You’d think a writer would be good at Scrabble

We grew up playing the standard Scrabble board game. I usually lost. If my Aunt Vera was there, she usually beat everyone because she was either a droid or had the ability to see every potential move on the board like a grandmaster chess player.

Now I play Words with Friends on Facebook. I’m not sure why; I normally lose. See, look at this (one of my better games):

Being a writer doesn’t help. Maybe it hurts since I see words as whole structures rather than as groups of letters. Looking at a Words With Friends board, I have little idea what letters to add to the board to get high-scoring results. It’s been a lifetime trauma.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s short story collection, Widely Scattered Ghosts, is free on Smashwords during the company’s “give back” sale.

 

The Toxic Internet

A long-time online friend of mine is leaving Facebook because she’s tired of the toxicity there, among other things. I know what she’s talking about because those there who don’t like your point of view often respond with abusive comments and nasty threats.

My parents used to tell me that if a comment wasn’t inappropriate for the family dinner table, I shouldn’t say it.

Since I still believe that, I notice the toxic comments and slanders that are commonplace on Facebook, the comments sections following news stories on some media sites, and (of course) Twitter. I keep hoping that the people who are talking trash are in a minority, that–as some people say–“the crazies are the only ones who bother to comment” on news stories, posts, and tweets.

What do you think? Are polite, normal, well-spoken people leaving Facebook like my friend, possibly staying but staying out of the crazy threads, or are people in general turning into rude approximations of themselves via online anonymity?

Even though I’ve been online since the CompuServe days, I’m still surprised at the number of people who are willing to say, “Malcolm, you’re a naive piece of shit” in response to my low key comment. What’s that about? People who don’t know me have accused me online of all sorts of things, and I wonder what kind of gall it takes to say such things.

I see the toxicity my friend sees, but I guess I’m being expedient when I say that since I’m a writer, I need to have an online presence. So I stay. I hope that most people online are good people and fight against the toxic comments or find ways to stay out of trouble. Perhaps I am naive because I think that when good people are quiet the bad people end up owning the place.

Malcolm

 

I know Facebook and website gurus are just trying to help, but. . .

Facebook constantly leans on me to add more information to my author’s page. Among other things, they want a street address, a map, office hours, and a phone number. I can’t convince them that authors write from their houses and apartments and sure as hell don’t want anyone calling or stopping by.

I hear similar exhortations from website gurus: “If you don’t have a map showing directions to your place of business, prospective customers won’t take your company seriously.”

For one thing, an author is not a company. For another, do these gurus every look at authors’ websites and see them as no different than hardware stores? Or, are the guru’s really clueless, thinking (I guess) that authors should display addresses, maps, and sets of directions to help readers find their houses?

I just checked Madonna’s website. Her store is on line. My “stores” are bookstores since, like most authors, I don’t have a fulfilment center in the basement (partly because I don’t have a basement), much less a storefront. A lot of people around here sell produce from stands out in front of their houses, but I’m not sure that a “Boiled peanuts, okra, and books” approach would be worth the time.

Noticeably, Madonna doesn’t have a map on her website showing me how to get to her house.

My suggestion–though nobody sought it–is that Facebook and all those website gurus figure out how authors’ pages and sites work instead of advising us to do what is, frankly, stupid. An old joke comes to mind: “Question: What’s an expert.” “Answer: a (has been) drip under pressure.”

Meanwhile, I’m getting urgent messages from my website provider: “Crikey, Malcolm, haven’t you noticed that your whole website’s going down the toilet on February 20th?” I guess the powers that be haven’t noticed that I’ve deleted everything except for a boilerplate home page with alternative URLs for information about my books.

There’s plenty of room for a map to the nearest B&N store. Maybe that will get people off my back.

Malcolm

Be careful where you say you’re from on Facebook

I no longer list Berkeley, California as the place where I’m from on Facebook because in “debates,” people say, “well, of course, Malcolm would say that, look where he’s from. We don’t need him telling people in Georgia what to think.”

I was born at Alta Bates Hospital, but don’t tell anyone.

My family is basically from California, with my late relatives living in Berkeley, Los Gatos, Santa Cruz, and Palo Alto. I think I was in high school (in Florida) when my father told me he could never go back because the farms and orchards had all been ploughed up and turned into developments, the places Pete Seeger said were houses like little boxes all made of ticky tacky and just the same.

