What Authors Have Found in Substack

From Publishers Weekly:

When I first moved to California, it was a dream come true: an office right on the beach in Santa Monica in January. At break time, I ran out onto the sand to the water’s edge and stared in awe at the surf, the sun, and the people playing at the edge of the world. My colleagues chuckled and made comments along the lines of, “You must be new.”

I soon learned that the company I had joined, like so many others, was a bit of a way station for many of its employees. “What do you do?” I’d ask, to replies of, “Oh, I’m an actor,” or, “I write for TV,” or, “I do stand-up comedy.” Not a week went by without someone asking me for some time off to rush to an audition. It seemed LAX was overrun with arrivals dreaming the same dream. Nowhere did I see this more than in the restaurant scene, from Geoffrey’s in Malibu to Ivy at the Shore in Santa Monica or Eveleigh’s on the Sunset Strip: everyone working the tables was an actor or writer or artist of some form.

Fast-forward to present-day Silicon Valley, land of a different dream. As venture capitalist Mark Suster recently put it, “The culture is driven by the 20-something irreverent founder with huge technical chops who in a David-versus-Goliath mythology takes on the titans of industry and wins.” The airports here disgorge a stream of would-be entrepreneurs who dream of creating the next unicorn, or billion-dollar startup. And, just like in Hollywood, reality hits soon and hits hard, with many making ends meet through side gigs in the euphemistically named gig economy, be it via DoorDash, Instacart, Lyft, Uber, or other such services.

What is a self-respecting aspirational author to do in such a world—one turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic? It takes time—an enormous amount of time—to write. It’s not trivial to be an ersatz taxi or delivery driver and write competently at the same time.

Yet most authors know it doesn’t pay much to write. Not all things beautiful, whether writing a book or painting or raising a child, are rewarded financially. The rewards are in the doing and in what the author or the painter or the parent brings to the world around them. Enter a new option: the paid subscription newsletter, the best-known version being Substack.

Originally designed to address the crisis in journalism, wherein the ad-supported business model evaporated like the morning dew and the incremental value of professionally written content drifted down to near nothing, paid newsletters give journalists a chance to be compensated directly for their hard work. Many of these writers were recently let go from their media houses. Others, with strong personal brands, believe they can be paid better as independents in control of their own work. A grand experiment is underway, with traditional media outlets like the New Yorker and the New York Times decrying the unravelling of the fifth estate. Look closer at what is actually happening and you’ll see something else—something that looks very familiar to the waiters in L.A. and the Uber drivers in Silicon Valley. For many writers on Substack and similar platforms, writing a paid subscription newsletter is the new side gig.

Take my example. Having published one book on strategy, I was looking for a way to write the next one. I had so much material and needed time, lots of time: time that was flexible enough to allow me to juggle the responsibilities of raising little children and of contributing to paying the bills, all under pandemic lockdown. Every little bit helps, and being paid while writing makes my dream of publishing the next book that much more of a reality. Or the example of JJ Ding, author of the ChinAI newsletter, who juggles graduate studies with corralling a community of dedicated English-Mandarin translators to make the world of AI research underway in China better understood outside the country, reducing the fear and mistrust between China and the U.S.

Or there’s the example of Animatou Sow, author of the Crème de la Crème newsletter, who juggles writing books, posting Instagram stories, and hosting podcasts, which all feature her incisive cultural commentary, such as, “Books are the answer to rampant 21st-century charlatanism.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG was generally familiar with Substack prior to reading the OP, but is interested to hear from those more knowledgeable about whether writing a paid subscription newsletter on Substack actually generates much money for most people (excluding extreme outliers).

How Twitter can ruin a life

UPDATE: Yes, this is the second post PG has made on the same OP.

He may be losing his mind, but, in his defense, he was a long distance away from PG Central working from a motel room when he made the first post and now he’s home. Perhaps his subconscious was feeling that the same post in two different time zones would not be quite the same thing.

He apologizes to any who have been confused or irritated. Maybe PG’s medications differ in their effects when he’s outside of Casa PG or maybe he’s living in two different dimensions simultaneously. He does believe he’s married to Mrs. PG in each of these dimensions, however.

