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SXSW 2012 Redux

I went back to South by Southwest Interactive this year – 3rd year in a row. Every year, I come away with at least one big idea for how I can get a leg up on technology with my books, and I figure out what the trends are.

I have to admit – I was a little disappointed, because I felt like I was hearing the same things I’ve heard for the past 2 years. Writers are still wading slowly into the waters of self-publishing, publishers are still scared and coming up with half-ass ways to adapt, and more and more ebook startups are sprouting up around us. Not to say that it was an empty experience; quite the contrary actually. I just needed to cut through the “heard this already” to get to what I needed to learn, which was this:

  • Self-publishing was a great fit for The Redheaded Stepchild. It was my story, and kind of a pet project. Something like Portrait of Woman In Ink, however, might be worth going after a traditional publisher.
  • Even if traditional publishing is my goal, I need to find a publisher that will let me do my own thing, who won’t turn my book into some crazy bastardization I don’t want to write.
  • I need to be on Pinterest. Almost every young woman I know is on Pinterest, and that’s my audience. And here I thought it was just for people decorating nurseries and planning weddings.
  • I’m doing the right thing by working my own network first with my book, but I need to be a little more pressing about getting my network to write me an honest review.
  • I shouldn’t try to be elitist about my first book. It’s there for me to get my name out. After my KDP Select period is over, I’ll be dropping the price of The Redheaded Stepchild. I can charge a little more for Portrait of Woman In Ink.
  • I need to start promoting Portrait of Woman In Ink now. And because it is a book about women and tattoos, there’s plenty for me to engage readers about. Also, I shouldn’t be afraid to call up the tattoo shops and see if they want to have a copy in their lobbies.
  • I volunteer at a library. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have my book on the shelves there. I already have friends there.
  • I need to encourage my friends who like the book to recommend it to someone else. It’s not icky. I don’t know why I look at it like it’s icky.
  • Yeah, my sales aren’t going to take off immediately. I learned that lesson. I was encouraged by several panels that it’s all a process, and I need to set it on the shelf (or web page) and let it do its thing.
  • I shouldn’t be afraid to talk to the local paper and area bloggers about taking me on as an interviewee.
  • I need to engage with other people who write about tattoos for Portrait of Woman In Ink. I already got a PhD to agree to write a foreword for an unknown author; it’s probably not much harder than that.

That’s my bullet point redux from SXSW. Also here’s some cool shit I discovered:

  • It’s a startup that will show you (in popular books anyway) what references there are. So, for instance, I am reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (just to see what all the hype is about), and it will show me that the book references John Coltrane, Martin Luther, Adolf Hitler, Hopalong Cassidy. Also, Doc Martens and Armani. Pretty cool stuff.
  • It’s a startup author support community. I haven’t delved into all the ins and outs of it yet, but I met their CEO who had an appealing accent.
  • It’s Penguin’s critiquing community for genre authors. Again, haven’t looked at it too closely, but I applaud Penguin for doing something innovative.

Next year, I’ll probably opt for a vacation that involves a Betsey Johnson bikini and a beach. Take advantage of this vacation’s knowledge.

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#SXSW Report: Days 2 and 3

I’ve been going pretty well nonstop so this is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down and write my summary of the past 2 days of interactivity at SXSW 2012. Hashtags for panel twitter discussions I participated in are in parentheses.

I began Saturday with a panel about copyrights (#sxcopytrolls) which was grossly underattended and somewhat informative about obtaining and protecting copyrights, which was something I knew next to nothing about so I’m glad I went. After that, I was able to pull up a spot on the floor in the hallway for the simulcast of a conversation with Joss Whedon (#sxjosswhedon) since the room was full. Naturally, I was all too happy to pick up on some insights from the master storyteller of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, and I could go on and on but I won’t. Plus he’s a very funny ginger, which I respect as a semi-funny ginger. Just a note, he wrote the screenplay for his new film Cabin InThe Woods in 3 days. That’s a hardcore writer for ya.

