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On Writing

Filtering by Tag: writers

A guide to Facebook friendships for authors: 15 dos and don'ts

Stephen H. Provost

I don’t attend church these days, but when I did, I noted a constant tension between “outreach” and what the numbers game, and I realized that all too often, the line between them was blurred. Motives were mixed, and sometimes it seemed like a church was advocating outreach to the poor and needy as a means of putting more rear ends in the pews (and, by extension, more money in the offering dish).

If this seems cynical, it isn’t meant to be. I’m just pointing out that pure and not-so-pure motives can work toward the same ends. But when the latter dominate, they tend to undermine the former – or overwhelm them entirely.

You can exhale now. This isn’t a blog about religion. It could just as easily be about elected officials and the tension between public service and political donations. Or corporations, and customer service vs. the bottom line.

It isn’t about those things, but it’s about the same sort of underlying tension, which is becoming more and more common in the world of publishing, often among independent and self-published authors.

Writing is a tough business: Not many are able to make a living at it, and it’s difficult to get noticed, even if you’ve got an agent or publishing house in your corner. Whenever something’s this hard, it’s natural to look for shortcuts. It’s easy to buy “how to” books and enroll in dubious workshops written by people who promise success. But most such people are merely hoping to line their own pockets by capitalizing on your desperation to somehow make things happen.

One of the things these books and workshops often emphasize is networking. Many of us, as authors, aren’t good at this. We aren’t social creatures by nature, preferring to wrap ourselves up in our next story rather than venturing out into the world at large. We’re not experts at self-promotion, by and large, and most of us tend to shy (or run) away from it ... which makes us even more prone to trying shortcuts. When it comes to networking, we don’t like to schmooze or make sales pitches, we stick our toe hesitantly in the water, pull it back out at the first sign of a chill – and, in the process, do more damage to our public image than we would if we’d jumped right in.

Instead of doing the work, we rely on shortcuts, which seem less painful in the short term but seldom accomplish anything in the long run.

One such shortcut is the Facebook friend request, which has become the online equivalent of handing out your business cards to strangers on a street corner. (Show of hands: How many of you keep a business cards someone thrusts into you hand on the sidewalk?) I’ve been getting an increasing number of friend requests from other authors online, which in itself is fine, but that seems to be as far as it goes. Few of these authors bother to follow up by posting on my profile, and some don’t share much of anything on their profile except pitches for their releases.

Repeat after me: That’s not how networking works.

Real networking

Networking requires engaging with people, and getting to know them as human beings rather than sales marks who “maybe, just maybe, will buy my book” (or review it or share my posts with others). Such friend requests have less in common with actual friendship than they do with childish games like ring-and-run, or with superficial but sometimes guilt-inducing chain messages/emails. Still, this tactic has become so pervasive that I’m more hesitant to accept friend requests from other authors than anyone else except Nigerian princes or porn bots.

Some authors are encouraged to pursue this course because many people will accept their requests simply based on the fact that they’re “fellow authors” and that they have a fair number of friends in common. Then, instead of introducing themselves, they often immediately send you invitations to “like” their Facebook business pages, hoping that this in itself will somehow magically produce more sales. Hint: It won’t.

To return to our church analogy, it’s like passing the offering plate while parishioners are still finding their seats – before the first hymn or chorus is even sung. Or like demanding supporters make cash donations before a politician is even elected ... wait, they do that anyway, but you know how highly people think of politicians, right? ’Nuff said.

Good networking requires a lot more than this, and being a socially awkward author who feels out of his/her element when it comes to marketing will not change this fact, no matter how badly we might wish it.

But the beauty of Facebook is that authors can actually do networking – real networking – without ever leaving their comfort zone. If you’re on Facebook, you don’t have to meet anyone face-to-face (although occasional personal appearances are still a good idea). You can make meaningful contacts without ever leaving the comfort of your home office. If, like me, you’re a lot better at one-on-one interactions than mass marketing, do that! Take Facebook’s friend requests literally and make friends.

