioned Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You’ll find me reading their work at least once a week for their effortless prose as well as the journey I go on when I get into their stories.

I do read pretty widely on top of that. At present I’m into a lot of Australian writers that I’m getting to know personally, like Australia’s answer to Wilbur Smith, the ever-adventurous Tony Park; author of thriller Rotten Gods and all-round-good-guy Greg Barron; or author of noir classic Dark City Blue Luke Preston. I’m of the firm view that there’s room for all of us on the best-seller lists, that we all have something different to offer, and that there’s strength in solidarity.

When reading, do you prefer traditional printed books or ebooks?

Good question. For years, I collected books. As a paratrooper, often moving around the world on various deployments, it got complicated with so many books to keep in storage, and I have such a collection that moving house makes my wife Sarah come out in hives. Then a few years ago I was given (from Sarah, funnily enough) my first Kindle for Christmas. I was unsure at first, but it changed my life. The ability to store thousands of books on one tablet! So light! So easy to pack and travel with! A bookstore at my fingertips! I also had the handy experience of self-publishing my first thriller novel in 2010 and learning to convert the text file to eBook, so I have first-hand appreciation for both the work that goes into creating an eBook and the ease of distribution at a click, with no postage or double-handling required. For me, a story is a story, no matter the medium that transmits it: mouth, or book, eBook, audio listening device or screen. That said, I still love a full bookshelf in my home and that will never go out of fashion!

Have you been influenced and/or inspired by another writer, or writers?

Yes, Fleming and Conan Doyle as well as Alistair Maclean, Jack Higgins, Frederick Forsyth – the classics.

Do past or current events in your life have an influence on your writing?

DEFENDER_mr Sure. There’s a chapter in Defender that is an amalgamation of a couple of almost-failed parachute jumps I experienced as a Paratrooper that appears about a third of the way in. There’s also a highly entertaining flight briefing I received en route to East Timor from a full-of-personality UN pilot that I replicate almost word-for-word in Defender. It’s attributed at the end of the book, too!

Have you got a favourite author, who stands well ahead of all others?

It’s gotta be Fleming. But that’s probably pretty clear already.

Have you got both printed and digital books published?

We do eBooks and print-on-demand through Momentum Books, the digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan. However, it’s not all about eBooks yet, though there is a lot of hype and uptake in that area, so we are working on securing traditional print deals in Australia and New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany and Canada. That’s for starters. It’s all about making your work as available as possible so you can reach as many readers as possible.

Do you try to write to satisfy what is fashionable, or do you write pieces that you would want to read?

I like to think of my stories as old-school action thrillers with a modern twist. I write what I want to read, what I grew up reading, what I’ve done and experienced, what is ensconced in the depths of my mind from my life and literary experiences thus far. One of the fulcrum points of my professional career was around 9/11 – I was in-demand, unfortunately, for my critical infrastructure protection expertise and counter-terrorism knowledge. So creating Intrepid, the ultra-secret sub-directorate of Interpol, was a culmination of a lot of that insider knowledge and understanding of the inner workings of these types of soldier, policeman and spy agencies that do – hypothetically – exist.

How do you fit writing into your life?  Do you have set times for writing?

HUNTER_mr We have two small boys aged three years and six months respectively, and as you can imagine, life can get pretty unstructured and messy with them around – but all in a good way. I try and do some writing each day, but you need to give it a jolt by setting a deadline for your work. I wrote the first book, Defender, over a period of ten years which was nice but unsustainable if you want to make a living from your work. The second book, Hunter, I wrote in six months door to door. Avenger – the third in the series – will need to be out before the end of the year. So, I can see in my crystal ball some very early mornings, late nights, and a whole lot of pieces of paper with ever increasing word counts jotted down. About 2,500 words a day was what I had to crank out whilst on deadline last year!

Do you keep every jotting of ideas, just in case they might be developed at some later date?

I have a couple of great leather-bound notebooks that I keep in my briefcase, by my desk, by my bed, to help capture the inspirations that pass through my head. I get my main ideas when I’m off on a drive – down to the nation’s capital Canberra, which is three hours from Sydney – or up the Central Coast for my Author Talks. I guess it’s a good thing Australia is a really big place.

Chris Allen

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For more information visit www.intrepidallen.com, or say g’day to Chris at www.facebook.com/intrepidallen.
To read a sample of Defender:
intrepidallen.com/getdefender
To read a sample of Hunter: intrepidallen.com/gethunter