The Social Side of Writing

Michigan Sisters (and a Mr) in Crime Critique Group

I’m still reading and journaling with Colleen Story’s book Writer Get Noticed. It’s been so enlightening. Light bulb after light bulb. Today I worked on identifying my strengths as a person and as a writer. I don’t focus on my strengths very often. I take them for granted. Maybe because they’ve hardly changed since I was a child: creative, organized, introspective. I’m social, too, but I’m always looking for the balance between being social and being alone for essential-to-me writing and reading time.

One way I combine being social with my need for writing time is in critique groups. I have two groups I meet with regularly plus another writing group I love in Florida. I’m a member of Michigan Sisters in Crime. Saw those folks Saturday (In photo, I’m sitting next the Mr–yes we have men in our group!) and will see them again on September 28 at Elizabeth Buzzelli’s workshop. Elizabeth always gives good workshop. This will be no exception. It’s open to the public, so if you’re a Michigan writer, you should come! We can be social together 🙂

About six months ago I felt like I was getting a little too social online. I quit Facebook (I talked about that decision here.) This morning I was texting a friend and, not for the first time, thought about getting on Facebook again in a very limited way. I have a few non-writing loyal friends and yes, being off FB meant we were more reliant on text and phone calls. We set up RL lunch or dinner dates. All good. But I was amazed when, after a few texts we spoke on the phone and I found out how much had happened in Donna’s life since we saw each other last, just a few weeks ago.

I thought about my strengths, the ones Colleen made me remember, especially being social. And I dipped my toes very carefully back into Facebook. I know better how to deal with FB this time. I’ve been on Instagram all along so I’ll reconnect those two accounts, post exactly the same and basically keep my friend list very short, as I have done on Instagram.

I follow thousands of people on Twitter, but interaction there is very different and I manage it just fine. You can tweet me anytime @cynthiaharriso1. Twitter is my favorite way to interact online. I met Colleen there! And so many other writers who are important to me. I’m very comfortable with the “super soft sell” approach I take to book marketing on Twitter. I’m not on social media to sell books. It’s nice if it happens, but I wouldn’t do any of it if I didn’t enjoy it.

Which brings me back to why I’m trying Facebook again. I want to see if I can be there in a way I enjoy more. I’m not going to open a new business page on Facebook, as that really never worked all that well for me. I didn’t have a huge following or sell a significant number of books. It’s difficult to interact with readers, there, too.

You might have noticed that Colleen’s book has the words GET NOTICED in the title. I won’t lie, this made me nervous at first. I don’t really want to get noticed. I like laying low, holing up, doing my own thing. That’s why I’m a writer. I work alone. Well, until I send a new book to my publisher and my editor comes on board. But sure I want to sell more books. I thought it was a dilemma but Colleen has made me realize it’s more of a fine line. Finding the best way for me to be comfortably noticed as a writer.

As I get older, and look toward my husband’s retirement, I’m less interested in teaching, public speaking or giving workshops. I don’t enjoy book signings unless they’re group signing with other writers. Some of this marketing stuff is important to do when I release a new book. It’s gratifying to connect with readers in real life, so that’s why I do some limited public appearances. Colleen helped me clarify all that. Her book helps writers figure out ways to work with their natural inclinations and strengths to measure and build the platform that is right for them.

Not So Social Media

Last week, almost on a whim, I deactivated my Facebook account. I was just going to quit the one, but then they make it difficult to quit a personal page without also quitting the business page. I did a few things that are supposed to help you keep the business and toss the personal but nothing worked so I thought about it for two seconds and deleted both accounts.

The reasons for letting Facebook go are different for each of my pages. On the personal one, I left a goodbye note up for 24 hours and then when I saw people asking why I said “Trying to simplify my life.” Which is true. But also as much as I tried to block people who said plain crazy things, or horrible racist or homophobic things, it finally came down to people I care about very much saying these things. Not that I don’t think they have the right. Free speech, I get it. But every time someone I cared about wrote crap that was just so wrong it felt like a punch in the gut.

Getting punched in the gut on a daily basis is not fun. It’s only going to get worse as we ratchet up to 2020. I have plenty of friends who I agree to disagree with over politics and religion. We’ve had the conversations. It’s the more personal stuff, the plain hateful stuff, I can’t stomach. Also, some people are just a pain. Slightly annoying. So simplifying was a way to just get out of that town. It felt (and feels) great. But what about the business page?

I have had a lot of advice and help in my writing career that has served me well. One thing almost all the gurus say is You Must Have Social Media. You Must Have An Online Presence. Well, okay, but it doesn’t have to be Facebook. I still have Instagram. I had it BEFORE Facebook bought them. I still have Twitter and Pinterest and I have this blog. So I am still here, just not in that one crowded corner. On Twitter, I don’t hear from the haters. It’s like a little universe so it’s easy to stay in your own lane. Pinterest? I’m crap at that but maybe I’ll get better now. Bottom line: I don’t think my Facebook business page sold many books.

