Of Writers and Prose: Are writing hashtags worth the effort?

For years, writers have been told to add hashtags to just about everything they post on social media. The belief is that hashtags allow writers to find one another, support one another, and be included in conversations on these platforms within the writing community. Hashtags are a great way to find support for whatever you need and a good way to find others who share the same likes. Genre hashtags are no different, and they help hundreds of writers who love a specific type of genre feel like they’re part of something bigger. A place where they can gather and chat about the books they read and write.

Everything has a hashtag now, and I mean everything. On some social media, it’s the only way to find the content you want. I find using them helps to keep the crap at a minimum, especially on sites like TikTok and makes using these platforms more enjoyable as both a user and creator. The use of hashtags has grown over the years and unfortunately, not in a good way. Scroll through a writing one on Twitter and you’ll see they have de-evolved into a spam-fest stream of nothing but promotions. I followed a writing hashtag for close to two months, and ninty percent were nothing but authors promoting their books, blogs, or posts on other social media.

What happened to the exchange of ideas and communication that they were supposed to inspire?

I see creators using so many hashtags in their posts that it’s longer than their actual post. I understand wanting to be seen as much as possible, but do you know how UNINVITING this makes the posts look? Which is the exact opposite of what you you’re trying to do. I see these over-used hashtag posts and scroll right on by, because it tells me that the creator has no interest in actually engaging with the community. That they don’t care. Another over-use is how some posts are tagged to content that has nothing to do with their post. Again, trying to be seen, and again, only makes them invisible.

In order to sell books, writers need to promote, I understand that, and writing communities on social media are a great way to meet people, but when those same outlets become congested with spam, where does the community come in? I’m not saying to stop using hashtags, just the opposite, but think about why you’re using them. Are you reciprocating? Are you interacting with the community? I’ve been interacting with the community hashtag?

I stopped interacting with communities for years because of this problem, and only recently started again. I’ve had some great, albeit short, conversations with other writers, but I’m not going to lie, all the ‘shameless self promotion’ and ‘lifts’ are enough to drive me away and never look back.  

Think about this the next time you use a hashtag, and ask yourself why aren’t you getting any traction with that latest book promo or blog post. There’s a reason. People are tuning out. Give them a reason to tune in.

Of Writers and Prose: Has Discord Become the New Proboards?

Do you remember Proboards? The wildly popular forum website that swept through the internet in the early 2000s. Released on January 1st, 2000, it ushered in a new age of online social communication. Everyone had a Proboard forum. Hell, I started three and was a part of three more. It was one of the earliest forms of community on the web (yes, I remember the old Yahoo chat rooms), and over 3.5 million forums were at their peak. There was a Proboard for just about everything. Sadly, that has dropped to roughly 1.2 million that are still active and garner the occasional page view. I’m surprised there are any still active at all.

What was so appealing about Proboards? The same thing drives people to Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media sites; a sense of community and interaction with like-minded people, and the upgrades allowed for that interaction to grow, but it also had its problems. Maybe it was just a flash in the pan, or people got bored, I don’t know, but it’s not as popular as it once was. A new forum God has taken over, and it’s called Discord.

Launched in 2015, it was created for the gamer world as a means of a better form of communication. The Wikipedia for the site is HERE. You should give it a read. It’s really interesting. Discord doesn’t have karma points or fancy mods to make it appealing. You get the basic text and communicate via voice. Plain and simple. Maybe that’s why it’s become the go-to forum? Plain and straightforward always wins out in the end.

While both websites have advantages and disadvantages, I would go with Discord if I had to choose. People want to engage with others and talk about their interests, and real-time texting is easier to carry a conversation than the post-by-post forum. The program is designed for voice and text and is more suited to the mobile world, and I think that’s where it wins out over Proboards. You can also download the program to your computer and get instant notification of when someone replies or posts. Again, it’s that real-time communication that makes it so popular.

Are you on Discord? You should be.

Of Writers and Prose: Support Your Wife and Help Her Write You into Retirement!

Literally the subject line of the last email I sent my husband.

I was not one who anxiously supported Patreon when it first came out. It wasn’t that I didn’t want people to be paid for their creative services, just the opposite, but I have a hard time asking anyone for money outside of purchasing my books, and it just felt creepy for me. Some content I think should be free to help grow your audiences, such as blog posts and newsletters. When I became dedicated to doing a monthly newsletter, I struggled with what I should put on my blog vs. what I should put in my newsletter. I’m still working on that, and now I have one more thing to add to my indecisions.

I started a Patreon page. It’s right HERE.

