Shaking My Head At Myself

Shaking My Head At Myself

I belong to several Facebook groups for fiction writers, I’m not going to tell you which are my favorites, but suffice to say I have a couple that I read several times a day. During the last couple of months several strange things have happened in a few of the groups I belong to. One group closed completely after the owner of the page received threats of physical violence toward not only him, but his family. Seriously? What is wrong with people, not just writers, but all people? How is it that they think it’s okay to threaten a man’s family because they disagree with the writing advice he shares? I’d also like to point out that this man is a college professor and was giving the information for FREE! Now thanks to this person, he is refusing to do it because…shock of shocks…he needs to keep his family safe from harm. I don’t blame him.giphy.gif

Another group that I’m in is having issues with one of the group’s two moderators being accused of favoritism when it came to their choices for an anthology. It eventually culminated in the moderator explaining the acceptance process, including why his EIGHT-YEAR-OLD daughter was allowed to put a 300 word story in the back of the book supposedly taking a spot from a “real” writer. Below is my reaction to this situation.

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Then I got angry. Here is a person that is publishing an anthology from members of this group. An anthology that had strict requirements for length and quality. After all the stories had been chosen. Then, and only then, did they ask the authors who contributed to the anthology if it would be okay for the girl to add her story. It was put to a vote and the girl’s story was added, all three hundred words of it. What is so wrong in this world of writers that someone felt it was okay to A.) take it to another group where the moderator was unable to defend himself, and B.) to attack a little girl who dreams of being a writer? A dream that we, as writers, should be nurturing not getting butt hurt because our little story didn’t make it in to the anthology.giphy (2).gif

Finally, in a third group I belong to, several of the members started complaining about the level of emails they were receiving from the email list they voluntarily chose to join. This is the one that bugged me the most, probably because it was in my favorite group. These complaints have gone on for several days and today I had enough of the whining. I spoke up, basically attacking someone for being stupid. Yep, I violated my own rules and got involved in trolling (I’m a horrible person). Yes, people were receiving a large amount of emails, but they have the option to unsubscribe…Hell they can choose to delete them on sight if they wish. For the life of me I couldn’t understand the problem with 3 or 4 emails a day when the person who runs the list specifically stated it was only for a 2 week period. Then the person posted screen shots of the HUGE amount of emails they had received. My bad. But trust me, it gets worse. The person running the list sent me a message asking about the three emails I received. It turns out I wasn’t supposed to receive that many, so I promptly go to my inbox and find out that I didn’t receive 3 as had stated, but 2. I misread the name of the sender on the third one…oops.

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Of course being my typical INFJ self, I immediately apologized to the person I had just attacked on Facebook. The person running the email list learned that there was a problem with the emails being sent out and immediately fixed the problem. Here’s the best part, she sent a mass email to all of her subscribers apologizing…oh the irony.

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So here’s my question why do we writers think it is okay to start tearing down those who go above and beyond the norm? Why is it okay to tear down those who are more successful, have a bigger email subscriber list, or who, out of the goodness of their own hearts, attempt to lift up a fellow writer? Why don’t we live the lives we claim we want to live?

V. L. Cooke

P.S. I’d apologize for all the gifs, but I was having a little fun with them. If you don’t like them I’d apologize, but I’m going to dance instead.

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Author Branding 101 – Blogging

Author Branding 101 – Blogging

So we’ve discussed branding, social media, a few things you want to avoid as part of your brand, and building a blog, now we’re up to the big lesson…blogging. Most of the authors I know blog, the biggest issue is deciding what to blog about and how often to post. Let’s start with the basics.

When it comes to the topic of blog posts, stick to your brand. My brand is a self-published author sharing their experiences as a newbie to the self-publishing world with my readers. I share links to classes that I’ve taken, shared a breakdown of my costs, even discussed reviewing, beta readers, etc. I do this for those, who were like me a year ago, learning from the ground up. I fail and I share those. I discuss my books, NaNoWriMo, and more. I try to avoid anything too personal, but I’m about to start opening myself up to those who read my blog to help connect with my readers. I tend to be very reserved, but I’m trying to overcome this tendency for the next twelve months. I’m going to be doing NaNoWriMo in November and right now I’m plotting that book. I’m going to share this process with everyone in a series of posts. Whatever works for you and your brand then do it.

wishing-you-all-thehope-wonder-and-joy-that-the-season-can-bring-1Size – On the technical side of things try to keep your posts consistent. A great size is between 300 and 750 words. It reads fast, and since most of us are busy, time constraints figure into our lives.

Respect your readers – They are giving up their free time to read what you’re sharing and deserve respect.

Pick a schedule and try to stick to it – If you’re writing a multi-part series, try to remain consistent. Don’t follow my example. I screwed it up during this series.

