Writing

On Being a Writer

Photo by MP Clemens.

I have failed at many things in life, but I did become a writer.

This is, perhaps, in spite of myself. Early in Rogue Priest’s history, I produced a lot of posts that weren’t very good, and some that were downright combative. I judged my progress in terms of site traffic. But that is the same metric that guides the direction of low-quality news and entertainment sites. It’s equivalent to the metric used to guide television programs, and it is very easy to become the daytime TV of the internet.

Pandering to large numbers has a predictable effect (“large” being relative to your platform). It changes how you title your work, how you open your work, the tone that you take and to some extent the very topics you choose to discuss. “5 Ways to Be a Hero” with an open ending will attract more eyes than “Heroism Is a Spoken Song” with a definitive closing thought.

Literature is hard to eat.

Then I began to use my website as a place to sell things. I would market other people’s products and get a sales commission. If I were a business, that would be fine—although the bloggers who head down that highway do not seem to know how clownish it makes them look. Your conversion rate is the inverse of the number of people who see you for what you are.

The essential problem is this: I’m here to promote a philosophy, a way of life. I want you to try traveling away from familiar surroundings because I believe that journey will help make you a more whole human being. And if I have these products to sell you, maybe it’s because they’re great products that will help you on that journey. But maybe they aren’t so great, and the whole thing is a sham. How can you tell?

This conflict of interest eventually overrode my desire to “monetize” and even my faith in the products I recommended. Less than one year after starting, I removed all affiliate products and services from my website and I made an official policy never to promote them again.

ISBNs

I do believe in selling my own writing, and my book will be available on this website (release date: “soon!”). Lúnasa Days began as a wild idea, a series of daydreams as I biked through a blighted landscape. But readers believed in it and slowly, painfully, I made it real.

The bun is in the oven.

Learning to manage myself as a writer has been hard. Smart and encouraging bloggers—with helpful affiliate products nested on their sites—report that this is the age of the Indie Author. If that’s so then authors everywhere must be developing a new sympathy for giant publishers, who speculate real money on potential losses.

Not that I’d give it up. It’s nice to be the one speculating, and far nicer to be independent. But to give an example of how it’s been hard, let’s talk about ISBN’s.

Every book should have an ISBN. It’s a long number that you’ll never notice or care about, unless you happen to work in the library or publishing worlds. A book isn’t required to have one, but it makes some vague difference in your sales figures, that no one can ever explain well. Perhaps all those chain bookstores rushing to stock self-published novels won’t know where to shelve you if you don’t give them the number.

Alright.

There is only one authorized ISBN agent in each country. They sell you the number, you register it and put it in your book. Kind of like registering a domain. Domains cost around $8. An ISBN costs $125.

I’ll need two of them—one for print, one for digital.

Graciously, you can buy them in bulk to save money. For $250 you get ten. To put it in perspective, that’s more than the entire cost of having my book professionally laid out by a printer.

Or you can go to a reseller. Resellers buy them thousands at a time and sell them for between $10 and $100. But the reseller’s company name will forever be locked into the ISBN, and they appear as the publisher of record for your book on some industry catalog.

That causes bad things, but they are vague and hard to explain.

This week was my ISBN Learning week, just like last week was Cover Art Learning week and the week before was How to Format an eBook. There is always one more hurdle, it seems, before I can make my book go live—and simply go back to the business of writing the next one.

Lúnasa Days, I’m proud to say, creaks onward.

Words

It’s an honor to work as a writer. I spend most days writing articles, but then, so did Hemingway. What gets me is: if he hadn’t needed to eat (and drink) when he lived in France, if he hadn’t spent his work days on newspaper dispatches, would he have created more great books?

Or would he not have created any at all?

Increasingly I view myself as a writer on sojourn from one typewriter to another. My journey provides me with all the literary and philosophic wool that I need—but until I reach a quiet place to work, it cannot be spun. Sanctuary is spending two days or a month completely buried in writing.

Last week’s redesign of Rogue Priest is part of that change. The new look puts the focus squarely on the written word. The change in voice to a more philosophic tone—oddly closer to my in-person tone—is intentional, too.