From Vox:

“In a war zone, it is not safe to be unknown. Unknown travelers are shot on sight,” says Isabel Fall. “The fact that Isabel Fall was an unknown led to her death.”

Isabel Fall isn’t dead. There is a person who wrote under that name alive on the planet right now, someone who published a critically acclaimed, award-nominated short story. If she wanted to publish again, she surely could.

Isabel Fall is a ghost nonetheless.

In January 2020, not long after her short story “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was published in the online science fiction magazine Clarkesworld, Fall asked her editor to take the story down, and then checked into a psychiatric ward for thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

The story — and especially its title, which co-opts a transphobic meme — had provoked days of contentious debate online within the science fiction community, the trans community, and the community of people who worry that cancel culture has run amok. Because there was little biographical information available about its author, the debate hinged on one question: Who was Isabel Fall? And that question ate her alive. When she emerged from the hospital a few weeks later, the world had moved on, but she was still scarred by what had happened. She decided on something drastic: She would no longer be Isabel Fall.

As a trans woman early in transition, Fall had the option of retreating to the relative safety of her legal, masculine identity. That’s what she did, staying out of the limelight and growing ever more frustrated by what had happened to her. She bristles when I ask her in an email if she’s stopped transitioning, but it’s the only phrase I can think of to describe how the situation appears.

Isabel Fall was on a path to becoming herself, and then she wasn’t — and all because she published a short story. And then her life fell apart.

In the 18 months since, what happened to her has become a case study for various people who want to talk about the Way We Live Today. It has been held up as an example of progressives eating their own, of the dangers of online anonymity, of the need for sensitivity readers or content warnings. But what this story really symbolizes is the fact that as we’ve grown more adept at using the internet, we’ve also grown more adept at destroying people’s lives, but from a distance, in an abstracted way.

Sometimes, the path to your personal hell is paved with other people’s best intentions.

Like most internet outrage cycles, the fracas over “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter” was enormous news within the bubble of people who cared about it and made barely a blip outside of that bubble. The full tale is amorphous and weird, and recounting its ins and outs is nearly impossible to do here. Just trying to explain the motivations of all involved is a task in and of itself, and at any rate, that story has been told many times, quoting others extensively. Fall has never spoken publicly about the situation until now.

Clarkesworld published Fall’s story on January 1, 2020. For a while, people seemed to like it.

“I was in awe of it on a sentence level. I thought it was beautiful and devastating and incredibly subversive and surprising. It did all this work in a very short amount of space, which I found completely breathtaking. It had been a long time since I had read a short story that I had enjoyed and that also had rewired my brain a little bit,” said author Carmen Maria Machado, who read the story before controversy had broken out.

In the first 10 days after “Attack Helicopter” was published, what muted criticism existed was largely confined to the story’s comments section on Clarkesworld. The tweets that still exist from that period were largely positive responses to the story, often from trans people.

But first in Clarkesworld’s comments and then on Twitter, the combination of the story’s title and the relative lack of information about Fall began to fuel a growing paranoia around the story and its author. The presence of trolls who seemed to take the story’s title at face value only added to that paranoia. And when read through the lens of “Isabel Fall is trolling everybody,” “Attack Helicopter” started to seem menacing to plenty of readers.

“Attack Helicopter” was a slippery, knotty piece of fiction that captured a particular trans feminine uncertainty better than almost anything I have ever read. Set in a nightmarish future in which the US military has co-opted gender to the degree that it turns recruits into literal weapons, it told the story of Barb, a pilot whose gender is “helicopter.” Together with Axis — Barb’s gunner, who was also assigned helicopter — Barb carried out various missions against assorted opposition forces who live within what is at present the United States.

Then, because its title was also a transphobic meme and because “Isabel Fall” had absolutely no online presence beyond the Clarkesworld story, many people began to worry that Fall was somehow a front for right-wing, anti-trans reactionaries. They expressed those fears in the comments of the story, in various science fiction discussion groups, and all over Twitter. Fans of the story pushed back, saying it was a bold and striking piece of writing from an exciting new voice. While the debate was initially among trans people for the most part, it eventually spilled over to cis sci-fi fans who boosted the concerns of trans people who were worried about the story.