I can’t go back either. For one thing, I can’t afford it. For another, I think the state has lost its connection to reality, a connection that always was fairly tenous on a good day.  Sorry, folks, but I really can’t support a state that says illegal immigrants should have a right to vote.

So, in these Facebook “debates,” I suppose people thought I support all the lunacy associated with California these days. During the Vietnam War protest era, I was part of that lunacy because (a) I hated the war, and (b) had an apartment in San Francisco’s Mission District while my ship was in port across the Bay and had trouble anywhere I went in a Navy uniform.

When I was told on Facebook that “they” (the people in the thread) didn’t need a person from a crazy state telling people in the South that he (meaning me) thought the state and federal governments had no right to legislate or otherwise mess up women’s health care, including the right to an abortion, I said, “ladies, I’ve lived in the South longer than anyone else commenting on this thread.”

Huh? I said that I grew up in Florida from the first grade to college and now live in Georgia where my wife was born. We live on a farm that’s been in her family for five generations. They were surprised. They were happy to see that I had changed the town where I’m from to Tallahassee, Florida, and appreciated the fact that I like boiled peanuts, collard greens, mullet, grits, and cathead biscuits.

However, according to their assessment, a California birth certificate meant that even if you left the state at an early age, you were more or less the devil’s spawn and couldn’t possibly go to enough church services to get even with the Lord. If not that, then I was probably dropped on my head in the hospital.

So there it was. Clearly, my identification with California was an albatross around my neck. In the old days (whatever that means) people said Florida really wasn’t truly Southern. My response was that North Florida was/is about as Southern as you can get and that unlike other states in the Confederacy, “we” weren’t conquered by the North during the Civil War. Okay, so we’re overrun by snowbirds every year and from Live Oak to Miami, the state’s been pretty much ruined by developers who’ve paved over everything there that used to be good and created endless sprawl.

But, I digress.

On the minus side, now that I’ve changed my Facebook hometown to Tallahassee, everyone thinks I’m a racist. When they push that view too hard, I mention that the biggest race riots in the country all happened outside the South.

Is there a safe place out there I can claim as my hometown?

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell has written a bunch of novels set in the South, or partly in the South, including the Florida Folk Magic Trilogy.

 

 

Endlessly Scrolling Through Twitter and Facebook

Writers often use Twitter and Facebook as part of their so-called media platforms, perhaps a necessary evil and/or a worthwhile publicity/networking part of the business that’s apparently indispensable to everyone who isn’t James Patterson or Alice Hoffman or Dean Koontz. Yet, as I read Damyanti Biswas’ recent post How much Time Do You Spend on #SociaMedia? How is It Affecting You?, I wondered how much social media time as necessary and how much was an addiction.

True, I have unblocked myself from my novels in progress by endlessly scrolling through Twitter and Facebook. Likewise, I’ve done the same thing to break cycles of clinical depression. Yet, I can also say that there are days I got little or nothing none due to some mindless need to keep up with the latest social media stuff more than necessary. Part of being a writer is keeping up with the business, supporting other writers, and learning more about one’s craft by “talking” to other writers and following blogs like Damyanti’s.

Obviously, at some point, too much social media time is too much and it’s getting in the way of the stuff we’re supposed to be doing whether it’s writing or anything else. The easiest thing to do, I think, is to set time limits. We can decide, can’t we, just how long we’ll read bloggers’ posts and Facebook status updates before leaving the Internet for the day and turning to our real work. I’ve known people who kept their TVs on 24/7, tuned into one network news feed or another to make sure they didn’t miss anything. Some folks seem to look at social media the same way. But seriously, what are you going to miss that’s more important than your own career and your family’s needs?

One mistake here, I believe, is assuming that whatever’s happening on Twitter and Facebook is more important than whatever else we might do with our day. It’s almost a phobia, this feeling that our lives will be ruined if an important tweet or post goes by without our knowing about it instantly. Meanwhile, to satisfy the infinite demands of that phobia, our own work is sitting there undone, and at the end of a day of “too much” social media, we feel really down about ourselves pretty much the same way a drunk feels after wasting another day being drunk.

