Weekly Musing: How Not to Spam Your Friends a Guest Post by M.K. Williams

This week’s Weekly Musing comes courtesy of my first ever guest poster! Through the website blogtour.org, author M.K. Williams and I started a dialogue about posting on my blog. Her debut novel, Nailbiters, a dystopian sci-fi thriller, is out now. You can find her on Facebook, Goodreads, and her website. After reading her post, go pick up her book!

 Being an independent author often means I juggle the act of writing my stories with the business end of marketing and promoting my book. With the proliferation of social media outlets there are now more cost effective ways to market books. It would seem this would make it infinitely easier, but in reality it makes it much more difficult because anyone can go online and promote their product.

You likely know someone, or are at least socially linked to someone, who has their own business or is selling something. I know several entrepreneurs who work hard every day to get their message in front of me on every social channel. Some do this graciously, others not so much. After observation and fine-tuning, I carefully navigate my networks to make sure I keep the right balance of shameless self-promotion and social interaction. Here is how I have been working to make sure I’m not just spamming my friends on social media:

Treat your friends like you would treat your friends.

Simply posting, “Hey, come buy my book” every day doesn’t work. One reason being I would very quickly lose many social connections by spamming everyone with the same message over and over. Social media is about a conversation and making a connection, not just saying one thing. This would be the equivalent of going to lunch with a friend and hearing all about what they are doing in their life and in return only talking about my book. It would be rude and very one-sided. I tend to stay off of social media for the most part (so I can focus on writing), but when I do log-in I focus on genuinely interacting with others before posting about my book.

Set up a separate account

I try to make my life easier by having fewer electronic logins to remember. But, social networks do allow for users to create business pages or profiles to be used for the purpose of promoting their brand. I have only done this for Facebook. So far it seems to help keep the level of spamming down and not irritating friends and family. I post my personal photos, life updates, etc. on my personal Facebook page. I post information related to reviews of Nailbiters and when the book is picked up by a new online store on my author’s profile page. This has allowed me to gain a specific following on Facebook of fans who want to see updates. If they don’t want to see anymore updates, they can un-follow the specific page without having to un-friend me.

Finding balance

For my other social accounts I have only one login so my personal and book related posts get mixed in together. In an effort to still be part of the conversation I try to monitor what I post. I don’t post very often so when I am about to post something about my novel I scroll through to make sure I have a good ratio of personal posts to book related posts. Adding this level of self-screening allows me to stay more authentic. It may not lead to lots of sales, but it means I am not abusing my social network. I can handle low sales; I couldn’t handle having every one of my friends and family frustrated with me.

Give the people what they want

It seems that most things in life are really just a matter of trial-and-error. This has also been my experience with posts I put up for my book. I found just putting up the cover image and saying “Hey, buy this!” didn’t work. I really connected with other brands what I saw that they posted something really authentic and genuine. I decided to give that a try. When I feel extremely grateful and humbled by a good review, I post something to that effect. When I see another young writer succeeding, I give her praise. The more appreciation I show the more my followers appreciate me. Because of this, most of my posts focus on the person who has written a review, done an interview, or just taken the time to read my book. Again, this may mean a much slower pace in getting readers to find out about my work, but I am having much more fun.

Just ask for some help

Because I know my network will only be able to tolerate my repetitive messages for so long, I have been reaching out to others to help promote my book. Even if every single one of my friends purchased the book, it wouldn’t hit any best-seller list. I need people to tell a friend, who will tell a friend, and so on. Because I have friends with greater social influence than I do, I reached out and asked for their help promoting the book. The worst they could have said was “No,” but they each very graciously agreed to help. In this case, a very sincere and targeted message yielded the best results and allowed me to connect with those friends again.

 

If you have started out on the path to become an independent author, you will certainly be faced with the dilemma of how much to promote your book on social media. The right balance will be different for each person and their network. Hopefully these tips will help you on your way to becoming a non-spammy best-selling author!

