Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Presenting a Better You

At the risk of starting with a cliché, when we think of writing and authors we picture hermits sequestered away in isolation somewhere, but this is rarely the case – especially in this visual, digital age.  We may not always want to be seen, but in a world that is overwhelmed with people expressing themselves in writing by way of books and blogs and social media, there is still one thing that will stand out above all else; our personal presence.  While some will argue that you either have it or you don’t, the it factor, it actually can be learned and practiced.

There are various elements to presenting ourselves to the public.  The top two are much easier to say than to do – be yourself, and be confident.  It’s almost like writing dialogue in that we want it to read as authentic, but in reality it is to be crafted.  Some people are naturally gifted and can draw people in with a magical energy.  We’ve all seen it.  I am not one of those people.  One of the things that always bothered me most when I would say to someone how much I hated speaking in public, how paralyzing it was for me, was the response of “the more you do it, the easier it becomes.”  Tell that to Barbra Streisand, who still has stage fright to this day.  There isn’t always a turning point for everyone.  I was fortunate enough to have mine and it was the last thing I had expected it to be but it really did put me over the bump that now I’m not sick to my stomach every time I’m at the head of a room. 

Other elements that draw people in are our language.  Speaking loudly and clearly is key.  That’s not to say we should hide our accents or other little things that are true to ourselves.  There’s a line in an old country song about a poor southern upbringing that goes “I was smarter than most and I could choose, I learned to talk like the man on the six o’clock news.”  We’ve all also seen some very bad speakers.  It doesn’t lessen their initial appeal, but it does turn people off if they have to work too hard to understand what’s being said.  It buries the message.

So let’s start breaking down how this directly applies to writers:

·       Readings

·       Open mics

·       Conferences

·       Lectures

·       Video presentations

·       Teaching

·       Bookstore events

And here are some basic tips:

·       Know your material

o   That’s not to say that you need to memorize it.  And while practice certainly helps, for someone such as myself it really doesn’t do a thing so I put in time analyzing the cadence and rhythm of my speech, timing, and being familiar with my topic or anything I’m about to read.  Own your material.

·       Make eye contact

o   I have heard some amazing stories that I just couldn’t get into because I couldn’t get past the author never looking up from their pages.  Especially poetry, one of the most emotional genres and it begs to be seen as much as heard.

·       Be aware of your body language

o   Don’t hole yourself up as if you were in a dark corner.  Be open, and let others see you.  Even when behind a podium, use your hands, be sure to smile, but don’t overexxagerate.

·       Voice control

o   Know when to pause for effect, and know when to emphasize certain words.  Timing is everything.

·       Speaking of time…

o   Keep to yours!  If you are not given a time limit at an event, ask.  Be aware of the attention span of your audience, and how the type of event plays into how long your reading should be.  In general, 5 minutes is a reasonable amount of time.  But if you want to appear as professional and be invited to participate, be mindful as a show of respect.  I was in an event recently featuring 10 authors and we were given a 6 minute limit, including our introduction.  Only two of us stayed within our limit.  Everyone else ranged from 15-25 minutes and the audience was ridiculously restless as we went over the 2 scheduled hours.

·       Group events

o   If you have been invited to be in an event with other authors, take note that most of the audience is not likely to be familiar with your work.  This means that while you want to seize the opportunity of a new audience, if you are a standout genre or tend to be controversial, keep in mind the pendulum effect – you can turn people off as easily as draw them in.  Factor this in when choosing your piece.

·       Respecting the venue

o   Let me preface this by saying that I believe in the legitimacy of art – it is our greatest historian and depicts the world around us in movies, music, sculpture, graffiti, books and television.  Sometimes – often – that includes controversy and some sketchy language or visuals.  It is essential to share the unpleasantries of the world as much as the joys and the fantastical.  However, we need to be aware of who is around us.  Bookstores are always open to the public during events, so have the respect that you don’t want to turn their customers away.  In choosing your selection, consider if it is graphic in nature or includes offensive language.  Is it really in your best interest to read that?  One of the bookstores I read in regularly, the kid-lit section is right next to the event space.  Despite the consistent darkness of my work, I always keep that in mind.  Is that f-bomb really needed in this particular instance or can another word be temporarily substituted if given the proper emphasis?  Even though it may be timely and cultural, think ahead about how a racial slur may affect the current audience – is there a chance you’re going to single out anyone in the room?  Are your politics on the extreme side, or can it be shaped to reflect you but not come across like an angry tirade that will cause others to leave?  Are you going to be reading a right wing piece in a left wing venue, and if so how will you do it with some smidgen of taste and decorum? 