When I worked as a technical writer for large corporations, management would occasionally subject us to time-management courses that showed that a large number of us spent too much time focusing on what wasn’t important. Among other things, we tended to clear low-importance stuff out of our in baskets before working on our primary projects. Now, I see many of us who write doing the same thing with social media. We handle it first and then we finally get around to our major priorities.

As important as social media can be for promoting our work and networking with others, they are not our primary mission. Social media tweets and updates and posts represent what others are doing, not what I’m (supposed to be) doing. I need to remind myself of that from time to time.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat.”

 

 

 

 

Another ‘this-and-that’ post

  • This week’s thriller (my escapist reading) was The Terminal List by Jack Carr. It’s one of the most high-pitched novels I’ve read in a while. It’s hard to say anything about it without spoiling the story. Suffice it to say, when a SEAL team walks into an ambush, the bad guys turn out to be Americans out to make a buck rather than ISIS or the Taliban. The LCDR in charge of the team is more than ticked off about the loss of life and who’s responsible for it. Written by a SEAL, a few parts of the story are blacked out because the powers that be thought he gave away too much.
  • My editing changes for an upcoming book of short stories called Widely Scattered Ghosts have been sent to the publisher. Now we’re waiting for a proof copy to see if any fixes need to be made before the book is released. You can see what it’s about on my website’s Spotlight Page.
  • I’ve also been working on a rather dark story about a man who was put in a rest home because his kids thought he was spending all the money they “deserved” to inherit. This story has been sent off to a magazine that’s very hard to get into, but I always remain hopeful about these kinds of things.
  • I seldom unfriend people on Facebook. I did today because, in a thread about rape, she said it’s not up to women to fix the rape problem. I didn’t disagree but suggested that while we’re looking for ways to change the rape culture, more women could at least take advantage of defense courses. She said women shouldn’t have to. After more back and forth about that, she said I wasn’t a real man and needed to respect women. I finally lost my patience when she got into slamming me as a person rather than debating the issue.
  • Speaking of websites, I’ve spent some time lately trying to make my website more interesting. I see the visitor counts going up, so perhaps some of the new pictures and copy are luring people back for multiple visits. Now, we’ll see whether any of those people buy my books which, of course, is the point of having an author’s website.
  • For reasons unknown, my old post about fairy tale structure still gets more visits every week than most of my other posts combined. Those of you who like fairy tales might enjoy this new collection of re-imagined fairy tales by Dora Goss. I’m enjoying it. I’m a long-time fan of her writing, including The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter and its sequel European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman.
  • I tend to post quotes on my Facebook profile at the end of the day. My current favorite comes from musician and poet Joy Harjo: “The creative act amazes me. Whether it’s poetry, whether it’s music, it’s an amazing process, and it has something to do with bringing forth the old out into the world to create and to bring forth that which will rejuvenate.” Frankly, I don’t know how the creative act works. That’s why I said in my last post that I get bored reading or talking about it with other authors. We all do what we do without the need for theories.
  • Now, I’m looking for a new story to tell. When an author finishes a story, s/he suddenly feels empty because all the characters have left. It’s like the end of a summer romance. You know it’s going to happen, but you’re never ready for it.

–Malcolm

This and that–because I don’t have a wonderful post for today

Not our real yard. Stole some clipart

I planned to take a car full of stuff to the recycling center this morning but the fog is so thick I can’t see the car.

 

Yes, I’ve used this graphic before!

A lot of my friends are taking Facebook vacations. Primarily, they’re getting tired of all the people posting duelingpolitical memes. Some people must not have jobs because their blogs are filled with links to news stories and essays for one party or the other. This stuff probably isn’t changing anyone’s opinion.

None of the ghosts in my book live in the outhouse.

I finished a book of short stories yesterday and sent the manuscript off to my publisher. They’re all ghost stories, some old, some new. We already have the cover ready. It was done last fall before my wife and I decided to take off for a week at Thanksgiving and see my daughter and her family in Maryland. We took side trips to Alexandria and Mt. Vernon. So, the book had to wait.

Most of the original cast members have moved on.

