My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, February 19, 2021

20 Questions (Non-Writing Questions)

All our questions today are about blogging logistics, analytics, snack food, social media, paid ads, obvious pitfalls to avoid, crowdfunding, and the parts of writing that aren't ACTUALLY writing.

1- Preferred method of feeding yourself on writing-intensive days; Microwave, Crock/Instant-Pot, or food that doesn't require cooking? Favored recipe?

I'm a bad person to ask about this; I'm part snake. I don't do this three meals and two snacks a day thing. I rarely eat more than one big meal a day, and sometimes I will eat a huge meal and not feel really famished-hungry again until like 36 hours later. 

So usually my writing-intensive days involve tea by the gallon, maybe some light snacking on salty things, and I usually don't need a meal until I come up for air in the evening. Then I can cook for myself or not. I enjoy cooking but it's not always in the cards time-wise, so I keep an assortment of quick things on hand: premixed salads, pasta sauces I can just toss on some noodles, just-add-water bowls, and some microwavable frozen meals.

2- At what point should an author start a blog?

(I've seen several articles recommending all authors to start a blog. Beyond the initial thesis the reasons, whys, and whats are often different.)

If I have not had anything published yet, should I bother? 

ALL authors? No.

The only answer that really matters is that you should start a blog at the point that you WANT to start a blog. There's no other reason to do it. It's hard work. It will NOT get the results you want unless you do it very regularly (once a week is really a minimum) and for a long time, and that makes it almost a part time job. That can REALLY cut into your writing time, especially if you're not yet a working writer. If you can barely attend to the writing that you WANT to be doing, it's definitely not a good move to start up a blog.

Whether you're fully in traditional publishing, going the total self-publishing route, or a hybrid, an author blog is generally a good way to keep yourself somewhat more relevant (relavanter?) while you're in between releases, build up and maintain an audience who will then be aware of your release dates, and have a pre-generated audience when you do release something (traditionally or non). I got started for this very reason, and found that I really ENJOYED blogging. Now I would do the blogging even if I were a household name in fiction. But none of this is worth it if you don't actually enjoy blogging. It'll just feel like a time sink away from the writing you want to do for little to no payoff. 

Let me be blunt (Dad joke: "Hi Blunt!): you'd competing with a lot of content for the eyeballs of the Internet. It will take longer than you think and more steady, high-quality content than you realize, before people will start to notice your blog and before it would do anything to help the sales of a book release or something. Are you prepared to do it for years without getting the quick networking/marketing fix that you wanted for your work as a regular author?

And in that respect, I can at least answer one of your questions definitively instead of punting it back to you in "Only you can know for sure, Grasshopper," style. The best time to start your blog is YESTERDAY. But only if you want to be blogging.

In the clichénd, there are faster and easier ways to market your other work than by blogging. Even spending money to advertise it yourself may be more cost effective. (Will you spend 10 hours a week blogging or $100 to get five times as much reach?) So the circle is now complete. When I left you I was the but the learner. Now I am the master. It comes back to whether or not you WANT to.

3- How many non-exclusive contracts are too many? I've been working on a book since 2019, and here lately I've gotten contract offers every other month or so. It's not like it's much extra work to upload to extra sites, and there's a little bit of money coming in, but how many is too many?

I had an instinct about this, and I ran it past a colleague who is more on the traditional side of publishing, and found out I was pretty spot on.

Ultimately this is a very YOU choice, especially if these places want to keep paying you for stuff without demanding exclusivity. Nothing wrong with getting a little double dip exposure. As long as you find the effort to compensation ratio to be agreeable,  

But here's where you want to be careful. 

1- Make sure that non-exclusive part is explicit. You will save infinite headaches by double checking. Some places will assume, and their silence may protect you legally, but you don't want your name dragged. Publishing is a strangely tight little incestuous industry, and if you gain a reputation for not working and playing well with others, you can find your career stymied faster than Ted Cruz can be a hypocrite.

2- You might want to Google yourself. Make sure that the only hits you get aren't from this one thing. If someone trying to decide whether to take a chance on a book contract or something goes to look you up online, you might not want them to find just THIS over and over again. Pages and pages of that one thing. They may get the idea that you wrote One Good Thing™ and you've been resting on your laurels and coasting on its success ever since. (I'm not saying that's true, but you want to be aware of the picture a quick Google search will paint.) It's like the guy who can't stop reliving his glory days of high school football. 

4- How much time did you spend on social media building your platform? How much time is needed to maintain it now?