Link to the rest at Vox and here’s a link to Clarksworld

PG admits that, while he has a couple of Twitter accounts under pseudonyms, he is not inclined to go there using his own name. For him, of all the major social media platforms, Twitter seems like the one that attracts hordes of aggressive crazies. He’s happy to hear contrary/alternate opinions, however.

Where My Money Comes From

From Jane Friedman:

While I’ve often revealed at conferences and workshops where my money comes from—complete with pie charts—I’ve never laid out in writing, at this site, what my earnings looks like. It is perhaps an overdue look, since I reach more people through this blog than I do through speaking engagements.

My 3 key categories of earnings

Most of my income arises from three types of work:

  • Consulting one-on-one with writers
  • Teaching in-person and online
  • Paid writing (newsletters, articles, books) and indirect income from free writing (advertising and affiliate income through my website and newsletter)

Since I started full-time freelancing in 2015, these categories have always remained central, although the mix and character of the work shifts.

What my top-line income looked like in 2016

Here’s what was happening in each of these categories.

  • Online teaching (26%): This includes (1) multi-week workshops I was offering directly, (2) multi-week workshops I was offering by guest instructors (I kept a cut of registration fees), and (3) webinars I taught for other companies, such as Writer’s Digest. While it looks like a healthy percentage of my income, my profit margin was low on courses taught by others.
  • Query-synopsis editing (24%): In 2016, I started attracting a steady stream of clients who were seeking help with their queries and synopses for submission to agents and editors.
  • Consulting (17%): I do two types of consulting: book proposal consulting and one-on-one consulting. It’s all done on an hourly, flat-fee basis, trading money for time.
  • Paid newsletter (12%): In late 2015, I launched a paid email newsletter (The Hot Sheet) with Porter Anderson. This was the first year we had a full year of subscription income, which we split down the middle after expenses. (The profit margin is excellent, about 90 percent.)
  • Freelance writing (7%): This included varied opportunities, including features for Writer’s Digest magazine. I also initially counted The Great Courses income under this, because it literally required me to write 100,000 words in three months. (I had to write the script for the course, then deliver on camera.)
  • Affiliate income (6%): I’m an Amazon affiliate and also started affiliate arrangements around 2016 with Teachable and Bluehost. I don’t work for this money; it’s passive income.
  • Book sales (5%): This is all income from Publishing 101, which I self-published in late 2015.
  • Conference speaking (3%): Some people think I get paid the big bucks for speaking. I do not. It represents the smallest of my revenue streams in 2016. But speaking (especially in person) is important for visibility and trust. It’s also critical for me to remain in touch with real writers’ everyday concerns, plus I get to hear and learn from other experts in the community.

If I combine these into my three main areas of income:

  • 41% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
  • 30% writing (affiliate income goes in here since it’s powered by my writing and blogging)
  • 29% teaching and speaking

What my top-line income looked like in 2020

You’ll notice one big change here!

Here’s what was happening in each of these categories. And note that 2020 was the first full year that my husband joined the business as a full-time employee.

  • Online teaching (48%): In fall 2019, I began hosting my own webinars because I now had someone who could help with post-production and customer service. Some webinars I teach myself and others feature guest instructors. This move proved fortunate when the pandemic rolled around. I keep 50 percent of the net for webinars taught by guest instructors. I still continue to teach for a range of organizations and companies, so that’s still included here as well.
  • Query-synopsis editing (12%): I stopped taking on this work in the middle of 2020 to open up more room in my schedule for writing work. I still offer a query letter master class, though—that income now falls under online teaching.
  • Consulting (16%): In 2020, I was still accepting one-on-one consulting clients and book proposal clients. In 2021, I now accept only book proposal clients in an ongoing effort to pull back some of my time for writing (or at least make consulting time more profitable).
  • Paid newsletter (16%): I am now the full owner of The Hot Sheet. While this percentage doesn’t look much increased despite me now taking 100% of the net, it’s not because the subscriber base didn’t grow. Rather, it’s a reflection of how much the other areas of my business have grown—namely online teaching. Also, if this were a profits chart, not a top-line revenue chart, the paid newsletter would represent a bigger proportion of the pie.
  • Book sales (3%): This is income from Publishing 101, my Great Course, and The Business of Being a Writer.
  • Conference speaking (3%): This includes some virtual conferences and would’ve been more had it not been for the pandemic. (I’m not complaining, though! I needed to get off the travel wagon for a while.)
  • Advertising (2%): I recently started accepting advertisers in Electric Speed, my free newsletter.
  • Affiliate income (1%): Amazon has reduced its affiliate marketing payouts over time, and I’m more often linking to Bookshop—which simply doesn’t bring in as much income. (But one feels better linking to it.) I’ve also stopped actively engaging in or seeking affiliate marketing, not because I’m against it, but frankly I have a lot of other things I’d rather do.

