Imposter Syndrome

| Friday, November 30, 2012
Today's Tune: Don't Leave Me

I'm offering up a signed copy of Kristin Cashore's BITTERBLUE. Y'know. If you're into feminist-ish fantasy. Go here.

If there's one thing I think a lot of us can relate to, it's Imposter Syndrome.

Sometimes it starts all the way back in childhood, or during our tumultuous adolescence. We kind of stumble along, trying to find that perfect elixir of cool or smart or interesting or maybe just a person who doesn't get singled out, but you feel like you're doing it all wrong. You're just kind of going through the motions, doing the things you think you're supposed to do, pretending you meant to do it all along. And somehow, other people buy it. Maybe they start looking at you like you're worthy of notice, like you're doing something right, and you feel this unfathomable pressure to keep up the act. So you do it.

Fast forward to young adulthood and adult-adulthood. No matter how much older and wiser we get, it seems that a lot of us (especially we emotional artsy types) still feel like we're just faking it. We don't believe enough in our own abilities. Even if we ace every test, excel in every game, receive accolades from every job, we still feel like we're faking it. There's this looming sense of panic, like everyone's waiting for you to screw up so they can go HA! HA, I KNEW IT, I KNEW YOU WERE AN IMPOSTER.

It doesn't matter how much you know. Doesn't matter how much you do. You still feel like that awkward kid who's just kind of guessing at everything (educated guesses though they may be) and hoping it turns out for the best. When people start coming to you for advice, or telling you they admire you, or saying they love your work, you sit there going AHAHAHA WHAT? ME? NO. YOU MUST BE MISTAKEN. I KNOW NOTHING.

Here's a secret: you're not the only person who feels that way.

In fact, most people feel that way.

There's this lie that people tell, and it's a lie that says everything will eventually come together and you'll have it all figured out. But that's not what happens. The thing about life is that there's no final level; no tidy cut scene at the finale. You keep on growing and learning and changing until you finally get hit by a fireball and die.

And you know better. I know that I'm a thinker and a planner, and I know I carefully consider things and try to put out good work. I know that other people appreciate it. I know that I'm not completely lost on the topics I talk about. Even so, I still harbor that sneaking suspicion that I only think I'm putting out good work, that other people are only being nice, and that for everything I know, there are a million things I don't.

What's a person to do?

Keep on keepin' on. Teach yourself to believe that when multiple people are telling you that you do something well, they're probably not all lying to you. Have faith in what you know, and be willing to learn the things you don't.

And remember you aren't alone.

 

Rhizome Storytelling

| Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Rhizome Storytelling
Today's Tune: Closer

Don't forget to comment on this post for your chance to win a signed copy of BITTERBLUE!

So, who knows what a rhizome is? Show of hands. If you're a gardener, you might have a better idea than most. If you took my ridiculously abstract post-modernism class in college, you might have some idea how it relates to storytelling. This is going to be a super watered-down version of that same idea.

Here's what a rhizome is: it's a specific sort of plant stem that grows underground in a sort of horizontal structure, and it usually has nodules. From those nodules, it releases shoots upward and roots downward. If you cut it into pieces, in theory, each nodule should still be able to keep producing on its own.

You know these plants. These names may be more familiar to you: ginger, iris, turmeric, asparagus. If you look at any ginger "root" that you buy from the store, with its branching nodules, you're looking at a rhizome. Some species of tree even grow this way, with a vast underground root network, making them all part of the same plant.

And now you're probably wondering what this has to do with storytelling. I'll tell you.

Imagine that your story has a root, a core. It's a strong thread that weaves through the entire length of the story, perhaps never fully visible, but working as a support system for all the other threads you weave into and around it. You can think of it as a theme, or a heart, or whatever. However you picture it, it's the most fundamental part of your story. Without it, the whole thing falls apart. That's your rhizome.

Now imagine that from that core, the shoots and roots of your story grow. The characters, plot events, setting, language. Even if you cut it up and spread it out, it's all part of the same original plant. But the core is hidden below the surface. Your readers can't necessarily SEE that it's all part of the same plant. Not at first. They see a shoot here, a shoot there, a shoot waaaaay over on the other side of the yard. It isn't until they view it from a distance, until they dig their fingers into the dirt and uncover the rhizome, that they realize how it all comes together. When they uncover the thing that everything grew out of, they can't imagine it any other way. This was the way it had to be.

