“Indoorsman” expert meets quarantine with inspirational humor

Pastor, expert “indoorsman” and award-winning author John Driver provides some comic relief during this time of social distancing and staying indoors.

Co-author of the bestselling book Vertical Marriage, as well as the autobiography of the inspiring Purdue superfan Tyler Trent, Driver adds his uplifting voice to the conversation surrounding COVID-19 with his comedic and faith-based survival guide for the “indoorsman.”

The Ultimate Guide For The Avid Indoorsman: Life is Better in Here teaches readers how to fully embrace the indoor lifestyle. This hilarious handbook provides tips and tricks to help you thrive in your comfy, climate-controlled world. Learn the finer art of setting up a perfect home theater, cleaning with minimal effort, developing indoor hobbies, etc. – and take the complimentary online Indooreagram Quiz.

Driver is putting something into the hands of people trying to survive the extended indoor lifestyle that will brighten their mood amid all the chaos. He knows the power of a good book – and laugh – can soothe the soul and calm the spirit. At a time when fear surrounds us, Driver hopes to remind us all we have to be grateful for within four walls.

Working from home new to you? 7 career writers show how to do it best.

Professional writers and published authors are experts at the work-from-home game; they have spent weeks, months and even years at their home computers in pursuit of their chosen profession. Their dedication results in finished manuscripts and published books, so they’re a great resource for those new to working remotely.

Maybe your boss has closed the office doors for COVID-19, and now you’re home in front of your laptop, still in your PJ’s, ready (or not) to embrace work-from-home life. Your morning commute now consists of the walk from your bed to your computer, and there’s no need for office attire (out of the video conference’s camera view, anyway). That part sounds pretty nice—right?

The truth is that working from home is like being an author: it sounds almost universally appealing in theory, but in practice it’s a lot more challenging than most people realize. Now unsupervised, those little social media breaks, furtive Netflix episodes and other distractions can really pile up. Keeping a consistent schedule may seem easy at first, but over time your discipline starts to slide and you become less organized. Perhaps most surprisingly, it can be lonely. You may not miss your coworkers, but as the days go on, that absent human interaction might make you go a little stir crazy. 

And if your kids are home as well due to school closures, well: that’s a whole different ball game. 

Here are some helpful tips from career writers on successfully working from home: 

  1. Determine your strengths and weaknesses. 

“I would suggest that people new to working from home figure out their strengths and weaknesses—strengths so that you can lean into them, and weaknesses so you can try to rein yourself in. I have to be on social media for #authorlife, but it’s hard to know when to stop. So I use an app to keep myself off social media when I need to be focused. I also use noise-cancelling headphones and a soundtrack that I put together for each book. My strength is that I can get a lot done when I’m focused, but I do have to make sure I am scheduled for it, or the day quickly falls away. Oh, and I try to block off days from meetings and calls so that I have some days dedicated to whatever nearest deadline I have.” Lori Rader Day, Edgar Award-nominated and Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark award-winning author of multiple thrillers, including most recently The Lucky One

  1. Schedule out your breaks. 

“The biggest advantage for me when I work from home is the ability to get started earlier in the day. I find that I’m most creative in the morning, but typically mornings are spent getting myself ready for work and the kids ready for school, then sitting in traffic for 45 minutes. So, when I have the opportunity to work from home I love waking up early and sitting down to write. Everything I accomplish before 10 a.m. seems like gravy. Given all the distractions at home, I try to just acknowledge them rather than fight them. I’ll schedule time to look at my phone, do the laundry, clean my closet, go for a walk, or just take a snack break. Having that time set aside helps keep me from taking a million mini-breaks.” Andrew Maraniss, New York Times bestselling author of Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South

  1. Create an inspiring designated workspace, and find a comfortable position.

“A great technique for enhancing creativity at home is to bring elements of Nature into your workspace, whether by means of outdoor views, desk plants, scents, abundant daylight, colors, decorative motifs, or artwork. Best of all, these same environmental cues also reduce stress—a welcome salve for these trying times. Try writing while reclining rather than sitting. Research shows that the part of our brain responsible for raising alertness deactivates when we assume this posture, which in turn makes us more relaxed and open to taking creative risks. It certainly seems to have worked for people like Michael Chabon, Truman Capote, and Virginia Woolf! If you’re feeling a bit cooped up, try looking at pictures and objects from the past, like personal memorabilia and souvenirs from trips taken. Besides mentally releasing you from your physical confines, psychologists say it can also boost idea output by putting you in a more abstract, big-picture state of mind.” Donald M. Rattner, My Creative Space: How to Design Your Home to Stimulate Ideas and Spark Innovation 

