Who Owns Your Content?

Does building a platform mean you have to give up control?

Before Facebook, Twitter, and the plethora of also-rans, blogs were all the rage. A writer could build a following because they talked about things that interested them, maybe talk about the craft or the industry, gave tips to newcomers, and maintained a space to be themselves.

This started to change a few years ago as Facebook especially increasingly became a platform for publishing, and why not? Everybody was there anyway. This company was offering to give us a place to publish for free and to connect with the already intact audience. You could post your thought and have instant input from the potential pot of over a billion members of the network. Creative people felt like they had stuck it to the man by going directly to their audience.

But then it began. When the big network captured all these content creators that were now publishing on its platform they started monkeying with the algorithm and the organic reach began to dwindle. This could be fixed, of course, by paying to reach the same audience you previously took for granted. All of a sudden the streets of publishing gold transformed into golden handcuffs. People started asking questions like can I afford to abandon the platform where I connect with my audience?

For authors, I think it’s fair to ask if social media actually moves the needle on book sales. Not to say that social media isn’t good for meeting and connecting with people that like what you do, but if you’re looking at it as a place to sell books, I don’t know that it’s the right place or the right motivation for being there.

I think we’re at the place where we need to be asking hard questions about platforms and what we’re using them for. If you’re an author, and I know a lot of you here are, then ask yourself if you’re in it for the short term dream of selling a ton of books before you go do the next thing you’re interested in. If you write because you believe you have something to say, and you want to form long-term relationships with readers, I think you need to be building systems that will outlast whatever mechanism is hot at the moment. Blogs might be old hat, but when the social media basket that you put all your eggs in fails and you’re left out in the cold, you’ll appreciate that old hat.

I am inherently distrustful of systems that don’t produce anything but rely on other people to do all the creating and provide no lasting benefit to the creators. Not only that, but these systems control who sees what you publish and share and own your work. Is that worth the convenience the seemed to provide? It might be painful to start taking back control of your content and connecting with a whole new audience, but I believe it’s worth it in the long run.

If you’d like to connect with a large community of writers and readers, be sure to check out The Author Stories Podcast. For readers and writers, by readers and writers.

My Reading List: The Perfect Mother

Out May 1, The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy is a stunning debut in the vein of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I am recording a show with Aimee for release next week, be sure to tune in.

THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOK OF THE SUMMER—SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING SCANDAL’S KERRY WASHINGTON

An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

A night out. A few hours of fun. That’s all it was meant to be.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a group of new moms whose babies were born in the same month. Twice a week, they get together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for some much-needed adult time.

When the women go out for drinks at the hip neighborhood bar,they are looking for a fun break from their daily routine. But on this hot Fourth of July night, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is taken from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but her fellow May Mothers insisted everything would be fine. Now he is missing. What follows is a heart-pounding race to find Midas, during which secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are destroyed.

Thirteen days. An unexpected twist. The Perfect Mother is a “true page turner.” —B.A. Paris, author of Behind Closed Doors

Aimee Molloy has collaborated on seven books, including Maziar Bahari’s Then They Came for Me: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival and Pam Cope’s Jantsen’s Gift: A True Story of Grief, Rescue, and Grace. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two daughters.

Is Talking The New Typing?

Will voice recognition replace your keyboard as your primary writing mechanism?

I have a lot of friends that love Dragon Naturally Speaking. I haven’t used the newest version, but my past experience left me feeling worn out just trying to train the thing. It seems like a lot of work to get started with, and the editing process can be brutal after the fact. Then I see friends that are able to crank out 3, 4, or even 5000 words a day after they really get the flow going and I get intrigued all over again.

The idea of speaking to your computer used to be foreign, but now we all have devices all around us and we speak to them all day long. “Siri, what time is Avengers tonight?” “Hey Google, what’s the weather today?” “Alexa, add bacon to my shopping list.” The barrier to entry has significantly decreased and the whole idea is becoming second nature. Not to mention that these apps are getting better at recognizing our voices and returning better results. Welcome to the future.