This requires, first of all, that you avoid the temptation to send off friend requests willy-nilly to any author who happens to share 50 mutual friends or more. Check to see if you have other interests, a hometown, a favorite band or something else in common – more than just writing in the same genre – before you approach someone. Facebook has tools to help you find these areas of common interest, so make use of them. Then, if someone accepts your request, interact directly. Respond to something on their profile. Engage. And not necessarily about books. About art, philosophy, history, music.

If they buy or review your books, that’s gravy. If not, you’ve done something more valuable: You’ve made a friend. And friends are more likely to read your work because they want to, not out of some sense of duty to a fellow writer.


Dos and don’ts

Here, in a nutshell, is my advice for dealing with other authors, and friends in general, on Facebook.

  • DO send friend requests to people with whom you have something in common in addition to writing.

  • DO engage with new friends on a personal level. Start conversations that have nothing to do with books and even less to do with selling them: Make pitches the rare exception, rather than the rule.

  • DO talk about writing as a craft; give your friends insight into how you work and let them share your excitement at your progress ... but because they’re your friends, not because they’re “marks” for a potential sale.

  • DO stay positive and encourage others to write, regardless of whether they’ve read a single word you’ve written or are ever likely to.

  • DO have a sense of humor, including about yourself. Post funny stuff.

  • DO share a variety of types of posts on your profile, from memes and polls to personal insights and photos to music videos and news stories.

  • DO respond to posts on other people’s profiles, not just your own.

  • DO let people know what you believe in; talk occasionally about your principles and how they’ve helped shape your life and work, but ...

  • DON’T spend too much time on partisan politics unless you want to spend a lot of energy fighting off trolls and risk alienating friends who are sick of hearing about it.

  • DON’T send out friend requests like mass mailers, hoping to put another notch in your gun.

  • DON’T immediately ask a new friend to “like” your Facebook business page. (Hint: You’ll attract a lot more page followers by actually posting interesting stuff there – imagine that!)

  • DON’T treat your Facebook profile as nothing more than a sales showroom for your books.

  • DON’T engage in author wars; no one wins when you presume start telling other authors how to write, and most people outside the author community don’t care.

  • DON’T spend a lot of space complaining about the industry. We all need to vent sometimes, and friends will understand that, but if you’re too negative too often, people will tune you out.

  • And, above all, DON’T get so distracted by all this that you stop writing. That is what makes you a writer, after all.

Facebook friends aren't notches on your "networking" gun

Stephen H. Provost

Dear potential online friends: I’m not a target in your networking strategy, and I won't be another notch on your gun. Even if you are authors.

There’s a weird trend going around among authors on social media. They hit up as many fellow writers as possible with friend requests, immediately invite them to “like” their Facebook page ... and never have any other contact with them.

Then, they call it “networking.”

Often, these authors only post about their books, sales milestones and positive reviews; they don’t bother to visit other profiles after their request is accepted, and they don’t manage to post anything much about themselves except for industry stuff.

It reminds me why I never liked cocktail parties, where the whole point of the evening is to make contacts, exchange business cards, and talk about inane subjects everyone is certain to forget five minutes after the party’s over – if not sooner.

I don’t know if the same thing happens in other fields, but I do know I didn’t get a lot of requests from fellow journalists when I was working in newspapers.

Common interests

Look, I like connecting with authors because we have something in common. I also like connecting with Star Trek fans, classic rock connoisseurs, old highway enthusiasts and people who are into mythology. But adding someone to your social media “stable” and then proceeding to ignore them isn’t connecting. It’s putting another notch on that Facebook gun of yours.

I remember going to churches where pastors lamented the need to “grow their flock.” There weren’t enough warm bodies in the pews, and the way they talked about attracting new visitors made it sound like a numbers game. The focus wasn’t on getting to know the people as individuals, it was on adding more “souls” (who could put enough money in the offering plate to keep the church lights on and, of course, pay the pastor’s salary.)