This sounds simple enough in theory, but in practice, it can be very difficult. It's easier to think of a story in simple, linear terms, and that isn't a bad way to write. Not every story needs to be woven together this tightly. But it is something to keep in mind. If you've uncovered the rhizome of your story, how can you better mold your plot elements, and even your word choices, to be branches of the whole, rather than separate flowers? Flowers can be beautiful on their own, and there's nothing wrong with a garden full of them. Still, it's an interesting challenge to imagine how you could craft your story into one giant interconnected organism.

Food for thought. Ginger, nom nom nom.


 

Win a Signed Copy of Bitterblue!

| Monday, November 26, 2012
Today's Tune: Winter Song

This contest is now CLOSED. Thank you to all who entered! And the winner is... Anna Hutchinsin! Congrats Anna!



Happy post-holiday weekend, for those who were celebrating. If not, then... happy post-weekend! I've got a winter-ish contest for you, because this book feels very "winter" to me.

Here we go: I got to see the lovely Kristin Cashore at my local indie bookstore a few months back, which means I got to have my copies of Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue signed. It also means I got an EXTRA copy signed, and that copy is looking for a home. Preferably the home of a fantasy booklover who's into Kristin Cashore, but you know. Any happy home will do!

While I do have some qualms with Cashore's work, which I can elaborate on some other time, I find her books to be generally very female-centric and sex-positive. These books overflow with wonderful and varied characters; the fantasy world is well-realized. If you're a Tamora Pierce fan, you may dig these. Each book works as a standalone, but they're all companion books and work best when read together. Bitterblue is technically the sequel to Graceling, though you wouldn't be lost if you read it without having read Graceling. Basically, if you like fantasy and you like girl characters and you like feminist-flavored fiction, these will probably be up your alley.

Win a SIGNED hardback copy of BITTERBLUE!

This is how to enter: leave a comment on this post with your contact email address so I can get in touch with you. Comments without emails will not be entered. That's it! I don't like to make people follow me unless they want to, so... if you enjoy my blog or Tumblr or Twitter, feel free to follow me. If not, then no worries, you can still enter. This contest is open internationally, so if you're not in the USA, you can still enter! The contest will run for two weeks, closing at midnight PST on December 10th. The book is a new hardback copy of Bitterblue signed by Kristin Cashore.

If you can, I would really appreciate it if you spread the word on your social media accounts!

And that's that. Good luck!


 

c u r l.

| Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Today's Tune: King and Lionheart

Sorry guys, I'm seriously drawing a blank today, so I'm just going to direct you to a poem I wrote in college that I posted on Figment. I like Figment. It's fun. You should join so we can hang out on yet another social media platform. YEAH.

No post for Friday, as it's a holiday weekend and I'm guessing that I'm going to be doing a lot of eating and sleeping because that's how I roll. If you're celebrating this weekend, I hope you have a wonderful time! See you Monday!

 

Dissecting a Successful Online Marketing Campaign

| Monday, November 19, 2012
UPDATE: Comments have been disabled on this post due to absurd amounts of "business guru" spammers. Sorry.

For those of you who aren't aware, my "day job" is in Internet marketing. I like to tell people that I Facebook and Tweet for a living, because that's easier than explaining the much more varied nature of my job, which often includes researching and analyzing marketing efforts to understand why people are connecting (or not).

This weekend, I came across one of the most interesting and effective campaigns I've seen in a long time. It was for a new Cinemax show, but I think you could take a lot of these same techniques and apply them to other types of marketing (like, say, book marketing). Although the vast majority of authors don't have the capital to pull off this level of marketing, there are still some takeaways that can be applied to a different, much less expensive campaign.

First, in order to get a better idea of what I'll be talking about in this post, you may want to go check out the promo. It's a five-part "test" that will take you maybe 15-20 minutes to do, and it involves sound, arrow keys, use of a mouse, and a webcam (which is optional, and you aren't actually being "recorded" even though it suggests you are). Many people only play through the first part, but I suggest doing all five. Just click "Deny" during the webcam phase and you'll see the same content, just without messing with a webcam. Unless you want to... it's kind of fun. ANYWAY. If you're able to, go check it out.

Okay. Now I'm going to talk about what makes this promo so dang effective!

Graphically and Visually Appealing

People DO judge books (and websites, and new television shows) by their cover. This site incorporates a lot of high-end graphics, animation, and video. It's very *pretty* and interesting to look at. It appeals to the abstract-loving part of our brains. The first test is given through a series of pictures and brief statements, which makes the user think about the questions in a different way. It's not always feasible to get a super fancy cover for your book (and it's not always your choice), but it's important to put at least a little effort into thinking up a visually appealing design, even if it's not flashy. A cover like this is a world away from a cover like this.