If I combine these into my three main areas of income:

  • 51% teaching and speaking
  • 28% one-on-one work (consulting and editing)
  • 22% writing (advertising/affiliate goes here since it’s powered by my writing)

Yes, I realize this adds up to 101%. What can I say? My spreadsheet rounded things up.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG really likes Jane’s flexibility. She isn’t afraid to modify her work emphasis as market conditions and her personal desires change.

A handful of people stumble on a magic formula that works over and over again so long as they just keep repeating the same effort over and over again.

However, very few businesses are that predictable and unchanging over a long period of time.

Technology changes, what people want and are willing to pay for changes, etc., etc., etc.

For PG, this is one of the great weaknesses of the wash, rinse, repeat mindset of traditional publishing. They really, really want to keep doing things the way they did them before. Paying someone a few thousand dollars to run a social media promotion for a book is regarded as a big creative move (in an age where teens can become social media stars with a new angle and a new attitude and use their fame and followers to build a commercial business from scratch.

If you really don’t want to change, putting a new coat of paint on the old machine won’t fool anybody outside of your closed little world.

How Authors Can Leverage Facebook Ads to Sell More Books

From Jane Friedman:

When authors want to advertise their books, three advertising platforms spring to mind for most: Facebook ads, Amazon ads, and BookBub ads.

And while each of these platforms can be amazing in their own right and even more so when used holistically together, without a strong foundation (i.e. a great book that has been edited and proofread, a strong book description, right pricing for your category or genre, a professional-looking book cover that fits in your genre, etc.), no amount of advertising can sell a poor quality book.

Once you have a strong foundation, the truthis that advertising takes time to perfect; it takes testing; it takes patience, persistence, and, ultimately, it takes money.

However, let’s brighten things up.

When you get your ads dialed in, they can truly transform your career.

As an example, my wife is an author of fantasy novels. Before we started advertising her debut series of books, we were lucky if they pulled in $40 per month!

Last month, this same series earned $8,550 in royalties, with $5,200 of profit—and that’s with just one series of three books; the fourth book is due out later this year.

And the advertising platform that did the brunt of the leg work was…

Facebook ads.

Let’s dive into it. Here’s what you’ll learn.

  • Why Facebook offers authors an incredible opportunity to position themselves in front of their ideal readers
  • When to use Facebook ads
  • Are Facebook ads worth your time and money?
  • How to create scroll-stopping Facebook ads
  • My top 5 Facebook ads tips for authors

The Facebook ads opportunity

Facebook’s biggest and most valuable asset is data. As an advertiser on Facebook, you can tap into this data and pinpoint the exact people (readers) you want to reach with your ads.

As an example, if you know your readers:

  • Live in New York
  • Are female
  • Aged between 45 and 55
  • Work as an accountant
  • Have been a newlywed for 6 months
  • Recently moved
  • Enjoy French cuisine
  • Own a dog and a fish
  • And do yoga

You could potentially target them! Now, I wouldn’t recommend being this granular with your targeting; this is just an exaggerated example to show you how much Facebook knows about its user base. In fact, I have seen better results by leaving my targeting fairly open. I trust Facebook enough to go out and find the right people to position the books I’m advertising in front of.

So what sort of targeting should you be doing with your Facebook ads?