But what about the physical connection that a writer has with his or her keyboard? Or the connection to a pen and paper for that matter? I have dictated small sections of stories on my phone as I sat in my truck waiting for one of the kids, and it wasn’t terrible, but for short periods of time. The thing that worries me is that when I seriously get into the zone, the tactile feedback of my fingers hitting the keys and the steady click adds to my experience. I feel like a writer in those moments, and that cannot be discounted.

I wonder if as the technology changes our storytelling will change. You might think this is silly, but like I talked about in a blog the other day, the way we write and the tools we use have a direct impact. If that’s the case, what will that change look like? If more writers are dictating their stories, will they sound to the reader like they were dictated? Will the prose sound more conversational? Will dialog feel more alive, or will description feel less important?

Then again, maybe I’m just worrying for nothing. What do you think? Tell me about it.


	

Have Word Processors Changed Storytelling?

Have computers and word processors changed the way we tell stories?

I was listening to the WTF Pocast with Marc Maron this morning and he was interviewing Bradley Whitford. I’ve admired Bradley since his days on The West Wing. Marc and Bradley were talking about how acting has changed since most shoots are now done digitally instead of on film or tape. Since there is no longer a finite amount of time and physical recording medium, shoots tend to drag out longer. This allows for the director to get candid things that they never would have gotten to when they were trying to preserve film.

Bradley made the connection to writing and compared it to the difference in writing on a typewriter where it is difficult to fix mistakes or to even writing long hand with a quill. Imagine the care you would take with your words if your medium was a chisel and stone.

Now of course computers and word processors allow us to write without the fear of correction and it has naturally lengthened the novel, which I am glad for. Fifty years ago a standard novel was weighing in at 50,000 words regularly. Brandon Sanderson has no fear of word counts.

I do believe there is something to be said for respecting the economy of words, but I am not trading in my keyboard anytime soon.

What do you think? Tell me below.

How I Work

My name is Hank. I am a writer and podcaster, and these are some of my essential tools to do what I do.

I love to geek out on tools and I am kind of a process nerd. One of my favorite things to do is try out new software, and while you have to be careful that you don’t allow “tool surfing” to distract you from doing the actual work, sometimes you find something that makes all the difference in your process.

My days consist of recording podcast interviews, writing, editing podcasts for the next day, and a few hours of contract web design work. I stick to a fairly rigid schedule because I am a creature of habit. Here are some things that are essential for me.

Standing Desk – I have a standing desk that is just the right height for my hands to fall at a natural typing position. The standing desk allows me to stretch my legs and keep the blood flowing. I have a chair close by that raises pretty high so I can alternate between standing and short bouts of sitting. This works really well for me and keeps me from getting fatigued.

Laptop – I use an Asus laptop with a 2 terabyte hard drive and external usb 3.0 hard drive for backups. I backup regularly to a cloud service and my own physical backups. Backup often and trust none of them, that is my motto. My laptop sits on a stand that raises the screen to eye level which keeps my neck aligned in a natural position. This little tweak makes all the difference.

Lamp pen, and knife – On my standing desk are a lamp (because I’m getting blind in my old age and I need more light), a very good quality pen, and a yellow legal pad. All through the day, I make notes of things I don’t want to forget. I know there are much better ways to track notes, but this works for me. I also have a pocket knife close at hand. UPS comes pretty often with books for the podcast and having a sharp knife handy just makes life easier.

Books – My desk usually has several books stacked on the edge. These are almost always books from a future guest. At various points during the day when I need a break from working on the computer, I’ll pick up a book by one of my next guests and read. I get comments from guests all the time that they appreciate the fact that I have actually read their book. That floors me. If I am lucky enough to get to do this, and an author takes the time, effort, and expense to send me their book, the least I can do is prepare myself to have a conversation with them.

Headphones – A set of Audio-Technica full size over the ear headphones. I listen to podcasts and music as I work, and of course, you need a good set of headphones to edit audio with. These are essential.