While there are many things I have yet to discover on my journey, there is no longer any doubt what my art form must be. I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t a likely career; they say it’s impossible to succeed. Some days it feels like they’re right. But I make my living that way now, and it fuels me.

I want it to be something more. I’ve learned to combine words, and if there is a way to hold that before me like a sword—if there is a way to use words to change our species—I count myself armed.

Armed, and wandering the earth. Penniless as a ronin. But just as ready to struggle for the right lord.

Advertisements
Standard
Andre Sólo, Favorites, Social Skills

How to Use Twitter (and why it beats FB)

“Another Drew Jacob shortcut,” I breathed.

We were covered in mud, bites, sweat, bruises and just about everything except the tangy salt of a day in the ocean. It was a 6 mile bike ride to the hidden beach but I found a shortcut on a map. (I love shortcuts.) We never got there.

I didn’t write the story of that exhausting day, but I did drop a hint:

Tweet03

Earning Its Keep

Many people are surprised that Twitter is my favorite (now only) social network. I never run out of friends who say, “I don’t need to hear what someone had for breakfast today,” or “I don’t get Twitter.”

I can’t help you fix what other people tweet about—though if they tweet about their breakfast, you’re following the wrong people—but I can help explain Twitter: how it works, why I like it more than Facebook, and how to get the most out of it.

Unlike Google+, Twitter is not a Facebook clone. It’s a profoundly different tool that does different things. It’s less about stalking friends/family and more about knowing what’s going on in the world—or making connections with new people.

In many ways, Twitter is for “advanced” internet users. Every tweet is limited to 140 characters—nothing more. That forces you to think about what you’re saying, and how to say it succinctly and well.

Here are the advantages Twitter has, that make it my favorite social media site:

  • Simpler. Twitter is the simplest and most streamlined social site. Everything happens in one column, and everything works the same way: no “pages,” “groups,” “causes,” “games” or anything else. You can share websites or pictures, but only as links in your tweet. It’s simple.
  • Not as addictive. Interacting on any social site gives you a hit of dopamine, just like chatting with a friend does. But some sites are designed to try to hold your eyes on the screen as long as possible. Twitter doesn’t do that. Brands can’t build their own on-Twitter presence, so any link you share is an external link. Unlike G+, Pinterest or Facebook, Twitter doesn’t try to keep you there.
  • Less clingy. On Facebook, if a real-life friend tries to friend you and you don’t accept, you’re rude; if you un-friend someone it’s a statement. On Twitter, “following” is not a personal judgment. I don’t follow all my friends and I unfollow people freely. It’s more like a news source or a chat room, and less like a yearbook.
  • Higher quality content. Twitter forces you to curate your content. All the factors above—the short, to-the point format; the easy-to-leave website; the social acceptability of unfollowing—combine to incentivize smart, funny or interesting tweets. On Facebook if you write boring/annoying posts, I stay your friend because we went to 4th grade summer school together. On Twitter, if you write boring posts you lose followers.
  • Ads aren’t intrusive. Twitter sometimes places a single “sponsored” tweet at the top of your stream. It always identifies itself as sponsored and they are never aggressive or deceptive. Thank you, Twitter!
  • Builds new relationships. Because Twitter is not a friends-only platform, it’s easy to meet new and interesting people. On Facebook, if I send a friend request to someone I don’t know, it’s weird—and J.K. Rowling will never friend me back. On Twitter, instead of waving at existing friends, it’s normal to make fascinating new ones or have conversations with people you admire.

Basically, Twitter gives you much more power over what comes your way. Twitter can be used to keep up with friends, but it’s a more fluid platform that lets you focus on meeting who you want to meet, or reading what you want to read.

