Minutes 201602

Sorry to be so late posting this.

Writers’ Mill Minutes Feb 21st 2016

Nearly twenty people attended February’s Writers’ Mill meeting, including several new members who have hopefully now been added to our email list. Don’t forget, as a member of the Writers’ Mill, you each have a writerly email address of the form NameI@portlandwritersmill.org where Name is your first name and I is the first letter of your last.

As the clipboard was passed around, we learned that

  • 10 out of 20 members are on Facebook (half of us),
  • 6 are on Goodreads (generally accepted as the best place for author and reader interaction),
  • only 2 use Twitter,
  • 2 (plus 4 occasionals) use LinkedIn,
  • 2 use Instagram (a site that could prove incredibly useful:
    • Catherin pointed out that Instagram pictures can be converted into a CHATBOOK very easily and cheaply – $8 for a 60-page book! Catherin is taking photographs of illustrated poems to create a poetry book! Go to http://chatbooks.com/ to create an account and get the app.)
  • 1 out of 20 is on Flickr (another picture place),
  • 2 have Amazon author pages (great for collecting together all your books – don’t forget to include the Writers’ Mill Journal!) and
  • 4 are on Pinterest.

So… where can you be found?

If we want to be writers, we need to write. If we want someone to read what we write, we need to put it where it can be seen. If we want strangers to read it, we need to be available on the internet.

We discussed what members use the internet for:

  • Email and Facebook for communication
  • Weather apps, maps and news sites (including Norwegian and English sites for immediate use
  • Google, Podcasts, financial websites, lyrics sites, etc for research and information
  • Netflix, YouTube and music sites for entertainment
  • Classes in writing and photography for learning
  • Goodreads, activist websites, marketing sites to connect and maybe sell stuff

But what should we be using it for? Notes from Walt and Sheila’s blogging talk are below, and Walt will continue the discussion next month. In the meantime, Catherin handed out amazing awards for the “It’s not what you think” contest. Birthday and Christmas presents were indeed not what they appeared to be – in shape, texture, size, or wrapping paper!

  1. First place went to Karin for Path Less Traveled
  2. Second place was Joanne with Across the Plains
  3. Third was Karen with You Don’t Understand.

If you look on the website: http://portlandwritersmill.org/ , you’ll find the next contests

  1. March – Windows, hosted by Sheila – windows to the sky, the soul, the future, and more – just write. Word limit 2,500 words. Send entries to JudyB@portlandwritersmill.org by the end of Sunday March 6th
  2. April – Irresistable Temptation, hosted by Judy, word limit 1,000 words
  3. May – Switching places, hosted by Nellie, word limit 2,000 words
  4. June – Home, hosted by Karin, word limit 1,200 words.

You’ll also find a library there, and Joe has just borrowed The Making of A Best-Seller

Karen provided wonderful snacks, after which Walt led the critique of Roseanna’s story and handed out some great critiquing (and self-critiquing) guide-lines, summarized below:

Our next meeting will be: March 20th, Amelia’s critique led by Ron, snacks from David, blogging and internet questions answered by Walt.

Critique guidelines from Walt, summarized by Sheila

  1. Characterization:
    1. Do the people seem real?
    2. How did the writer make them real?
    3. If a character seems shallow, how could the writer develop the character more fully?
    4. Do the character’s internal thoughts slow the story down too much and alienate the reader?
  2. Continuity:
    1. Were there unresolved loose ends. If the piece is a chapter, did you feel it carried a story forward?
    2. Was there need for further explanation about events?
    3. Were there any inconsistencies?
    4. Did the writer intrude into the story, or was it truly the character’s story?
    5. Was there too much detail? Remember, readers don’t need to be told everything – they can use their imagination.
  3. Technique:
    1. Was it readable? Look for typos, grammatical errors, run-on sentences, etc?
    2. Were things described correctly? Remember, your gaze can wander around the room but your eyes probably stay in your head.
    3. Look for repeated and unnecessary words and phrases – began, started, just, that, only, there, very etc.
  4. Format:
    1. Look for overly long sentences
    2. Look for overly long paragraphs
    3. Does dialog provide pleasing white space on the page?
    4. Is the point of view consistent? Are changes in point of view clear?
  5. Dialog:
    1. Are the spoken words natural for the characters?
    2. Are they readable for the readers (e.g. if you’re representing a particular way of speaking)?
    3. Is there enough dialog? Dialog helps you change from telling to showing.
    4. Does the dialog move the plot forward? Try to avoid dialog backstories.
    5. Are there parts of the dialog that could be skipped? We don’t have to hear everyone say hello.
  6. Plot:
    1. Is the plot clear and believable?
    2. Are there too many subplots?
    3. Are there enough subplots to keep it interesting?
    4. Does it end in the right place?
  7. Pacing:
    1. Do the plot and subplots move fast enough to keep your attention?
    2. Does the story skip around too much (head or place hopping)?
    3. Is there a good balance between action and dialog?
    4. Is there enough action within the dialog?
  8. Conflict:
    1. Does the conflict and tension come to a good conclusion (in plots or subplots or chapter)
    2. Does the resolution fit the character?
    3. Do you know what happened?