  1. Stay in contact with others—but also set some boundaries. 

“Working from home can be isolating, so it’s important to reach out to others as part of your work day (or after your work day for fun!). As humans we need connection with other people. You can connect with others even while at home through phone, email, video chat, private messaging, texting…there are so many options. I’ve found that when I’m working long, hard hours alone that video chat, even just a five minute call, feels the most connected to me because I see the other person’s face as well as hear their voice. Skype, WhatsApp, and even Facebook Messenger are great, easy-to-use video chat options…I’ve also found that in working from home it’s important to have boundaries. Boundaries for other people, to let them know when you are working and don’t want to be disturbed. And boundaries for yourself, to make sure that you don’t work yourself too hard (I’ve been known to still be editing or writing at 10pm), or too little (social media is a huge distraction, especially when we need to be on it as authors). I think it’s also important to build in little pockets of relaxation, play, and reward.” Cheryl Rainfield, author of Scars, the No. 1 American Library Association’s “Top 10 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers”

  1. Use the tools available to you to increase your productivity and focus.

“Whether you are quarantined because you have come in contact with someone who was exposed to the coronavirus, or you are limiting social contact voluntarily, turn the reduced level of activity into a positive for your work-in-progress. Set clear identifiable goals such as writing to plot point X or finishing chapter Y or set specific word count goals, and resist the temptation to look at the news until you have finished. Use an app such as Freedom or even write longhand to stay off the internet and keep yourself from constantly checking updates. Rely on social media to stay connected with other writers, or start a private email chain between writers you know. Share daily progress, talk over the scary current reality, and cheer each other on. Despite the scary time we are living in, you may find this an especially productive time.” Jenny Milchman, USA Today bestselling author of Cover of Snow and forthcoming The Second Mother

  1. Put together a playlist that helps you focus, and only listen when you work. 

When I write from home, I curl up in an overstuffed reading chair with my laptop. Though those writing sessions are not easy for me, I get through them by playing classical music, which I don’t listen to at any other time, but which works well for my writing because it seems to focus my brain on the writing task.” Katie Burke, author of the family-focused conversation starter Urban Playground

  1. Remember to enjoy your life regardless of circumstances.

Take advantage of this restrictive time to clear clutter out of your basement, pull weeds in the garden, or get caught up on projects you’ve neglected for a while. It helps to have water-tight boundaries so you can focus on your job. Treat your work space as if it’s miles away. If possible, only go there to work. Keep it at arm’s-length after hours. Don’t allow intrusions to cause you to lose your focus or procrastinate: doing laundry, vacuuming, or organizing your spice rack. When not working enjoy other areas of your home: gardening, watching a good movie, reading a book, or cooking a fun meal. And lead as much of a full social life as possible such as having non-symptomatic friends over for dinner. Be creative and don’t let your circumstances dwarf your tranquility, happiness, or productivity. Your greatest power is your perspective. It can victimize you or empower you when you look for the upside in a downside situation and figure out what you can control and what you can’t and accept the things you can’t. That’s survival of the fittest.” Bryan Robinson, author of #CHILL and more than 40 other nonfiction books and novels

 

JKS Communications celebrates 20 years with launch of Books Forward publicity and Books Fluent publishing

Veteran book publicity firm JKS Communications has been moving books forward for 20 years, and the company is proud to celebrate this anniversary with the launch of two new companies under its brand. Books Forward will continue the signature creative, customized book marketing and author publicity campaigns, and a new indie publishing division, Books Fluent, will provide professional editorial, design and publishing services. 

BOOKS FORWARD

JKS has promoted more than 700 authors, small presses, literary award programs and publishing houses since 2000. The Books Forward team will continue to represent both traditionally published authors and independently published books that meet high industry standards. Services include traditional publicity through mainstream and book-centric media, book tour development, author branding and digital marketing.

Books Forward has a particular passion for books that empower, inspire and move the world forward. Clients include New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss, whose award-winning historical nonfiction examines race and social justice through sports; USA Today bestselling author Jenny Milchman, famous for the “world’s longest book tour”; YA author J. Elle, set to release her #ownvoices debut after garnering attention through a social media campaign; Mary Higgins Clark award winner and national president of Sisters in Crime Lori Rader-Day; indie published success story S.B. Alexander, who later helped Books Forward build its digital marketing division; “The World is Just a Book Away” anthology of stories from Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actresses and other world leaders; Chaithanya Sohan, who explores themes of home and belonging in the U.S. through immigrant stories; Holocaust survivor and scholar Laureen Nussbaum, who shines light on unsung heros; and #1 YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick author Cheryl Rainfield, an international child abuse and feminist advocate.