Nuts and Bolts

There are many Twitter how-to’s out there, but the basic concepts to understand are:

  • When you “follow” someone, you can see all their tweets. They might not follow you back.
  • You can tweet at anyone, by putting @theirusername (for example) in your tweet, even if you don’t follow each other. They will see this.
  • Hashtags are helpful. Instead of tweeting, “I blog about adventure,” I could tweet, “I blog about #adventure” and other people looking for that hashtag (#adventure) would easily find me. (Punctuation breaks hashtags: if you try #isn’tlifecrazy you actually create the hashtag #isn, which makes no sense.)
  • Follow people you find interesting and don’t pressure them to follow you.
  • Not sure who to follow? Search by interesting hashtags, or follow the Twitter accounts of your favorite writers. Mine is @Rogue_Priest (surprise).

@Rogue_Priest

How I Use It

I’ve been using Twitter since I still had a job. I’ve always found it to be a more valuable tool than any other social network. That’s partly because of the reasons above, but it’s also how I use it.

I’ve developed practices to maximize what I get from Twitter. Because of this, I enjoy reading it as much as you might enjoy the Sunday paper. I often start a morning with my coffee and my stream, catching up on killer articles Twitter has brought my way—it’s a relaxing experience, with reading material tailored just to me.

Here are my best practices. These are just my own preferences—you might use your account differently than I do.

  • Privacy settings. I once heard author Tessa Zeng tell someone, “If you set your Twitter account to private, you’re not actually using Twitter,” and she’s not wrong. By default, anyone can see your tweets (whether they follow you or not) and anyone can follow you (you don’t get to accept or deny it like a FB friend request). Keep these settings—you’ll build more followers, meet more people, and have a reason not to say nasty things in your tweets.
  • I don’t follow everyone I know. Like any social media tool, Twitter can search your email contacts and suggest people for you to follow. Take a pass on that. Think about specific people you find interesting and follow them. You’ll have less noise and get a lot more value out of your stream.
  • When someone follows me, I don’t follow back. When I started on Twitter I thought it was good etiquette to follow back everyone who followed me. Anything else would be rude, right? Wrong. It’s not an insult to not follow someone back. Only follow them if you think they’re interesting, or if their profile and tweets are tantalizing.
  • Never follow companies. Why would you?
  • Follow less than 100 people. This is a longstanding rule for many Twitter users, and it pays off. Checking Twitter should be a relaxing experience where you see things that make you grin—not a stressful experience with more noise than signal. If you find yourself approaching 100, take a few minutes to trim off the ones you don’t really pay attention to.
  • I don’t use lists. Optionally, Twitter allows you to create “lists” to sort and organize the people you follow. I never use them—they just take more time and effort, and they’re never needed if I follow less than 100 people. (I do look at other people’s lists to find the folks they think are interesting.)
  • Retweet often. Anytime you find yourself enjoying a link that someone tweeted, RT it (giving them credit) so your own followers can enjoy it.
  • I make a point of tweeting things I like. I read online a lot, and anytime I like an article or site, I make a point to shorten its URL and tweet it with a snappy headline and a little comment.

A retweet.

Clearly, these are my own habits that support how I prefer to use Twitter—as a place to find and share high quality articles, and have meaningful conversations with the people I respect.

You might use Twitter differently, or not like using it at all. There won’t be any pressure for Rogue Priest readers to use Twitter—even as I leave Facebook you can subscribe to the site via email or RSS (check the right-hand sidebar of this very page).

But if you want to have more contact with me, or if you want to put my claim to the test and see if Twitter can be as useful for you as it is for me, then these are the habits I suggest. I believe they’ll help make your experience with Twitter far more meaningful. They’ll definitely help you beat the learning curve and avoid the frustration of many beginning users.

Are you on Twitter? Leave a comment with a link to your account. I’ll follow you for a week to see if I dig what you share.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

Standard
Andre Sólo

How this No Facebook thing will work

As all readers should know by now I’m leaving Facebook. That has resulted in a lot of questions (What will I use instead? What happens to the Rogue Priest page?) and rightly so. Today I have answers.

Here’s the short version of the plan.

