Snapshots: What Are You Reading?

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By Beaver Keeping a reading journal can be very satisfying. Not only do you get a feeling of accomplishment each time you add a new entry, but you’re creating a guide you can refer to whenever you need a reminder … Continue reading

Elements of Style

A Pen In Each Hand

By Beaver

Some writers avoid social media like the plague, coming up with all manner of reasons why it’s detrimental to their writing (and everyone else’s). Other writers enthusiastically embrace it, testing out and playing with new technology, and incorporating what works into their writing practice.

I tend to admire writers who are willing to explore new technology, like Margaret Atwood, who is in her seventies and still trying new ways of writing, over those who dismiss all new technology outright, like Jonathan Franzen, who was apparently born a grumpy old man with a distaste for anything invented after his birth.

For this month’s exercise, visit the websites and social media of some of your favorite writers. Think about what they do well—what aspects appeal to you? what made you hit “follow”?—and then renovate your online writer presence based on your observations.

Some things to think about:

  • Blogging is a legitimate form of writing, and so is serializing work on a site like Wattpad. Writers have parlayed humorous social media accounts and fan fiction into book deals. Keep in mind if you have a knack for a type of writing that’s suited to social media, your social media accounts might not be a distraction from your real writing, they might actually be your real writing.
  • You can’t do it all, so what’s your focus going to be? Which platform gives you the most satisfaction? Which feels most natural? What benefits your writing most? Make that your primary focus, your everyday platform.
  • You may want to have one platform for brief updates and informal interactions with other writers and readers, and another for longer posts or more formal content (book descriptions, event schedules, etc.). For example, many writers enjoy Twitter as the work-from-home version of the workplace water cooler, a place to talk about writing and current events, while also maintaining a blog or Facebook page.
  • If you’re only going to use one platform, make sure anyone can access it whether or not they have an account.
  • Close or make private accounts you’re no longer using. If you want to keep other accounts active, repost content from your primary platform (set this up to happen automatically if you can) or use them occasionally for more specialized content.
  • Some writers like to maintain separate personal and professional accounts; others prefer to combine personal and professional. Accounts that provide a glimpse into writers’ personal lives and other interests tend to be more interesting for readers/followers, but not everyone is comfortable sharing personal content with strangers. Be honest with yourself about your comfort zone.
  • Use consistent branding (same username, design, color scheme, logo, graphics, etc.) and link your accounts together so readers can easily find you on different platforms.

Negotiating Social Media for Writers: A Conversation With Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal & Kameron Hurley

Absolute BlankBy Erin Bellavia (Billiard)

“The Internet, like the steam engine, is a technological breakthrough that changed the world.” —Peter Singer

The internet can be both a blessing and a curse, giving us a wealth of information at our fingertips, and allowing us to make connections across continents and around the world. For published authors, the internet has become a place to research quickly and easily as well as interact with fans and colleagues instantaneously. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all create spaces that allow for different levels and types of interaction.

We wondered how blogs and social media affect the writing and personal lives of working authors, so we contacted Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Kameron Hurley, all authors with a prominent online presence, and asked them to talk to us about their lives on the internet.

Negotiating Social Media for Writers

Background Image: Peter Kirkeskov Rasmussen/Flickr (CC-by-nc-sa)

Toasted Cheese: Thinking back to before you were published, can you think of any online behaviors that may have helped your career?

Jim C. Hines: Back in the wee days of the internet, when we hand-coded our “online journals” into Geocities while adding starry backgrounds and moving dragon gifs, I mostly used my web presence to connect with a handful of other struggling writers. It was a great way to share encouragement and to feel like I wasn’t alone in the struggle. Back then, the internet was pretty much worthless as a tool for self-promotion, at least for most of us, but it did help me build those human connections. That’s one of the things I try to focus on today, fifteen years later. Promotion and sales are nice, but those connections are the best part of being online.

Mary Robinette Kowal: Most of the online behaviors were mirrors of things that I do in real life. Celebrating other people’s successes, being interested in what people are working on, and generally trying to be helpful while trying to avoid being pushy.

Kameron Hurley: Writing well and passionately, certainly. Engaging with people. And not being a jerk, generally. That doesn’t mean not disagreeing with people—I disagree with people all the time—but I disagree with ideas and statements and world views. I try not to condemn people as human beings because we disagree about something. Writers have professional disagreements all the time. What I learned is that there’s a core group of people in the business with you now who will be there in twenty years, so try not to burn any bridges or start any feuds unless you’re really, really sure of what you’re doing. You’re going to see these people at all your professional events.