I didn’t entertain the idea of starting one until a few of us were chatting in the SF forum about what to put in a newsletter, and I mentioned my Inkarnate maps. I plan to take screenshots as I create them and post them one by one so people can see how it all comes together. One of the chatters said that would be an excellent reward for Patreon, and then the idea made a home in my brain.

I have three tiers on my site with an idea for a fourth, but it will be just for Canadians and won’t come into being for quite a while. This is more of an experiment than anything else. I do like the idea that people can subscribe either monthly or yearly. It will be interesting because I have so many ideas for what I want to put on this page; audio files of me reading excerpts, pictures of maps, and post on the inspirations behind the stories and why. I will keep the format I have been using for my blog posts, and I have a few new ideas too. This will be more work for me, but I have a plan, and if I stick to it, this could work out for the better.

Do you have a Patreon? How do you like it?

Of Writers and Prose: Creating a special occasion in your story.

Have I mentioned that I am in love with the world I created for my alternate reality story?

Okay, maybe a few times, but this is a place where I’ve let my imagination run wild with possibilities and mashed two genres together, or maybe three. I don’t know. Okay, let’s not call it mashing how about blending?

One reason I love this world so much is that I get to create holidays. I believe holidays are important to stories. It allows you to explore the culture you’ve created, and it can offer some wonderful opportunities for your characters to interact and reflect. Because this is an alternate reality, I chose to expand on some well-known celebrations; keeping them familiar while adding just enough of a twist that they are unique.

It sounds like a daunting task, but I made it easy for myself by jotting down a few things about the holiday that I know. For example, Halloween. First celebrated as the end of harvest and end of the year by some cultures, celebrations revolved around the finality of the growing season. The end of something scare people because they don’t know what will happen afterward, so I designed a playful ritual where a volunteer dresses up as a Banshee (or as I spell it for the novel Banshii) and is led through the parish by someone dressed as an undertaker. Children throw flowers at them as they pass by and chant a little poem. If the Banshii stops near someone, they throw several small bones, and the bones foretell the future for that person, but it’s all for fun.

I also expanded on the idea of covering mirrors. Instead, all windows and doors are covered with heavy black material, with only the homes of people who lost a loved one within the past year remaining uncovered. The idea is, that the newly departed soul returns on this day for one last visit, and might get confused as to which house they once lived in. The covered windows and doors make it easy for the spirit to find their family, and for the neighbours to show respect for the dead. I made this a very strong superstition in the story.  

Those are just small adjustments to traditions that are still widely performed. Do you put celebrations in your stories? How do you create them?

Of Writers and Prose: And then my flash drive crashed, Your Honour.

It was that kind of month, lemme tell ya.

For over thirty years, I’ve struggled to find a reliable means to save my writing. When I started, I used a plastic binder and paper. I had boxes of binders and loose paper that had the beginning of stories that eventually went nowhere, and I had to get rid of them because they became a fire hazard. I bought a word processor in my mid-20s that saved everything to a floppy (don’t you DARE ask me what a floppy is), and I loved it. All my work was right there at my fingertips. When I bought my first computer five years later, it didn’t recognize the word processor program, and I had to print everything out and type it into my computer. That was fine. I formatted the floppy and reused it, and everything was right with the world until computers no longer had floppy drives, and I had to save directly to my computer.  The first time my computer died, I swear I cried for days. My writing was my only outlet; my husband knew this and wasn’t too upset as we went into debt to buy me a new one. I learned my lesson too, and started looking for ways to save the work OUTSIDE of my computer.

Enter my Dropbox phase.

For years I used this online program to save all my work and a few extra things, and then someone introduced me to flash drives. I put finished stories on my flash drive, as well as family pictures. I thought it was the perfect way to save those files and keep space open on my computer. When Dropbox decided to reduce how much I could store, I added all of my writing and kept only the projects I was working on at that moment on my computer.

And then . . .  well, the title says it all. Good thing my kid has enough money for bail.

The same day I released The Quiet Dead, I accidentally bumped my flash drive while it was still connected to my computer, and everything went P00F! I. Mean. Everything. Pictures, finished stories, story ideas, and first drafts of novels I planned on publishing. It was like that first computer crash all over again. Blerg. Yet this story has a happy ending. See, it USED TO BE that if you crashed a flash drive, that was it, but I found technology that allows you to recover those files. It cost me $60, but it was worth it. I got all my files back and then some.

Yeah, and then some. Over four thousand files.

Ninety percent were duplicates, and I’ve been going through it all, deleting the files that the computer can’t read and saving the ones it can under a new name. I found stories that were so old I didn’t recognize them. I thought maybe they weren’t mine, but why would I have other people’s work on my flash drive? Anyhoo, my stories are back, and everything is right with the world again. Have I learned my lesson? Who the hell knows, but if I ever have a problem again, I’m going to THIS SITE.