  • I’ve already increased my Twitter usage. Twitter has long been my favorite social media, because it has highest quality shares and I make more meaningful connections there.
  • I will continue to use FB through July. I want to make sure everyone knows about the switch, and has time to follow me on Twitter if they choose, before I pull the plug.
  • There will be reminders. I apologize for the overload—I want to be sure everyone gets the message. Any easy solution if you don’t want to see all these reminders would be to unlike my Facebook and follow me on Twitter (grin!).
  • No Google+. There are a lot of ways that Google+ outperforms Facebook, but both do essentially the same thing (and I’m not interested). Plus, I’m trying to slim down my social media, not bloat it out. Keep Twitter, ditch FB, add nothing new.
  • My FB accounts will never vanish. But they will go silent. August 1, my profiles will say I don’t check them (and I won’t); they will direct you elsewhere.
  • There will still be a Facebook share button on every post. I don’t use Facebook, but I’m not trying to tell others what to use. Facebook remains popular and you can still “share” my work to FB with the click of a button.
  • Now, more than ever, I count on you to share my work. When I promote a post on Facebook my traffic spikes; I’ll have less than half as many readers when I stop. Every time you take a moment to share a post of mine (on any social media of your choosing) it helps widen my audience—and gets more people thinking about adventure in their own life. Please, share my posts whenever you enjoy them.

Footnotes

[1]

I’m considering automating some content to my Facebook page. For instance, I could set it up so that all my tweets automatically post there. Likewise, I can have WordPress automatically share new blog posts there. (It’s not as pretty when they auto-share, but it works.)

That would be nice for my readers who still like FB, but it would also create the false impression that my account is active. When new people find it I’d much rather they notice it’s dormant and follow the link to where I really am. So it’s a tough choice.

(Your thoughts on this choice welcome—leave a comment and tell me what you think.)

[2]

I realize that many people don’t use Twitter or don’t want to try it. There’s a common belief that people only tweet about their breakfasts (seriously?). I find that to be generally untrue, and I find way better stuff there than any other network I’ve used. I’ll write a post soon about how I use Twitter and how to get the most out of it, in case you want to give it a try. 

Here are two of my tweets from this week:

Tweet01

Tweet02

Not very breakfasty. Once again feel free to follow me. Otherwise, I’ll see you Wednesday.

Standard
Andre Sólo, ExPostModern, Social Skills

Why a Facebook Advocate is Leaving Facebook

I write this from a patio in the Dominican Republic. The street here is an obstacle course. You walk out to buy coffee, but you’re attacked by one, five, eight people offering you things. What they offer is not what you want, and they don’t know that because they don’t ask. If you tell them what you want, they say they have it—even if they don’t.

It’s a lot like Facebook in 2013.

Confessions

How I Started

A lot of people don’t like Facebook. Some always hated it, some never even tried it out. I’m not one of those people.

I was a latecomer, but when Facebook was explained to me I took to it quickly. It was especially valuable when I started to travel, connecting me to faraway friends and family. Some people complain when their mom joins Facebook; I convinced mine to.

Now I’m leaving it behind.

Facebook no longer serves my needs, neither as an individual looking to keep in touch socially nor as an author seeking to promote my work. I’m phasing out Facebook completely, and shifting my focus to other, better designed social media networks.

This will reduce the amount of traffic I get to Rogue Priest, and it may adversely affect my work. I’m doing it anyway. In this post I hope to explain why: what’s wrong with Facebook, why it doesn’t work for me and what that means for me as a writer.

[Privacy Disclaimer]

This decision has nothing to do with “privacy.” There’s a lot of fear about how Facebook uses personal data, and I don’t share that fear. I knowingly consent to let Facebook use my anonymous metadata. That metadata lets them give me better friend recommendations, return better search results and generally improve my user experience.

As far as their privacy policy goes, I’d give Facebook an “A.”

I also have no qualms with social media as a technology. It doesn’t scare me that people are online a lot. Go ahead and check your phone at dinner—you’ll catch me doing it. Today, digital space is more like an extension of geographic space; there is no competition between engaging the digital and engaging the “real world.” At least, there doesn’t have to be.

You might feel differently than me. Maybe it’s deeply disturbing that children are learning cool things from an intuitive touch screen instead of rickety film strips. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of their opinions. Even if I find those opinions reactionary.