Weekly Musing: Pet Peeves

Once again I take the writer’s hat off and don my reader’s cap. In a similar vein to last week’s post this week I’d like to discuss my pet peeves as a reader. Throughout my life these things have bugged me and I’ve just now been able to capture into words. I’ve noticed over the last few years I can somehow separate out my reader pet peeves from my writer pet peeves. Perhaps in the future I’ll do a list of those.

Too Much Italicizing: When this italicizing words in used in dialogue as a way to show a character’s speech pattern or to accentuate meaning it becomes grating. If you can’t craft a character through actions and how and what they say to the point a reader could understand what is important, then you are either not confident as a writer or you think the reader is stupid.

I also cringe when it’s overused with a character’s inner dialogue. What purpose does this serve? Sometimes I get the impression an author employs this to somehow tell the reader “Looky here, subtext is going on. Get it? You get it, right?” Yeah, I get it without the italics. Please do stop with them.

Questions in Internal Thoughts: I know it’s natural when we are privy to character’s honest thoughts they will have questions about a situation or what somebody said. I’m the reader, I was there for the scene and if you’ve constructed it well enough I’ll be asking myself the same questions. So it’s really grating when I’m told what the questions are. Good to know we’re on the same page. Or good of the author to sit there and spoon feed me and tell me what I’m supposed to be thinking. I’m not suggesting a character never come up with questions. He or she should because it is part of character development and we need to see them work things out. But I do find it makes me want to slap the character around when they do it too much as he or she comes across as almost stupid.

Stereotypes/Genre Tropes: I’m pretty sure most readers resent stereotypes this. To me a stereotype is this context is beyond racial but gender, cultural, sexual orientation, etc. Not all stereotypes are bad and I don’t necessarily mind if a character starts off as possibly fitting into a stereotype, but the author quickly establishes this isn’t the case. What I do have an issue with is when a character is defined by a stereotype. Give the reader something fresh. Break down those walls. Granted, there are people in real life who fall into stereotypes and fiction shouldn’t shy away from that, but one way fiction can change the world is by challenging a reader’s view of the world. Have empathy for someone different from them and defying stereotypes shakes a reader’s expectations. Don’t always have dark associated with evil. Don’t always associate light with good. Don’t have your hero be heterosexual and the strong, silent type incapable of getting in touch with his emotions. Don’t have the smartest person in a group be Asian.

Genre tropes are a little bit trickier because one of the main reasons a reader is attracted to certain genres is because they know what kinds of characters they will get. And they like those types of characters. Not necessarily a bad thing and to a certain degree there are some genre tropes which I do like and expect. However, much like stereotypes, genre tropes are something I’d like to see a new take. It could be something as simple as flipping genders or races or sexual orientation. Or it could be something more significant such as adding some kind of disability which doesn’t hinder the character as one would expect. Or perhaps does pose some additional challenges. Again, shake it up. Sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t but give the reader something new. But don’t make it a big deal to the point too much emphasis is placed on how “unusual” it is.

Characters That Are Too Much Alike: People don’t sound, think, or act the same. Even people within the same family and raised the same way. That’s one thing which is fascinating to me to observe in life. So when I pick up a book I demand variety. It’s disappointing when I read a novel in which everyone sounds the same. Makes me shake my head. It shows me little thought was put into viewing the characters as people. On the other hand, not everybody in a scene must act differently. That gets messy and complicated, but when everyone acts and speaks the same in every scene the reader is left with cardboard, boring characters.

Female Love Interest Younger Than Male Love Interest: I get it. Historically speaking most women were and are younger than their beaus for a variety of social, religious, and quasi-biological reasons. Got it. But flip the script with the woman older than the man without it being shocking or without some ulterior motive like a rich widow. The few times I’ve read this scenario the older woman in question is still quite attractive and young enough looking. Yet when a young female marries an older male the man is usually unattractive and looks decidedly old. The reader is meant to sympathize with the woman for having to be with this old man when the younger, albeit still older than the female, man is a far better option. That also grates on me. There are some silver foxes out there who aren’t all pervy and predatory on young women.