Targeting is a big topic and what works for one author won’t necessarily work for another. However, myself and many other authors have seen the best results by targeting:

  • Author names
  • Book / series titles
  • TV shows
  • Movies
  • Genres (e.g., romantic fantasy)

As long as your targeting is relevant to the book you’re advertising, it’s worth testing. That’s not to say that every target you test will be a winner, but the more relevant you can be, the higher the chance of your Facebook ads converting into sales and therefore providing you with a positive Return on Ad Spend (ROAS); in other words, profit.

When researching potential targets, I can’t recommend enough that you keep track of all your tests in a spreadsheet. I have built my own Targeting and Tracking spreadsheet which you can use for free; it’s included in my Author Ads Toolkit, which comes with several other valuable resources.

It’s also worth noting that Facebook ads allow you to advertise not just on the Facebook News Feed, although that is where you are likely to see the majority of your traffic coming from, but also on Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Instagram Feed, Facebook Messenger and many more.

. . . .

Before we move on, let’s first take a quick look at what a Facebook ad actually looks like.

Sample Facebook ad

This is one of the ads I’ve run for my wife’s series of fantasy novels.

If you’ve spent any length of time scrolling on your Facebook News Feed, I’m sure you recognize the layout and style of this ad. As you can see, Facebook wants their ads to fit in with an organic post (i.e., not an ad) that you might see from one of your Facebook friends.

. . . .

When to use Facebook ads

Facebook ads can be extremely powerful in many scenarios; whether you use them in all these scenarios or just one or two will depend on your ultimate goals and your strategy for building a career as an author.

Here are the 6 scenarios I like to use Facebook ads for:

  1. Book launches
  2. Promotions (e.g., $0.99 sale for 7 days)
  3. Evergreen sales (e.g., continuously advertising Book 1 of a series)
  4. Cross-series Retargeting (e.g. retarget people who have seen Book 1 of your series in a Facebook ad with Book 1 of another of your series in a similar genre)
  5. Same-series retargeting (e.g. if your books can be read in any order, retarget people who have seen one book from your series in a Facebook ad and show them another book from that same series)
  6. Building your mailing list (e.g., giving people a free copy of one of your books in exchange for their email address)

By no means do you need to use Facebook ads for each of these scenarios! Start slow and then build at a pace that works for you once you begin to see results.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Bookstagrammers Demand Publishers Pay Up

From Book and Film Globe:

Last month, The New York Times published a glowing story about BookTok, TikTok’s book community, and its impact on the publishing industry. If you’re not familiar, picture 10-second book trailers, and videos of women crying as they throw a copy of a tragic romance across the room. And it works—the Times piece reported that sales for one such tragic romance, Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, is currently selling about 10,000 copies per week, a nine-time increase from its best sales in 2012, when the novel won the Orange Prize.

“Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like ‘They Both Die at the End,’ ‘The Cruel Prince,’ ‘A Little Life’ and others that have gone viral,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris. “There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.”

Bibliophiles on other social media platforms had a thorny response to that last bit. Bookstagrammers, which is what people who run book-focused Instagram accounts call themselves, spoke out the loudest.  “Don’t erase bookstagrammers and BIPOC literary creators because we’ve been here doing the work,” said one of my favorite bookstagrammers, @booksteahenny, in an Instagram story.

. . . .

Last month, The New York Times published a glowing story about BookTok, TikTok’s book community, and its impact on the publishing industry. If you’re not familiar, picture 10-second book trailers, and videos of women crying as they throw a copy of a tragic romance across the room. And it works—the Times piece reported that sales for one such tragic romance, Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles, is currently selling about 10,000 copies per week, a nine-time increase from its best sales in 2012, when the novel won the Orange Prize.

“Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like ‘They Both Die at the End,’ ‘The Cruel Prince,’ ‘A Little Life’ and others that have gone viral,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris. “There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.”

Bibliophiles on other social media platforms had a thorny response to that last bit. Bookstagrammers, which is what people who run book-focused Instagram accounts call themselves, spoke out the loudest.  “Don’t erase bookstagrammers and BIPOC literary creators because we’ve been here doing the work,” said one of my favorite bookstagrammers, @booksteahenny, in an Instagram story.