According to the news, the medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” has not been on longer than the medical program “E.R.” which had the record for longevity up to now. As we watch “Grey’s Anatomy,” my wife and I wonder if real doctors and nurses: (a) race into linen closets and empty exam rooms and urgently rip each other’s clothes off several times a day for sex, and (b) talk about daycare, shopping, and their dating problems while performing difficult surgical procedures.

 

Their Corpse Reviver cocktail was tasty.

We enjoyed finding fun places to eat including the Columbia Firehouse Restaurant in Alexandria. It used to be a real firehouse. I was a bit distracted by the blonde who sat at the next table, not because she was a blonde but because she ordered a salad and tore into it with a knife, chopping the while thing up into little pieces in a frenzy. We were taught that you’re not supposed cut a whole plate of food up like that unless you’re serving a child or an old person. I wish I had a video of it because she really looked angry while she was doing it. The video would have gone viral on Facebook.

Malcolm

 

Reminding Readers About Your Previous Books on Facebook

When a small-press or self-published author announces a new book on Facebook, s/he has a reason for posting information about it. When early reviews come in, there’s an opportunity for more posts. So, too, later on if the book is a finalist or a winner in a competition. Giveaways and book sales also help get the word out.

But once a book is several novels or poetry collections into the past, it becomes more difficult to think of relevant things to say that don’t sound like SPAM.

My publisher, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, has helped fix that problem by creating Facebook cover pictures that display all of an author’s titles. Sometimes the book covers are arranged with an interesting background; sometimes they appear on shelves. These covers can sit at the top of an author’s profile or page for weeks or months, keeping previous titles in the public eye during times when there’s no legitimate news to post about the older titles. Or, as in Melinda Clayton’s cover photo, you can use a quotation from an earlier book.

Here’s the batch for the holidays for Malcolm R. Campbell, Smoky Zeidel, Robert Hays, Sharon Heath, and Melinda Clayton:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Midweek Musings, (AKA random stuff)

  • My latest book Florida Folk Magic Stories is now part of an Amazon giveaway. Go here for a chance to win.
  • Sometimes I think the so-called, all-important “writer’s platform” looks more like a gallows.
  • Right now, I can’t tell whether my discomfort from an inflammation is coming from the disease or the antibiotic.
  • I’m discouraged when long-time online friends leave Facebook because, as they see it, the site has become toxic. I admit that I try to avoid most political discussions there because I’m more of a moderate than a hardcore Democrat or Republican and feel like I’m getting beaten up by both sides. One can avoid that by not talking politics.
  • Dang, I accidentally bought a new copy of a James Patterson book that I’d already read. Unfortunately, it’s one of his weaker novels. It has a trick ending and there is no excuse for it. It’s called The Store. Forget about it.
  • I keep wondering if the female contestants chosen to be on “Survivor” are those with the most cleavage and the skimpiest bathing suits. So much for women being considered equal when they dress like that.
  • When I look at a lot of news sources, I see many things going on that aren’t covered by either CNN or FOX. Those two networks seem obsessed with running talking heads show of “experts” who are really liberal or really conservative. Unfortunately, a lot of people believe the opinion shows on both networks are gospel.
  • Minnesota is suing “big pharma” for an exorbitant increase in the cost of insulin. It’s sort of like buying a pair of pliers one year for $12.00 and then a few years down the road seeing the price jump to $120.00. There’s no excuse for that kind of price gouging.
  • Writers aren’t immune to the debates going on in the country. Some writers have found a way to speak out in those debates through their poetry, novels, and essays. Not all of us can do that. It doesn’t mean we don’t care. It means that the kind of writing we do doesn’t lend itself to work focused on the latest issues. We always hope what we write will make a difference, even if that difference is indirect.

Malcolm

That Elusive Writer’s Platform

Big name writers have writing platforms called the big name writer’s platform.

When James Patterson comes out with a new book, you know who he is and what kinds of stories he tells, so he doesn’t need to go on blog tours or work in a hardware store to stay solvent.

If your name is Joe Doaks, are 43 years old, and live in your parents’ basement where you play video games and hack into the dark web, you only have a writer’s platform if you write a tell-all book about the dark web, especially one that the FBI tries to get banned. Otherwise, you can send the best novel in the universe to a big New York publisher and they probably won’t take it on because you don’t have a platform. That is, nobody has heard of you and you aren’t maintaining a business of some kind that will draw readers to your books.