Mechanical keyboard – I swear by my Das mechanical keyboard. It’s loud, but if you spend a lot of time typing, I promise you will tell the difference. If you’ve gotten used to the spongy feeling of most modern cheap keyboards then type on one of these beasts and you’ll find your speed and accuracy shoot up. It did for me, at least. Not to mention, who doesn’t like to get lost in the mechanical clicking that connects writers to some early primal typewriter gene inside of us?

Wireless Logitech mouse – I use the Logitech M557 mouse. It fits my hand perfectly and has a set of programmable buttons. One is set to switch apps, and one is used to minimize all apps to the desktop. I use each of these numerous times a day.

Software – I have a few programs that are part of my core workflow.

Windows 10 – I’m a PC guy and even though the newest edition of Windows isn’t perfect, for the most part, it just works and is manages resources quite well. I’m actually really happy with where Microsoft is these days.

Photoshop CC– I use photoshop to make show graphics and in the contract web work I do. I’ve tried to replace it with GIMP or other apps, but nothing compares to the real thing and I know way too many keyboard shortcuts to switch.

Write! – I love this app. Write! is a plain text editor/markdown editor. I draft everything in it, from blog posts to books, to show notes. I’ve used MS Word for years and with every revision, it gets more bloated and is to the point that it’s just sluggish and I find myself getting frustrated. Write! runs in about 50mb of memory, and that’s with a 60,000-word novel open. It’s super fast, has a dark theme which is easy on the eyes for long periods, and removes all the bloat of a full word processor. It also is tabbed which allows me to have multiple documents open and refer back and forth.

Word – I know what I just said about Word, but editors prefer Word and using the track changes feature is essential. I draft in Write!, but editing and working with editors happens in Word.

Email and calendar – I use Outlook to manage email and Dawn and I have a shared calendar (several actually) where she tracks upcoming interviews, release dates, family commitments, and all the stuff that keeps me on track. In a social media, instant communication world, I still prefer email to communicate with people. Good old email has stood the test of time for a reason.

Skype – Skype is a must for conducting interviews with people from all over the world.

Audio editors, plugins, DAWs – This really should be another post sometime. There is a lot of specific software and hardware that I’ve accumulated over the years. Some of it is multiuse and some do a specific task, but they all are critical to my workflow.

Web browsers – I have been a long time Chrome user and I think it is the standard that people design for. I also use the Brave browser that squashes a lot of the tracking that websites do. I use Brave for social media because it cuts down on all the tracking that Facebook and others do. It’s pretty nifty, you should check it out.

I’m sure I left something out, so I’ll update as I think of things or if my workflow changes, but these are the basics.

What items can’t you live without?

Streamlining My Online Life

There’s a prevailing myth that an artist or creative person needs to be on social media to build and maintain their presence. There is some truth to that, but I think we’ve gone past the tipping point.

The internet, and social media in particular, have been a powerful democratizing force over the last decade or two. I’ve talked on the podcast with several guests about the way that the publishing industry is following a similar path that the music industry did. While the industry was going through transition and the traditional delivery mechanisms seemed to be failing, a whole new generation of artists were connecting directly with their audience. I think Colby Callait is a prime example of a person that found an audience on MySpace (remember that?) and used that to launch a career.

A few years ago Amazon became an indie publishing juggernaut with the combination of their KDP self-publishing platform, their book store becoming the dominant player in the bookselling space, and their Kindle devices and apps for nearly every device that for the first time allowed ebooks to become a viable, and widely accepted way to read books. So writers had a way to bypass the traditional gatekeepers and sell their books directly to their audience. Now to find that audience…

So Facebook and Twitter became flooded with authors trying to vie for the attention of readers. I for one have met some wonderful people through Facebook especially, and some of those people have become some of my most treasured friends and we talk often, even though we live in different parts of the country, and even the world. As a lifelong geek, I love that technology is connecting us in meaningful ways. It can also become a real distraction from the thing that we first set out to do, and that’s write and create.