Writing is a business, and you have to treat it like any other business.

TC: What online media (social and otherwise) do you use most? For what? How do you use different media in different ways?)

JCH: I’ve got a blog I use for longer essays and things that require a bit more complex thought. And also the occasional Lego picture. Twitter is great for joking and chatting with folks, like the world’s biggest social bar. I’ve also started doing a little more long-form stuff on Twitter, posting things in five or ten parts. Facebook is good for posting photos and sometimes links back to longer pieces or conversations, along with shorter excerpts and jokes and such. Facebook is also nice for getting input or feedback. It’s easier to tap into the internet hivemind over there.

MRK: Twitter is where I hang out the most. I like the conversational aspect of it. It’s fantastic for research, because most of the people on there are really, let’s be honest, looking for a way to procrastinate. So queries like, “Anyone know where I can find the telegraph code for Atlanta in 1907?” get answered in five minutes flat.

KH: I spend most of my online life on Twitter, and I write all of my long form content on a blog that I own and manage at kameronhurley.com. I strongly recommend that if folks are going to write content, that they host it all on their own websites. Platforms grow, change, and dissolve, but you can maintain your website and its content presumably forever.

I cross-post all of my content to Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I recently started an Instagram account. Tumblr and Instagram I created primarily because I knew there was a huge potential audience who used those platforms that I was completely missing. The average age of someone using Twitter is 34. If you want to find younger readers, you need to be where they are, so I do make an effort. That said, I don’t like them as much, so I keep my involvement there very low maintenance. It’s all on autopilot, set to post across platform when I click “publish” on my blog.

But Twitter is the biggest cocktail party, and certainly the platform that’s been best for me to connect with colleagues and fans. I’ve virtually “met” a ton of people who I later hung out with at conventions or appearances. I like the immediacy and low time investment of the form.

I’d pick one or two social platforms you like and put your time into those. Don’t try to fracture your time too much, or you’ll burn out really quickly. Social media moves so fast that keeping up is a full time job in and of itself.

TC: How has your relationship with the internet/social media changed since being published?

JCH: It’s gotten… bigger, really. More people, more followers, more interactions, more content… it takes significantly more time than it used to. There are a lot more options out there now. It also feels a lot more tense sometimes. I think there are a lot of important conversations and discussions happening right now, but there are also days I just want to post funny animal pictures, you know?

MRK: I talk a lot less about my personal life than I did. I used to blog about lunches and company. When 100 people follow you and they are mostly folks you know in real life, then it’s just chatting with your friends. But with 14,000 followers, it now it feels like I’m invading the privacy of my guests if I trot them out for public view.

KH: I spend more time thinking about what I’m saying instead of just blasting out angry rants. Overall, I think this is actually a good thing—as a writer, I should pay special attention to the words I’m using, and writing publicly now, with more people listening, means I’m more aware of the impact of my words, and I take greater responsibility for them. Do I really mean what I’m saying in exactly this way? Am I needlessly attacking someone? Am I being gauche to shock and hurt people? What am I trying to accomplish with a rant?

TC: Has your pre-publication online life ever “come back to haunt you”?

JCH: Not yet! My post-publication online life, on the other hand…

MRK: Not yet!

KH: Strangely enough, not that I know of. But then, my colleagues are forgiving.

TC: How do you use blogging and social media for promotion? How much self-promotion is expected of you?

JCH: I’ll announce when new books come out and things like that, but self-promotion is very much secondary. People know I’m an author. There’s links and info about my books on my sites. If readers want to check those things out, they can. They don’t need me shoving it in their face every other post.

As for how much is expected of me? I haven’t had much outside pressure from my agent or publisher or anything like that. I’ve talked to authors who feel like they’re supposed to be online and actively promoting themselves on ALL THE SITES, but that hasn’t been my experience, nor is it something I’d be comfortable trying to do. I don’t want to be a salesman. I want to talk about cool SF/F stuff with my fellow geeks, and maybe sometimes rant about stuff that pisses me off.

MRK: I do. I think the thing most people miss with social media is that the emphasis is on social. Which means that you have to be engaged in the community for it to work. Sometimes I describe social media as a high school cafeteria. You can wander through, overhearing snippets of conversations, and occasionally stop to join in them. If you need everyone to know about a thing, you stand up on the table and shout about it. If you’ve been engaging and part of the community, then everyone will help spread the word. If not…you’re just the obnoxious person who stood on the table and shouted.