·       Practice your “resting face.” 

o   I learned this the hard way when I was reviewing video of myself and had forgotten my training that everyone on the stage needs to be in their role at all times.  If it’s someone else’s turn to speak, but you’re on a panel or sitting with others at the head of the room, don’t look bored or chew on your nails or visibly roll your eyes.  Don’t be looking at your phone.  Remember the golden rule; if you can see them, they can see you.

·       Recording for yourself or others

o   I always recommend recording any event you take part in.  Do it because YouTube is the #2 search engine – video is the ruler of the internet today and goes hand in hand with social media.  It’s easier than ever to do with the advent of smart phones and recording/editing apps.  Learning the basics is a useful tool to have.  But if nothing else, do it for yourself.  Ask a friend to record for you, and watch it at home to see what you are doing right and what could you be doing better.  When I worked with a racetrack doing video and commentary, many drivers would ask me for copies of the recordings so that they could analyze their performance.  When I was in radio broadcasting, it was essential that we play back our shows all the time to hear what needed to be improved.  Especially when it came to talking over a song – every second mattered so that we didn’t overlap the singing.  If you are so inclined, practice at home; you can purchase a small tripod and set it up yourself. 

·       Expect the unexpected!

o   Don’t let fear and paranoia overcome you, but do try to prepare for things to go wrong.

So, in the end, practice isn’t going to make any of us flawess but that’s okay because let’s face it – perfection can be boring.  The idea of writing is often to engage with the world and as with any job, there are caveats that go with it.  Only you can decide the path that will get you the audience and fandom that you want.  Being out in the world is almost always key. 

As the saying goes, “don’t hide your light under a bushel.”  Or as the song says, “you got to let your soul shine.”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

It's Time To Face Up

Facebook For Authors
Kymberlie Ingalls, Rainfall Press -
Of all the social media giants that pass over the internet – AOL, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, SnapChat – one thing is common; information overload.  Advice was once given to anyone looking to sell and connect to buyers or a fan base to be on all platforms all the time.  This is no longer the case.  It is best to choose one or two mediums and focus.  It is simply unrealistic to think we have that kind of energy to invest, and people have grown fatigued with social media in recent years.  Find the two that you feel most comfortable with and that you enjoy, and don’t worry about the rest.  Insincerity is easily detected, and people respond more when they feel ‘you’ come alive.
Statistics to know:
·       There are currently more than 2 billion active Facebook users
o   85% of those users come from outside the US/Canada
·       Age Demographics are important to know:
o   88% of those 18-29
o   84% of those 30-49
o   72% for those 50-64
o   62% for those 65+
·       Gender demographics are just about equal
·       Highest traffic times:  mid-week between 1-3pm, or evenings around 7pm.  What this means: You have the potential to reach more consumers and drive higher traffic to your site during peak usage times but people may be more likely to be more engaged in the evenings, especially on Thur/Fri when engagement is 18% higher on average.
·       Photo uploads total 300 million per day
·       People aren’t spending as much time as they used to on Facebook (average 35 minutes per day) but they are checking it more frequently (average 8x per day)
·       More than 60 million businesses have a page
o   40% of Facebook users have never liked a page
·       The sharing of original, user-generated content such as status updates and images declined 21% between mid-2015 and mid-2016.  At the same time, sharing of news articles and other outside links increased. 
Auto or cross posts –  
·       another thing we’ve been instructed to do is sit down and schedule out multiple posts in one session so that they roll out over time.  Here’s why that doesn’t work as well as it might seem: spontaneity is more appealing.  It’s pretty obvious when someone has scheduled a post as it usually reads as a rather dry, canned announcement or proclamation of some sort.  Cross-posting is also obvious because it is labeled as such and is generally more suited to the original platform, thereby falling flat on other sites.  Plus you can’t tag properly and tagging can be an important part of audience targeting.  The bottom line is that if you’re not willing to put the time in, it’s probably not the platform for you.
Groups –
·       Facebook groups can be a fantastic way for writers to connect, trade advice, swap war stories and find new opportunities. Knowing there are other people out there who “get” what it’s like to be a writer can be a huge comfort, and the chance to share experience and tips with people on all stages of the writing journey is invaluable.
o   The Write Life Community
o   Calls For Submissions
o   Indie Author Group
o   Write On! Online
o   Writers Helping Writers
Stories –
·       Camera-First Communications – this means that video and visuals are king.  The camera is beginning to replace the keyboard.  Don’t be discouraged, however.  Nothing should stop you from talking about your writing! 
·       Stories has been a hit on Instagram (also owned by Facebook), but has yet to take off on Facebook.  Not recommended at this time.  It is something they are trying out, so unless you have a radical idea that will shake up the concept, don’t put too much energy into it yet.  It may come and go as quickly as book trailers. 
Facebook Live –
·       Use it, but don’t abuse it!  Studies have shown that people will engage with a live feed but will be turned off if done too often. 
·       Use Facebook Live to talk about an event, let readers see you performing a reading, or perhaps give lessons or talk about your writing processes.  They can comment in real time, so the idea is to interact with them also in real time.  Let them ask questions and answer them as you go – Q&As are always popular.
·       Practice makes perfect.  Become comfortable with the camera before putting it into use.  Learn the ins and outs, use a tripod for your phone or device, invest in a decent and clear-picture webcam
Personal page vs Professional –
·       Know your etiquette – don’t over-saturate your friends by only promoting your work or selling them things.  This isn’t your audience, because it’s a limited market with little room to grow. 
·       Don’t be afraid to be personal on your professional page, but have boundaries
·       Facebook has set up ‘shop’ with the Pages – you can design your own store with photos, buttons for shopping, following, etc 
Branding –
·       Not every post needs to be the same, but have some kind of consistency because familiarity draws people in.  Toss in the occasional surprise to keep people on their toes.
In summary, use social media for what it was intended – to be SOCIAL! 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Video Killed the Literary Star