Interactive

This campaign is highly interactive. It involves a series of tests for the user to do, where they get to actually participate rather than sitting back and watching something. It's also creatively interactive, which I'll get into a little more later. Anyone can throw up a multiple-choice test or simple flash game. These games, however, are interesting, different, and personal.

Personalized

Whoever designed this thing did an incredible job of making it personal for the individual viewer. The first test, the personality test, sucks you in by letting you know it's going to analyze whether or not you're "normal." People don't like to be normal. They like to be special (more on that later, too). At the end of the test, you get one of several possible descriptions of your personality which appears to be surprisingly accurate (we could get into the way these things ALWAYS seem frighteningly accurate, but not today). This leads you into the next test, where you have the option of connecting with your Facebook account and seeing a series of picture tests using your own pictures, which creates another impression that these tests are tailored TO YOU. In the final test, you get the biggest and most personal reveal (which I won't spoil for you). Again, these are big-money options that probably aren't available to a small marketing budget, but you can still get creative with this.

The Viewer Gets Something Back

They incorporated this early on with the personality test. The user gets a reward right away for that test -- a personal "reading" of their personality. We love hearing things about ourselves, so it's pretty effective. As the tests progress, the user gets rewarded with progress graphs, additional tests/games to play, and at the very end, a personalized badge with their name and picture on it (if they connected through Facebook).

Mysterious Without Making You Wait Too Long

It isn't obvious right away what this test is for. At first, it just seems like another online personality test, albeit an abstract and interesting one.The mystery builds with each test (WHAT am I being tested for?!), but the tests aren't lengthy and you don't have to wait very long to get answers. This is important. People like a little mystery. It keeps them coming back for more. But they don't like it when it takes too long to receive a reward for their patience.

Variation

The tests mix it up quite a bit. You get a personality test, a speed test, an "ability to lie" test, a logic test, and more. It keeps the user guessing, which means they're interested enough to keep moving down the funnel. What's next?

Share Buttons

After each test, there are share buttons so you can "share your progress" with your friends on social media. Presenting these in key places (after you've finished what was probably an interesting test and received your reward) means that you're more likely to share and spread the word.

Makes the Viewer Feel Important/Special

As you go through each test, you're presented with a graph that shows you're in the top percentile of the population. With every test, you become more and more special. At some point, you start seeing videos of a pretty woman who seems to be speaking directly to you, letting you know that you've done well or that you're becoming a part of something important. At the very end, you're granted entry to an incredibly elite group. It's pretty simple psychology: play on people's innate need to feel unique and important.

Makes the Viewer Invested Before Hitting Them With the Big Push

Along with feeling special and important, all of these elements combine in a way that makes the viewer invested in seeing their end analysis. You've told them that they're in the very top percentile of the population, you've had them take a very personal test, and now you're ready to reveal their final result and tell them what this was all about. THEN you hit them with the promotion for the show you're pitching. After they watch it, they receive their final test result and realize that none of this was arbitrary; it was all connected. Hopefully, if they connected properly, they don't only feel like the show looks kind of interesting. They feel like they're a part of this world. They need to see how this is all going to play out.


These were the elements that leaped out at me while playing along with this campaign. It's very effective and very well done. It was also probably very, very expensive. But you don't need to have a huge marketing budget to take these same general ideas and apply them to your project. Consider the ways you can illicit these same feelings in people without having the big, flashy website. What do you come up with?

Have you seen any effective ad campaigns lately, readers?
 

How to Blog With Time Constrictions

| Friday, November 16, 2012
Today's Tune: Hold On, Hold On

So here is a thing I'm asked on a semi-regular basis: how do you work full time, write, AND keep up a blog 3x a week?

Here is the answer.

I don't write fiction every day.

I know there are about a bajillion writerly blogs telling you the YOU MUST WRITE EVERY SINGLE DAY WITHOUT FAIL if you want to be a really for real really real writer. Well. Maybe if writing is your full-time job, that is accurate. It probably is accurate. Of course you'd write for X hours a day if your job is being a writer. But some of us, myself included, are not at the point in their lives where their full-time job is writing fiction. So I write when I have the brainpower and energy to do so. That usually means a few hours a week sometimes after work, plus weekends. I work in (mostly) creative marketing, which means a lot of my brainpower is dedicated to being creative and writing for clients that are not me throughout the day. When I get home at almost 6PM, my creative mind is pretty fried. So sometimes I just let it rest. That's okay.

