Social Media’s Ugly Shadow

200-yr-old cottonwood tree

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In this season of All Hallows Eve, when what normally stays in the shadows comes out for all to see, I want to bring up a topic that we don’t often talk about. Namely, that not all online attention is positive. Achieving your goals by growing your platform can also attract negativity: people who use online anonymity to spread cruelty and lies, destroy reputations, and threaten physical harm. For fun. Meet the “trolls.”

Trolling is bullying, plain and simple. It can happen to anyone who gains a large following, especially in tech. And unfortunately, women are often singled out for the worst abuse.

Two cases have been in the news quite recently. In one, Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a speaking engagement at Utah State University after an anonymous emailer threatened to kill her in a mass campus shooting if she were allowed to speak. Sarkeesian writes and speaks about misogyny in video games.

In another, Kathy Sierra wrote extensively about how trolls get people to believe in and spread their lies. Sierra is a bestselling author, Java programmer, and brilliant speaker. In the article, she draws from her 10 years (yes) of experience being the victim of such attacks to describe the online psychology that enables trolls.

Be Smart, Defend Yourself,
Uphold Your Own Standards

The solution to all of this is not to give way to fear, or to hide your light under a bushel. You’ve worked hard for the recognition that is coming your way. Neither is banning all aggressive speech or stamping out online anonymity the answer. But there are concrete actions we can take to combat trolls and call out online bullying.

The first step is to get educated. Here are three great articles about how to deal with trolls on Twitter and other forums. These tips will take you well beyond the most oft-heard advice, which is, “Don’t feed the trolls.”

The second step is to raise the bar on your own online speech. When you are targeted it’s hard not to strike back in kind. And let’s face it, firing off a blistering ad hominem rant can be fun as well as cathartic. But stooping to the troll’s tactics only makes it harder for others to defend you. So start now to make your online speech as impeccable as it can be.

Maintaining equanimity in email and social media is hard. If you have any doubts at all about your ability to stay civil and on-point, hire an editor, or create an advisory board of friends who will vet your writing before you hit “send.” Go ahead and write that blistering rant—and then delete it. Permanently.

Start now to protect yourself from the shadow side of social media by developing your own personal ethics standards, and holding yourself to them. Here are two great examples to draw from: the Code of Ethics for Bloggers, Social Media, and Content Creators, and NPR’s Social Media Ethics Guide.

Post your standards where readers and clients can find them. Then, should unwanted shadow attention come your way, you will know exactly what to do, and you will have the systems in place for others to help you, too.

Scratch Magazine: Explaining the Business of Writing

Scratch MagazineAre you looking for a book contract for your nonfiction, genre or literary fiction work? Here is what three very different, successful literary agents have to say about author platforms:

Platform is really about fame, and there are two different kinds of fame. One is fame among strangers, and the other is fame in your community. And either of those can be a great base for a book project. We all get people coming to us who say, “Hey, get me a book deal, and then I’ll be famous.” And our reply is generally, “No, get famous first, and then we’ll get you the book deal.” There are lots of ways to be famous in the important communities of interest for the project that you’re working on. (Ted Weinstein)

Continue reading

Bare Bones: Platform Basics for Authors

Bare Bones Platform

At the San Francisco Writers Conference last month I had the opportunity to speak with many authors about their platforms. The variation was stunning, and inspiring. Even among writers in the same genre, there were no two identical approaches to building visibility and community around their work.

As most authors know, a platform isn’t just “I have a Twitter account.” It is as much about individual preference, goals and creativity as it is about the tools themselves. Yet seeing all the rich variation in fully-built platforms does beg the question: where do you start? What are the essentials, the bones, that all good platforms need? Continue reading

Being an Author for the Long Haul

Jon Rawlinson, cc license

As inspiring as it is to read about indie authors who make it big selling ebooks on Amazon, such reports can obscure the fact that most authors work for years before they become an “overnight” success. There are two imperatives for writers who want to take this long road to publishing success: keep writing, and keep building your platform.

Platform-building means marketing not just  your books but  you—as an author, and (yes) as a brand. Marketing oneself requires a completely different mindset than writing a long work of fiction or non-fiction. Yet the two activities go hand in hand, and both must be sustained over a period of years, not months, to get the kind of sustainable income most writers dream about. Continue reading

N is for Niche

Finding Your NicheI can still remember the first time I walked into my college’s main library. Before me were six huge floors, each one filled floor-to-ceiling with bookshelves. Looking at all that accumulated knowledge, my heart sank. “Everything important has already been written,” I thought.