KH: No one really expects authors to promote themselves; they hope for it, sometimes they ask and prod about it, but writing and promotion are very different skills, and the reality is that many of the world’s best writers are very poor promoters. The best advice I ever got on promotion was from fellow science fiction writer Tobias Buckell, who told me to only do the things I enjoyed doing when it came to promo. I don’t like doing readings, so I stopped doing them, and I doubled down on what I’m good at, which is blogging. I can write essays pretty quickly. Now I do fairly extensive blog tours during the release weeks of my books.

What you find is that media works like a sieve—you do a ton of blog posts for small blogs, and folks one tier up see that. So you do some for mid-sized blogs. Then you get invited to podcasts, you get invited to radio shows, then mid-sized publications quote you, then larger publications come knocking. It’s about projecting your presence across a number of different media during a short, intense, promotion window. Think of yourself like a puffer fish, always putting out content that makes you look like a bigger deal than you are. Sounds like a trick, right? And it is. People think I’m far more financially successful than I am when it comes to writing fiction, but that, in turn, has led to me being more successful because I’ve been invited to more projects and gotten more gigs. You project success and importance and speak loudly and smartly, and you’re funny and delightful, and then people start asking you to do more work. If you can do the work well, and on time, then congrats—you’ve faked your way to success!

Which is what a lot of us do, really. A lot of promotion is pretending to be the person you want to be, even during the times you’re really not feeling it.

TC: How would you describe your relationship with your fans online?

JCH: Pretty darn good. One fan just send me a gift certificate for gourmet bacon. My fans and readers and community of online geeks are awesome.

MRK: They are lovely, lovely people.

KH: That’s a good question. I think you’d have to ask them! Fun, overall, for me. Fans are delightful and encouraging, and one of the best parts of the jobs. I’m on Twitter to have fun, interesting conversations. Most of the folks who follow me are there for that reason, too.

TC: Of course, one drawback of the internet is the anonymous hate and trolling that sometimes goes along with having an online presence. Can you describe a time when you had to deal with hate and/or trolling?

JCH: Eh. I don’t get too much trolling, and the hate is significantly milder than I’ve seen other people get. (Which I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with me being male and white and straight. /sarcasm) I have no problem with people arguing with me online. When people get abusive or cross the line into just being dicks, I generally just block them and get on with my life.

MRK: Yesterday. So, I decided that it would be a nice thing to offer to help people who couldn’t afford a supporting membership for the Hugo awards, by doing a drawing to give some away. This led to cries of “Vote buying!” even though I wasn’t up for an award. My feed became infested with people associated with GamerGate. So I did something I call “politeness trolling.” Which is that someone says something hateful to me, and I answer them with a request for clarification, often accompanied by an apology. More often than not, this actually leads to an interesting conversation.

And the ones that are just trolling me? Heh. I grew up in the South where we’re taught to say, “That’s nice,” instead of “Fuck you.” I can bless someone’s heart all day.

KH: I used to get death threats and such in the beginning (back in 2004), when I had comments turned on for my blog. I got rid of comments, have my assistant screen my email, and block people ruthlessly on Twitter now. I’ve made it so I’m able to live pretty troll-free. Twitter’s mute function is fabulous. I’m also very careful never to wade into comment sections that I know aren’t going to be useful conversations—you get very good at figuring out when someone’s discussing your work and when someone just wants to start a pile on, or poke at you to see if you’ll have some public meltdown. Inciting author meltdowns is a sport, for some people.

I see so many people giving over their platforms to trolls these days—retweeting hateful statements, getting into arguments with people who are clearly just there to argue—and I can’t imagine it’s very satisfying to anyone but the troll. You have to get that trolls are sadists. They want you to waste your time arguing with them. They want to discourage you from creating work. They want you to be upset and be fearful. The best thing you can do in the face of evil is to do the work that evil doesn’t want you to do, because it’s the work that helps create a world that has no place for them.

TC: It’s fun to watch popular authors interact with fans online, and while I’m sure the majority of interactions are positive, what are three things you wish fans wouldn’t do when interacting with you online?

JCH: Stop adding me to Facebook groups without asking! Don’t tag authors when posting nasty reviews of their books. And for Cthulhu’s sake, if you think the proper way to argue with a woman is to call her a bitch or a c**t, or to post threats of rape or violence, do civilization a favor and get the hell off the internet.

MRK: 1. Apologize for bothering me; 2. Offer me unsolicited advice on writing; 3. Complain about the pricing of my books.