To Blog Or Not To Blog – with Walt, Sheila and others

  1. How/why should we use the internet if we want to be authors? These questions and answers come from Walt… e.g.

Other than writing a well plotted, well edited, well formatted book with a professional cover, what should an author do?  Develop a platform…which is the public persona that tells potential readers who you are and why they should spend their time looking at your book (fiction or non-fiction)

What is a platform?  Anything that presents yourself to potential readers: blogs, articles, responses to blogs or articles, talks, videos, webinars, etc. Hence talking about blogs.

What’s the difference between platform and marketing?  Platform is how potential readers “see” you. Marketing is asking those readers to buy your book/product.

Should an author have a platform and/or marketing strategy?  All sources I’ve read indicate yes to both.

  1. Okay, given what Walt and others have told us, which comes first – the blog, the website, or the social networking?

Various members have blogs. If you just post reviews on Goodreads, that’s a kind of blog. If you want minimal commitment (financial and in time and stress) start  with a blog. It’s free, easy, and relatively invisible until you’ve been doing it for a while.

Your blog might be your best platform got getting discovered. Blogs can be broadcast all over the internet, and every place it touches improves your visibility. Because they change (because you keep writing) they’re more likely to get views over time than a website is.

Your social network is how you’ll get people to see your blog, so make sure you’re social.

  1. Suppose you want to blog, how do you start? You don’t have to buy a domain name right away. When you buy one you can make it point to your blog. It costs around $15 a year.

Advantages of having a “real website” over a blog – e.g. WordPress.org rather than WordPress.com. The website is hosted somewhere safe. It’s yours; it won’t go away when gmail gets upset with you; but you’ll have to fix it when it breaks. But you have to pay for hosting, maybe $5 a month.  Advantages of a blog; it’s cheap and easy. If you decide to make a real blog, use YouTube to find out how. It really is easy (says Walt).

WordPress.com or blogger.com? These both offer free blogging. They both allow you to choose a design for your blog, add clever features like sending posts to facebook & twitter (really easy with WordPress) and adding buttons at the end of each post so your readers can send it to facebook, twitter etc.

Note, WordPress it opensource: It’s not going to go away, which means it’s safe for you to use.

  1. What will you write about? What would anyone want to read?

Don’t write a diary. Sheila writes book reviews and hosts other authors on one blog. On another she posts sample Bible stories and Bible study notes – she’s looking for a different group of readers there, so think about who’s going to read it. Walt writes about history to fit his alternate history book. Amelia blogs about fairytales – history, meaning etc. Ron might blog about politics…

Consider blogging chapters from your book, asking for feedback (questions attract readers, especially when they fit into a twitter post), but keep the excerpts short. Maybe take 10 minutes every day to post the best paragraph you wrote yesterday.

Keep it short – blog readers won’t stay long on your page. Also, don’t use excessively sophisticated language – showcase your skills in short excerpts, for sure, but the rest of your blogging is more conversation than lecture.

Being inconsistent about topic is more likely to lose readers than being inconsistent about posting.

You need to attract search engines – make the first sentence repeat keywords from the title. Use key words from other people’s posts. Stick to one topic to build up a readership.

Questions in the title help. Good grammar helps. Pictures, strategic capital letters. Short sharp tweets to advertise it. Mailing lists help too – you can add one to your blog and encourage people to sign up to receive emails whenever you blog. Amelia suggests you offer freebies for people signing up, then offer discounts to your mail list when you release your book.

Some people say it’s better to have clips on YouTube than Blogposts. Link YouTube to your blog and your website, etc…

  1. Do you have to write regularly, or is randomly ok?

You really should blog, but yes, it takes up time. You have to prioritize every day. Start by seeing what has to be done each day. Make lists. Begin with the blog, then social media, then email, then write. Don’t try to perfect though, or you’ll never write anything.