Authors have more of an excuse. It’s difficult to support yourself putting out books, and marketing is as much a part of the job as writing – if not more. When book sales slump, people get desperate and start throwing “publicity” at the wall, hoping something sticks. I know what this desperation feels like: I’m going through just such a slump right now. But I also know it doesn’t work: When people start throwing random ads at me, I tune them out. It also alienates people who might be able to help you if you took a different tack.

Like, maybe, trying to get to know them.

What if you treated social media like a visit to a new neighbor’s home? You wouldn’t go over and knock on the door, wait for it to open, then just stare at the person for a moment and walk away. You’d introduce yourself, give them a bit of background on yourself, tell them it’s nice to meet them and maybe say something complimentary about their home.

Perhaps you find you have something in common; perhaps not. After a couple of minutes, you excuse yourself and leave. Maybe you leave it at that. Or, if you enjoyed the conversation, maybe you ring the person up a couple of days later and invite them out for coffee. Maybe then you start talking a little about your books ... along with other things you have in common. You forge an actual friendship.

One thing you probably shouldn’t do when you go over and introduce yourself is push your way past your new neighbor and into the house without an invitation.

Social protocols

On social media, that’s what it can feel like if someone immediately sends you a direct message. Somehow, we’ve had a hard time translating the social protocols we’ve developed in the real world to the online environment. Maybe it’s time we started doing so. (When sending naked or half-naked selfies to strangers has become common practice, that’s a pretty good sign we’ve lost our bearings.)

I’m friends with a good number of authors online – because they’ve let me get to know them, and vice versa, not merely because they’re authors. I’m friends with other folks who aren’t writers, too, and I feel more comfortable with some of them than I do with many of my author friends. Because, even though I’m an author, I don’t like to talk about writing all the time. I like to talk about music and history and science and politics and philosophy and a host of other topics, weighty and frivolous.

Lately, I’ve become increasingly more selective about the people whose requests I accept. I’ve become aggressive about weeding out potential spammers and scammers, and I’ve started watching new friends I do accept closely. Do they bother to comment on something I’ve posted? Do they post their own thoughts, or do they just repost links? Are they continually asking their contacts to buy this product, sign this petition or contribute to this cause?

Or are they people, authors or otherwise, who I can feel comfortable being friends with – even if it’s only online? I’m not trying to make people feel paranoid, as though I’ll drop them if I don’t hear from them for a week or a month. I won’t. I just want people whose company I can enjoy without feeling I’ve got a marketing target on my back.

We live in an era when the hard sell has collided head-on with a case of collective amnesia about how to treat others with respect and courtesy. That makes it even more of a challenge do real networking and cultivate real friendships. It also makes it even more imperative that we make the effort to do so. Not because we’re authors, but because we’re ... human.

Impostor Syndrome: The Writer Behind the Curtain

Stephen H. Provost

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

So said Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs (aka the Wizard of Oz) in the 1939 movie adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s classic fantasy.

The wizard, of course, wasn’t really a wizard at all. He was nothing more than a charlatan – a con man. 

In writing this piece, I wondered to myself: Did Baum, in some sense, see himself as the wizard – an impostor hiding behind a curtain, performing marvelous feats that were really nothing more than tricks or sleight of hand? 

Many of us authors do.

No small number of us are prone to viewing ourselves as men and women behind a curtain. Our books serve as our magical veil, which both connects us to and protects us from the outside world.

Many of us are loners who never quite fathomed the social games played by our more outgoing peers – even though we studied them scrupulously in the hope, perhaps, of imitating them. Of pretending to be a series of someones we’re not.

There’s a name for this: It's called “impostor syndrome.”

Those of us afflicted by it become so accustomed to playing roles that we wind up thinking it’s the only way to succeed.

But then, if someone happens to catch a glimpse of that “man behind the curtain,” we feel certain we’ve been found out. We aren’t real authors, after all. We’re just play-acting, and worst of all, we’ve failed in the one thing we believe we just might be good at: putting one over on the public at large through some elaborate ruse.