“Our foundation is built on veteran journalists, giving our team a unique strength. Through national media outlets, we share books to make the world a better and brighter place,” the company’s President Marissa DeCuir said. “And it’s that love of meaningful stories that powers our team to share authors’ important messages, and inspire readers with engaging fiction and nonfiction. The world needs some positivity, and readers crave books that matter — to them and to our world.”

BOOKS FLUENT

JKS’ new indie publishing company, Books Fluent, transforms manuscripts into high-quality commercial books that equal or exceed industry standards. 

Having guided authors through the self-publishing process for years, Books Fluent’s team of industry experts expands upon these services. The company offers professional book editing, on-trend cover design and interior layout, savvy distribution plans, and management of ISBNs, copyrights, and other nitty gritty tasks.

Books Fluent’s expertise empowers authors to learn the unique language of this industry and become successful publishers, rising above the competition of more than 3 million books released every year.

CELEBRATING 20 YEARS

Books Forward and Books Fluent will celebrate their launches throughout 2020 with prizes, special announcements and exclusive opportunities for authors and readers alike — including one grand prize of a free book publicity campaign for an author working to help move the world forward. To enter, submit an application here

As part of the company’s continued mission to elevate voices, Books Forward is also launching the #booksforward campaign to celebrate all the incredible ways stories have made the world a better place. Book lovers are encouraged to join the conversation by using the hashtag and sharing about literature that has impacted their lives.

Social media:
Twitter: twitter.com/booksforwardpr
Instagram: instagram.com/booksforwardpr
Facebook: facebook.com/BooksForward

Dr. Rachel Kowert investigates the science of how video games affect children in ‘A Parent’s Guide to Video Games’

The world of video games can be a treacherous place for many parents. Always in the forefront of the press, the intersection of video games, violence and antisocial behavior worries many parents, but a lot of the studies released to the public give a very narrow glimpse into the effects of video games. Dr. Rachel Kowert’s new book, “A Parent’s Guide to Video Games,” sets out to provide moms and dads with a reliable resource of information and advice backed up by over 100 scientific studies on video games and the way they affect physical, social, and mental development among children.

“A Parent’s Guide to Video Games” investigates the issues of video game addiction, worsening ADHD symptoms through extended game play and the correlation between agression and violent games. Dr. Kowert doesn’t just look into some of the potential negatives of game play; she also investigates the positive ways that video games can impact children. This guide will help parents look at all the information the scientific community has gathered as they try to decide what games to choose for their children and whether they want their kids playing games at all.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Over the last 40 years, video games have transformed from a niche market to a multibillion-dollar industry. No longer limited to arcade parlors, video games are everywhere and are accessible at any time. Along with the popularization of video games has come a growing concern about their ability to transform those who play them into antisocial killing machines who are desensitized to violence, have no friends, and will forever live in their parents’ basements. But are these fears based in reality?

Over the last 20 years, psychologists, sociologists, and media scholars have been working hard to answer these questions. Until now, their findings have largely remained insulated within scientific circles and inaccessible to the general public. A Parent’s Guide to Video Games breaks the long-standing barriers between science and society by providing the first comprehensive guide to the science behind the headlines.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. RACHEL KOWERT

Why did you start studying the psychology of video games?

During my clinical internship at Santa Clara University, I started to see an increase in concern from parents about the potential negative effects online gaming may be having on their children. However, when I began digging through the research to find answers for these parents, there was none! Game studies as a field was just beginning and there was little to no information about how video games may be impacting its players. It was then I knew this was something I wanted to research.

As a parent, what was the biggest question you had about video games before diving into this research?

I began my career in game studies interested in finding out if, how, and why online gaming impacts players socially. We all know the stereotype of the socially inept, reclusive, lonely gamer. Was this stereotype true? If our children are spending more time socializing with others online – often others they do not know in offline contexts – does negatively that impact their social lives in their everyday world?

Does playing violent video games make children more aggressive or more likely to commit a violent crime?

This is the question I get most often and is also the topic that is most sensationalized in the media! Short answer: no. There is no evidence that playing violent video games makes someone more likely to commit violent acts or violent crime. The research with aggression is a little more nuanced. There is no evidence of long term changes in aggression, but some research has concluded that playing violent video games may contribute to small, short term increases in aggressive thoughts.

Is it possible for kids to get addicted to video games? If so, what are the signs?

Video game addiction is currently being researched by psychologists around the globe to determine if it is a true behavioral addiction and what the appropriate diagnostic criteria and treatment plans should be. Put simply, video game addiction is not present until players have lost all control over their playing and it has begun to have a detrimental effect on all aspects of their lives, including education, work, friendships, hobbies, general health, and psychological well-being.

 Does playing video games exacerbate conditions like attention deficit disorder, or ADD, among children?