Keep it visually interesting – Try to break up all the words with something to stimulate a person’s eyes. It means they will be more likely to read further.

Spell and grammar check – Try to have someone proofread, use spell check, and grammar check EVERY TIME YOU POST. Mistakes will get through; you can’t avoid it. I write my posts in Word, then I walk away. I have my sister read them, then I read them out loud, and amazingly mistakes still get through. Accept that you won’t be perfect, but fix them as soon as possible.

Most of all have fun! – Remember, to have fun. This is the face you share with the world and no one wants gloom and doom all the time. Yes, there will be some downers, but most people prefer a little light-hearted fun.

Homework – In the comments share your blog post. I promise to respond and follow anyone who links their blog to me. Good luck and happy blogging.

V. L. Cooke

Author Branding – Create Your Blog

Author Branding – Create Your Blog

Yes, I’m back. Last time I gave you homework to decide whether or not you’re going to blog and to choose a platform. I did this back in June and you’re looking at the results. Am I happy with it? No, like me it’s a perpetual work in progress some days it’s better than others. Will you be happy with yours? I hope so, but I doubt it. If you did the homework, you have an idea about your blog’s style and your brand, so let’s get to the grunt…er…fun work.

Blogging Basics – Where to begin? It’s what I have been building toward with the previous three posts. If you know your brand, by now you have a basic idea about what you want to put on your blog as a way of promoting your brand. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the behind the scenes stuff you need to do first, so let’s proceed.

Step 1 – Create your blog. Once you’ve chosen where you will host your blog you need to decide on a name. It can be as simple or as creative as you’d like, but remember this is your brand’s homepage. Try to make it all about you, your writing, and the topics you wish to share with the world. I believe that if this is your author homepage you’re going to want your name somewhere in the title. Also, this is where you’ll want to consider reserving a specific .com or .net name that matches your blog name at one of the hosting sites to make it easier for your fans to find your blog. Yes, this will cost money (notice I haven’t done it yet) but it is something you’ll want to consider. Once you’ve done that we move on to step two.

Step 2 – Pick a theme. This is not as easy as it sounds. If you’re like me, you want to go as cheap as you can until your presence grows, and you don’t want anything too distracting. Take the time to explore your options. Don’t feel like you have to choose the first one you see. I’ve changed themes on this blog four or five times and I finally have one I like. You need to do the same thing.

Step 3 – Pages/formatting. Obviously you’ll want a section for contacting the site author (you), you’ll want a section for your blog, probably one for your work, a page about you, and a home page as the very minimum number of main pages. However, there is no reason you have to stop there. For example, right now this post is housed on my blog page, but I want to make them easier for people to find when they visit. Thus. I use categories to make posts easier to find. If you click on “author branding” all three posts show together. I also chose not to use a static home page; I prefer people see the newest posts first. Whether or not you want to go a different route is your choice. Remember, this is your piece of the internet do what works best for you and your brand.

Step 4 – Once you have everything tweaked to perfection, when you’ve added your work on your page for work, filled out your bio, added you contact page, and the rest, then you’re ready to write your first blog post. This is where you’ll introduce your brand to the world. Try to make the post true to your brand. Also, keep your posts of a manageable size (this is one I fail at all the time) if you think you can write only once a week, because of real world time issue then don’t try to crank out 3,000 words stick to 750 – 1,000 words. Most readers don’t want exceptionally long posts anyway. Double check spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. If you link to another page, make sure that the link comes up in a separate tab. Also, if you cite information make sure to show your sources. Don’t ever declare something to be a fact without the ability to back it up. Finally, make sure to add graphics. They catch the reader’s eye and break up the monotony of the post. You can find free use images at pixabay.com and create graphics at canva.com. Trust me, even a moron can do it because it’s what I use every single time and I’m a certified moron.

Step 6 – Make sure to cross post. WordPress allows you to do that from their user control panel. If you choose to use a different provider, you’ll have to learn to do it from their platform. The great thing is once its set up, you don’t have to worry about it.

Step 7 – Remember to respond to every comment, even the harsh ones. Thank the commenter for posting and keep the conversation flowing. Don’t get embroiled in a flame war because someone doesn’t agree with you. Accept it, thank them for the comment, and move on. Finally, remember that every time a person follows you, at your blog, Twitter, Google +, Facebook, etc. it is only polite to return the favor.

the-new-youStep 8 – Go to a company like Mail Chimp and create a subscriber mailing list. If you notice, mine pops up when you first log in. I use the mailing list to send updates about book events, releases, sales, and blog posts.