KH: I occasionally get folks who tweet at me like twenty or thirty times a day, without really adding to a conversation, just sort of being like, “I’m here! I’m here!” It’s lovely that they are there, but the reality is that if something feels like spam, I need to mute it for my own sanity. I do sometimes get folks who try and make “ironic” sexist or racist jokes, which always falls flat with me. I mute those immediately, even knowing they meant no harm. When you’re surrounded in real hate all day, even the ironic stuff gets to you.

Overall, though, my fans are great. They are funny and smart and supportive. I even had one bring me a bottle of scotch to a signing, raising the bar for all future fan interactions (TAKE NOTE FANS).

TC: Can you offer any advice to those hoping to be published, regarding their internet/social media presence?

JCH: Be yourself. Have fun. Don’t try to do everything, because you’ll burn yourself out fast. Figure out what you’re comfortable with and do that.

MRK: Don’t stress about it too hard. The social in social media means that you really should be engaging in ways that are comfortable to you. Anything that you have to work at, or hate doing, is going to show as a lack of sincerity. And at the end of the day, your job is to write. So do that first.

KH: Do what you love. Avoid the stuff you don’t like doing. But know the difference between “I don’t like this” and “this is too hard to learn.” Sometimes, if you take the time to learn a new platform, you’ll end up liking it, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

And don’t be a jerk. For the love of all things… don’t be a jerk. Be the best possible version of you. Treat people kindly and humanely. These aren’t pixels, they’re people. And when you are burned out (and you WILL be burned out, at one time or another), it’s OK to take a break from the internet and promotion and all the rest.

I’ve gotten to the point now where I schedule six weeks a year that are just to promote whatever novel I have coming out, and I don’t expect to do any writing in that time. Then I go dark for a month or two, and really pull back on my social presence after that while I work on the next book. Don’t try and be “on” all the time. Break it up into manageable chunks of time.

But most of all, I want to remind folks that the work comes first. Write great books. THEN figure out how to tell people about them. Walk before you run.

pencil

Jim C. Hines‘s first novel was Goblin Quest, the humorous tale of a nearsighted goblin runt and his pet fire-spider. Actor and author Wil Wheaton described the book as “too f***ing cool for words,” which is pretty much the Best Blurb Ever. After finishing the goblin trilogy, he went on to write the Princess series of fairy tale retellings, and is currently working on the Magic ex Libris books, a modern-day fantasy series about a magic-wielding librarian, a dryad, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg, a flaming spider, and an enchanted convertible. He’s also the author of the Fable Legends tie-in Blood of Heroes. His short fiction has appeared in more than 50 magazines and anthologies.

Jim is an active blogger about topics ranging from sexism and harassment to zombie-themed Christmas carols, and won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012. He has an undergraduate degree in psychology and a Masters in English, and lives with his wife and two children in mid-Michigan.

Mary Robinette Kowal is a Hugo-award winning author, voice actor, and professional puppeteer. Her debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor, 2010) was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award for Best Novel. In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while two of her short fiction works have been nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Short Story: “Evil Robot Monkey” in 2009 and “For Want of a Nail” in 2011, which won the Hugo that year. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies, as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean Press. Mary lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Sometimes she even writes on them.

Kameron Hurley is the author of the novels God’s War, Infidel, and Rapture—a science-fantasy noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel. She has won the Hugo Award (twice), and been a finalist for the Nebula Award, the Clarke Award, the Locus Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her most recent novel is the subversive epic fantasy The Mirror Empire. The sequel, Empire Ascendant, will be out in October 2015. She writes regularly for Locus Magazine and publishes personal essays at kameronhurley.com.

Find the Right Social Media for You

A Pen In Each Hand

By Billiard

In “Negotiating Social Media for Writers,” we asked Jim C. Hines, Mary Robinette Kowal and Kameron Hurley their advice to writers regarding their internet/social media presence, and this is what they said:

JCH: Be yourself. Have fun. Don’t try to do everything, because you’ll burn yourself out fast. Figure out what you’re comfortable with and do that.

MRK: Don’t stress about it too hard. The social in social media means that you really should be engaging in ways that are comfortable to you. Anything that you have to work at, or hate doing, is going to show as a lack of sincerity. And at the end of the day, your job is to write. So do that first.

KH: Do what you love. Avoid the stuff you don’t like doing. But know the difference between “I don’t like this” and “this is too hard to learn.” Sometimes, if you take the time to learn a new platform, you’ll end up liking it, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

Experiment with various social media platforms and find one or two that you’re comfortable with. It’s easy to tell when someone views social media as a chore so focus your attention on platforms you enjoy using. Many allow you to cross-post so you can maintain a presence at places you aren’t active.