As video games are often fast-paced, there has been some concern as to whether playing these kinds of games may aggravate the attention problems associated with ADD. Contrary to these claims, video games have actually emerged as promising tools to help improve attention and reduce impulsivity for individuals who show symptoms of ADD. That said, more research is needed before video game play can be recommended as part of a treatment plan.

Isn’t online gaming anti-social?

This is a common misperception! Online gaming is actually incredibly social. I think the perception of it being an anti-social activity comes from the fact that from the outside in, parents often see their child sitting alone in front of a computer with a headset on. What they don’t see is that they are connected with hundreds – maybe thousands – of other players.

Are there any types of video games you recommend?

All types! It depends on what you are looking for. If you are looking for something to play together as a family, “party” games are a good way to go. These games are typically created with four or more players in mind and are good for a large crowd of varied ages. Looking for something to challenge your mind? Puzzle games are also great for all ages. It really depends on what you are looking for and what you are interested in.

Do you think news media have a tendency to sensationalize reports about video games and their correlation to negative behaviors?

Absolutely! Sensationalized headlines have really misconstrued the science of video game effects. For instance, when it comes to the link between violent video games and violent behaviors, there are far more studies “debunking” these sensationalized claims than supporting them.

Who do you think is doing the most definitive scientific work on the topic currently?

The work looking at violent video games and violent behavior would probably be the most definitive in the field as it has received the most attention from researchers. In the last few years, several meta analyses have been published demonstrating that the links between violent video games and violent behavior/crime are not consistent with the claims made by the media.

What’s a positive effect of video games on children?

There are many! Video games can provide a great avenue for learning new skills (such as problem solving) as well as new information (such as world history). Games provide a shared activity for friends to enjoy together. This is particularly the case for children who may be shy and have difficulties initiating conversations with others, as video games provide a perpetual topic of conversation.

What do you want the biggest takeaway from your book to be?

I want parents to know that it is not all doom and gloom when it comes to video games. In fact, I would argue there is more good than bad! Video games are great vehicles for learning, they are highly social spaces, and they provide an arena for children to experiment with new roles and ideas. I want parents to be empowered by the science behind the headlines and more confident in making media choices for their families.


authorphoto_rachelkowert3

Dr. Rachel Kowert is a research psychologist from Austin, Texas, with a PhD in psychology from the University of York (UK) and an MA in counseling psychology from Santa Clara University. Dr. Kowert has dedicated her career to studying video games and the gamers who love them. As a researcher, psychologist, gamer and parent, she strives to educate other parents about the potential dangers and unique contributions that video games can bring to our everyday lives.

6 Tips to Make You and Your Books Stand Out!

Book Tips Kapow

In the tsunami of books being published, what are some things you can do to really make your book stand out and pop off the shelf?

  1. A book absolutely is judged by its cover! Don’t go cheap. Hire someone who has a great track record of creating book covers. It’s a specialty, and your book deserves to be the “best dressed.” Remember, a cover is just to pull in someone browsing books and get them to read the back cover or pick it up in a shop. It’s not meant to tell the whole story. Intrigue the would-be buyer to lean in closer.
  2. The synopsis or back-cover copy is really important! Don’t allow it to be an afterthought as you’re racing to get it to press. Sometimes it really requires a third-party perspective to write what the heart of the book is . . . as an author, you may be too close to it. Work with someone who has read the book and is involved in the book industry in some way.
  3. Blurbs! Those sentences on the front and back cover of the books by New York Times bestselling authors, literary magazines or celebrities are good to have. People in the industry have mixed feelings about how successful a blurb is in selling a book. But some blurbs can push that would-be reader over the edge to take a chance. A great twist on who to get blurb your book: a bookseller (name and bookstore included) is a really cool blurb to bag!
  4. Releasing your book in November or December to “catch the holiday sales” is a poor idea. Unless your last name is Patterson, Clark or Grisham. If you have control over your publishing date, hold it to the new year. That way the ISBN and copyright dates stay fresh for many months, rather than being “last year’s news” just as people are learning about it. Also, there’s a whole lotta noise about all kinds of things at the end of the year, and you want to have a little oxygen for your book when it comes out.
  5. For the good of your book, make sure you’ve come up with a plan prior to releasing it into the world. Have a website. Have a social media presence. And brand all these as you, not the title of your book—unless you are positive beyond all reason that you will never again in your life write another book. It’s weird to see authors’ profile pictures as a book cover on social media when they have a different book coming out . . . or they forget to update their website. Make it easy on your fans to find you.
  6. And now, the really BIG way to make your book stand out . . . write a GREAT book and edit it within an inch of its life. Most people wouldn’t invite 100 people for dinner without working out the menu and making all the dishes several times to be sure they are the best you can present. Same with a book. Don’t put something out that is half-baked. Many of the authors we work with have at least 4 feet stacks of manuscript pages they whittle through to get an 80,000 word final manuscript.

