Friday Links: Assorted Inspiration for Readers and Writers

Happy Friday! I’m not certain where this week has gone. Last week was short, so I expected this week to drag, and yet it flew by and I still have a handful of things to tackle from my to-do list before I can call it the weekend. So no fancy themes or writing philosophies this week, just a fun set of links that I hope you find entertaining and inspiring to kick off the weekend. Enjoy, and happy writing!

170 YA Books Hitting Shelves This Summer – A huge list of upcoming new releases, with something for everyone.

10 Great Spy Thrillers that Could Be New York Times’ Headlines – For anyone feeling like the recent U.S./Russia news is reminiscent of the Cold War.

How to Be a Writer on Social Media: Advice from Roxane Gay, Alexander Chee, Celeste Ng, and Adam M. Grant – Tips on how to negotiate the social media mine field and get the most from various platforms.

Why Read a Utopian Novel in 2017? – Because there’s a lot to be said for imagining the world solving some of its more pressing problems, even if others crop up.

$20,000 for a 100-Word Story: The Museum of Words Flash Fiction Contest – Details and rules for this lucrative prize.

11 Very Short Stories You Must Read Immediately – Good reading for busy schedules.

Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize laureate imprisoned in China, dies at 61 – An obituary for the noted writer and dissident.

Friday Links: Combatting Cabin Fever

Happy Friday, everyone! It’s been an insanely busy week here, so I apologize for being a bit quiet on the inter-webs. Sometimes you just have to put your head down and plow forward. And of course, with spring in full bloom here in the northern hemisphere, I’m aware that I, like everyone else, am struggling with a certain level of cabin fever. The birds are even now chirping outside my office window and it’s very tempting to just go play outside.

When I’m feeling this sort of pull, I resist it by reminding myself that the nice weather will still be there come the weekend… or whenever things quiet down to normal levels. Or I give myself lines in the sand; do everything on this list and then you can wander down the block to Starbucks for an hour of fresh air and caffeine injections. But it also helps to be engrossed in what I’m working on. The lure of a lovely day feels much less tempting if I’m reading a wonderful manuscript or helping make a project better. It’s all relative.

With this in mind, I’ve got a mishmash of links for you today that I hope help to combat your own cabin fever and allow you to put in a bit of reading and writing time. Plenty of things to think about and get you into gear. Enjoy!

Around the world in 18 science fiction and fantasy novels – A nice roundup for some serious armchair travel.

Interrogating Sentimentality with Leslie Jamison – On the line between writing that’s emotional and writing that’s overly sentimental or saccharine.

Download 67,000 Historic Maps – An open collection of high resolution maps available from Stanford University’s David Rumsey Map Collection. Great for research.

On the Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books – Most of us know this problem. An interesting look at an author’s experience with trying to apply the Marie Kondo tidying method to her bookshelves, proving that not all systems work for all people — or at least not precisely as intended.

Whit Stillman Returns: “Sometimes it’s good to blow through all your deadlines.” – The director of Metropolitan tackles Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship.

Authors, Get Thee to Social Media: Explaining the Rise and Rise of YA Books – Intriguing article with some great points about social media (though this is obviously not the entire driving force behind the success of YA).

Knausgaard in Chicago: “I Don’t Want to Write about Myself Anymore.” – The author known for his mammoth multi-volume work of autobiographical fiction talks about literary ambition and success with Sheila Heti.

 

Writing in Public: Crafting a Professional Image

(c) Can Stock Photo/ Kesu
(c) Can Stock Photo/ Kesu

There’s a saying: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Well, writers often work in comfy sweats or their pajamas, but the underlying concept still holds true. Writing is a business like any other, and even if you can do the job in solitude, you will eventually need to create a network of colleagues and readers in order to advance your career. You want to consider your public image long before people know who you are, because the things you say and do now — whether in the real world or online — set the scene for your future.

Presenting a professional image starts before you sign onto social media. It starts with determining the image you wish to portray in all facets of your writing career, and that’s something you should think about before you have a book deal. Your professional image affects how you interact with your critique partners — even if they’re your friends, the way you portray yourself in a query letter or at a writer’s conference, and how you handle both your successes and your failures.

Some aspects of being professional might seem obvious. We’ve all seen the writer on Twitter who phrases something poorly or offers up an unpopular opinion and finds themselves in a fast-escalating situation because they refuse to apologize or back out gracefully. There might be name-calling and other rude behavior that’s easily pegged as unprofessional. But what about the less obvious aspects of the job? Here are a few things to consider when you’re fashioning your own professional demeanor.