We’re NOT Bored:
Interview with Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Absolute Blank

By Erin Bellavia (Billiard)

Debbie Ridpath Ohi with I'm Bored book

Debbie Ridpath Ohi is a Toronto-based writer and illustrator. Her illustrations appear in I’m Bored, a picture book written by Michael Ian Black that’s being published by Simon and Schuster this fall. I’m Bored recently received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Debbie also has an illustrated short story included in TOMO, a Japan teen fiction anthology (Stone Bridge Press, March 2012) whose proceeds will benefit young people affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

Author of The Writer’s Online Marketplace (Writer’s Digest Books, 2001), Debbie’s nonfiction, fiction and poetry has also appeared in numerous print and online venues including Magic Tails (co-written short story with Michelle Sagara West, DAW Books 2005), Cottage Life, Applied Arts, Harp Column, Writer’s Digest and others.

Debbie was the creator and editor of Inkspot and Inklings, one of the very first websites and electronic newsletters for writers.

Debbie’s current projects include her own picture books, a teen novel that was nominated for the 2011 Sue Alexander Award, a compilation of her comics for writers, and a nonfiction book about board gaming.

As if that wasn’t enough, Debbie is also a talented musician and songwriter. In her spare time, she writes songs for and performs with Urban Tapestry, a filk music trio. (What’s filk? Click here.) Their songs have aired on national radio and are available on CD and in digital format.

We here at Toasted Cheese were very excited to talk to Debbie about her writing, illustrating, and experiences in the publishing industry.

Toasted Cheese: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

Debbie Ridpath Ohi: I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote my first chapter book when I was in second grade. It had illustrations and was written in pencil, and I was so very proud of the fact that I used the word “horrendous,” which I had carefully looked up in Roget’s thesaurus before including it in my story. Unfortunately, I misspelled it, so the teacher wasn’t nearly as impressed as I had hoped she would be.

TC: How did you make the decision to take the leap from having a regular full-time job into freelance writing?

Life in a Nutshell: I'm Bored Process

DRO: With the help of my husband. Jeff was my boyfriend back then, when I was a programmer/analyst at the head office of a big Canadian bank. I used to wake up around 5 AM every morning, get dressed up in my business suit and head to the office, briefcase in hand. As time passed, I would stay longer and longer at the office. Then I began working weekends.

I loved programming, but I felt like I was working on a very small cog of a huge machine (in terms of our programming projects) … a stark contrast to the creativity involved in programming assignments in school. I also wasn’t used to all the corporate bureaucracy, with intimidating stacks of forms and memos and meetings involved in what seemed like every small decision.

Anyway, Jeff was full witness to my gradual progression from optimistic enthusiasm to frustration to misery. One day, he offered to support me so I could find a happier path.

After some intense discussions with Jeff, I resigned from my position and embraced the freelance life.

In addition to freelance writing, I also earned money in a number of different jobs along the way, including working in a public library and in a children’s bookstore.

TC: Your writing career began in nonfiction. Was it difficult to transition into writing fiction?

DRO: My first writing sale was actually in fiction: a short story for Hobnob magazine (now defunct). I was paid US$10 and won their Reader’s Choice Award; I never cashed the cheque because I wanted to keep it.

I’ve always been writing fiction, though I haven’t yet sold any novels. But I will! 🙂

TC: You obviously keep very busy. What tips do you have for managing time effectively and finding balance in your life?

DRO: Hoo boy, I could write a whole book on this topic. Someday, that is, since I haven’t yet completely succeeded in the life balance part.

My main piece of advice, though, is this: Be conscious about how you spend your time. Don’t just be a passive participant, letting other people and external circumstances dictate how you live your life. Learn how to say no.

TC: When did you start working as an illustrator? How did that begin?

I'm Bored DRO: I’ve been doodling for ages, and from time to time people would pay me to do small one-off projects, like a birthday or housewarming card. After joining Flickr, I began posting some of my doodles and drawings that I did purely for the fun of it. Sometimes people who liked the art I posted would contact me for small custom projects. I also had a few online comics going, some of which attracted a lot of readers. My Waiting For Frodo comic, for example, even had fans at Weta Digital!

However, my career in children’s book illustration didn’t start until the summer of 2010, when my friend Beckett Gladney convinced me to enter the SCBWI Summer Conference Illustration Portfolio Showcase. I was thrilled to win one of the SCBWI Illustration Mentorship Program awards, and learned so much from my mentors as well as my fellow mentees (see our blog). But that’s not all…

One of the judges was Justin Chanda, who is the publisher of three flagship imprints at Simon & Schuster: S&S Books For Young Readers, Atheneum, and McElderry Books. When he saw my illustrations, he immediately thought I’d be the right illustrator for Michael Ian Black’s I’m Bored (yay!).