Overly Badass Women: Believe me I’m all for girl power. I grew up in the ’90s watching Dana Scully being intelligent and badass on The X-File. With Daria Morgendorffer offering up sarcastic honesty on her fellow humans. With Xena: Warrior Princess being well, a warrior princess and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer which had your almost stereotypical female badass, Buffy, as well as your almost stereotypical nerd, Willow.

But I think we’ve gone overboard on the badassery. It’s gotten to the point where it seems to be the only way a woman can be awesome is to be able to kick butt and take names. Apparently if I’m not this way they I have no strength as a woman. It’s as if we’ve matched the “ideal” man as being strong because he’s physically strong. Is this the only way women can be on par with men? The badass woman is the only way to show empowerment for an entire gender forgetting we, like men, come in everything in between.

Women Getting Pregnant: This grates on me because too often it’s done as a way to add more drama to the plot. Every time I’ve seen this the pregnancy is unintended and seems to happen the woman’s first time having sex or the first time she’s has sex with a particular man. Apparently having a woman become pregnant is the only way to raise the stakes for a woman. Or to get the reluctant male to finally realize how much he loves her and wants to be there for both her and his child. Come on, authors, you can do better. Don’t make your female character pregnant so quickly within a relationship or as a way of forcing two people into a relationship even though realistically those people shouldn’t be together. Show me you understand how the real world works.

Now there is an exception to this and it’s when a pregnancy is important to say the line of succession.

Constantly Repeating Another Character’s Name: Authors, please stop doing this in dialogue. When I’m drafting I do this more as a way of reminding myself of who the hell is talking. When I edit and try to look at the story from a reader’s viewpoint, I cut a lot of those references out. It’s easy enough for the reader to track who is speaking and to whom. But when I read published novels and characters are constantly doing this, in particular when only two or three people are in a scene, it makes me question the author’s abilities a little bit. Does the author think I’m too stupid to keep up because maybe they couldn’t? In real life we rarely use each other’s names when speaking so why subject readers to this?

 

With all of these pet peeves, it’s rare I don’t finish a book. Lately, though, I’ve become tougher on books and won’t finish if it has a few of these. I simply don’t have the patience and time to get to the end of a book that clearly gets on my nerves. When I see these things pop up I wonder how in the world did this get past an editor let alone published? But again, these are just my pet peeves. I’m sure a lot of these things don’t bother most readers and that’s great.

Weekly Musing: Reader Responsibility

I view reading as a two-way street between author and reader. A writer’s first job is to be a storyteller and the primary function of a storyteller is to come up with a tale which a reader will enjoy. I’m may be a writer, but I was first a reader and in many ways I still consider myself a reader before a writer. As a writer I understand what the expectations are of me. These are things drilled into us as we learn and practice the craft. But what is not talked about enough is the responsibilities a reader must carry with them. After all a writer cannot and should not be spoon feeding readers everything. Below I’ve listed some of the expectations we as readers are responsible for.

Unfamiliar Words: Language is great. Authors like words. Readers like words. It’s why we do what we do. It’s up to the reader to look up words they are unfamiliar with. Yet I’ve seen advice over the years discouraging writers from using words most people aren’t familiar with. This is crazy to me. Growing up my teachers encouraged us to use the dictionary to look up words as well as teaching us how to glean the word’s meaning from its usage in a sentence. This is something that doesn’t stop once we leave school. Technology has made it easier to look up a word either by using your eReader’s built in dictionary or via an app on your phone.

It’s not the job of the author to dumb down the language because some of the readers may not know the meaning of a word. The author doesn’t know your reading level or your level of word mastery. Authors use the words which make the most sense for the story and the character. Inversely the author shouldn’t fill his or her story with convoluted, archaic words just because they know them.

