I Must Be Doing Something Right…

My Klout Score of 47 Yup. I must be doing something right, at least as far as promoting myself via social media. Klout is an online service that measures your reach on the Internet, passes the data through some sort of proprietary algorithm, and spits out your Klout Score. Mine has just reached a new high of 47.

According to their service, my Klout Score of 47 means that I’m in the Top 30% of people who are active in social media. By comparison, Seanan McGuire, the author of the October Daye series, has a score of 60. Internationally best-selling author Hugh Howey has a score of 70. And George Takei, who played Sulu in the original Star Trek and has gained current notoriety with his sparkling online reviews of odd products, has a score of 92.

Apparently, I still have a ways to go in my social media endeavors.

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Social Media Changes: Building an Online Platform

Social MediaIf you’re planning to be a professional writer, you need what is euphemistically known as a “platform.” Put simply, a platform is a presence on the Internet that can help attract and, more importantly, retain the type of people who might be interested in your works. Most traditional publishers won’t even consider publishing an author that can’t already demonstrate that they have a platform. Today’s publishers want a ready-made audience so that they can reduce their risks.

For writers engaged in indie-publishing, a platform is even more important. The biggest problem an indie-published writer faces is discoverability. People can’t buy your stories unless they can discover that your story exists and find enough information about it to allow them to decide whether they want to purchase it.

Think of your platform as a way to interact with your potential audience. At a minimum, your platform should feature a web site with some information about you and your stories (with links so people can go purchase them). There are numerous components that can be a part of your platform, from general social media sites to content dissemination sites. A few potential components for your platform are:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Goodreads
  • Wattpad
  • Slideshare.net

Except for your core web site, none of these components are essential, but you should probably include at least some of them. Simply choose the ones that make sense for you.

I’m planning to be what’s known as a hybrid writer. I intend to indie-publish my longer works and seek traditional publication in various professional venues for my short stories. I’m also actively trying to build my platform. Naturally, this web site, with its informative blog entries and free content, is an essential piece of that platform.

Some of you may have noticed that this web site has begun morphing subtly from day to day. That’s because I’ve started adding social media engagement features to the site. These features make it easy for users to recommend blog entries on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (and I’ll be adding more later). In the upper part of the right-hand sidebar, I’ve added links to my most used social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter. I’ve been using Twitter for ages in my alternate life as a software developer, so I created @keenersaurus to be my Twitter presence for my “creative” activities.

The next few media buttons in the sidebar may surprise folks. I’ve got a number of videos that I’ve made available online with YouTube, with plans for many more. The next button is for Slideshare.net, which is where I upload my presentations. By the way, I’m in the Top 2% of contributors on Slideshare, so I’ve got some fairly serious content out there for free. Finally, there’s a link to the site’s RSS feed, for people who’d like to have my blog entries delivered to them via a feed.

These are all important aspects for building my own platform. I’d be pleased if you’d help me build my web presence. In return, I promise to continually challenge myself to produce the best content that I’m capable of. Stick around, there’s good stuff coming down the pike.

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Norton’s Footsteps

Andre NortonI’m a science fiction fan. I’ve been one for almost as long as I can remember. I think I became a fan in one of the classic ways — I was infected by my father.

You see, he had all of these great books by Andre Norton. Back in the 70’s, apparently, women weren’t supposed to be writers, so Alice Mary Norton wrote under the pseudonym of Andre Norton. She was YA before YA even existed. And so many of her books had awesome covers. You couldn’t help but pick them up…

Her stories were science fiction adventures, with young heroes encountering danger on exotic worlds. She wrote four of these squeaky clean adventure stories every year for years and years. And my Dad and I would snap them up as soon as we saw a new one on the bookstore’s shelves (with his money, of course).

At age 11, I knew I wanted to be a writer.

Then life got in the way. High school, college, my first real job. With a B.S. degree in Computer Science, I was soon making too much money to consider taking the pay-cut necessary to be a full-time writer. Plus, I had bills, mortgages and other things to worry about. Thirty passed, and then forty.