Treat writing as a job, not a hobby. If you reach the stage where you’re sending out queries, you need to present yourself in a professional, business-like manner.

  • Have your own email address using your own name. There’s no reason to use your joint family email account with your spouse’s name in the From: field. Save that for personal communications, and get yourself a gmail or yahoo address that’s just for you.
  • Do your research. Send submissions per an agency’s guidelines. Be sure they’re looking for the sort of material you’re querying. If you’re cutting and pasting your query letter, double check that you’ve updated both the email address and the name of the agent before you hit send. Don’t forget to proofread.
  • Be sure to follow up with an agent if you receive an offer of representation from someone else, and either thank them for their consideration or ask if they can decide on your material within a reasonable window (depending how soon you need to respond to your existing offer). Don’t leave an agent to read your work a few weeks down the line only to discover it’s no longer available for representation.
  • Keep in mind that a writing career can span decades and you are building a community. You may work with a person down the line who initially rejects you, so maintain good relationships even if you’re not teaming up right now.

Use common sense at public events. If you’re attending readings, conferences, lectures, or any other event where you’ll be representing yourself as a writer, keep your business hat on, even if you’re there with friends and being social.

  • If there’s alcohol, don’t over do it. You don’t want to lose control of your actions or what you’re saying.
  • Be prepared to network. Have business cards with you that include your website and email address, and keep a small notebook and a pen or pencil handy.
  • Be aware of any behavioral guidelines set down by the organizing body, and be sure you adhere to them.
  • Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself if harassed or put in a vulnerable position. Part of being professional is holding other professionals to the same standard.
(c) Can Stock Photo/ marish
(c) Can Stock Photo/ marish

Approach social media as if dealing with a group of gossipy teenagers. Understand that as nice and intelligent as everyone might seem, there will always be a few people out there looking to get the dirt, to start an argument simply to gain a higher profile, or just to be mean.

  • Keep the business details of your business to yourself. I don’t mean you shouldn’t announce when you’ve signed a book deal, but be careful not to discuss it before you know it’s finalized. If you’re unsure what’s safe to disclose, you’re better off not sharing it. But you can always talk to your agent or editor to find out when certain information — that you’ve sold the book, what your cover art looks like, your release date, etc. — can go public.
  • Never talk about the who/what/where while things are still in play. When your agent has your manuscript out on submission or is negotiating a deal, you should never discuss the process online: not which agents or which imprints or how you think it’s going. It’s tempting to get excited and want to provide updates, but editors can go online, too, and you don’t want to inadvertently weaken your agent’s ability to negotiate by giving away vital information. So keep it off your blog and Facebook and Twitter.

Remember that the internet rarely differentiates between your private and professional selves. Once you put yourself out there wearing your writer’s hat and people get to know you, it will become impossible to have personal moments online except in spaces you lock down. Take precautions to stay safe.

  • Consider maintaining a friends-and-family-only Facebook page separate from your author page, with security settings that keep anyone else from seeing your photos and vacation chatter. Only “friend” a small, select group of people. This will give you a place to engage with those you love without worrying about policing yourself.
  • Be careful about announcing easily identifiable information about yourself on the internet, such as landmarks near your house, your day job, or where your kids attend school. Most people are lovely and will respect your privacy, but stalkers do exist and you don’t need to be a best-selling author or hugely famous to have someone decide they want to follow you in real life.
  • If you will be traveling for personal reasons — as in, not a conference or book signing, etc. — wait until after the trip to share with your readers/fans. Don’t talk the trip up ahead of time, or announce where you’ll be.

And yes, the internet is forever. Or at least close enough. Things you say and regret, even if you delete them, have a habit of turning up when you least expect it.

  • Apologize if you say something that hurts other people. Whether you phrased something badly and it was misunderstood or you genuinely did not understand what you said was offensive, apologize, and state that you’ll do your best not to make the same mistake. Everyone’s human, and most people will understand if you’re genuinely contrite.
  • Realize that there will always be things that will cause an argument online, and pick your battles. Some issues will be more important to you and you will take a stand. Others will probably still be important but maybe less of a priority. Decide what is worth fighting for and what you’re willing to walk away from, in the interest of having time to write and live your life outside of social media.
  • Avoid knee-jerk reactions. If something gets you hot under to collar, take a breath or two before you respond. You may change your mind, or you may not, but decide how you’re going to respond (or if you’re going to respond) with a clear head.