Link to the rest at Book and Film Globe

PG notes that you no longer need to be a traditionally-published author for publishers to profit by your work without paying you much.

14 Ways Authors Express Gratitude

From BookBub:

Authors often say that engaging with readers is one of the most gratifying aspects of their career. And while authors provide readers with entertainment, information, or an escape from reality, readers provide authors with an audience (and revenue), word-of-mouth exposure, or support. Since readers fuel an author’s expression and success, how can a writer thank fans for supporting their work?

A little bit of recognition can go a long way to foster a relationship with fans and maintain a dedicated readership. From sharing fan art to running giveaways to sharing discounts, there are many ways authors can show readers appreciation. To help you brainstorm ideas on how to communicate gratitude, we’ve compiled a list of methods authors use to applaud, reward, and connect with their readers. We hope these examples provide inspiration for your own approach to engaging with readers!

1. Show off fan art

Leigh Bardugo reposted fan art of two of her book’s characters, expressing gratitude for how this wonderful depiction by @sartagos “revived” her spirit during a tough week.

. . . .

2. Run book giveaways

Jillian Dodd frequently runs giveaways for her readers. In this one example, Jillian kept the entry method simple; fans could enter to win an angsty paperback stack by following Jillian on Instagram and BookBub and tagging a friend in the comments of this post.

. . . .

5. Give away fun items and gift cards

Sarah Nicolas chose three lucky winners to receive a gift card to an Etsy shop selling masks and embroidered bookmarks.

Link to the rest at BookBub

Using TikTok to Sell Books

From Writers Helping Writers:

Almost every teenager in the United States knows about TikTok—the video-sharing social media platform with hundreds of millions of active users. And with the increasing popularity of the #BookTok hashtag, which readers use to talk about their favorite books, many YA authors are turning to TikTok to promote their work.

I began posting on the platform in August of 2020 and have since amassed nearly 225,000 followers (a number that is still growing by hundreds each day). TikTok makes it incredibly easy to go viral with minimal effort. Just one fifteen-second video can get you tens of thousands of followers; all you need is a decent strategy. Here are some tips that earned my videos millions of views:

1. Use Hashtags to Your Advantage

Many users believe that using popular hashtags (such as #fyp) will be enough for them to go viral. That isn’t entirely true. While there is a slight chance those hashtags will give you thousands of views, it is highly unlikely they will help you reach your target audience. Using hashtags such as #author, #writingabook, or anything relating to your genre will be much more effective. The first video I posted with those hashtags garnered nearly half a million views.

2. Post Consistently

If one of your videos does go viral and you disappear off the platform for the next few weeks, you’ll probably end up losing hundreds of followers. Your goal should be creating bonds with your fans so they’ll feel more inclined to buy your books, and one way to do that is posting at least once a day.

3. Don’t Just Promote

Believe me when I say this—nobody wants to hear you blatantly promote your book 24/7. A promotional post once in a while is fine, but your followers will get bored if everything on your page is just you talking about your book. Keep your content related to writing, but switch it up. One way to do that is by posting writing tips. Those are amazing choices for videos because they give you credibility. Not to mention, if you help someone with their writing, they’ll want to repay you in any way they can—like buying your book. Half of my followers wouldn’t be following me if it wasn’t for my writing tips.

4. Use Trending Sounds

This is probably the #1 factor that will help boost your videos. If you see that a sound has over ten thousand videos under it (most of which are recent), use it. You can even put it over a video of you talking (just lower the sound to zero if you don’t want it to be heard) and it will still boost your views.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Twelve Years

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

On April 2, 2009, I started a blog with this:

This post marks the beginning of an experiment. I will post sections of a work in progress—a book tentatively titled The Freelancer’s Survival Guide—here, on my website.

If you go back and read that original post, you can see how tentative I am about the whole concept of an online blog. Two friends, Michael J. Totten and Scott William Carter, had a meeting with me and Dean and talked to us about new ways of publishing.

In 2009, blogging—with a donate button—was new. This was before Patreon, before Kickstarter, before all kinds of innovations. And now, twelve years later, blogging the way that I do it has become…well, not passé, exactly, but not necessarily the preferred modern way to do things.