I spend about 15 hours a week on social media platform stuff each week. I'd say I do a little less than I used to, but probably not that much. (And I pay someone to help me with some of the busy work so it feels like less TO ME, even though it's still being "done" in a way that is pertinent to the answer of your question.) It tends to feel like less when I'm just throwing up memes and everything is running smoothly, but every week or two I spend an entire day dealing with a post that has turned into a trash fire or banning alt-right jackholes. Fifteen is probably a decent average.

So if you consider that I've been doing this for 9 years and have taken off so little time that I can count the weeks off on one hand, I've probably spent around 7000(ish) hours on social media platform building.

~does a double take~ Holy SHIT, that's a lot!


5- If there was one blog post you'd want a new reader to experience, which one would it be? 

Only one?? There are so many posts for so many different tastes. Social justice. Craft. Hate mail. It's really hard to choose. 

Actually, if I had absolutely no way to tailor the recommendation to something they'd like, I would direct them to The Reliquary. Although I badly need to clean things up in there (and will when this pandemic is over and I can nanny less), it has many of my main articles in categories that shouldn't be TOO difficult to figure out. Most people can find something there that tickles their pickle.

6- What are your least favorite parts of social media outreach? 

Well, at over a million followers, someone's always in a pissy mood.

I mean that's kind of a flip way to word it, but it's true. Someone is spoiling for a fight. Someone is reading in the worst possible faith. Someone just got dumped and wants to "kick the puppy." Someone hasn't had their meds/their lunch/a nap. Someone is going to assume that some general advice that doesn't work for them is more of a personal attack than just "N/A."

And it all gets dumped on me. 

That's what I hate. I don't even mind banning alt-right jackholelopes. That has its own sort of "take that!" catharsis, and I really do mean what I say when I say whatever it is that twists up their knickers, but getting yelled at for something I never intended and probably didn't really even say almost every time I hit "post" can be a drag. 

7- What sites do you visit when looking for inspiration?

I rarely visit sites LOOKING for inspiration, but from time to time I see something out in the wild and I think "I should write a W.A.W. version of that—put my own spin on it and add some threesome jokes." They are actually usually just those crappy content creation pages that you see all over the first page of Google. 

Those go into a little text file I have for posts I mean to write some day. If I stopped getting new ideas tomorrow, it would be about three years before I ran out of ideas in that text file. So generally when I sit down to write, the question is choosing from all the good ideas, not "What ever should I write about."

I rarely go OUT to get inspired. Writing is work. I sit down to work and if the inspiration finds me working, THEN it comes and guides my fingers.

8- How did you get your blog to look the way it does? I have tried different mediums for my blog, but they always look terrible to me.

This is just a Blogger theme. It's one of the first ones I saw, but I liked it. I picked it because of the books. Cause I'm a writer, yo. And…books….forget it. Personally I prefer the white text on black background themes, but I hear those are harder to read for some folks. The one before that was even simpler and also a premade theme that I picked and used for like 8 years. For a couple of months at the beginning, I had one that looked like a piece of paper. I always knew that was temporary though.

I had to learn to mess around with the widths of the columns so I could have "The Tip Jar" or Patreon widgets, but I decided when I began that I didn't want to spend time mucking around with HTML coding or blog design. I wanted to focus on writing, so I picked the easiest "Push button to go" blog I could. 

Honestly I'm like a Pakled. I'm going to be the one the Enterprise finds adrift saying "I look for things. Things to make my blog go."

9-  Do you pay for ads from Facebook to get more views? I know your blog is ad free, but I just wanted tips on how to get such a big following as you have. 

I don't. 

I have in the past, but it's not super useful. You pay way more per eyeball on your post than you might think. (Up to 25 cents if you want to limit yourself to places like the US and UK.) And they may have fixed this, but at the time it would get me followers who then wouldn't engage on subsequent posts. So sponsoring posts increased your numbers (especially for that one post) but would also fill your ranks with people who were less engaged and active. So it was like a guarantee that future unpaid posts would do just a little bit worse.

I tried everything to lesson this effect. Targeting ads really tightly. Setting it only to show existing followers. It never mattered. It would always end up hurting my unpaid performance in later posts. 

Eventually I knew I'd have to pay more and more to get the same result, so these days I get my following by trying to publish good content on the regular and Facebook can suck an elf. I make sure to put up meme every hour or two and no more than one or two blog posts a day so it doesn't get spammy. 

10-  How do you get the motivation to write nearly every day, and how do you just....well, come up with things to talk about? I feel like anything I try to blog about or write about will just ultimately fall flat.

The key to motivation is to need as little of it as possible. 

The key to THAT is to make it a habit.