A lot of people are really upset with these online platforms lately because there has been a breach of trust in some users’ minds. I’m actually not upset about this. From the very beginning I have understood that if a company is offering you such a service for free, there has to be a catch. If there is no product, it is safe to assume that YOU are the product. I have always understood that by using the services I am giving away a piece of my privacy and allowing another company to host my interactions and some of my writing. That trade has been beneficial in some ways, but with diminishing returns.

I am not going to be the reactionary guy that loudly shouts that he’s leaving Facebook or Twitter. But I do realize that I need to cut way back in my time that I spend on these platforms. What started as a way to connect with people quickly becomes and obsession. When you have Facebook open in a tab of your browser all day long and you constantly look over to see if you have a notification, something is wrong. If you stop creating to check your messages, something is wrong. If there is more emphasis put on building your platform that on writing books, playing music, painting or building, something is wrong.

So this is what I’ve done. I uninstalled the social apps from my phone. What I realized is that I spend a lot of time scrolling when I have a spare minute. I still access Facebook via the browser on my phone when needed, but the extra step and the lack of notifications is really freeing. I also only open social media on my computer for a few minutes at a time instead of having the temptation ever present.

I host this podcast multiple times per week and I am fortunate to have real conversations with people. I love this interaction, and I love when other people chime in to talk about what they’ve learned from the show, or share comments about the shows. I welcome the conversation here at my website. I even installed a forum where we can talk about writing and the writing life. Click on the forum link above, I’d love to see you there.

The other thing I embrace wholeheartedly is email. I appreciate the fact that you can take your time and say what you want to say instead of just firing off a response in the heat of the moment. My email address is hank at authorstoriepodcast dot com. I’d love to hear from you.

These are just a few things that I am doing to streamline my life. I love technology. I love that we live in the future, but I would be remiss if I didn’t pause to consider if I am making the best use of my time in the future.

Happy writing.

New Book Out Today!

I have compiled eight of my short stories into a single volume called The Weston Files. For this collection, I have written a commentary for each story that talks about what I was thinking and maybe some inspiration for each one. It is available for the special launch price of 99c for just a couple of days. It is also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, so if you are a subscriber, you can read it there for free.

Grab The Weston Files Here!

 

 

SpaceX And The State Of Science Fiction

A curious thing happened this week. Elon Musk launched his Tesla Roadster into space atop the SpaceX Falcon Heavy. Curious as that is, the thing that really grabbed my attention was the fact that people all over social media and in real life got really excited by the fact that we were pushing boundaries again and striving to do epic things once more.

I was born in 1971 and the Apollo moon missions ended in 1972. Though I didn’t get to participate in the global excitement of watching people from Earth breaking the bonds of our planetary shackles and then walking for the first time on an alien landscape, I did have the benefit of living in a time where we could point to the people that we sent to the moon. For the next decade or so we lived in the afterglow of having accomplished a giant leap for mankind. The dreams of the golden age science fiction writers and the admonition of Gene Roddenberry to “boldy go where no man had gone before” had become reality. Then something happened.

The sixties and seventies turned into the eighties, and the Cold War ramped up with the very real threat that young people my age lived under. We believed that we and the Soviets would surely wipe each other off the map, and take the rest of the world with us. Our science fiction started to reflect this.

Lately the market has been dominated by a dystopian view of science fiction. Instead of painting a picture of humanity pushing boundaries and using our creative energy to solve problems, explore, and make the world a better place, we tend to see how the fruits of our labors are ultimately going to lead to our downfall. I believe cautionary tales are important, but it is equally important to inspire people to dream again about what we can do. Today’s writers should inspire tomorrow’s scientists who in turn will inspire the next generation of writers and scientists. If we stop dreaming, we stop growing.

I have been reading Elon Musk’s biography and what has stuck with me is the fact that he seems to believe that we humans can and should do more than we have lately. I agree. It also came as no surprise that early on Musk was a fan of, and saw his view of the future shaped by science fiction writers. His company SpaceX is proof of that.

Writers, please start dreaming again and inspire the next generation to push the boundaries like we never have before. You never know who that nerdy kid will be that picks up your book and is inspired to literally reach for the stars.