You can read the full story here.

TC: What was it like collaborating on a picture book? What can you tell us about that process?

DRO: Working with Justin Chanda and Laurent Linn on I’m Bored was amaaaazing. Justin was editor on the project, and Laurent was my art director. I learned so much during the process, not just about illustration but also storytelling.

As a newbie illustrator, I had expected to be told pretty much exactly what I was supposed to draw, and have little input. Instead, Justin and Laurent were interested in my input throughout, and strongly encouraged me to be creative as I interpreted Michael Ian Black’s wonderful story.

I loved the back-and-forth in the discussions we had in person and on the phone. I was incredibly nervous at that first meeting but I remember that after only a few minutes, I was drawn into the conversation so deeply that I forgot about feeling self-conscious and focused instead on the book, and what we could do to make the book as strong as possible.

And as I write that, I realized that this was one of the turning points for me in the collaboration process: when I began to think in terms of what everyone was doing rather than only my part.

You can read my blog posts about collaboration and other aspects of working with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers here.

TC: You are obviously incredibly successful at using the internet/social media to market yourself and connect with other writers. Do you have any advice for our readers about using the internet as a tool in this way?

DRO: Thank you for the kind words about my social media skills. I’ve worked hard at them and made many mistakes along the way.

My main piece of advice for writers wanting to use social media and the Internet to market themselves and connect with other writers:

If most of your posts have to do with self-promotion or trying to sell something, it’s unlikely you’ll attract many new readers.

Instead, offer something to people they can’t easily get elsewhere, that makes them want to come back. Once they feel they know you, then (and not before) they will be more likely to be interested in your projects.

In my opinion, the value of social media is much more about making connections with other people than in self-promotion.

TC: Who are some authors/illustrators you admire? Who would you say has influenced you?

DRO: My biggest influence and author/illustrator I admire the most: my sister, Ruth Ohi.

Watching my sister work over the years on over 50 children’s picture books, I have learned a great deal about the craft and business. She has also inspired me with her focus and productivity, especially how she managed her work time when her children were very young.

Ruth continues to support and encourage me. There were times during I’m Bored when I got discouraged about my illustrations (“OH MY GOD I SUCK WHAT IF THEY HATE WHAT I’M DOING AND FIRE ME” etc.); my sister talked me off the ledge. 🙂

Thank you, Sis!

TC: Do you have a favorite project, past or current, so far?

DRO: I’m Bored.

I had so much fun working on this. I am totally serious.

I also learned a ton about the craft and business of making a picture book.

TC: Earlier this year, you announced that you signed two book contracts with Simon & Schuster; one to illustrate another picture book, and another to write and illustrate a picture book of your own. Can you give us any update on those projects?

DRO: I’m in the very early stages of creating the picture book that I am writing and illustrating with Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. So far, I have had two phone meetings with my editor, Justin Chanda. I would say that right now I’m working on the pre-pre-1st draft. 🙂

As for the other picture book, Simon & Schuster is still looking for the right project for me to illustrate. Fingers crossed!

I’m blogging about the process of creating picture books with Simon & Schuster, for those interested.
Toasted Cheese comic


Debbie Ridpath Ohi writes and illustrates for young people. She is the illustrator of I’M BORED by Michael Ian Black (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, Sept/2012) and her work also appears in the teen fiction anthology, TOMO (Stone Bridge Press, Mar/2012). Represented by Ginger Knowlton, Curtis Brown Ltd. URL: DebbieOhi.com. Twitter: @inkyelbows.

I'm BoredFor longer bios, see: Press Bios: Debbie Ridpath Ohi

WHERE YOU CAN FIND DEBBIE:

About I’M BORED:
Author: Michael Ian Black
Illustrator: Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Ages: 3-8
ISBN 978-1-4424-1403-7

Final Poll Results

Twitter, Tweet, Twits:
How the Hottest Social Media Platform Helps Writers

Absolute Blank

By Kristin Baxter

By now, if you haven’t at least heard of Twitter, you should probably just get back to dusting your cave paintings and chasing away those pesky pterodactyls.

What you may not know, however, is exactly what Twitter is and how it can help you as a writer. And no matter what the media says about Internet geeks discussing what they had for breakfast or how annoyed they are at their boss, Twitter can help you. As with everything on the Internet, it’s simply a matter of filtering out the useless information to get to the good stuff.