Every time I have even a shadow of an idea that might make a good blog post, I write it down.

For a while, I kept getting caught in this place where during my work day, I'd think of something that might be good for my blog, and then I'd go, "Oh, I'll remember it." Nope. I could never remember it. Because, you know, work and life and distractions and stuff. So I got into the habit of writing down a quick note every time I thought of something that might be a good blog idea. I have a document on my desktop and many, many notes on my iPhone. I use an app called Evernote that I like because it lets you add pictures and location and all sorts of stuff to your note. Anyway. WRITE DOWN THOSE IDEAS. They're great when you sit down at your computer to write a post and then just stare at the screen like, "I have no idea what to write about." BAM. LIST OF POTENTIAL POSTS.

Farm your readers for ideas.

It's not something I like to use too often, but it's very handy sometimes. Once in a while, I'll sent out a social media blast (usually on Twitter) asking my readers what they'd like to see on my blog. It's a double-whammy, because people are telling you what content they'd like to see from you (increasing the likelihood of views), and they're giving you blogging ideas. Win-win.

Start a series.

I have a few series that I add to every now and then, and some of them have gained quite a bit of traction and are popular with regular readers and random Googlers alike. They serve multiple purposes. They're something familiar that regular readers recognize and like. They're a ready-made group of posts under the same tag that someone can click and read through in succession. They all have the same format, so they're easy to replicate, and if you choose well, you'll have something with a number of different topics that you can revisit.

Use Google Analytics to see which of your posts are popular AND which searches people are using to stumble on your blog.

This is more of a tactic for gaining clicks and reads, but it's also handy for thinking up content. If you're not already using Google Analytics to track your blog's stats, you should start. The Blogger analytics are okay, but not great. It's a pretty easy process -- sign up, get the analytics code, then insert it into your blog's layout code. You can find instructions for your particular platform through Google. By monitoring which posts are your most popular, it can give you an idea of where to focus. For example, my posts about pop culture and film/television (Doctor Who, Adventure Time, The Fifth Element, etc.) tend to get the most attention. That gives me a direction to aim for. Searches are fun, too. Sometimes people find your blog through very strange means, and sometimes they're looking for something in particular. In the latter case, it might give you an idea that will fill that void.

Don't get too verbose.

I know this is like lololololol coming from me, since I tend to be super verbose. But you don't need to write a super lengthy post every time. Sometimes it's okay to keep it short and sweet. In fact, it's preferable to most readers. Lololololol sorry guys.

Compilation posts, or reposts.

I don't do this often, but it's something I keep in my toolkit. Sometimes you just don't have the bandwidth to write your own new content. In times like these, it's okay to scope out your favorite blogs and write up a "best of" post linking to their much more interesting and creative content for the week. It's also okay to dig up an old post of yours and post in again (just let people know it's a repost). If it's been long enough, you likely have new readers who haven't seen it before.

Take breaks.

Sometimes you're just tapped the hell out. That's fine. It happens. Life, work, obligations, and all that jazz get in the way of blogging. I go through periods where I just need to get away and deal with other things and recharge my creative batteries. That's cool. Go for it. Your readers will understand.

Keep a schedule.

It helps me, personally, to have a structured schedule to stick to. This may be a personal thing, but I find it's much easier for me to keep up my blog when I pick a schedule (M-W-F) and discipline myself to keep it up.

Pre-write.

Don't wait until the last minute to write your posts. I always write my posts at least a day early. This post? Writing it after work. It eases the stress, pressure, and guilt. Plus I'm on the Pacific coast and I get up like three hours later than the rest of you, so it's nice to be able to pre-schedule my post to go up earlier.

Contests.

When in doubt, throw up a contest. Again, this is something I don't like to use too often, because it's basically cheap one-time hits. People come to get the free stuff, and then they go away. But contests are easy, content-wise. You say "hey I'm having a contest," you show off the prize, you give the rules, then you post.

YEAH. These are my keeping-up-a-blog-even-when-you-have-a-full-time-job tips. That includes mothering. Mothering is serious business. Editorial calendars can help, too. Look them up.

What tips do you recommend for keeping up your blog, guys?
 