But I personally am very comfortable with the expostmodern world we’re creating.

What’s Wrong With Facebook?

If I’m so pro-social media, why am I pulling Rogue Priest off of Facebook?

Because it’s not the best tool for the job, and I’m using other tools instead.

Facebook has, quite simply, become a terribly unhelpful social site, one that’s no longer fun or functional. For example:

1. Cluttered layout.

I just opened Facebook in another tab and counted. It has 12 different toolbars, streams, widgets and panels spread across five different screen areas. That is ridiculous, especially since eye tracking studies show that we only look at the faces and words of our friends and ignore all the other content.

The layout of Facebook reveals two problems with the site: it’s trying to do too much, and it’s organizing it poorly.

Compare this with the smooth, streamlined layout of Twitter. Twitter has 6 panels spread across only three screen areas. They strike you as a single stream with one sidebar. I feel more relaxed just looking at it.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

 

2. Emphasis on ads.

Ads belong on social media sites. We-the-users are the product, not the customer—ad sales are how our networks stay afloat. That’s better than charging me for it.

But I resent advertising that conflicts with functionality. As a kid National Geographic outraged me because I could never find the table of contents amidst all the ads. It was intentional, because that’s prime real estate. And Facebook’s grabby ad-fingers are intentional as well. But now the real estate isn’t paper, it’s my eyeballs. Hands off my eyeballs, Facebook.

Facebook uses three main methods to advertise. First, the ad bar on the right side of the screen. Okay. Second, “sponsored” posts that appear in my main news feed and masquerade as shares from friends. It’s like sending a salesman in disguise to my birthday party. (This is icky.)

Third and most backwards, Facebook artificially adjusts the sharing ecosystem so that non-paid content reaches fewer people. While this seems fair, it artificially overrides supply-and-demand. That makes any system inefficient (and alienates people). Facebook doesn’t just add sponsored posts to my news feed, it down-regulates how many posts I see out of the ones I want to see.

This is frankly a strategic failure. Aside from haughtily disregarding user preference (and potentially losing eyeballs to sell), it also alienates advertisers and content producers, the people that Facebook makes money off of. The cost of reaching Facebook users is ever escalating, while the value of reaching them declines—because they won’t keep seeing your regular unpaid content after they “like” you.

3. It’s buggy.

There are numerous glitches and poor functionality choices involved in Facebook, especially for a Page that wants to use it as a promotional tool. I don’t mean the aesthetic choices like switching to Timeline, I mean things like no longer being able to edit a post (you can edit comments, not posts); complicated notification settings; and the fact that unfriending someone doesn’t unsubscribe them from your feed, so under most privacy settings they can still see what you say.

(I had a lot more examples but they made this article too long. Please leave a comment and tell me what features you don’t like about Facebook!)

My impression is that Facebook began as a well designed site. It declined due to function sprawl, poor design choices, too much emphasis on ads, no unified vision for the site, and trying to cater to too many users.

It really is Facebook’s success that crippled it. Facebook wants to be everyone‘s social media site. It’s so padded, so crude, so addictive that even people who can barely turn on a computer decide to make a profile and check it every day. It should be obvious that more fluent internet users are going to want something more (or something less) from their go-to online channel.

Facebook hoped to be the village bicycle and it has succeeded, with all the pros and cons that that sweaty seat entails.

The Users Don’t Help

While the site itself is the source of many frustrations, the way people use Facebook has changed too—and not for the better.

Sometime in early 2012, almost overnight, there was a huge uptick in sharing images as status updates. Not photos from your phone, but motivational or “funny” images cribbed from the web. I don’t know if this corresponded to some change Facebook rolled out (easier image sharing?) but it forever changed what I get from my friends’ feeds.

I like my status updates pithy and amusing, but at the very least personal—which they are if you write them yourself. When you use a meme, joke image, or poster as your status I feel less like I’m talking to you (social media) and more like I’m looking at a bulletin board you assembled (your waiting room).