What the Heck is a Twitter?

Twitter is a microblogging platform. Twitterers—also known as tweeple, tweeps, or twits, the latter of which we’ll use for this article’s purposes—post messages up to 140 characters in length.

Twitter homepage

What you’ll see when you go to http://www.twitter.com.

These messages, or tweets, appear on a twit’s page and are seen by their followers. Followers are people who choose to add you to their list of people whose tweets they watch.

If a twit doesn’t have followers, they’re essentially talking to themselves. And while much of the Internet can consist of people talking to themselves, Twitter is a waste without followers. And if you’re not following anyone, you won’t receive an ounce of information. Once you’ve begun following people, your Twitter “feed”—what you see when you first log in—will show the most recent tweets posted by your friends.

kristophrenia's Twitter page

My Twitter page. At the top is the text entry box, where I answer the question,”What are you doing?” Below that are the most recent tweets from people I follow. In the right sidebar are my statistics: number of people I follow, number who follow me, and how many tweets I’ve made. Below that are links to my replies, direct messages sent to me, and any tweets I’ve favorited.

Feeling silly yet? Well, yes, it does sound silly. What’s not silly, though, is how much it can help you weed through the overwhelming mass of resources on the web.

If you’re not yet convinced, I’ll offer an example from my own experience. A few months ago, I woke up one day, made my usual oversized pot of coffee, and began my morning Internet surfing. Checked my sixteen email accounts, my Facebook, my RSS feeds. And then I hopped onto Twitter. One of the writers I follow had just posted a link to the blog of literary agent Caren Johnson, of Caren Johnson Literary Agency; Ms. Johnson was offering writers the chance to post a short pitch for their novel in the comments of her blog. For each pitch, Ms. Johnson either requested a partial from the writer or offered her reasons for passing.

If you’ve done the query route, you know how very rare this is.

The catch: writers had 24 hours from the initial blog post to enter their pitch. I discovered the opportunity a scant two hours before the deadline. I hurried to tweak my pitch to her requirements, watching the seconds slip away as I did. Then I took a shower, as I knew that otherwise I’d spend the next twenty minutes hitting the refresh button. By the time I was dressed and blow-dried, Ms. Johnson had requested a partial from me. While she eventually rejected my novel, she offered her reasons—something that was a huge help in fixing a flaw in my voice.

If it weren’t for Twitter, I’d never have seen the post, or at least not in time to take advantage of it. Now that’s a resource.

No more rummaging through page after page of blogs by agents, editors, and fellow writers. No more searching through the many online publications that follow the publishing industry’s movements. No more wondering what articles and announcements you’re missing. Once you’ve found and followed a good selection of writers, agents, and editors, you can go to your Twitter page and find out all the latest.

Twitter vs. Facebook, MySpace, and Blogs: The Big Difference

So you have accounts with Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, a few dozen other social networking accounts, and a blog, all of which you use with varying frequencies. Why add one more to the pile?

Facebook and all its buddies help you connect with the people you know. Twitter, on the other hand, is the perfect place to connect with people you don’t know, but want or need to agents, editors, and other writers. Follow them, and they might follow you back. Even if they don’t, you’ll have immediate access to what they have to say.

The sparse amount of information required for an account—name and email address—adds to the privacy level. Controlling the information you release on Twitter involves nothing more complex than evaluating your own words. Rather than worrying what old, embarrassing, and perhaps incriminating picture a friend might post and tag with your name—one of the scariest parts of Facebook now that everyone’s boss, mother, and grandma has an account—you just have to watch what you say. That’s all Twitter is: words and links.

The Basics

Once you’ve created an account, you can begin following people. To make it easy for you, click here and log in, if you aren’t already. Then simply click the Follow button under my picture (yes, that’s me). Congratulations! You just followed your first twit.[1]

There are a few ways to find more people worth following.

Every twitter user’s page shows their friends in the right sidebar.

kristophrenia's Twitter friends

A selection of people I follow.

Click the View All link under the block of pictures, hover your mouse over each twit’s username, and see if their personal description catches your interest. If it does, just click the Follow button under their username. Or go straight to their Twitter feed by clicking on their picture. See some interesting tweets there? Click the Follow button under their picture.
kristophrenia's Twitter profile

Following a user is as easy as clicking a button.

Another useful method is through @replies. When you want to reply directly to someone’s tweet, simply place the @ sign and the person’s username before your tweet.