Cultural and Technological References: This is something I see brought up in my writers group during critiques and is one thing that puzzles me. I have heard someone tell a writer to leave out references to a specific movie, song, actor, some other cultural reference. Even references to new technology are discouraged. Doesn’t matter if such things are appropriate to the story. The train of thought is these kinds of references will “date” the piece.

This makes zero sense. Should F. Scott Fitzgerald have held back on capturing the essence of the Jazz Age in The Great Gatsby just because in a few decades those references would be lost on most readers? No, of course not. As a reader it is my job to understand the story’s world. If that means I don’t know what a clothes iron from the 1930s looks like I can either roll passed it or stop to look it up. Because it’s not as if information on everything humanely possible is at my fingertips. Like looking up a word, if I have to stop what I’m reading to do a little bit of research, that’s fine. Especially if it’s something which will help me better understand the story. If you can’t be bothered to do some research, that’s fine, but don’t go blaming the author for putting in something you don’t understand.

Character Likeability: This one is subjective and purely up to the reader’s interpretation of the character. As human beings we all bring with us prejudices to what we read. It’s natural to automatically dismiss certain kinds of characters regardless of how the author has presented them on the page. For example, I can’t stand girly, princess type characters so if I encounter one in a story I’m probably going to find her automatically unlikeable. On the flip side I tend to automatically like morally gray characters.

Since character likeability is subjective, it’s up to the author to do justice to the characters and keep them as true to whom they are as possible. It’s fascinating discussing a book and tracking how the same character’s actions can be interpreted so differently. As a writer I always find it curious how feedback from my critique group or my spouse about a character can be different from how I see the character.

Endings: Endings are tricky to write, probably the trickiest part of the whole process, and as a reader tricky to accept. But I have noticed complaints by readers who downgrade a book simply because the ending wasn’t happy enough. In some genres a happy ending is practically a requirement and I’m not referring to those books. I’m referring to books which establish from the start that this is going to be the kind of story that won’t be all butterflies and unicorns. The characters are gritty, the situation could be dire if the right decisions aren’t made, lives will be most likely lost. The reader is onboard with all of this until the ending where magically they switch attitudes and want a happy ending. Huh?

I find it problematic many readers scream about how if they were the author they would have ended things differently and why didn’t the author see that? Because the author isn’t you. Because the ending they came up with is what they saw in their mind. Or what the editor or publishing company wanted. It’s fine as a reader to dislike an ending, but when you get upset at the author for not ending things how you wanted it to end then that are more on you. Personally very few of the books I’ve read I thought ended things properly and in my own work I know how much I still struggle with ending a story in an appropriate way.

Separating an Author From Their Work: When I’m reading I don’t personally associate the book with the author. What an author writes is not a reflection of who they are as a person. If I did then I would think Stephen King should have been locked up years ago. Or I would think every single romance writer out there as having a super libido or is using his or her stories as wish fulfillment.

Yet it’s far too easy to accuse an author of being racist or misogynist if too many of the minority or female characters have bad things happen to them. It’s too easy to think if an author’s works explore the dark side of humanity that they themselves personally view humanity as doomed. Or that author must believe in vampires and zombies if all his or her works feature those creatures. Um, no. Unless the author has stated otherwise, this more than likely is not the case, yet some readers see it this way. Apparently some don’t realize it’s up to you, the reader, to be able to separate fact from fiction.

Something else I’ve also seen are readers telling authors to be neutral in their opinions so as to not lose readers. Authors are human beings with their own views on life. Just because those views don’t line up with every potential reader doesn’t mean the author should change or shut up. If you are willing to stop reading an author because of their personal views, that’s on you. Personally I stop reading an author because I don’t like the work.

 

As a reader it is our job to work with the author. We read and interpret the story the best we know how to just as the author worked hard to write the best story they know how. There is a give and take whenever we choose to read. It’s incorrect for the author to assume every reader will completely understand the story just as it is incorrect for the reader to assume the author will spoon feed us. Readers need to be able to think on their own and connect the dots based on what the author has given us. It’s time to realize this as our main responsibility and work harder when we read.