5 Steps to Amazon Search Engine Optimization

How do people search for books? Maybe you used to go to your local Borders (remember them?) and spend hours looking through the shelves hoping they had the next book in your favorite author’s series. And if they didn’t? Well, they would order it and three days later you’d come back to the bookstore and pick it up.

For many readers, this is something they haven’t done in awhile.

Today, readers often sit on the couch, in their pajamas, and think, “What do I want to read today?” Then they go to Amazon, search it, buy it (or download it if they really need it right then), and it appears on their doorstep in 24 hours with Amazon prime.

Amazon completely altered the way books get sold, and as an author, you may be wondering, “Well, what do I do so that people can find me when they search on Amazon?” And you would be asking a very important question.

Amazon search engine optimization (SEO) is often done incorrectly, forgotten, or, if you’re traditionally published, handled by someone else altogether. But even if you have someone else handling your Amazon SEO, it’s important to understand a few things about it just so you understand what’s happening. Here are 5 quick tips to making your book stand out on Amazon:

  1. It’s not Google SEO. Google functions differently from Amazon in what they are looking for when they promote entries. I’m not going to go into all the details here, but the important thing to take from this is that you shouldn’t do all the same things you would if you are optimizing for Google.
  2. Keywords are, you guessed it, key. You should make sure your keywords are accurate to your book, and you should search them before you decide to use them to make sure that Amazon thinks those keywords mean the same thing you do.
  3. Make sure your metadata (title/author/ISBN/page count/etc.) is complete!
  4. Take the time to look at different categories and figure out where your book actually fits. Genres tend to be very specific, and just because you think your book is a “cozy mystery” doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best category to put it in.
  5. And most importantly, make sure that your friends/family/anyone buying the book on Amazon reviews it! Of course, this is easier said than done (and most authors understand how important reviews are), but it’s important to know that Amazon cares more about verified reviews (where the same Amazon account that buys the book also reviews it) than other types of reviews and will promote your book accordingly.

So next time someone sits down in their pajamas to find their next book, they’ll see your title waiting for them and think, “Wow this looks interesting; I can’t wait to read it!”

Publishing is Personal

I was recently at a conference where one of the other speakers, an author with her first book out, said she doesn’t blog. She said she put out a monthly newsletter, but she didn’t like blogging so she doesn’t do it.  OMG, radical rebellion – she doesn’t blog! What happened to the rules? One must blog, one must run Facebook ads, one must Tweet!

I am well into the process of launching my first legal thriller, and as any newly published author knows, there is more to do than can be done. No matter how large the staff or how many contract vendors one engages, every opportunity cannot be mined. There is also more available than most can pay for. How does a newbie in the publishing world decide which avenues to explore and which to leave for the next author or the next book? How does a writer new or experienced select the marketing items where they can wisely spend their time and money?

I went through my process by trial and error, at first slinging mud to see what would stick. Early on, I realized that I was going to drop from exhaustion and never have time to finish the next book. Two major things came to the fore that helped me to narrow my focus and discover my personal path to publishing.

First, I hired an expert who kept up with the latest trends, and second, I started paying attention to what I enjoyed in the process. This sounds simplistic, just hire an expert and do what you like – but it’s not that easy.

With regard to the expert, I began my pre-launch process with an enthusiastic, but inexperienced advisor who cost a third as much as my current advisors, but who thought that every idea was a great idea. I followed this enthusiasm for a time, ordering promotional items, buying advertising, and wasting time on things that sold no books, got me little exposure, and drained my energy and my bank account. When I began working with a new publicist, I found that just by nature of the contract process, we explored what was important to me, what would be emphasized, and the strengths that both the advisor and I had that supported my launch. When we executed the contract, we followed a plan we had laid out in advance, without adding new tasks every time we saw a shiny new distraction.

Ok, you may say, “I’m on a budget or I’ve decided to do everything myself.” Same here for part of my campaign. Next, I evaluated each of my virtual staff members and re-assessed my ability to monitor and manage them.  For the things I was keeping in house, I broke the plan into parts and looked at each one individually. I had a mental talk with the part of me that wears the publicist hat, then put on the social media hat, etc. until I went through each member of my internal and virtual team to assess what was working and what was not. I thought about what I or the consultant was good at in each department and set limits based on my honest response to that assessment.