After that, I headed to The Rise of Analytics: Impacting the Editorial Process (#sxeditdata) which wasn’t as much about the impact of the need for data, keywords, links, etc. on the editorial process as much as I would’ve liked, but more about the data. Then it was off to the Hyatt for some 15-minute talks about books and content, including Books Win the Attention Economy (#sxbooks_win) and Delivering Content Experiences Across Platforms (#sxplatforms) which closed out Saturday for me.

Sunday was a good morning of panels, starting with Publishing Models Transforming the Book (#sxpubmodels), where panelists from the new publishing industries spoke about their models and the panelists from the traditional publishing industry defended theirs. Up to and including this panel, I have to admit that everything that I heard in most of these sessions was all stuff I have heard before, some even at previous Souths By. Luckily for me, I stumbled into a panel that proved to be worth the price of admission: Discoverability and the New World of Book PR, where I got some amazing ideas for how to keep getting The Redheaded Stepchild noticed and how I can start building a campaign for Portrait of Woman in Ink: A Tattoo Storybook. I furiously took about 3 pages’ worth of notes – the advice was just that good. I wish I had time to test out some of the stuff I heard about today, but I have more sessions, beer, and parties to head off to. And I might actually watch a film today since many of the bookish panels are more of the same stuff I have heard before over and over again.

Oh, and last night I got a photo with Steven Moffat – writer for Dr. Who, Sherlock, and Jekyll (again, I could go on, but I won’t). Worth the wait in line for sure. I also watched Rainn Wilson give a talk about his project Soul Pancake. It’s pretty rad. Go check it out.

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#SXSW Day One Report

After a long series of very unfortunate events (which I will probably wrant about on a free Wednesday), I made it downtown for SXSW interactive. I have to admit that I’m not really impressed with the bookish panel lineup this year. There are several storytelling panels, but most of them are marketing focused. I was hoping to learn more about stuff like Amazon algorithms, emerging platforms for books, etc. but there’s not a whole lt of that.

The one panel I did go to, however, was very inspiring and entertaining. It was called “Where Do Science Fiction and Science Fact Meet?” and it talked about big tech companies are working with science fiction authors to predict what to build for the future. I learned about The Tomorrow Project, which is the science fiction anthology they are writing based on “science fact”. They’re giving it away for free here at the SXSW bookstore so I am hoping to snag a copy later. The panelist also wrote a Science Fiction book called “Fake Plastic Love” that I have to enjoy because the title includes a Radiohead reference. Intentional or not, I don’t know. But it’s been awhile since I read a good sci-fi so I am excited about it nontheless. More panels today. I am very sleep deprived. Please excuse lapse in snark…

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Vote for me! (If you want.)

I’ve hinted at this before, but some time ago I took a freelance writing side job working on other people’s online dating profiles. The job and I have had our ups and downs, but the bottom line of it is that I’ve learned a lot about this crazy world that is online dating, enough in fact that I thought it might be a good topic for SXSW Interactive 2012. If you think so too, give it a thumbs up. The SXSW world needs more stuff like this and less “how to reach your target market.” Although, I suppose this is kind of like that…

FYI – public voting counts for about 30% of whether or not a panel gets selected, so I promise not to hate you forever if you don’t vote for me.

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SXSW panel in review: Tell & Sell Your Story

The next exciting panel I attended at SXSW was called “Tell & Sell Your Story,” with panelists that included author Stephanie Klein (@stephanieklein), professor Michael Chaney (@mjchaney), agent David Hale Smith (@davidhalesmith) and writer Ned Vizzini, moderated by agent Alex Lerner.

The panel was billed as one that would discuss how to write a book proposal, how to find an agent, apps you can use, and writing software. Much of this came toward the end of panel, but the first part was highly valuable too. One of my favorites moments was when Klein (who is fabulous and whose work I am going to have to discover) stated that for an author, balance is bullshit. As someone with a full-time and a freelance job, it felt good to hear someone else say it, although I already knew it. It only mirrored my sentiments that you can always do something if you make the time for it.  They talked extensively about how to structure a writing day – everyone has their own method – but some of the suggestions were to create structured, absolute writing days, where you do nothing but spend the whole day writing and don’t break the roll. I haven’t been able to do this since college, but I should probably find a way to do this again and see if it works for me.