 

The Performative Nature of Teens

| Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Photo by Summer Skyes 11
Today's Tune: I Will Wait

Often when talks of teenagers come up, particularly teenage girls, people feel the need to express just how dramatic and sensitive teenagers are. Everything is so monumental, so personal. They also like to go on and on about how kids these days demand so much attention and turn to things like social media and blogging to gain some sort of recognition for existing. Or something, I don't know.

Basically, in my mind, it boils down to people 1) forgetting what it was like to be a teenager, and 2) believing that adults as a whole have "grown out" of the craving for attention or "drama." To which I say lolololololol right.

I will admit that the nature of growing up in the quickly developing landscape of social media and the Internet is very interesting to me. My day job involves working closely with social media and figuring out how and why people respond to the things they do, so it's a very relevant topic in my life. Personally, I think social media is both fabulous and frustrating. Fabulous because it can create communities and give people access to information and support systems they'd have a lot of difficulty finding before, and frustrating because although it can connect so many wonderful people, it also gives voice to the multitude of craptastic, troll-y people who exist in the world.

And I feel like this ties directly into being a teenager in this world.

As those of us who work with and write for teens typically understand, experiences are such a very big deal because they're new. After you've reached adulthood and presumably had a number of life experiences under your belt, sometimes repeatedly, they've clearly lost their newness. But when they were brand new, they were a big deal. And because those experiences are so fresh, so raw, it makes you feel like you're alone. You're unique in a sea full of strangeness.

This powerful feeling of individualism can lead to wanting to express yourself, to becoming desperate to find a kindred spirit. You want to speak, and you want to be heard. Young people often feel ignored, by adults and their peers. So where better to turn than the Internet community, where you can reach out into the great blue something and have people find you, hear you, and respond to you?

It makes for a potent cocktail. As I mentioned, people often describe teens as "dramatic," as though they're performing their emotions for an audience. In reality, it's usually less about putting on a show and more about wanting to be heard and understood. When you turn to sites like Tumblr, you can find that in spades. Yes, teens (and adults, let's be honest) can find an audience there, and the inclination to "perform" for that audience can be high. That doesn't mean it's a bad thing. It's all part of the pain of growing into adulthood -- it helps you find a voice, a passion, maybe even a calling. It helps you feel appreciated and less alone. Teens who feel like outcasts in society (gay/lesbian teens, trans* teens, disabled teens, POC teens, etc.) can find incredible support systems that they might never have had years ago. That's pretty amazing.

Whenever I hear people my age (BECAUSE I'M SO OLD, GUYS) or older bitching about how "these kids" won't get off their damn phones or blogs and go outside once in a while, I kind of roll my eyes. They don't understand that this is where people (not just kids) are finding community these days. I've met some of my very best friends over the miracle that is the Internet. People that I'm incredibly close to and talk to on a daily basis. People who came to my wedding. But we leave miles and miles, sometimes countries, apart. We never would have found each other were it not for coming together in an online community, talking until someone found us and liked what we had to say, and connecting with each other.

So, yes, sometimes the actions of teenagers can see over the top and melodramatic. Sometimes it feels like they're performing. But 1) this is not symptomatic of adolescence alone, and 2) so what? Maybe it's more important to understand why this is what's connecting with them.

What do you think, readers? How do you feel about teenagers, social media, and the Internet at large?



Soundings Review - Call for Submissions

| Monday, November 12, 2012
Today's Tune: Goodnight, Fair Lady

Hey dudes! I'm going to be popping back in with updates. I'm aiming for my usual 3x a week, but it may be a little more sporadic than usual. Life and stuff!

I was recently contacted by the editor at a literary magazine, who asked me if I'd update my master list of YA literary magazines with their publication. So I did that, and I'm also letting all my lovely YA writers and readers know about their call for submissions. Here's the information I received from the editor, Mureall Hébert:

"Soundings Review, a bi-annual publication in conjunction with the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA program, publishes poetry, fiction, children/young adult, and prose, including essays and interviews. Deadlines: January 1, 2013 – for the Spring/Summer issue; May 1, 2013 – for the Fall/Winter issue. Guidelines can be found at: www.nila.edu/soundings/submissions/"

I originally started my master list of YA lit mags because I was having a difficult time finding magazine publications that would take submissions from YA writers who are older than 23 (there are a lot of magazines out there that publish teen fiction, but apparently only if you're college-age or younger). This was back when I was looking for places to have my short work published, which would ideally give me writing credits for when I was querying. I did end up publishing with Hunger Mountain, which gave me a nice shiny credit, so I think it was worth it! I hope other writers can find similar use for the list.

See you Wednesday, I hope!

 

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