Second, I looked at the tasks I hated doing and either delegated them to someone else or eliminated them from the publishing plan. My personal process brought me to a few conclusions. For example, I love to cook and have a recipe included as part of the story in each of the Texas Lady Lawyer novels, so I did a free Cookbook of Southern Recipes that I give to readers in exchange for subscribing to my mailing list. I also included wine in DOLLAR SIGNS as a part of the plot, so I partnered with wineries for book signings and paired books and wine in my newsletter to promote other authors. These items might be time consuming and feel like work to others, for me it’s play. Next, I looked at social media. I originally thought that Twitter was the place for me, but through the process, I realized I could make a more personal connection on Facebook and chose that method to interact. I designed memes of the best quotes about my book and put those up in a rotation so that I always had someone else praising my novel.

These realizations led me to the point of doing the things that fit my personality best. I began to make genuine connections with winery owners, other authors, and readers with similar interests. I found that when I signed books in another town, I found readers through these mutual interests in addition to reading.

I prepared a presentation entitled Legal Issues For Authors that I use to give a free talk to any writer’s groups that request it. (A similar talk could be given on lighthouses, childcare, ghosts, etc.) The presentation allows me to talk about a subject in which I specialize – law, and combine it with an area that I love – writing. It allows me to make a personal connection with other authors who are also readers, and allows me to feel I am giving something to my community.

All of these time consuming activities, and many others too numerous to mention here, feel less like chores and more like play because they suit my personality and allow me to show my strengths. They also eliminate the black box syndrome where all the information goes in mixes around and comes out the other end in a mysterious fashion. I can actually see the target with this new method and assess whether I hit the bullseye or fall short.

And, to answer your inevitable question, yes, I do blog.  But, I blog about things that interest me – travel, photography, cooking, what’s going on in my real life. Not only does it follow my internal compass, but it provides a more organic and satisfying way to move through the publishing day.


 

Manning Wolfe is an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas. She writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first book in her series featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, is “Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King.” A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peek into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them.

This post was originally published on Murder by 4.

G.I.V.E. — Four Questions to Define Your Social Media Presence

I go to a lot of author events, and both there and among aspiring authors, I hear the same question repeated often: Is social media worth the time involved? Personally, I think that depends on how you invest that time online.

I’ve done a lot of things wrong over the years when it comes to social media. In fact, the whole point of the three-hour workshop I teach on social media for writers is to teach people how not to do what I’ve done wrong. But the one thing I’ve done right is that I’ve never given up on it. Everything else is fixable. So whether you have five followers or five thousand, you don’t have to be a slave to what you’ve already accomplished. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the time you’re spending or underwhelmed by your results, take charge. You can do it!

Establishing a positive and sustainable social media presence for yourself comes down to four simple questions you have to ask yourself. It comes down to what can you G.I.V.E.

  • Goals: What do you want to achieve with social media?
  • Inspiration: What inspires you? What strengths and talents can you offer to others?
  • Viability: How much time and effort do you want to put in?
  • Enjoyment: Are you going to enjoy doing whatever you decide to do enough to continue doing it indefinitely?

Goals

One of the classic newbie mistakes of social networking is that we writers tend to start blogs about writing. Do you see me raising my hand? Yep. I have a writing blog. And a twitter feed for writers. Is that going to help me sell books? Probably not. I didn’t think through my goals before I started blogging. I went to a local Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators meeting with a friend and heard an agent tell us that all aspiring authors had to have a blog. My friend and I decided to begin a blog together. Since we were just starting down the road to publication, what interested us was writing, and ergo, that’s what we blogged about. I don’t regret that at all. I learn by writing, so writing *about* writing was my way to move up the learning curve. Eventually though, I hit the point where I wasn’t learning anything new by creating articles for beginning writers, but I didn’t feel comfortable offering writing advice that went beyond the basics. At the same time, my blog partner had personal issues that took her away from blogging, so for a year and a half, with the exception of the First Five Pages Workshop, I handled the blog on my own. I let myself get overwhelmed. Instead of being able to focus on reading other blogs or craft books or just interacting with other writers via social media, it was all I could do to keep up my “required online presence.”

The solution? I examined my goals. Over the course of my blogging journey, I have met fantastic writing friends and critique partners. I learned a lot, but there is much more I want and need to learn. I want more time to read blogs and craft books, to read everything. I want to encourage and support other writers and connect with readers so I can learn more about what they want to read. Most of all, I want more time to write.

Inspiration

There isn’t any one way to achieve your social networking goals. The most important thing is finding a vehicle that will connect you with a network of people in a way that meets your goals and inspires you as a writer.

Before investing time into any social medium, make sure it will work for you in the longterm. That includes matching the type of medium to your goals and inspiration; they all have different strengths and conventions. Research them and discover which one will help you connect to the audience that will buy your books, help you grow as a writer, or support your emotional needs on the journey.