Then they discussed writing itself, and again, Klein said something that resonated heavily with me. She said the moment we start to censor ourselves is the moment our writing becomes inauthentic. If you’re worried that someone’s going to be put off by something you wrote, then THAT’s where the gold is. Because The Redheaded Stepchild is a story that’s so close to my heart and doesn’t always speak positively about some of the closest people in my life, I’ve often wondered if I should tone down some of the prose and fictionalize it a little bit more. As such, it was reassuring to hear that I should do nothing of the sort. After all, they’d probably be offended no matter what. And hey, a lot of it IS fiction.

They then asked, how do you get people to read what you’ve read? They stressed the importance of having your own domain for your material, which was one of the first things I did when I decided I wanted to seriously pimp The Redheaded Stepchild, but that having a website means using a unique structure depending on the medium. I always use my own voice, but I’m going to structure my blog posts much differently than my actual writing, as well I should.

After that, they got to the meat of writing a book proposal, and the consensus was that it should have all of the following:

  • The pitch, which has to be written in your own voice, not the cover letter voice you’d use in a resume. The agent should get an idea of your voice after reading the pitch.
  • A chapter summary that everyone hates writing, but summarizes what happens in the story.
  • A market analysis of what makes your book unique compared to similar titles.
  • One or two sample chapters that showcase your best writing and let it speak for itself.

Or something like that. I’ve drank a lot since then. Finally, they outlined one of the best plans for finding an agent – find similar titles to yours and look in the acknowledgments. The author almost always thanks his agent, and that agent can’t turn around and say he doesn’t represent your kind of work.

So what did I learn from this panel? First of all, I need to continue the practice of not censoring myself with my writing. I’ll probably hurt someone’s feelings along the way, but I’d much rather live an authentic life than a safe one. Next, I’ve got to revise my pitch. It sounds like a cover letter for a resume! I’ve got to inject my own voice in there and show them why I’m a writer. I’d heard the agent trick a couple months ago when I went to the Pitchapalooza event, and it bears repeating that I definitely need to do my homework finding books out there that are like mine. I’m sure I’m not the only branch on that tree.

More panel reviews to come, and thanks to the panelists! For audio of the entire panel:

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SXSW panel in review: The Accidental Writer

The first panel I attended at South By Southwest this year was not the first one I intended to see… as per tradition. Still, it was a great one to start out with. It was called “The Accidental Writer: Great Web Copy for Everyone” and was not really geared toward writers, but more toward web designers and others who end up writing copy as an afterthought. Melanie Seibert (@melanie_seibert on Twitter) was the speaker.

The first thing the speaker stressed was that copy and content strategy in general cannot be an afterthought. If it IS, then it’s probably going to be boring, crappy copy. She gave some examples of companies that have great design AND great copy, like and Groupon (which I’ll admit though that wound’s still fresh). She also pointed out that content doesn’t come cheap… it’s expensive to write, especially if you’re not a native speaker, so sometimes it works out much better to hire someone to do it for you.

She then pointed out something that’s been in the back of my mind for awhile… SEO training. As a writer, a lot of the freelance jobs I see out there want writers with some SEO training, and it makes sense – if you’re going to pay for great copy, you want people to be able to find it. She threw out some SEO certification courses that I’m hoping I can talk my boss into paying for. After all, it’ll help me in my day job a lot, too. Our help documentation is ridiculously difficult to search.

She offered the following tips for everyone who needs to write web copy but may not be an expert at it (and a good refresher for those of us who are):

  • Don’t just describe things. You’ve got to tell a story to keep your reader engaged.
  • Break up text. No one wants to read a paragraph that’s a page long.
  • Give people something to do by using actionable language.
  • Web copy needs to integrate with the site design, and you have to design around the content.
  • Don’t overuse memes and cliches. No one’s got milk anymore.
  • Don’t be afraid to write a horrible first draft (sadly, this is something I’m just now embracing).
  • Revise and proof. Get rid of half the words on the page, then get rid of another half.
  • Never use passive voice
  • Make your copy fun and friendly.