Look, I have to tread lightly around this because there are absolutely folks who can't find the motivation to do things like shower or brush their teeth, and I don't want to dismiss serious and/or chronic illness, but when you approach writing with the same "Gotta get this done" as brushing your teeth, it's just a lot easier than if it's this huge….THING that you have to psych yourself up for just to do. If you want to find the motivation to write each day, I don't recommend motivational speakers or some font of motivational inspiration. I recommend lowering the "power output" it requires to write down to where it's something you just DO. Then you don't have to get in the mood at noon (or whenever), you just look up and think "Time to write."

And….writing is recursive. You cannot possibly write as fast as you think so during the process of writing, inspiration is likely to strike.

11- If I like a post/photo/whatever, what information do you get about me? Do you get any data/details? Do you see stuff about who we are that we may not realize is passed along?

About you personally? None.

I get metadata about certain things. Who's following me and I think I can figure out what percentage are from where on my blog. But I don't get an infodump about specific people and even if I were interested in rooting around on their pages (I'm not), I couldn't find anything they'd set to private.

12- If I share, is that better or worse for you than liking?


I don't know (or care to try to spend lots of time trying to learn) all the ins and outs of various social media's algorithms, but a share is always going to go out to more people than any other kind of engagement. 

My understanding is that with FB it is sharing, commenting with a gif, commenting with a picture, commenting, heart reacts, and like reacts in descending order of further algorithmic proliferation, but honestly, I just try to write the best content I can and let that crap mostly attend to itself.

13- Are there any huge, glaring things to look to avoid when attempting to get published?

Existentially, I'd say trying to talk yourself into writing less. People who get published write a LOT, and they don't sit around waiting for it not to "feel like a chore." Even if they can't do it daily for some reason that is beyond their control, they tend to look for ways to write MORE, not rationalizations for writing less. 

But if you mean pragmatically, the most common glaring thing to avoid is submitting unedited shit. Writers who think they don't need content editing because they "thought a lot about it." Or who think they can revise those weird sentences that don't make sense out of their own writing. (None of us can.) Or writers who think that a publisher will simply assign them a copy editor for free and they can make no end grammatical mistakes since their story is so awesome. These make up 95% of the corpses in the rejected bin. 

And self-publishing is no way around this. Honestly if you just want to hit a button and "be published" you can do that with anything, but folks wanting to be read, and maybe even scratch out some money, will have to publish something of quality if they want to sell more than a few copies to family and close friends. 

14- Are there any really obvious things to you about getting published that wasn't obvious to you then? I'm talking process stuff here. Not the actual writing.

Keeping in mind that I'm not really in the traditional side of the publishing industry (and have vowed never to be), I would say that it is not the Rubicon most writers think it is going to be. You get published after a long, unforgiving period of NOT getting published (or self-publishing) and by the time it happens, it's often ten times more work than you imagined it would be just to get published in some venue that is hardly going to make you rich and famous. And then you start getting accepted here and there. And then you hit a bigger venue. These steps feel good, and I don't want to discount the euphoria, but it isn't like this "I HAVE ARRIVED!" moment you see in the movies for 99.999% of writers. It's baby steps and a LOT of grief and effort. It feels good, but the next day you get up, put your pants on one leg at a time, and keep working.

15- How many different social media sites do you use to drive people to your blog? Other than continuous posting on FB for instance, how else do you advertise and market your blog?

Officially, I think 3 1/2 is the right answer. Technically there's an Instagram, but I don't really use it to post links to the blog. But my presence on both Tumblr and Twitter is very low key. I drop my link of the day and my rerun (and in the case of Tumblr, the best meme of the day before) and that's it. My Facebook page and my Facebook public profile are really where most of the engagement happens. You can check everything out here. I have them all arranged by what I post and how often.

16- When you launch a blog, how much content did you have prepared when you went live?

I almost said none, although that's not technically true. I started with no plan other than to write about writing. I just knew I had a lot to say and I got to work saying it. Although in that first year I posted a couple of things I'd written as college papers and some old Livejournal posts. It took a while to find the groove that works for blogging, so some of those were wildly out of character for what works on a blog. However, I didn't think to myself "That would make good content" when I launched the blog. It was more like six weeks in I thought "I could post that and have a day off to deal with this busted plumbing pipe."

17- If a fan recognized you in an eating/drinking establishment, the thing to send your table is...

That's very kind. Maybe an appetizer. Savory—not sweet. No cheese/dairy, and nothing too greasy. Or just say a quick hello. Being recognized is still pretty novel and exciting since I'm really not actually famous. I totally come back and do a "OMG, you'll never believe what just happened!" post on Facebook. And as long as it doesn't turn into a weird gushing thing that puts me on a gods and masters pedestal or doesn't end, I'd love to meet you. 