Any social medium is subject to change. New social media pop up all the time, and they can fade just as quickly. Remember MySpace? Consider who you want to reach, how you want to reach them, and what kind of content you want to provide to find the vehicle that will help you achieve your goals and keep you inspired to continue, and always be open to new ideas.

Viability

Users of different formats of social media have different expectations. Blogging, for example, works best on a set schedule so that your readers know when to stop by to catch their favorite feature. Tweeting too frequently can clog your readers’ feeds and result in them “unfollowing” you, but if you don’t Tweet enough, you can’t build much of a following. Writing long diatribes on Facebook is a great way to get yourself “unfriended.”

Before you jump into a particular social network, take the time to investigate what works for other people on that network, how often you will need to provide original content, and what your “followers” will expect in reciprocity.

With any form of social medium, creating original content takes little time compared to how long it takes to read other people’s blogs. For most authors, it also yields the least success. Social networking is all about being social. Sharing. Giving back. Building up others. If you don’t have the time to do that, then you aren’t creating a network and having an online presence isn’t going to do you much good. If you’re not the kind of person who wants to engage with people, put up a static website and don’t worry about the rest. Really. Chances are, if you don’t like being social–on the Internet or in real life–you aren’t going to be good at it if you force yourself to try, so find a medium that lets you put out the level of social contact with which you feel comfortable. You also have to be careful not to take on so much that your writing time gets sucked away.

A joint blog may be a good solution for writers who may not have a ton of time, or those who are hesitant to jump into social media too deeply. I definitely prefer to have someone to share the responsibilities, the occasional aggravation, and the success. For me, assessing my goals, inspiration, and viability led to inviting new blog partners/mentors to join me at AdventuresInYAPublishing.com and the 1st5PagesWritingWorkshop.com. I also started a new blog for readers called YASeriesInsiders.com, where I have not only author friends helping out, but also a great group of readers who collaborate to collect and share content from all over the web.

If you are considering a joint blog, or any kind of shared media, be sure to leave yourself room for branding. I have had to slowly transition my Twitter feed back to my real name, because I made the mistake of setting it up as a blog-related feed. I have also only recently discovered that we can post on the blog under separate names. Branding is critical in building relationships with your readers and potential readers. Investigate the options available for whatever kind of media you are considering, and remind yourself that you can’t build relationships on anonymity.

Enjoyment

In case you missed that last sentence, let me restate: your online presence is all about relationships. You don’t have to do it, but if you choose to be online, make sure you participate in a way that doesn’t become a chore. Have fun and don’t make it all about you. Make it about the people you like and respect. Share information. Pay it forward.

Consider who you want to reach and what *they* want. Then G.I.V.E.


 

Martina Boone was born in Prague and spoke several languages before learning English. She’s the acclaimed author of the romantic southern gothic Heirs of Watson Island series, including Compulsion (Oct ’14), Persuasion (Oct ’15), and Illusion (Oct ’16), from Simon & Schuster, Simon Pulse. She’s also the founder of AdventuresInYAPublishing.com, a three-time Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers Site, and YASeriesInsiders.com, a site dedicated to encouraging literacy and reader engagement through a celebration of series literature. She’s on the Board of the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia and runs the CompulsionForReading.com program to distribute books to underfunded schools and libraries.

She lives with her husband, children, and a lopsided cat, she enjoys writing contemporary fantasy set in the kinds of magical places she’d love to visit. When she isn’t writing, she’s addicted to travel, horses, skiing, chocolate flavored tea, and anything with Nutella on it.

Enter the Siren’s Song Fan Art and Cosplay Contest!

YA fantasy author Mary Weber just released the explosive finale to her bestselling Storm Siren Trilogy, Siren’s Song (Thomas Nelson, March 1)–and now, readers can bring the world of the storm-summoning Elemental Nym to life (and win some really cool prizes!) by entering The Siren’s Song Fan Art & Cosplay Contest!


What to do: Submit an original piece of fan art representing Nym, your favorite Storm Siren Trilogy characters, recreating the covers in a creative way, scenes from the book, and/or the world of Storm Siren. Get creative! Submissions will be accepted in the form of cosplay, photography, drawn, painted, digital, or in any other two-dimensional format. All entries will be showcased online, and compiled into a slideshow that will be released on YouTube after the contest ends.

Contest Dates: April 1–27. On April 28, Mary will select five finalists and showcase their work on her Facebook page–and then the rest is up to you! Vote for the Grand Prize Winner on Facebook from April 28May 1. Winners will be notified via Facebook or emaiand announced by May 2.