Did you know that video has been the #1 search engine for some time?  YouTube has become the largest search engine behind Google.  My husband swears by it; every time I ask him how to do anything he comes back with "Look it up on YouTube" and darned if he isn't right.  There is a video on how to do just about everything. There are even videos that tell you how to sell a book.  Or how to blog
  • In 2017, video content represents 74% of video traffic
  • 4x as many users would prefer to watch a video about a product than read about it.
  • up to 85% more emails are opened if "video" is in the subject line - including a link to your video channel is a way to engage.
But what is there for an author to blog about?

Several years ago, someone came up with the idea of a book trailer.  On paper, it completely made sense and was the perfect way to get in on the video craze that was just beginning to take hold.  For whatever reason, they never caught on.  Quality was most likely that reason.  While authors were thrilled to have a visual for their words, readers not so much.  So, if anyone is trying to tell you to invest time or money into a book trailer, please save both.

This doesn't mean that authors can't have a video page.  There are possibilities, even if you need to create them yourself.  What activities are you participating in?  Have you done any bookstore appearances?  Library lectures?  Readings or open mics?  If you haven't, ask yourself why not?  All of these are opportunities to record.  It's rather simple in these times, with our phones ready to use.  Invest in an inexpensive tripod of any size for those times when a friend or colleague can't help out.  If you're appearing in a bookstore, ask an employee to record you.  Be sure to include their signage if any is displayed.  Simple editing apps for a computer or your phone can clean up these videos and make them easy to post.  If it's something you don't wish to do yourself, check online to see about hiring someone.  Inexpensive help can be found just about anywhere.

If you're not being included in these events, people may not be aware of you or your work, so ask.  Better yet, create your own!  Organize an event, or even do something easy like have a friend interview you.  Videos shouldn't be more than a few minutes at a time.  Let's face it, an attention span isn't what it used to be.  Especially in lectures; people don't want to skip through a half hour to find the nugget that they want to hear.  They should be edited to no more than 5-10 minutes.  Be sure to title them appropriately with a description so that they know just what they're getting.  Interviews are a great way to get information to the public that you want them to have about you or your books. 

If you are trying to promote an audiobook or a podcast, you can create video with audio by using a still background - a great use of your book cover.  Again, it's either easy or inexpensive. 

These are only a few ways to make the most of the internet, and should be a large slice of your online platform.  It may seem daunting at the moment, but like anything else it just needs some roping lessons to control it.