 

Writers and the Social Media Dance

Social media can be both a blessing and a curse for writers, especially those who feel ill at ease when it comes to tackling new technology. But even as it morphs and changes, with new platforms rising to prominence and others becoming less popular, as an overall concept, it is undoubtedly here to stay. And as more and more of the burden of self-promotion falls on a writer’s shoulders, social media remains one of the most important means of getting the word out about new releases, book giveaways, readings, and other bookish events.

The downsides of social media? It can take a lot of time, especially when you’re new to a platform and still trying to get the hang of how to use it. Even once you’re experienced, each form of social media has its own way of sucking you in and eating up hours that might be better spent in writing. Social media can also backfire spectacularly if you say or post the wrong thing; word spreads at monumental speeds online, and never faster than when you’ve put your foot in your mouth. Plus the internet is forever. Deleting a poorly phrased Tweet or taking down a blog post is very much like closing the barn door after the horse has headed for the hills, and in this case the horse loves to gossip.

But the upsides are equally obvious, and not the sort of things a writer can ignore. Social media lets you connect with readers, reviewers, and industry professionals. It lets you talk about your project and build excitement, show off great cover art, announce signings, and squeal publicly when your book hits a major milestone. But it also lets you engage in a community that knows where you’re coming from and what you’re up against, which means you can garner a great deal of knowledge by paying attention to other writers and their experiences through social media.

If social media intimidates you, or if you think you’re fine with just one corner of the internet — your blog, a simple Facebook page — there are still ways to interact that won’t leave you scratching your head in confusion or feeling completely overwhelmed. Here are a few simple tips for tackling new forms of social media and building your online presence:

Start small. Don’t try to master them all at once (though if you have a common name/pen name, you might consider signing up at the same time in order to make sure you can get a consistent handle on all the major platforms). Choose one and play around with it for a couple of months and see how it goes. Keep in mind where your ideal audience likes to hang out. Many YA authors have blogs through Tumblr, for instance. Do a little digging to see where you might want to begin.

Pay attention to how others use the platform, both the good and the bad. Follow a few writers you like on Twitter and see what percent of their Tweets are promotional and what proportion are chatty/sharing more general knowledge/helping out other writers, etc. See how often writers update their blogs or Facebook pages. What do writers share on their Goodreads page? Observe what works, and also what seems to annoy.

Remember your manners. Just because the other person is somewhere behind a far-away computer, doesn’t give you the right to be mean. Try to respond to others in the same way you would in person; the internet doesn’t need any more trolls.

Don’t repeat yourself across platforms. Once you’re engaging in several forms of social media, try not to post the same thing on all of them. Determine what each platform is good for in terms of your own goals, and then stick with those. Twitter might be great for chatting and driving traffic to your blog when you have a post, whereas you might use Facebook for contests/giveaways, and Instagram to post cover art and photos of your work space, books you’ve bought, etc. Keep the medium in mind, and remember that you want your fans to follow you on more than one platform. If they constantly see the same thing everywhere you post, they’ll be less likely to engage with you in multiple places.

Take advantage of the ability to schedule things ahead. Depending on the software you use, you can schedule posts for your blog ahead of time. A number of Twitter platforms, such as TweetDeck and HootSuite, allow you to schedule Tweets days in advance. Tumblr lets you set up a queue for posts. This way you can remain present in social media, even if you’re traveling or under deadline and can’t take the time to post live.

Remember that the key word is social. Yes, you want to share your news and promote your work, but first and foremost, you want to be a member of the social media community, whatever platform you’re using. Engage with people. Ask and answer questions. Comment. Share your excitement about non-career things, like that great movie you just saw or the new recipe you tried. Be a person, not a sales drone.

No doubt social media will continue to grow and change, as will how writers use it. But the sooner you become accustomed to using social media platforms in general, the easier you will find it to adapt with the technology. Start now, start small, and take it one step at a time. And for those of you already adept at using social media, keep your eyes open for the next big thing.

Friday Links

Happy fall, northern hemisphere! Of course here in SoCal, as predicted, we’re still waiting for the weather to catch up with the season, but sometimes I think fall is just a state of mind. All those years of heading back to school each September have me brainwashed; new notebooks, new school books, new books to read, and then a nice fall housecleaning before the craziness of the holidays hits. Okay, that last one was less school related and more about my mother, but you get the idea.