A real life example:

20orsomething: I love books and I love publishing, and Twitter is a fantastic resource for both. Reveling in words and soaking up the knowledge…

kristophrenia: @20orsomething I know! I’m continually amazed by how useful this is, once you’re following the right people.

If someone following me were curious to know more about Susan Pogorzelski, a.k.a 20orsomething, they can simply click the link to her profile in my reply. I’ve followed many people after seeing the interesting conversations they had with my friends; conversely, I’ve gained several followers after they saw my own conversations with their friends. You can keep up with @replies directed at you by clicking the @username link on your homepage, or by using the many applications designed to bring your Twitter feed to your desktop or your iPhone.

Once you’ve built a decent base of friends, you can start using the information they post—and disseminating information you find by tweeting links to interesting articles and blog posts. Twitter automatically shortens any URL under 30 characters; other ways to convert links include TinyURL, bit.ly, and Snipr. Copy and paste the URL you want to shorten into any of these websites, then copy and paste the resulting shorter URL into your update box. For example, the URL for http://www.toasted-cheese.com/ becomes http://bit.ly/p3fn. Posting URLs is a great way to connect others to interesting articles, making you an important resource in their world; it can also be wonderful self-promotion. The number of unique visitors who came to my blog last month was twice the number that found me the month I joined Twitter.

Did someone post an update that you find interesting, something that you want to share with your friends? Give credit by placing the letters RT (which stands for “re-tweet”) at the beginning of your update, followed by an @reply for the original twit, then paste their update. Just a few days ago, my friend strugglngwriter posted a comic cracked me up. I showed it to my followers and gave him credit by tweeting:

RT @strugglngwriter As a writer, this comic from Wondermark made me laugh: http://wondermark.com/519/.

Certain subjects tend to blow up quickly on Twitter as everyone tweets on a trending topic; Twitter keeps these organized using hashtags (#topic). A great example is “Follow Friday”. Every Friday, many twits post an update listing their favorite, funniest, or most useful friends using the @reply feature. With the addition of the tag #followfriday to the update, users can easily search for Follow Friday posts without having to weed through every update that includes the word “follow” or “Friday”.

How to Maximize Your Time

If you intend to use Twitter as a professional resource, it’s important to streamline your list of followers. This greatly reduces the amount of useless or inane information that will appear in your feed, and we all know there’s a massive amount of inanity out there. Feel free to follow your friends, but don’t feel obligated to follow every “social media expert” that follows you.

But how can you find all the people you should follow? One great resource, aside from the methods mentioned above, is WeFollow. Here, users can add themselves to a database with up to three descriptive tags; for example, I chose #fantasy, #youngadult, and #writer. Add yourself to the database, then skim through the listings for writers, agents, editors, and the genres in which you write.

The first site that helped me find compatible twits to follow was Mr. Tweet. Simply follow Mr. Tweet on Twitter, and he’ll Direct Message (DM) you back. Once he’s analyzed your followers, he’ll DM you a link to a personalized site, where you can find a list of recommended twits based on who you already follow. Mr. Tweet updates bi-weekly, so you can find more great people to follow every other week. The more writers and publishing people you follow, the more information you have access to.

To get you started, here’s a list of agents and editors who tweet:

With the increasingly fast pace of news on the Internet, our ever-decreasing attention spans, and the rising ubiquity of the agent or editor blog, something like Twitter is desperately needed if you want to keep up. So come on out of the cave, dodge that pterodactyl, and follow me.

I promise I’ll follow you back.

Tips

  • Make sure you have the option “E-mail when someone starts following me” turned on (Settings ? Notices). This ensures that, when someone follows you, you can follow them back if you wish.
  • Like so many other useful tools, Twitter can be addictive and distracting if you allow it to be. To avoid getting irrevocably sucked into the information black hole, give yourself time limits. Use Twitter as a reward for writing. And by all mean, keep that browser closed while you’re writing.
  • Be a part of the conversation. Don’t be afraid to reply to tweets you find appealing or funny. Just make sure that what you have to say is interesting, informative, or at least entertaining. As with everything on the Internet, think before you tweet.

Kristin Baxter lives in Johnstown, PA, a city full of characters. She’s been a reporter, a technical writer, and an assembler of travel mugs. Presently, she drinks too much coffee and stays up far too late while writing young adult novels.

[1] I’ll freely admit I’m not the most useful twit; I aim more to entertain myself and my followers, and I enjoy having moderately wacky conversations. I’ve met a lot of hilarious, interesting twits that way. But I also post interesting links to industry articles, and I follow every agent, editor, and writer I can find.

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