Prizes: 

  • One Grand Prize Winner will receive a 5-minute phone call with Mary Weber, as well as a special gift package including autographed copies of all three books, a map of Faelen, and cool Storm Siren swag including a custom mug, candy, buttons, bookmarks, and pens.
  • Four finalists will each receive an autographed copy of Siren’s Song and a custom mug.

How to Enter: Entries will be accepted through the following formats:

  • Post a photo or scan of your original piece of art on your personal Facebook page with #SirenSongArt, and (very important!) tag Mary Weber’s author page in your post! https://www.facebook.com/marychristineweber/
  • If you are unable to post your art to Facebook, send a photo of your art to SirensSongFanArt@jkscommunications.com
  • We recommend the following format for submission: Post or send a .jpg or .png file; suggested maximum file size is 5MB, and suggested minimum dimensions are 600x600px

Abbreviated Rules: No purchase necessary. Must enter by 11:59 pm EST on April 27. Open only to legal residents of the fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia who are thirteen (13) years of age or older and of the age of majority in the jurisdiction in which they reside as of the time of entry. Visit MaryWeber.com for complete details and Official Rules. Void where prohibited. The contest is sponsored by JKS Communications.

 
About Mary Weber: 

Mary Weber is a ridiculously uncoordinated girl plotting to take over make-believe worlds through books, handstands, and imaginary throwing knives. In her spare time, she feeds unicorns, sings 80’s hairband songs to her three muggle children, and ogles her husband who looks strikingly like Wolverine. They live in California, which is perfect for stalking L.A. bands, Joss Whedon, and the ocean. Facebook: marychristineweber, Twitter @mchristineweber, Blog: maryweber.com

 

About Siren’s Song: 

After a fierce battle with Draewulf, Nym barely escaped with her life. Now, fleeing the scorched landscape of Tulla, her storm-summoning abilities are returning; only…the dark power is still inside her. Broken and bloodied, Nym needs time to recover, but when the full scope of the shapeshifter’s horrific plot is revealed, the strong-willed Elemental must race across the Hidden Lands and warn the other kingdoms before Draewulf’s final attack.

From the crystalline palaces of Cashlin to the legendary Valley of Origin, Nym scrambles to gather an army. But even if she can, will she be able to uncover the secret to defeating Draewulf that has eluded her people for generations? With a legion of monsters approaching, and the Hidden Lands standing on the brink of destruction, the stage is set for a battle that will decide the fate of the world. And this time, will the Siren’s Song have the power to save it?

I Made A Twitter Account…Now What?

Twitter

Twitter, (social media in general), is an opportunity to interact with the world in 140 characters or less. But how do you best use those 140 characters?

  • To promote your new book?
  • To share links?
  • To encourage?
  • To be political?
  • To share your latest McDonald’s lunch?
  • To ???

Here is what some big name authors across multiple genres have been tweeting about lately. (Examples pictured below.) In a snapshot: politics, movies, boredom, sports, inspiration, contests, quotes, blogposts, etc. Each of these accounts represents very different styles of Twitter feeds, which is good news for people coming to Twitter for the first time. It tells us … there are many acceptable ways to Tweet.

But if you’re asking about the best way to Tweet, let’s look closer.

Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods has 2.35 million followers, and he’s tweeting about being bored in a cab. Then he offers an invitation to ask questions, which he answers. In a world where conversations with Neil Gaiman would typically be limited to three seconds at a signing event, I have a unique opportunity because of Twitter.

Twitter is access.

It is a glass door into the life of a celebrity. (In this case, you are the celebrity.)

Janet Evanovich, a number one NYT bestselling author, has nearly 40 thousand Twitter followers and she primarily uses her Twitter feed for promotional advertisement of her novels. Whereas John Green, young adult author of The Fault in Our Star, uses his feed to … share … whatever comes across his unique mind: politics, DFTBA items, birthday shout outs, etc. He has 4.8 million followers. What does this tell us?

Twitter isn’t a bookstore.

It isn’t the place we go shopping for items; it’s the place we go shopping for sameness. This is why the number of Twitter followers does not translate specifically to sales. Janet Evanovich sells more than 40 thousand books, and John Green doesn’t sell 4.8 million copies with every new release. If you made a Twitter account to sell books, you might be disappointed with the results.

With these concepts in mind, consider a Twitter feed that is a reflection of your self—a place where you are providing sameness and searching for sameness. Marketing guru Simon Sinek says, “People don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it.” Twitter puts that why on display and opens up doors of potential friendship. Early in my career, I listened to Jon Acuff give some great advice on utilizing social media. “Remember,” he said. “You’re asking for a friend, not a favor.” As you set about your 140 characters, ask for a friend.Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 10.01.47 AM Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 10.01.58 AM