Facebook meme

During some peak times, the majority of the statuses I see are memes. Many are poorly worded, fall flat on their jokes or are purposefully inflammatory. I guess that’s what happens when a site becomes less about social contact, and more like a place to collect bumper stickers.

[Friends and family: I love all you guys. I just like hearing what you have to say more than I like looking at posters together.]

I also see more fake names—officially forbidden by Facebook rules, but hard to enforce—which makes the site harder to use and exacerbates the use of inflammatory content.

What’s Best as a Writer

My main purpose in using social media is to share my work. My hope is that more people will find it, read it, and enjoy it, ultimately resulting in a larger audience. As a philosopher, a larger audience means more dialogue which helps me refine my ideas. And it bolsters my ability to make a living through my chosen art.

Facebook complicates this. The complication is more than the difficulty in sharing nonpaid content, or the buggy, poorly designed structure. It comes down to integrity.

Facebook feels like a crowded, cheap, tourist trap of a bar. If I don’t want to be there, why do I want my content there? And more important, why would I direct my readers to go there?

No part of my writing career has to be enmeshed in a large time-wasting machine. And neither does your life.

It hurts to know that I’ll lose web traffic. My blogging is unpaid, and the only return I get is in the form of engagement with readers. When a lot of people read and engage my work I feel good; when few people do, I feel sad.

But I still choose to live and create on my own terms. I’ll change to other, better social media and hope to build my traffic back long-term. And maybe then it won’t be so dependent on a single, unhealthy source.

Perhaps we are more than fuel in someone else’s ad machine.

Follow me @Rogue_Priest for more updates.

L Days cover_front only_half size

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

Standard
Uncategorized

What do you think of spotlight posts?

Photo by Lotus Carroll.

Readers, I need your opinions.

A few months ago I started doing a lot of “spotlight” posts. These are articles where I basically start with a long quote from someone else’s work, link to that work, and provide some brief comment about it.

I started doing this because I run into a lot of interesting articles online, and if find them interesting I figure you might, too. It’s also a way of giving some public love to the author of the piece (or sometimes, critique).

How often I post these has varied; sometimes it’s been one or two a week, other times I go weeks without a single one. They never substitute in for my own writing: I publish an original essay of my own every Wednesday, no matter what.

Predictably, these posts get few comments or feedback (after all, the author isn’t usually here to talk with), but they do seem to get a fair amount of traffic, and boost traffic to the site overall. That made me think they were reasonably popular with my readers. But maybe not.

One of my most dedicated readers contacted me and told me she doesn’t like them. Her reason made sense: she comes here to read about my philosophy and my adventure, and these excerpts from random articles I read are usually irrelevant to that. They have nothing to do with this site’s topic. She said they’re a good idea but should really be on a different blog.

I think that’s actually pretty insightful. I wonder how many people agree?

Here are three examples of recent spotlight posts:

What do you think? Should I do posts like these regularly, whenever I find an interesting article? Or should I only spotlight material if it connects in some way to the heroic life?

I’m really interested in knowing your opinion. It’s always a struggle knowing how to focus this site and keep its message clear, but interesting. I know a lot of you will tell me to write whatever I want to write—and I appreciate that, I truly do. But I also want to know what you like reading, and whether posts like those get you excited or just get a “meh.”

Please leave a comment and let me know. What do you think? Spotlight posts, good or bad?

Standard
Andre Sólo

New Pages Up – Reviews Wanted

Recently I made long-overdue changes to Rogue Priest.

First off I changed the Heroic Life page. The new version gives a better overview, puts the philosophy in the context of my personal effort to live by it, and contains a selection of links to the best posts about it. Check it out here:

The Heroic Life

What do you think? Are there other favorite posts you wish were on the list there?

Secondly I did a complete rewrite of the Great Adventure page. I took off outdated info, tightened up the language and the focus, and aimed to make it clear what the reason behind the Adventure is. Scopify:

The Great Adventure

Does this page tell the story of the Great Adventure well? Does it leave you scratching your head anywhere? Are there questions it leaves you asking?

Standard