When we do venture out of our literary cocoon for book signings, presentations, conventions and the like, we often take great care to avoid any possible missteps. We don’t want to give off even the slightest hint that we might be something less than the larger-than-life image we’ve projected onto that curtain. It’s called keeping up appearances … or, to our way of thinking, maintaining the illusion.

Two sides of the curtain

Writing is both the perfect and absolute worst profession for those of us suffering from impostor syndrome. It’s perfect because it allows us to relate to the world in a very intimate way, scrawling or typing out insights and details that other, less observant sorts, are wont to miss. Yet in the same moment, it denies us the very intimacy we crave because it separates the real “us” from the world we’ve been so carefully observing.

We can create worlds of our own in which to find refuge from the real one, wherein reside all manner of critics ready to expose us as the frauds we’re certain we really are.

Our writing is our curtain.

But that veil of protection can’t shield us from our own desire for acceptance … which we’ve merely transferred from ourselves to our writing. Our baby. And, lo and behold, those critics out there are just as eager to bully and ridicule that baby as they were to assail us.

So we’re right back where we started.

Scathing reviews confirm that we are not now, nor were we ever, “real” writers. So do those rejection slips and emails, which bombard us as long as we keep sending out query letters.

Are you seeking affirmation? Adulation? If so, you might want to think twice about becoming a writer. Fame isn’t part of the job description unless your name is Rowling or King or Patterson. Achieving even a cult following is a major accomplishment.

And job security? Forget it – your chances of making a cushy living as a writer are akin to your chances of making it in the NBA.

Being a writer will most likely make you appreciate the day job you’ve held for the past 10 years a lot more. (Most of us have to keep our day jobs, by the way.) Think for a moment about that 8-to-5 job. Now imagine having to reapply for that position every time you completed a project. Imagine sending out another resume, going through another series of interviews, enduring another background check every six months or so just to keep doing the same job you were already hired to do.

Unless you have a contract that covers more than one book, that’s part of what it means to be a writer.

Rending the veil

Repeated rejections are the last thing you need if you’re struggling with impostor syndrome. At best, they’ll reinforce the feeling that you’re just not “worthy” (whatever that means); at worst, they’ll make you feel like even more of a pretender. “I knew I was never any good in the first place, and this just confirms it.”

Even successes are often rationalized away as flukes.

  • “I may have sold one novel, but who knows if I’ll ever sell another!”
  • “Yes, I sold a few thousand copies, but it’s not enough to pay the bills, so I’m obviously a failure.”
  • “I didn’t win that award I was up for. Those readers who bought my book? Sure fooled them!”
  • Or, conversely: “I won some award? Big deal. People still aren’t buying my book. I must have done a real snow job on those judges!”

See what you’re doing here? Not only are you denigrating your own work, you’re insulting your audience – whether it be the people who’ve bought your book or the judges who thought it merited an award. Nobody wins here. You’re only accomplishing one thing: perpetuating the singularly pernicious illusion that your talent is all just an illusion.

The curtain is suffocating you.

This is the challenge authors face when they find themselves enmeshed in impostor syndrome, and it’s why you’ll hear so many of us encouraging one another to ignore the bad reviews, wear rejection letters like a badge of honor and, above all, keep writing, even if no one seems to care or even notice.

But perhaps most important piece of encouragement anyone can offer is the reminder that the writing is its own reward. When it comes right down to it, our writing isn’t really a curtain at all. It’s more like a prism that allows us to fashion our “inner light” into an array of colors that we can send forth in unique patterns at impossible angles to illumine the world around us. We get to discover ourselves and, in the process, offer the world at large a ticket on its own voyage of discovery.

What could be more exciting than that?

Despite what we might tell ourselves in moments of self-doubt and frustration, we writers aren’t impostors at all. We’re explorers.

An impostor can only mimic what’s come before. It’s an explorer’s unique privilege is to go forth in search of something new – and, upon finding it, to unveil it for the rest of the world do see.

Then, suddenly, curtain is gone. And the wonders we've hidden behind it are unveiled in all their glory.