Old hat. Old fashioned.

Weird how time flies.

And it flies fast. I was going to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the blog, but Allyson Longueira, who runs our company WMG Publishing, got diagnosed with a brain tumor and was in surgery around that point. We weren’t sure if she was going to survive, and we had to keep the business alive at the same time.

Then, last year, on April 2—Well, you were all around in 2020. You know that’s when the entire world was shutting down. We were worried about survival once again, and certainly not in the way that we expected.

So here we are in 2021. Most of us are excited about getting a vaccine. We’re using words like “opening up” and “returning to some semblance of normal,” because the past year has been anything but.

Reflecting on that time and those changes is almost impossible. Trying to imagine this world from the perspective of 2009 is well, I’m either afraid I would have believed me and panicked or (more likely) I would have reacted like the character in Julie Nolke’s YouTube series “Explaining The Pandemic To My Past Self.”

Really, when you think about all that happened since January of 2020, well, yeah. Really hard to believe.

But the pandemic was easier to live through because of innovations we didn’t really have in 2009. The Kindle was just premiering then. We didn’t have Zoom. We didn’t have much social media (maybe that’s a good thing?) and we certainly weren’t as connected online as we are now.

. . . .

Just today (as I write this), I got an email from a friend who is very invested in traditional publishing. He’s worried about how something he published will play “in the field.”

I stared at the email. What field? I wanted to ask. Because you can play in the remaining sandboxes of traditional publishing, but that “field” has gotten narrower and narrower.

Since it’s no longer a monolith, and it’s possible—no, better—to publish without it, the very idea of worrying what the curators think startled me.

Yet, when I reread the original post that started this entire publishing blog, I see that attitude underlying every sentence.

I was writing a blog that would become a book, and doing so with the online support of the readers. I honestly didn’t think anyone would read the post, let alone send in a few dollars to back what I was doing.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG’s brain doesn’t do anniversaries very well. Ditto for birthdays. BC (before computers) whenever he got a new paper calendar/schedule book at the beginning of a new year, he copied all of his annual reminders from his prior calendar into the new one.

Now, of course, he has recurring annual reminders on his digital calendar (and still fumbles an annual event once in awhile).

The them of Kris’ post got PG looking back and he discovered that he started TPV over ten years ago.

His first post referenced a web post that is still up – here’s the link

His only observation is the more things change . . . .

How Crying on TikTok Sells Books

From The New York Times:

“We Were Liars” came out in 2014, so when the book’s author, E. Lockhart, saw that it was back on the best-seller list last summer, she was delighted. And confused.

“I had no idea what the hell was happening,” she said.

Lockhart’s children filled her in: It was because of TikTok.

An app known for serving up short videos on everything from dance moves to fashion tips, cooking tutorials and funny skits, TikTok is not an obvious destination for book buzz. But videos made mostly by women in their teens and 20s have come to dominate a growing niche under the hashtag #BookTok, where users recommend books, record time lapses of themselves reading, or sob openly into the camera after an emotionally crushing ending.

These videos are starting to sell a lot of books, and many of the creators are just as surprised as everyone else.

. . . .

“I want people to feel what I feel,” said Mireille Lee, 15, who started @alifeofliterature in February with her sister, Elodie, 13, and now has nearly 200,000 followers. “At school, people don’t really acknowledge books, which is really annoying.”

. . . .

Many Barnes & Noble locations around the United States have set up BookTok tables displaying titles like “They Both Die at the End,” “The Cruel Prince,” “A Little Life” and others that have gone viral. There is no corresponding Instagram or Twitter table, however, because no other social-media platform seems to move copies the way TikTok does.

“These creators are unafraid to be open and emotional about the books that make them cry and sob or scream or become so angry they throw it across the room, and it becomes this very emotional 45-second video that people immediately connect with,” said Shannon DeVito, director of books at Barnes & Noble. “We haven’t seen these types of crazy sales — I mean tens of thousands of copies a month — with other social media formats.”