Homework – Create your blog and leave a link in the comments. I guarantee you’ll get at least one follower (me). Next time we’ll be discussing controversial topics and political ideology and why you should avoid it in your blog posts.

V. L. Cooke

Etiquette

Etiquette

Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen I’m still here and this post is all about etiquette/netiquette. As authors we live and breathe our brand every day. It’s important that we remember that once we’ve posted something on the internet it never truly goes away. So for this post I am going to give a few hypothetical situations and the good, bad, and ugly of possible responses. Some of these occurred to me on my personal page, some in various groups, some I witnessed but had no part in, what they are is examples of how we should behave when on social media and the potential implications of not learning to control our fingers.

Scenario 1 – Political Discourse – Don’t share controversial opinions on your author page, under your author twitter handle, etc. I understand that you have an opinion, but like all opinions there are people who are guaranteed to disagree and it can have a negative impact on you. I don’t care how much you despise (fill with whatever your major pet peeve is), walk away, take a few deep breaths, meditate, punch a wall if you have to, but whatever you do don’t write that post, tweet that tweet, etc. Remember every mistake you make online is magnified. Every typo, every sexist/racist/political comment, every joke that falls flat, they all exist in the ether and will come back to bite you in the end.

Scenario 2 – Trolling.  We all know what it is and what kind of drama it brings, but what do you do when you’re the target of trolls whether it be in writing forums, groups, or even reviews? Nothing. Take this saying to heart at all times when dealing with trolls. “Please don’t feed the animals”. Giving them a response is a validation of their behavior. Yes, ignoring them can make it worse, but try to always rise above and not stoop to their level. It is the only thing you can do. However, if someone is deliberately posting negative reviews via multiple profiles on a website (i.e. Amazon) you could always gather the proof you have and send it into the customer service abyss and hope for positive results. Remember that if the trolling gets to be too much for you, block the person and watch for sudden appearances of another troll when you’ve blocked the first. Keep a list of the names they use. You can always report them and hopefully it will stop problems even if only for a little while.

Scenario 3 – Review Swapping –  This is something I see a lot. I’ve had authors that I beta read for ask me to post reviews on Amazon and Good Reads for them. I’ve had authors offer to review my book if I’d post a review on theirs. This one is an entirely personal decision, but I will tell you how I decided to deal with this. If someone I beta read for asks me to leave a review and I intend to purchase the book to read the final copy, I will leave an honest review (notice I didn’t say a good review). I will do this only after I have purchased and read the book and I leave a review as a reader/customer not as a beta reader/friend. As for review swaps, I will never do it. First of all, it’s misleading the customer. Second, it’s dishonest because you don’t want to leave a bad review in case they decide to retaliate (see trolling). Third, it’s a mockery of the review system. Customers read those reviews and make decisions based on what is written. Giving great reviews when one isn’t deserved insults the reader and authors alike. That’s just my two cents.

the-new-youWhat should I do? In simplest terms, don’t do anything that will damage your reputation as an author and tarnish your brand. Don’t feed the trolls, don’t go on tirades about your opinions with regards to politics, religion, sexuality, race issues, etc. Make a decision about whether or not you’re going to do review swaps and stick to it, don’t make exceptions for friends. Most importantly remember that everything you do is very public and the person responsible for your brand is you. Don’t play the blame game, just accept that you will make mistakes and be ready to apologize.

Homework: Next post will be about blogging, what to post, how to post, and the etiquette of comments and follows. You might want to consider whether or not you are planning to blog and consider which platform you’re going to use. This homework is about experiencing the available options for blogging. It’s time to start getting your hands dirty, ladies and gentlemen. So get out there and explore the internet. Explore author pages in your genre see what works, what doesn’t,  and start to create a mental image of what you want on your page.

Social Media

Social Media

So now you know what your brand is, what do you do with it? Well you need to avail yourself of all the social media platforms as a way of getting your brand out there. I cannot stress this enough; this needs to be done long before you publish a novel. It makes no difference what path to publication you’ve chosen either. Whether traditional, indie, or self-published you need to start making your brand know

V. L. I don’t have any books published, how is my brand any good without a product? I’m glad you asked. You need to start somewhere for a complete social media newbie I recommend the very basics to start your brand presence online.

1.) Create an author page on Facebook. You won’t have a lot of followers and you won’t want to pay to publicize it, but get it created and make it shine as your little place in the Facebook universe that is all about you 24/7. Whenever any of the Facebook writing groups have a self-promotion day make sure to post your author page. This helps build an audience, just make sure to return the favor if a fellow author likes your page. If you don’t it’s rude and not likely to go over well with the other authors in the group. Did I mention join Facebook groups? Join as many as you can find. Once you determine if the groups a good or bad fit then adjust your membership. It’s easy to leave a group and better that you do it before you start shamelessly self-promoting your books.