As we near the end of September, it’s also a good time to assess your writing year and set or modify your goals for the last quarter of 2015. How are you doing? Accomplish what you’d hoped to? Gone off track along the way? Take a few minutes this weekend or early next week to give your progress a good looking over and maybe peek at the calendar for October through December. Mark your goals so you know what’s on your plate. Maybe there’s a contest you intend to enter or you have a deadline looming. Get your ducks in a row and then write, write, write.

Of course, feel free to take a little break now and then to check out some of these links. I hope they inspire you to some wonderful levels of productivity. Enjoy!

What Every Successful Novel Opening Must Do: Myth vs. Reality – An interesting look at the dos and don’ts of writing the opening paragraphs.

An Interview of Jessa Crispin – The creator and publisher of Bookslut.com gets interviewed on her own site about her new book (which I have already read and loved) and her fascinating travels through Europe.

Nom de Vie: Literary Social Media in the Age of Ferrante – What it means to have a pen name and refuse to self-promote in this social-media-obsessed world.

15 Short Story Competitions to Enter Before the End of the Year – Pretty much as written.

4,000-Year-Old Egyptian Manuscript Found – Fascinating little write up on this ancient text believed to pre-date the Book of the Dead.

Friday Links

Happy Friday! And for those of you here in the U.S., happy Independence Day weekend! Please make sure you stay safe in the midst of all your revelry.

As for my plans for the weekend, there’s a BBQ with friends on my calendar, but in the meantime I plan to be lazy and catch up on both sleep and my personal reading. It’s been a crazy few weeks and that’s about all my energy levels will allow. However, I’m leaving you all with this week’s links in the event you have a quiet moment or two and want something entertaining to check out. Enjoy, and happy weekend!

How to Write a Series: 8 Novice Mistakes to Avoid – Ever wonder how authors juggle series writing? This might give you a few clues.

10 Captivating Short Stories Everyone Should Read – Some great classics, a few of which you may have read before, but all worth checking out or revisiting.

Women Writers on Twitter: In Their Own Words – A number of women writers discuss their experiences with Twitter.

Travel Journals – A peek into Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s travel journals from 1960, 1961, and 1982, for a breath of summer adventure and some inspiration.

Where to Start with Brazilian Literature – A nice round up of titles for anyone looking to read more books in translation or just farther afield.

The Art of Boosting the Signal

Some days it feels like you sign onto Twitter and everyone you follow is selling something. You know what it’s like: daily deals, freebies, new releases, tie-ins, giveaways. They want you to check out the sequel to the book you haven’t read yet, download their new widget counting down to their pub date, or spread the word regarding their starred review. And that’s all well and good. Everyone does it, and chances are excellent that you will, too, if you haven’t done so already. People expect a certain amount of sales in with their socializing when they frequent various forms of social media, and in many cases that very type of word-of-mouth is what lets us discover our next great read or app or website.

The key to marketing yourself and others using social media is to keep things minimal and meaty. By that I mean, only Tweet about your book a very small percentage of the time and also limit how often you’re being sales-y on behalf of your friends or people you support/admire, and when you do go into marketing mode, make sure you include something of substance. You want to get mileage for those 140 characters, so do your best to include something of genuine interest and don’t confuse your followers.

How often have you seen a Tweet go by that’s nothing more than a link? No information, no context. Why would you click on that? Perhaps if the person Tweeting the link is someone close to you and you know they’re directing it at you specifically, you’ll click without a second thought. But in most cases, that link is going to just scroll on by. Likewise, how often has someone sent out a Tweet with a meaningless title, link, and a “via” followed by a Twitter handle? Chances are that Tweet was generated from a website where the person Tweeting wanted to share the post and used their on-page Tweet button. If the post’s title is vague and the Tweeter didn’t add their own description, it’s almost as bad as sending out a link on its own.

It’s tempting to send a Tweet out quickly and move on, but if you’re genuinely trying to share a post or convey your enthusiasm for someone’s new release, take the time to work in a few words that give your followers the proper message. If you’re reTweeting something that’s vague, take a moment to modify the original Tweet for clarity. Did you read the work you’re Tweeting about? Did you love it? Say so. Maybe it kept you up reading all night. Or you read slowly to savor every word. Are you talking up a friend’s webinar or book signing? What makes them knowledgable or entertaining? Share that information to make the Tweet stand out.