18- What do you think is a good ratio of reading to writing, and how do you maintain that?

This is a great question because the answer changes. When you first start reading, 100/0. I mean…if you're in school you have to write a little, but you're not trying to craft your own fiction. For years you just consume….probably THOUSANDS of books. Then you start trying to work your own magic. Slowly at first, but then with more and more determination. As a hobbyist I probably got pretty close to 75/25. As a working writer, it's almost exactly 50/50. 

And just to be clear, that's "time spent," not output. I'm a fairly slow reader, but there's no way in hell I'm going to write a book a week or an article in five minutes. 

"How do you maintain that?" is a more existential answer. For the most part, I just do. I like reading! Even when I'm having trouble with longer works of fiction (like right now) I'm still reading most of WaPo's front page, plus an additional 30+ articles/blogs a day. [And I do still manage to grind through a book a month or so.] Writing and reading are inextricably joined. Writers can no more stop reading and only write than they can choose only to breath out (and never in). In fact—and let me be very clear about this—I think a lot of people who wish they were better/more successful writers are writing a lot more than they're reading, and that is a lot of the reason why they're not better/more successful writers. 

I don't claim to judge the lot, but when I talk to a lot of these folks, their rationalization is that they don't really NEED to read. But then they scratch their heads when folks find their prose stilted and confusing like the two have nothing to do with each other. In fact, they are two sides of the same coin; whenever I am writing more than I read, I can still conceptualize and visualize things but I begin to have a hard time putting those ideas into language.

19- Did you have a plan when you started out? Do you have a plan now?

Plans are fun. I especially like when global pandemics join fascist insurrections and do wrestling moves on them that require two-on-one to pull off. The powerbomb suplex combo is particularly devastating to my writing plans.

I had more of a plan when I started out. I was even going to do a quasi-fictional "plot arc" every year that resolved around December. Roughly around 2013, life started to Riverdance on said plans. At first it was a baby here, and some cancer there. (Clackity clackity) Then it was a break up, a move, and this whole thing about needing to work 60+ hours to pay the bills. (Click clack clack clackity clackity.) Then there were some deaths. But actually it looked like maybe after this one last move, things were going to be really great, and that's when the global pandemic dropped. All of a sudden it's been eight years and I still fully intend to finish that Skyrim article… 

My plans will be playing the part of The Floor this evening.

I still have plans. E-compilations. Fiction. Even specific articles I've been meaning to write forever (coughskyrimcough). But they're all on the back burner, and I'm just trying to hold on with both hands right now. When the pandemic (truly) ebbs, I'm looking forward to getting back to all those things. 

20- How much do you make crowdfunding instead of selling your work? Can a writer make enough to live on?

~Strongbad voice (because I'm nothing if not stuck in 2005)~ "I mean….I do. Check me out."

"No seriously, check me out."

I no longer share the specifics of my income because there are people who don't understand what living in this part of the U.S. is like. They hear a number and they think I live like a prince or "clearly make enough for an artist" when actually my writing income is still a fraction of HUD defined “Low Income Limits” for the area and by some metrics I live in poverty. (I'm just really good at living on a budget, and my current housing situation is a bit on the "miracle" end.) However, I'm fettered here, so there are reasons I can't go live out in Tracy or even leave California where my rent money would stretch.

Crowdfunding absolutely can support writers. I know a few who it does (including myself). I recently passed The Amount™, which is the income I would have to make from writing to never HAVE to do freelance work, pet sit, or nanny unless I basically wanted to. Now if I do any of those things, it'll be because I enjoy them 

I will say that it's probably harder now than five years ago. And much harder than ten years ago. Part of that is the pandemic and the global economy, of course. It's just a hard time right now for everyone. But also, a lot of folks have Patreons now, even if they're sort of not producing any real content and just kind of hope to get a few dollars for being them. Folks give less and spread out what they give to more artists. It is the nature of this business that as soon as something starts working, it kind of gets swarmed, and so we all (inadvertently) boobytrap the jungle behind us as we go.

1 comment:

  1. Damn. i was feeling awful about not getting the reading done, as I was thinking "READING" as in "IMPORTANT NOVELS AND NON-FICTION". DOH. You just set me straight, Chris. Reading - like, words. like, the NYTimes, cbc, guardian, random blogs, letters from my mom, Newspapers and fliers and any text at all that passes by my eyes. Oh, Damn, I AM reading , all the time. Guess I better pick up my pen more often.. Thanks for this.