2.) Create a Twitter handle for yourself. Mine’s pretty basic @VLCookeAuthor. It’s not difficult but like the Facebook page it will become critical. When creating your Twitter handle don’t be vague. If you have chosen a pseudonym then make sure you include it in your handle. Make sure that whenever the opportunity to post self-promo posts in groups are available that you include your Twitter handle and always follow those who follow you. Also join some of the writer’s chats on Twitter. If you’re unsure which are a good fit, ask your author friends. We all have opinions about what we like and we love to share writerly information with each other.

3.) To Pinterest or not to Pinterest? I do. This one is purely subjective and is a personal decision. I can tout pros and cons till the cows come home, but it all boils down to what works for you. I think it’s a good thing. Especially for authors like me who use Pinterest boards as a collage of sorts for your work. It’s also a great way to allow other people to experience your worlds before they are available via your books.

4.) Tumblr? I’m not big on Tumblr right now, but that may change. I prefer to use my blog as my primary forum.

the-new-youYou may use Wattpad, Tumblr, etc. Whatever social media options you choose to use remember to remain consistent. Don’t suddenly go off brand and start spewing your personal political agenda on every social media format available to you. Consistency is what your readers will expect and it’s what you should give them. Don’t be afraid to expand your brand, just be cautious that what you expand with ties in with your already established brand.

Homework: In the next seven to ten days I would like you all to create your social media persona. I would like you to leave links in the comments so that I can follow you across every social media forum you choose. Next post will be all about social media etiquette for authors. I look forward to seeing your comments and following you.

What’s Your Brand?

What’s Your Brand?

As authors we all know that our brand is important, but how many of us know what “brand” we are, or why a brand is important? This is the first in a multi part series on author branding. As with all things I will be looking at this from the self-published author perspective. I will talk about my own experiences, including my massive mistakes, in order to let you learn with me.

The first step in any brand is simple, it’s all about you. Step one is all about questions you answer to determine your brand. For example, what genre do you write? What subject will you write about? Who is your target audience? How accessible are you going to be to your readers? There are hundreds of questions you can work with, but I chose these. Let’s look at those questions from the perspective of the author I know best…me.

wishing-you-all-thehope-wonder-and-joy-that-the-season-can-bringWhat genre do you write? I’m all about paranormal and urban fantasy. If I can have fun with it and be a little snarky that’s even better.

What subject will you write about? While most think my writing is about vampires, werewolves, etc. I have one goal in mind. To make people rethink what a heroine is. In my case, my female protagonists are older women (typically in their 40s), they may or may not have children, but they are (so far) all divorced and having some issues with starting over. My women are strong, they have survived when others would bury their face in ice cream and chocolate (okay one survived by eating chocolate), but they don’t give up. Also, my women are all larger than average. The politically correct among you might call them plus size, curvy, chubby, pudgy, etc., however as a curvy, over middle-aged woman myself, I prefer to call them fat and fabulous.

Who is your target audience? Adults obviously. Adults, who want to see a kick ass woman in her forties who’s not afraid to eat and admit their weaknesses while delivering the occasional bitchy one-liner and bouts of melodrama, would be more accurate.

How accessible are you going to be to your readers? This is where it gets ugly. By nature, I am very introverted, but I’m also realistic about how authors survive in the real world. I am choosing to be accessible, but that accessibility will be tempered by my need for privacy and separation of author me and private me. I have an author page on Facebook, this blog, twitter, Google +, and Pinterest, all of which I use to further my brand. However, my personal Facebook page is just that…personal. I keep my political, religious, sexual, and anything else that might offend someone ranting to real life. I learned recently that as an author I’m not allowed to have a public opinion on certain things because it offends people. Maybe if I were J. K. Rowling, James Patterson, etc. I would have the luxury of an opinion, but I’m not and I can’t afford to offend potential readers at this point.

So far my brand targets adult urban fantasy/paranormal readers who want to see curvy older women kick ass against paranormal creatures. But that’s not all it is, if you look through my blog you’ll see posts about self-publishing, beta readers, reviews, and more. I want to help others who self-publish by sharing my mistakes, my successes, etc.

the-new-youSo now my brand is self-published urban fantasy/paranormal author of strong 40-something, curvy women who kick ass, make snarky rude comments, all while dealing with crippling self-esteem issues in melodramatic outbursts. One who shares the ups and downs of self-publishing with the public in a brutally honest appraisal of her lackluster skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Or as I like to call myself…V. L. Cooke.

Homework time: So here’s where you all come in. Tell me about your brand. What are you offering to your readers? What can readers expect from the brand that is you? I can’t wait to hear from you.