Looking for some authors to inspire you? Check out the podcast archives. 

 

Update on Baby Evie

You might have read in a previous post about our neice and her children that were in a horrible head on collision just after the Thanksgiving holiday. You can read all about it here: Readers and Writers Doing Good

While everyone had injuries, by far the member of the family that needs the most help is premature Baby Evie.

Baby Evie was born 10 weeks premature and has a long hospital stay ahead of her and faces some health challenges from being  born so premature as well as the trauma of the wreck. This family is very special to us and they face a lot of challenges in the near future.

Evie was transferred to a children’s specialty hospital a few weeks ago and has been undergoing treatment there. Today we got good news. Evie is doing so well that she is quite possibly getting to come home from the hospital next week! She has surprised and amazed everyone around her throughout this journey, and the experts have had to eat their words more than once when issuing dire predictions. She still has a long way to go, and her development will have to be monitored for years to come, but this initial step is a huge one.

Thanks to all of you that donated to help offset her medical expenses. There are a lot more to come, but we have seen miracle after miracle along the way. With Evie coming home, this brings up a whole new set of challenges. Since she was born 10 weeks early, Michelle has not had time to have a baby shower and they are not prepared with all of the necessities that would have been in place if the pregnancy would have gone full term and the extended hospital stay had not altered things.

Michelle has setup an Amazon gift registry. If you would like to help by either donating to the medical fund, or by buying a gift from the Amazon registry, that would be a huge help.

Thanks for all you’ve done, and if you’re looking for a miracle in this life, this is a good one to watch.

Donate items with the Amazon gift registry

On November 30, 2017, tragedy struck the White family. Michelle, 30 weeks pregnant, was taking Delaney and Dillon to school when a driver crossed the center line colliding with the family head on. Their life as they knew it would be changed instantly. Michelle suffered two broken bones in her left arm, a broken right leg that impaled her ankle, shattering her heel and exiting from the bottom of her foot. She has had to endure four separate surgeries just to begin her long road to recovery. Delaney suffered a concussion and was transported to Blair E. Batson’s Children Hospital in Jackson, MS. Dillon suffered a chipped bone in his hip, and a hairline fracture of the hip and upper femur. On November 30, 2017, at 11:38 am Evie (Evelyn Leigh White), was prematurely delivered by Emergency c-section due to abruptio placentae, weighing only 3 lbs 1 oz. Evie’s injuries were extensive. She suffered a lack of oxygen, several grade 4 brain bleeds (the highest that they are measured), bruising on the front and the back of the brain, seizures, and several other medical emergencies expected of premmie babies. Evie has been in the NICU tirelessly fighting to survive. Despite all these obstacles the family remains hopeful and strong. Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances it has taken a gigantic financial toll on the family. We are hoping to alleviate as much of this burden as possible so they can focus on healing and getting their life back to as normal as can be.

The Best Writing Advice

People often ask me what some of the best writing advice I’ve gotten from the 300 interviews on Author Stories. I’ve heard lots of stories from lots of writers, and everybody’s journey is a little different. Some people are pantsers, some plotters. Some people write full time, some as a hobby, while others are pursuing a writing career while juggling family and a full time job. Some people swear by Scrivener, some MS Word, while others rely on the trusty legal pad and fountain pen.

Writers tend to geek out over tools and productivity tips, and I am one of those people, but after talking with authors for four years, there is one piece of advice that you need to know, and honestly it trumps all others. Writers write. Talking about writing is wonderful and motivating. Planning to write is important. Preparing your space is a good idea. But don’t get so preoccupied with the trappings of writing that you don’t actually sit down and report on the characters in your head.

The single best productivity tip for becoming an accomplished author is to put your butt in the chair and write. A few pages a day will result in a couple of novels a year, or a whole hand full of short stories or novellas.

This is as much for me and for anyone else. My commitment this year is to write like I never have before. Most writers don’t lack for story ideas, they lack the discipline to show up every day and do the work. So here’s me reporting for duty. How about you?