Most of us who write self-published or small-press books need a platform. Nonfiction is easier than fiction, because our books can be an outgrowth of a strong, nonfiction website that gets thousands of hits a month. That is, if you maintain a popular website in which you provide the real stories behind major crimes, your novel will be seen as part of this and will probably sell well.

If you’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest, and have lots of followers and comments, you’re better off than those who have no online presence unless you have a high-profile teaching position or other offline work that has made you widely known to many people.

Many of us imagine our writer’s platform looks like this:

When, in reality, it looks like this:

 

But then, for example, after hearing a lot of positive comments on, say, Facebook about a new novel we’re about to release, we realize after it’s been released that very few people on our friend’s list actually bought a copy, and that of the small number who did, few (if any) of them posted an Amazon review.

There have been–and still are–a variety of authors’ networking sites. My experience with these is that most authors are there to sell their own books rather than to buy the books of other unknown authors. While “networking” on the authors’ sites, those people are buying James Patterson, Donna Tart, and John Grisham novels rather than fiction nobody’s ever heard of.

Many small-print and self-published authors depend on Amazon. Some books–mostly nonfiction, it seems–have made a lot of money there. Most fiction by unknown authors doesn’t sell well there because most people never see it and those who do would rather buy books from known authors. While Amazon helps self-published and small-press authors to some extent, it’s still a business that makes more off James Patterson than Joe Nobody.

As others before me have said, those of us who don’t have platforms that get the attention of Oprah’s Book Club or a New York Times reviewers basically have to be content to write in the shadows and earn our money from other jobs. Over time, we may be able so build platforms that attract more prospective readers. My last three novels, for example, were about hoodoo. If I were a hoodoo practitioner (I’m not), then my hoodoo site would be a natural place to promote my book. The same can be true for any other field where you have credentials and a following. Those who have come to your site for facts, are likely to enjoy fiction based on those facts.

You can also build your platform by submitting short stories to literary magazines, including those who only pay in contributor’s copies. The credit line at the end of the story that says something like “Bob Smith is the author of the Andromeda Series of fantasy novels” is a good way to spread your name around to prospective readers. Needless to say, magazine credits, including any where your short story or poem won a contest, give your website something to mention.

I remain skeptical of the paid-for-reviews from the well-known sites who provide these because the reviews are expensive and when published, you cannot be certain those reviews won’t be segregated into a “self-published reviews” category. Labeling them like that pretty much negates the value of the review. Also, if you look at the statistics about the probable sales of a self-published book, the cost of that paid-for-review may wipe out all your profits. So far, I haven’t been willing to roll the dice on reviews or book-of-the-year contests that cost a lot of money and/or advertise the awards are for indie books.

Unfortunately, blogger reviews seem to be of limited help because those blogs don’t attract a lot of attention when compared to the value to a review on a mainstream, traditional newspaper or site. A review from “Bob’s Blog” isn’t really something that’s going to lure a lot of readers away from your mainstream competition. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t solicit such reviews, only that you recognize going in that they aren’t the New York Times or The Christian Science Monitor.

You can, to some extent, widen your platform by engaging with readers and writers on sites like Facebook. It’s easy to log on to Facebook and upload the same old stuff every week: notices about your books, shared pictures of animals, jokes, and an occasional political rant. It takes more time to go to the sites of those on your friends list an actually say something there rather than simply clicking LIKE. The same is true of the bogs you read where you can click LIKE and also read a comment. When you find books and viewpoints you like, you are building your platform by leaving comments so that the writers/bloggers start recognizing your name.

If you’re on Pinterest, you can post links to your own blogs and the sites you like about subject matter that may interest others. You can also PIN some of the links other people share that fit into the various niche areas that fit your interests and your novels. The thing here is: engage with the users about things that interest them.

Many authors think their novels require and “all about me” approach to promotion and interaction on blogs and social networks. Really, they’re an “all about you” kind of promotion. Talking about why you wrote those books is not nearly as important as showing prospective readers what’s in it for them to read those books.  Your platform needs to be an invitation rather than a memoir about you and how hard it was to write your novel.

Malcolm