  1. Okay, so now you can name your blog, and now you can buy that domain name if you want one.

You might want to hold off on the domain name until you’re sure – after you’ve blogged for a while you might realize you want to change what you’re blogging about. I’ve changed my blog name but kept the same domains. Usually you’ll use your real name (or your pen name) for the blog. Sheiladeeth.com, Ameliademellos.com, etc. But you might want a blog that represents what you’re doing on it. Raveandsnarl.com, Inspiredbyfaithandscience.com, etc.

  1. How many blogs do you have? Is there a reason to have more than one?

Amelia has a author website and a cooking blog – she might like a photography blog too. Sheila has a review blog, a Bible blog, a bits’npieces blog. You can have as many as you like. You can link them together. You can probably have several blogs running from one website.

  1. So, what might be a good plan for one of us, preparing to have a platform, be an author, sell a book or an idea? Walt handed out a great checklist, and will talk more about it next time. Enjoy!

Walt’s overall plan (as a check-off list) is:

  1. [x]…set up WordPress website/blog.
  2. [x]…blog on research I’ve done for my novel series (medieval technology and life).
  3. [ ]…connect with “influencers” on social media (comment, repost, whatever…).
  4. [x]…join groups (Facebook) and communities (Google Plus) that overlap with you novel/blog/interests. And interact (comment, respond, repost, “like” or “plus”) with those groups/communities.
  5. [ ]…build e-mail list by setting up a landing page on your website to give away free content in exchange for addresses.
  6. …decide on an e-mail service (such as MailChimp)
  7. …decide how to exchange e-mail addresses for free content:
  8. …on landing page or a landing page provider (they handle the messy activities of sending the e-mail addresses to MailChimp, sending the “free” file to the followers). I’m still figuring this out. Can be expensive. Easy for followers.
  9. …services that provide coupons (such as BookFunnel). Also still figuring this out. Less expensive…but a bit more work for your followers.
  10. …manually.  No expense. Time required. Followers need to know how to manage eBook files.
  11. …Note: lots of advice out there stating that it’s important to keep the e-mail signup process seamless to potential followers.
  12. [-]…send e-mails (containing blog excerpts directing them to your blog) to your list.
  13. [x]…decide on editing:
  14. …go with content editing if possible
  15. …trade editing services if financially strapped (but not with someone you’re emotionally attached to!)
  16. [x]…decide on a formatting plan:
  17. …do it yourself (I’m using Scrivener for eBooks and Joel Friedlander for print book templates)
  18. …hire it out
  19. [-]…decide on cover:
  20. …do it yourself (only if you’re financially strapped…maybe with Canva)
  21. …hire it out (if at all possible!)
  22. …once you have a cover, post it on Pinterest (along with any images that you’ve already posted related to your book)
  23. [ ]…once the book has been edited/formatted/covered, request reviews
  24. …from people with credentials either in your field (non-fiction) or in any topic referenced by your fiction novel,
  25. …another additional option: suggest exchanging reviews with other authors.
  26. …from bloggers who do reviews in your genre
  27. [ ]…a few weeks before the launch, send message to e-mail list announcing date of launch (up to now, you’ve only been giving away content…now you’ve earned the right to “ask”…).
  28. [ ]…decide on further options:
  29. …give your first book away (especially if you have a second coming out soon). If you’re unknown, this may be necessary whether you have one or many books.
  30. …sell at reduced price.
  31. …buy ads
  32. …participate in book club give-a-ways or reduced-prices on distribution sites (such as BookBub).
  33. …offer to your e-mail list at free/reduced price. Use coupons through services such as BookFunnel (which I just heard about).
  34. [ ]…if you’re into talking or tabling, send inquiries to libraries, book clubs, fairs, etc (Note: I ain’t…!)
  35. [ ]…drink!

Where to go for advice?

Walt has been surveying a lot of blogs and sources. He tends to follow (just google their names):

  1. …Joanne Penn aka J.F. Penn (general self-pub)
  2. …Joel Friedlander (covers and templates)
  3. …Jane Friedman (general everything)
  4. …Mary Rosenblum (my editor) (general everything)
  5. …Joseph Michael (Scrivener training)
  6. …Lorelle VanFossen (WordPress training)

Note: all these people give away a lot of knowledge. And, as a result, gather a lot of followers. Yes, they sell products/services, but only after helping the aspiring author with a vast amount of contents and advice.


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