I was surprised by my own reaction. Why despair? I didn’t consider myself a writer then, but that moment set me on a long journey to find out what I had to say that was different enough, and special enough, to deserve a place on those shelves, too. I was searching for my niche.

Most writing on niche marketing and niche publishing assumes a professional adult audience, but the search for one’s niche begins far earlier than that. In many ways, it is a continuation of the adolescent drive to find our place in the world, to translate what is inside of us into a unique offering that is valuable to others.

Seen from this perspective, finding your niche is not just about streamlining what you do but about adding back some of those early interests you may have dropped along the way. Here’s how this two-part process works. Continue reading

Why I Will Never Break My LinkedIn Rule Again

LinkedIn is a fantastic platform for all kinds of professional networking. With over 259 million users in more than 200 countries, it is often the very best way to network with leaders in your field. Over half of LinkedIn’s revenue comes from the talent market, so if you are currently employed or would like to be in the future, there is no better place to have your résumé.

I use LinkedIn in a more low-key, professional way than Facebook or Twitter. When I meet people at events and want to stay in touch with them, I connect with them on LinkedIn afterward. LinkedIn groups (there are over 2.1 million of them) are also great places to approach people for interviews, ask and answer questions on important topics, and let people know about relevant articles and events.

LinkedIn ConnectIn using LinkedIn, I have just one cardinal rule: never accept a connection request from anyone who does not add a personal note to that request. Even if I do not know someone, if they have taken the time to study what I do and write a quick, well-stated reason for wanting to connect, I will generally do it. People who don’t go to this trouble are typically just interested in marketing to me, so I have gotten pretty good at ignoring their requests.

But this week I made an exception to my rule. Here is what happened. Continue reading

The Challenge of Author Education

With so much great information available on how to publish and build a platform, the challenge for authors is finding the right advice at the right time. Most authors I speak to struggle not with finding reliable information but knowing which advice is right for their particular situation. Adding to the confusion, even sound advice can become quickly outdated with the rapid changes in publishing, social media, and web technology.

One solution is to find a few names you trust in the industry, follow them, and filter out much of the rest. But curation requires that these trusted voices to be clear about who their audience is for each piece. This is key, because right now there is a wide range of both needs and expertise among authors.

Just how wide this range extends was brought home to me recently when I interviewed Kristen McLean, CEO of Bookigee, about author education and book marketing. Always articulate and insightful about publishing, Kristen identified five different groups of authors with very different needs: Continue reading

Social Media Tip: Turn Your Rants Into Pin Boards

Sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to use a social media site until you’ve been on it for a while. In my case, a lightbulb went off about Google+ and Pinterest one day as I was silently fuming about a full-page book ad in the New Yorker.

The ad didn’t make any sense from a marketing standpoint, and the more I looked the more questions I had: Who exactly was the ad targeting? Why did the publishers choose this magazine for this book? Where was the publisher’s brand, anyway? And how did they hope to sell the book or track the ad’s effectiveness without a single URL?

All I wanted to do was have some fun with the ad and jot down a few offhand comments. But where? This wasn’t Facebook or Twitter material because I had too much to say, yet it wasn’t quite right for my blog either. That’s when the lightbulb appeared. It was perfect for Google+! Continue reading

How to Blog and When Not to Blog

Blogging is a great way to find out what you love to write about. This may seem like good news, but it is not always welcome if you’ve started blogging for reasons other than love (i.e. to make money).

Here’s how the process works: you start a blog thinking that it will be all about Subject X. But somewhere along the way, Subject Y starts to seem like a much better fit for your interests and imagination, maybe even for your career goals. You find yourself flush with ideas on how to write about Subject Y, and how to market it to people who want to hear what you have to say.

What do you do then? Do you write about both things? Start a second blog for Subject Y? Repurpose your blog to focus on Y, while still hoping to keep readers who started reading you because of X? Continue reading

What’s the Best First Step in Platform Building?

At the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference last month I talked to both new and experienced writers about building author platforms. I expected to be asked why author platforms were necessary, but to my surprise the most frequent question I heard was: Where should I start? Writers young and old wanted to know the benefits of Facebook and blogs versus getting on Twitter. What was the most important place for them to be?

We are at a fascinating, hopeful moment for writers. Many people with highly successful platforms have shared their methods in detail. And yet, the greater truth is that the most effective platform strategies are ones that haven’t even been dreamed up yet. For anyone getting started now, mixing creativity with long-term strategy will have huge results.

There is no one way to build a platform. Yet there are some very strong opening moves that will serve you well no matter which direction you decide to go. Here are my top three suggestions for anyone who wants to take their first steps today: Continue reading