I’m not even on social media to sell books. I’m here because I am a writer who works alone all day and this is where I meet others who do the same strange thing I do. I meet lots of those people on Twitter and some of them from the Word Press thingy where you see a little capsule of every blog WP posts. I want to read more blogs. I miss my blog roll, where every morning I’d read blogs like they were my newspaper. Somehow reading other writer’s blogs got crowded out by all the other stuff. After I quit Facebook I realized I could go back to reading blogs. Just that simple!

Marketing Ideas Galore

IMG_4747You may recall that several months ago I made a vow to really pull out all the marketing stops for my new release. I was thinking BIG. I told my husband I might have to break into my 401K and I didn’t care. Frankly, I wanted to give the book it’s best shot and spend money. Well, I didn’t want to spend money, but I was prepared to do so in the hope of my book being read by actual people. It only took ten books for me to realize I had to step up and “treat my writing as a business” as one marketing article says. I don’t know who, it was on Twitter and you know how easy it is to get lost on Twitter with all the RTs and links and so forth.

IMG_4746So I read that article. Plus three books. Plus the entire marketing plan my trusted publicist, hired just for this campaign, had written. I participated in a book marketing class online. With the marketing plan, I didn’t just read it, I took all the actions. Mostly online so far. The online part is easy but I shall be going out in the world and doing things. I already have. I went to the print shop and made nice copies of the sell sheet Dora designed. I plan to visit the bookstores she recommended and go to a conference, the biggest conference ever.

Bouchercon is the biggest mystery writing conference in the world. I’ll be flying from Michigan to Florida for that in less than a week. Murder on the Beach Books is selling my book there. I’m also doing up a nice basket of books and bling from my Michigan Sisters in Crime group. Lots of people have donated books and the board gave me a coffee mug. So I will really be doing the people marketing thing there. I feel bad because all this is on my Dad’s birthday and he lives in St Pete where the conference is being held. Also Dad is recovering from surgery. He almost didn’t make it. Somehow I’m going to see him on his birthday despite all the Sisters in Crime stuff (a breakfast and later a workshop) happening on Dad’s birthday.

I hear that at some of the Sisters in Crime events, members will get a chance to talk about their books. Which reminds me, I went on television and talked about mine. Television! Me! This is a major feat as I have stage fright something awful but my friend has a cable show and she said it would be just like us talking as they pre-record, so I did it. In the real world, not online. Online I thought I was doing pretty well according to the marketing plan. I have an ad on Amazon my publisher set up and one on Facebook, too.

IMG_4748I’ve been tweeting (not about my book!) and meeting new people. I came across one guy who was just so fun, inviting people to friend him, his response thread went on forever and all the people tweeting him back were hilarious. I have not had that much fun on Twitter since, well, ever. One lady had a gif of a corgi typing. I followed her. I followed a bunch of new people. I didn’t mention my book as I know that Twitter is a social channel and you’re just there for the fun of it. But every once in awhile you can post on your own page about your book. But mostly not, mostly interact and make new friends.

I fixed up my Facebook fan page too, that’s in Rachel’s book, and it’s still not great but I’m trying. Some people’s fan pages look so good. Mine is better than it was. I pinned a post to the top of the page! Did not know I could do that until I read it in one of the books. I have my regular Facebook page with my friends but I am trying very hard not to post anything author-related there or Facebook just might kick me off. They let the Russians post, but me and my new book, no. Anyway, that was a joke. I can tell Mark Zuckerberg feels bad about the Russians.

Really, I did all that and my book was looking like all my other books. That is, no where near #1. So it was a fortunate coincidence that Book Bub wrote me an email congratulating me on my new release and telling me about their new ad program. Book Bub! Writing to me! Inviting me to do an ad. I had to hear them out. It was confusing, the ad thing. Apparently you bid on keywords and there are some other things that seem like what my publisher is already doing. But they still have their famous deals. I couldn’t do the new release deal, as you can’t apply after release date. But there was still the other deal for books on sale. I consulted friends and my publisher because I know Book Bub is pricey and everyone said go for it. So I submitted a deal. Not sure if they will accept me.

I did one Book Bub many moons ago when free books were a thing. I got a ton of reviews and my book went to #1 on the free list. But it was free, so I couldn’t say “Amazon bestseller” because you know if it’s free it’s not sold. Still it was pretty cool and I got more reviews than all my other books put together. 80+ on Amazon and 100+ on Goodreads. I realize for some people that is peanuts. But I currently have four (or is it five?) reviews, not all in one place, for my new book.

adult blur books close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Another unexpected thing happened online. I am such a reader. I read 200 books a year. I read book reviews online. There was one gorgeous page and it was women’s fiction central, which the New York Times Book Review is not. The page drew me in and so I wrote to them with my pitch for an essay. I figured if they said no, it would make good blog post. But they said YES! So you see it is good just to go on Twitter and have fun because you never know what will happen there.

I hope you got some marketing ideas from this post. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave your desk and the safety of the internet because you should also speak at bookstores (real ones) and libraries (also real). I plan to do this after Bouchercon. I was going to visit a certain indie bookstore in Detroit this week but now I have an essay to write!