Trust me, it’s worth it.

Of Writers and Prose: When obsession is incomplete.

For years, I was obsessed with acquiring a literary agent. I thought it was the only way to become a published author, but shortly after I sent out my first short story, self-publishing became a thing, so I went with it. In the years that followed, my drive to acquire an agent has waned, but the idea did not.

This whole agent thing, it pokes at me, especially when online events happen. It’s almost as though I need this assertion that my writing is good and the only way that can happen is by landing an agent. I know that’s not true, but it’s this little chunk of doubt that persists, and if I don’t act on it every now and then, it festers and becomes toxic.

I’ve written three books that have been turned down. One I eventually put out myself and the other two (which includes my most recent novel) I will probably do the same. I truly thought I had something with my magical realism novel, even got a nibble, but in the end, it wasn’t meant to be, and I must face facts that agents can’t connect to what I write. Am I sad? Maybe a little, but the biggest problem I face now, is accepting this and moving forward.

A small part of the reason I haven’t put out any books over thee last seven years is because I hung on to this idea of having an agent. I’ve worked on other projects, but in the back of my mind, the notion that none of these were any good depleted my love for the project to a point that I had convinced myself that a better idea would come along, and I would put all my energy into that project.

I wrote five novels in the last six years; Down Finnegan’s Hollow, The Possession of Mercy Moreau, two zombie novels, and my magical realism, plus I started umpteen others, but it wasn’t until Eva and Skye that I felt I *had* something and threw my energy back into writing, solely on the hopes that THIS would fulfil an agents wish. Now that it hasn’t, how do I break this obsession? How do I stop lingering over a dream and just start writing for me again?   

Oddly enough, while writing out the first draft of this post, Hubby and I went out for breakfast, and a crow flew across the street in front of us. When I looked up what that meant (because I am superstitious), the information on the web site coincided with what I was writing about.

            The crow is trying to bring attention to unhealthy behaviors that are holding you back. The crow is literally trying to stop your tracks to metaphorically give attention to self-sabotaging behavior that is holding you back. It could also mean that big changes are about to happen in your life, but they will lead to long-term happiness and success. 

So where do I begin? How do I break this mindset? I’m not sure, but this last story is strike three and I’m not going to try again. I love all the stories I’ve written, and plan on publishing them. I’m not sure when, but you will be seeing them in the future.

Hopefully.

Wish me luck.

Of Writers and Prose: Ten years as a published writer.

September marked a full decade that I have been published. So much has changed in the last ten years, and yet a lot has not.

I self-published The Watchtower in September of 2011 because it was too short of a story for agents or publishers. I knew that from the beginning, and I thought it would be an interesting experience to do it all myself. Self-publishing was still quite new and there were a bunch of us who decided not to go the Trad route. It felt oddly liberating to be a part of such a big change in the industry. Authors did well, some even made enough that they could write full time. Maybe that was the lure, but it seemed as though over-night the self-publishing world exploded, and everyone was publishing books.

I put out six books in five years. I experimented with paperback and distribution channels. I have publishing accounts with three different places so I could cover the most ground, and I NEVER, NOT ONCE, put all my books solely in one place. I’ve never seen it as a smart move. Why limit yourself to one market? Yes, I know there’s a Kindle app for Android, but why not just put your book in as many different places as you can? Especially when it’s free to do so?

I experimented with promotions and advertising. I remember when anyone could get into BookBub, but now you have to offer your first born to get a spot. There was the ‘first book in a series for free’ craze, bundle craze, blog hops, rafflcopter, just to name a few. There were a few nefarious schemes like ‘I’ll give you a good review if you give my book a good review’, and downright nasty practices by authors who would get their followers to gang up on another author. It’s the main reason why I don’t go onto Goodreads anymore.

I saw Traditional Publishers scoff at ebooks, then embrace them. Articles about how print books were dying off, then coming back, then dying off again. Same articles were written for ebooks as well. Ten years ago, there were the Big Five publishing houses – Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon and Shuster, Hatchet, and Macmillan. There were few indie publishers’ and self-publishing was seen by many as ‘vanity’. There are a lot more indie publishers now, many geared toward specific genres, which makes it easier for reads and authors alike to find their audience, and self-publishing is seen as a legitimate career path.

A cottage industry has blossomed around publishing. There are so many editors offering their service, graphic designers doing cover art, and with audio books, voice actors are lending their talent to the author. With an influx of hopeful authors and the possibility of making good money, there were a lot of book scams too. A few scammers would create ebooks so when you got to a certain page (usually the second or third page) it would jump to the end and count as read. These and other scams took a lot of potential money away from real authors, and that’s when I decided to step back for a while.