What did I get out of this panel? I definitely want to get SEO training so I know how to be more search-savvy with my writing. It’ll be a great resume builder too, right? It’s also good to know that writers still have value in the eyes of our more back-end savvy counterparts. I’ll be looking into Heather Lloyd Martin’s material on SEO certification very soon.

And I’ll let you know how it goes!

For audio of this panel:

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SXSW Interactive: Day 1

Today was simply easing into the South by Southwest Interactive conference. I started the afternoon much like last year – by eating Mellow Mushroom pizza and missing the first (2:00) panel.

I made it to the next panel I wanted to see: The Accidental Writer – Great Web Copy for Everyone. While it was slightly more directed toward people who don’t write (developers, UI people, etc.), it still contained a lot of helpful tips that bear repeating for even the most seasoned writer.

But before the speaker (a tech writer and content strategist by trade) got to the tips, she stressed the importance of having good, well-written content, that’s not shoved into the end of a project budget as an afterthought.

So what tips are there for people who may not be writers by trade?
1. Don’t just describe things.

If all you do is describe what your business or website is about, it’s probably going to be a boring description.

2. Break up text.

If your readers see a long, continuous block of text, they’re probably not going to read it.

3. Give people something to do… use action words.

You have to use actionable language that has some punch behind it.

4. Web copy needs to integrate with design, design around the content

This goes back to the idea that quality content should never be an afterthought. It should complement your site design, not just supplement it.

5. Tell a story

Using narrative to tell a story of how your business, service, or website works is far more effective than a boring paragraph about what you can do for your customers.

6. Don’t overuse memes, no cliches

Got milk won’t work for you.

7. Get rid of half the words on the page then get rid of half of what’s left

People aren’t paying to read your eloquence. They’re trying to figure out if what you’re offering helps them. If they can’t figure out a yes or no answer to that question in the first few seconds of reading, they’re going to stop reading.

8. Don’t be afraid to write a horrible first draft

I fall into this trap, but I’m getting more comfortable with letting the first draft go, and then editing afterwards.

9. Make copy scannable

People should be able to get the idea of what you’re all about just by scanning the page. This is impossible unless you use bold text or bullets or some other visual scanning queue.

10. No passive voice

A basic of journalistic editing.

11. Revise and proof

No one writes a perfect first draft. You have to revise each draft and proofread the final one. Typos and misspellings show laziness.

12. Fun, friendly copy

The speaker mentioned both Groupon and W00t as examples of great, engaging web copy. Since Groupon turned me down for a freelance writing position after round 4 of the vetting process, I’ll use woot as an example. If you’re known for your engaging and quirky content, people will keep visiting just for that reason.

There’ll be a lot more tomorrow!

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Another poem selected for “Best of the Year” collection!

A few weeks ago, a poem I submitted way back when to an independent online magazine was selected for their “Best of the Year” collection. I found out about this site last year when I was at South by Southwest. It’s a collaborative content site that posts new submissions of art, literature, poetry, and other random stuff every hour. I submitted two poems to them in the last year, and they accepted both of them, and now both of them have been featured in their “Best of the First Year” collection!

You can check it out here:

I must be New Years resolved to write more stuff in 2011!

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“To a Moth” featured tomorrow

My poem To a Moth is going to be featured on the front page of tomorrow between noon and 6 p.m. I met the people of W5RAn at SXSW, and they explained their unique business model.

They are an online-only independent magazine that posts new content – photography, writing, and other random stuff – every hour, on the hour. Like most independent magazines, they don’t pay anything, but I totally dig their model, and I decided to submit To a Moth for kicks. Support your independents!

For writers – the submission process was crazy easy, and you can probably get several things on here. Sure, it’s not the most glamorous thing to put on a resume, but it’s free, it’s easy, and it’s something.

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