The single most obvious thing (not to me, obvioulsy) I have learned after writing ten books is that it’s okay to take some time and money (but make those $$ choices wisely) and go out there into the world and sell your book. It doesn’t have to happen all on the day, week, or even month your book comes out. Just keep going places where people expect to hear about your book. No matter what.

 

Facebook Love

Am still using the Flash! book by John Dufresne for ideas to spark flash fiction. This morning I had not one idea. My mind was a blank slate. I read on in Dufresne until I found a prompt that interested me. Two people talking to each other, both having totally different conversations. That got my fingers typing…

***

“It was just one of those Facebook things,” I tell my husband, knowing my excuse is lame and too late.

He doesn’t use Facebook, thinks it’s a waste of time. I can tell you this about the man I married: he doesn’t hardly like to talk to me, so why would he want to talk to almost everyone he’s ever known?

“You always do that,” he says.

“What?”

“I’m talking about our future and you bring up the past. That’s your problem.”

But I didn’t bring it up. He picked up my phone when it pinged and read my private messages and saw what he saw. Pictures, old ones, from when my Facebook love and I dated in high school. It was more than pictures, it was the whole crazy thing of me thinking I was not in love with my husband but with a guy I hadn’t seen in forty years.

“There will be penalties if we draw from the 401K now,” he says.

“We were in love once. A long time ago.” As I say it, I realize I could be talking about my husband or the Facebook guy or any number of men I had loved. Too many, too often, to ill effect. Is love like that for everyone? Is anybody happy?

“On the other hand, Florida has no state tax.”

We are sitting at the table in the dining room. There’s a whirring sound as pages spit from the printer in the corner.  “We’re gonna need a new file,” he says.

I pick up the pages. The history of  Facebook friend’s messages from first to last.  Here’s one from the middle: It feels so good to finally say I love you and mean it. The pages pile up even though we have not communicated in months. Today his text is brief. You okay?

I’m not sure but it seems I am supposed to add these little love notes to our files of financial information. Unlike the shiny clean sheets in the printer, each page of our financial history has been worn thin by many readings.

I like to buy pretty new file folders for the old abused papers. There are white ones with little gold stars, pink ones with gold hearts, pink and gold striped ones. I put the texts from my Facebook love in one of the gold heart files.

I don’t touch the other papers. I’m not a finance person, but I know that on paper we have wealth, just the wrong kind. The kind that can disappear overnight.

“I just, I don’t know, it was like I went crazy for a minute. Like I was sixteen again.” I was over it, whatever it had been, because I’d spent the last few months in bed in a sugar coma. “I’ll never be over it.”

“If we use the Roth IRA’s first, that should see us through until social security kicks in.” Also on the table: his busy calculator.

“Did you ever think that when we got old we’d still care about things like love?”

“I think we’re done here,” he said, gathering the remaining papers and putting them in their proper files. “What’s for dinner?”

 

Politics and Religion

That’s me in my first communion garb, when I got married to Jesus. I grew up with a Catholic mom who didn’t attend church and an atheist father. It was strange. I never went to church after I was on my own.

I felt like “Jesus is just all right with me” (remember that song?) but I had my own personal Jesus (remember that song?) I didn’t think too deeply about it. “Jesus freaks/out in the streets/handing tickets out for God.” (Remember that song?) Inevitably, my friends who became Jesus freaks had been busted by their parents for smoking pot.

I went to church again when I had kids. I felt like, well, I’ll give them this base and then when they’re old enough, they can decide. They went to cathecism and got all their sacraments. Our pedophile priest went to jail. When the priest who wants your sons to be altar boys goes to prison, it changes you. Also, I didn’t like other things. Their anti-abortion stance. No women priests. No married priests. It was so messed up.

I tried a few other churches but when my favorite “non-denominational” church fired our minister because she was Jewish, I lost faith. It feels really good to have faith but no matter, mine was gone. I hope there’s something after death, but chances are, there’s not. I still pray, and it works, there’s something inside me that responds to prayer. I’m comforted by the Buddha, who, when asked if there was a God, did not respond. Nobody knows, and that’s a fact. But I accept and understand the place religion has in people’s lives. I just don’t like the thing where it has to be one religion.

As for politics, I’m from a working class background and so is my husband. Our families have been union people from the beginning and we have always voted Democrat. I used to say I was an independent but I have never voted Republican. I take it election by election and I always like the Democrat candidate better. Usually they are more in line with every woman’s right to make all decisions concerning her body. I hate racism and bigotry and I see more of that in some candidates than others.

So, why did I just say all this? Well, this week I did a few political posts on Facebook, and I don’t usually do that. So I’ve been thinking about it all. Why is it a thing that we don’t talk about politics or religion? They seem like important topics to me, more now than ever. Yesterday, for 28 minutes, Hawaii believed they were being hit by a nuclear bomb. I think about that every day. That any day could be that day, and it seems this president more than any other kind of wants that. So maybe having a conversation or two about the politics and religion behind war and bombs isn’t a bad idea. Maybe it’s a very good one. Namaste.