This is where I am now. Six years after my last release and I feel the need to put something new out. I keep talking about my novels, but I never seem to really do anything with them. I believe it’s time to change that.

Of Writers and Prose: Writing fads come and go, but a good story lasts forever.

The popularity of some genre’s come and go like the ebb and flow of tides. One year vampires are all the rage, and then something else comes along and knocks them by the wayside—but only for a short time, because everyone knows that vampires are immortal, and so is the genre. There’s just one problem; you don’t have a vampire novel to publish, and therefore miss out on the popularity and sales.

Welcome to writing fads, and there’s a few problems. One is having characters exactly like the characters of other stories. Some tropes are a necessity of the genre, but you can always tweak those to make them an original creation. What is it about your characters that make them stand out from others in the same genre? What quirk about them could you explore or enhance? Do they have an interesting habit, good or bad? Small things like this can create interesting plots that could set your story apart from the others, and still be part of the genre.

Fads are something that come up rather quickly, one reason why they’re not really popular with Traditional publishers. Putting a book out with them can take months, even several years, and by the time your vampire story is ready, the moment has most likey passed. Self-publishers have a better chance with fad books, especially if you’re a prolific writer. Just remember, a bad book stays in the mind of readers just as much as a good one.

Writing to fads can be frustrating especially when you miss the current wave, or the market is already saturated, but these trends come in cycles and will return again and again, so don’t give up. Write that vampire, werewolf, or zombie novel, because the trend will return and when it does, you’ll be right there, ready to unleaseh your story on the world.

Of Writers and Prose: To swear or not to swear.

Like most people, the odd swear word escapes my mouth every now and then. Okay, who are we kidding, I swear on a daily basis, it’s just a natural thing for me, which is probably why most of my stories have it in them as well. For me, I feel that swearing is a part of a character’s personality, but to what degree and intensity is based on the personality traits of the individual character.

Swearing in stories shouldn’t be about creating shock value, there are other ways to accomplish that, but it should be consistent with your character’s persona. I realized this as I wrote the first draft of my magical realism story. It takes place in the 80’s, and back then, everyone around me swore to some degree, so I included it in the story.

It’s a given that the majority of the populations swears, but whether or not people want to read it in a story is another matter.

Swearing used to denote low intellegence or someone whom society deems an outcast, or someone with criminal or nafarious intentions, but that’s not always the case today. Swearing can be seen as an emotional outlet; a way for your charaacter to release anger or frustration, which begs the question, what happened to make your character so emotional that it caused the strong outburst?

Another view of character swearing; social interactions. Teens swear. Maybe you weren’t one of those when you were younger, but the majority of them do, and teen dialogue in your story can reflect that as much as you want, again, as long as the amount of swearing is consistent with the personality of your character.

As for adult swearing, you can be a little more sophisticated with them. Most adults tend to swear in a more private or intimate situations, as opposed to teens who can lack any descretion and swear anywhere they want. I find most adults swear out of frustration or anger and are less to use such words as an insult. Sometimes, it’s more of a habit than anything else, and the shock value of swearing decreases with age.

Whether or not you choose to put swear words in your dialogue is up to you, but if you’re going for realistic, it’s my feeling that you should have some. It doesn’t have to be the really ‘bad’ words, and if you’re not sure of how to go about it, listen to the flow of real conversations. More often than not, real-life examples will give you examples that you want to imitate.

Are NTF’s the Future of Ebooks?

I came across the acronym a few months back and had NO IDEA what it meant. When I did some research, the idea that this could be put to use for ebooks sparked a great blog post, but when I did more research, I found Huge Howey’s post on the exact same thing, and to be honest, his post makes it easier to understand not only what a NFT is, but how it can be used for creative compositions, and not just for ebooks. Go have a read.

https://hughhowey.com/nfts-for-authors/

The thing I like about his version is this, not only is it difficult for pirates to copy and profit, but if the book is sold to a third party, everyone in the chain of creating this ebook profits. I liken it to residuals actors/directors get from syndication of tv shows and movies. As Hugh points out, it’s not a lot, but at least it’s something.

On the down side, NFT’s are like Cryptocurrency and take a lot of energy to create. Considering how environmentally unfriendly bitcoin production can be, I’m not sure how sustainable this really is. Publisher’s Weekly did an article on it as well, and it brings some doubt as to whether this is just a fad or an investment.

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/86104-could-nfts-work-in-publishing.html

I am ALL FOR any way that keeps illegal downloads from taking money from the creator, but not at the expense of the environment, therefore, I am on the fence about this.

Read the articles. What do you think?

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