When it comes to marketing your own project, make sure you stress your own enthusiasm that it’s going out into the world more than you beg people to buy it. You love your book and hope others will as well. Encourage anyone who gives it a try to let you know what they think. Engage your followers. Start a conversation. Also, remember that Twitter doesn’t need to be a final destination. Use Tweets to link to blog posts or free chapters or tie-in short stories on your website. Limit your announcements regarding these items to a couple of Tweets a day, spacing them out to allow people in different time zones to get the information, and make sure you Tweet about plenty of non-promotional things in between.

Twitter can provide a great platform for marketing your work and helping the spread the word about other people’s projects you’ve enjoyed, but it’s up to everyone to make the experience is painless as possible. Take the time to craft your Tweets, be considerate of your followers and avoid flooding their feeds with endless promotions, and you can help keep the Twitter conversation entertaining and enjoyable for all. Happy Tweeting!

 

More Than Sorta Social

BreatkfastClubCastJohn Hughes’s iconic 1985 teen-angst film The Breakfast Club follows five very different high school students over the course of a day-long Saturday detention, during which time the audience gets a run down of their home and school lives and finds out what led to their spending part of their weekend confined, at least in theory, to the school library. At one point, they discuss their extracurricular activities, and Anthony Michael Hall’s geeky character volunteers that he’s a member of the math and physics clubs where they get together and discuss properties of math and physics. Molly Ringwald’s character is quick to point out those are “academic clubs,” therefore quite different from the groups she and her friends would join, but Jud Nelson’s character declares them to be “…sorta social. Demented and sad, but social.”

The world of social media is, in some respects, far more egalitarian than your average high school. Blogger, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook… you can join any or all of them. But just because you’re invited to all the parties, doesn’t make them all the same. And when it comes time to market yourself and your writing, only you can determine which parties will serve you best, and where your time is most wisely spent. Not all writers are comfortable with all formats; one person might find 140 characters far too few to get a thought across, while another balks at blogging twice a week. So how do you make the most of the social media platforms?

Master one or two forms of social media at a time – Don’t rush in and try to juggle every available social media format at once. Pick a couple and get started. Learn how they work, how you can make them work for you, and be consistent in your usage and participation. If you allow comments on your blog, respond to them; start up conversations with people on Twitter; determine if you have sufficient visual content to keep your Tumblr page fresh and interesting. And don’t forget to leave some time for real life in addition to your online social life.

Get a head start – Hitting the social media scene the week your book comes out is like arriving at a new school in May and expecting to be voted prom queen. It takes time to build real social connections. No one likes a spammer, so don’t expect to show up and start talking up your book and win any popularity contests. Social media is social. You need to join in and chat with folks, share ideas and discoveries and respond to what others have to say. Make friends and network months in advance of a book release. Then when your book comes out, you can share your enthusiasm without sending everyone running away.

All things in moderation – Even your friends will get sick of you if all you do is talk about yourself. Keep the self-promotion to a minimum, especially on Twitter, where it’s tempting to retweet every great comment and review that crosses your path. Try to keep your book-promo down to under 20% of your social media interactions, and closer to 10% on Twitter. (Places like your website and blog will naturally have a much higher ratio, but these are less social and more your home on the web; visitors will expect to see book covers and links-to-buy all over the walls of your virtual living room.)

Customize your content – You wouldn’t expect the same experience at the jock’s keg party as you would at the party thrown by the brainy geek, so don’t try forcing the same information into all your social media outlets. Avoid automatic distribution features that have your exact same blog post appearing on your website, Facebook page, Goodreads page, etc. Rotate where you debut your information and expect audience overlap between your media sites. Post images where they will show to their best advantage, such as a blog or Tumblr, and avoid posting them places where they get lost in the shuffle, like Twitter.

Be consistent – Don’t join the social media bandwagon just to vanish for months at a time. If you’re going to be traveling, make a point of scheduling some blog posts and Tweets to post while you’re away, and try to check in for some real-time responses and activity even during your trip. If you know you’ll never manage to blog every week, stick to a more traditional author website, and update with other sorts of information to keep it fresh, such as release dates, cover reveals, signing or conference information, contests, giveaways, sneak peeks, etc. The only way to build an audience is to keep showing up.