Start Born, by Andre NortonI still wanted to be a writer, but every time I looked at what it would take to start a writing career, I balked. It just didn’t seem feasible to be a writer. I can think of no other field in which an accomplished practitioner, like your average mid-list writer, can’t make a livable wage.

There was clearly money to be made. Big international corporations wouldn’t have gotten involved in publishing if there wasn’t money in it. It’s just that very little of that money seemed to flow towards the writers. On a typical paperback book, priced at $8.99, the author only made about sixty cents. And if a book didn’t make it big, it was out of bookstores in less than six weeks.

It seemed like a rigged game to me. There were too many middle-men, each taking a share of the money. And too many gatekeepers deciding what was publishable according to their own personal tastes (without once consulting their actual audience).

So I diverted my creative urges into other pursuits. I crafted elaborate and detailed worlds for role-playing games, and ran game sessions for my friends that were like intricate novels. Some game sessions were fantasies, fantasy mysteries, or fantasy horror thrillers. There were science fiction stories, too. For all of them, I kept detailed notes on characters, events, background details, technologies…figuring it all might be useful someday.

Time Traders, by Andre NortonEverything changed in 2007, although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Amazon released the Kindle in 2007. For the first time, ebooks were a viable proposition for authors. It was possible for authors to connect with readers in a fair marketplace, and for the readers to decide which books (and authors) would be successful.

By contrast, bookstores weren’t fair marketplaces, you see, because publishers were allowed to “cheat.” Publishers dictated the choices that would be available to readers by virtue of what they published, and even anointed what they thought should be bestsellers via their promotional activities. They could pay extra for special promotions like displaying books on tables near the front of the store, or displaying books on the shelf face-out instead of spine-out. Additionally, there was no “long tail”…newly published books were out of bookstores in a month to six weeks unless there was a dramatic demand for them.

With the Kindle, Amazon created a level playing field. The disruption of publishing was hardly noticeable at first, but it kept accelerating.

I really noticed the disruption in 2012. I was already aware of the increasing impact of ebooks on publishing. After all, I’d seen Borders go under. But I hadn’t really embraced ebooks myself. At WorldCon 70 in Chicago, though, I encountered the raging debate between traditionally published writers and self-published writers, and I started to really realize the potential of self-publishing. I also ended up having dinner with Hugh Howey and some of his fans. Hugh is one of the most successful self-published writers, known for his international best-seller, Wool. After talking to Hugh, it became clear that publishing really had changed dramatically.

Star Guard, by Andre NortonWith the middle-men and gatekeepers out of the way, writers are now making real money. For a book selling between $2.99 and $9.99, a writer takes 70% of the sale price on Amazon. Writers can find their own audience, because they don’t need publishers anymore. Oh, it’s still work, but writers have upside potential that they never used to have.

I decided that it was time for me to go for it, to really take a hard run at writing professionally. Previously, whenever I looked at writing professionally, the business model just didn’t make sense. There were too many variables that were out of my control. But now, it feels like modern self-publishing was made for someone like me.

And besides, if not now, then when? There’s never going to be a better time for me to become a professional writer.

I believe I have the writing skills. I’ve certainly written many successful things in my life, including technical articles, proposals, dynamic speeches, well-received presentations, and hundreds of blog entries. I have the speaking skills for interviews, panels, presentations, classes and speeches — all that work in Toastmasters has paid off. I have the social media skills from my technical background, and have maintained the web presence for numerous organizations over the years.

Daybreak 2250 A.D., by Andre NortonIt might be a little later in my life than I had originally hoped for, but the dream that Andre Norton inspired in me at age 11, the dream of being a professional writer, is realistically within my reach for the first time. Many of the variables that were once completely outside of my control are now well within the grasp of a hard-working writer with extensive social media experience and a “can-do” attitude.

This is my time. Why don’t you come along for the ride?

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