The Lee sisters, who live in Brighton, England, started making BookTok videos while bored at home during the pandemic. Many of their posts feel like tiny movie trailers, where pictures flash across the screen to a moody soundtrack.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Tips for Working With a Social Media Assistant

From Writers in the Storm:

I’ve heard many authors—myself included—express our frustration and dismay at the expectation that we will not only produce wonderful books, but also carry out what amounts to a second full-time job as our own marketing team. Most of us don’t mind holding events, whether live or virtual, where we get to engage with readers. Nor do we mind interviews, written or recorded, where we can talk about our books and our writing process. But what so many of us do hate is the seemingly bottomless pit of social media engagement.

Facebook, with all those reader and writer groups. Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest.

“Likes” and “follows.” Comments and messages and shares.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone else could do all this for us?

Someone else can—for a price, and with a few caveats. Whether they call themselves virtual assistants, social media consultants, or author assistants, there are people who will manage your social media for you.

. . . .

Unlike publicists, who seek media coverage on your behalf, or direct marketers, whom you pay to advertise your book on their sites, a virtual assistant takes over tasks that you could, if you wanted, do yourself or learn how to do yourself. They may do it more attractively, strategically, or frequently—but they have no special credentials like the high-level media connections of a good publicist or special access to important gatekeepers. What you’re buying, in effect, is time—and the freedom to use that time in other ways.

The questions are: How much is that time worth to you, and are there other benefits, besides freeing up your time, that a virtual assistant can offer?

. . . .

I decided to investigate these questions when I thought about how I wanted to launch my second book, coming in April. My debut (April 2020) had a great launch despite the onset of the pandemic, but I wanted to expand my thinking to consider what I did not do—or didn’t do very well.

The obvious gap, for me, was in the realm of social media. Like many others in my cohort, I didn’t grow up with social media and secretly wished I didn’t have to use it. Being both naïve and overly-aggressive (a bad combination), I made some mistakes the first time around that I still regret. For example, having misunderstood the absolute meaning of “no self-promotion,” I am now banned forever from two of the biggest reader groups on Facebook.

I’ve learned a few things since Queen of the Owls made its way into the world. I now understand that social media is a long game, not a quick grab. It’s about the slow, steady development of connection and engagement. Like all relationships, it takes time and commitment. You have to show up every day, not just on birthdays and anniversaries. And that means a serious investment of energy.

Not everyone wants to do that. After all, there’s no end to what we, as authors, might do to reach out to readers! Another thing I’ve learned is that no one can, or should, do everything. I advise those who ask me: “Just do the stuff that’s fun for you, and outsource—or forget—the rest of it.”

. . . .

Sometimes the answer is clear. If you want to pitch to the book review editor at The New York Times, you need a professional publicist to do so on your behalf—and even then, there’s no guarantee. Many authors I know are unhappy at what they now consider to be a poor “return on investment” after hiring a publicist at a cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. They’re wondering if there isn’t a middle ground between spending that kind of money, which most don’t have, and doing it all yourself.

A virtual assistant—someone who can manage author promotion on social media—can seem like an attractive option.  At a cost far below that of a publicist, with a direct appeal to readers that can actually be tracked, social media assistance is a rapidly-growing alternative.

And for those of us, like me, who do have a publicist, a social media assistant can—maybe—take over an important piece of the book promotion that publicists don’t do and that many of us authors don’t do very well.

. . . .

I encountered a number of models—different ways of working, with different price tags and different strengths and drawbacks.  I ended up selecting someone who seemed to be the best fit for my needs and style. While she hadn’t worked with authors, specifically, she was creative and flexible, which were two priorities for me.  I didn’t want someone with an expensive prix fixe package who required a three-month minimum commitment, as many did. I wanted to be able to explore and ramp up slowly, which this VA allows me to do.

So far, it seems to be working well. I come up with the concepts and she executes them—a division of labor that’s letting me keep to a reasonable budget, since she charges by the hour. On the other hand, there are possibilities I’m electing to forgo, such as analytics, story reels, optimization strategies, and so on—on the premise that no one can do, or cover, everything. For now, I’m simply outsourcing the creative part, which requires skills that would take me too long to learn to do well.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

PG will disclose that he consumes very, very little social media because he finds the signal-to-noise ratio to be much worse than when he wanders around parts of the web that he knows well. (He’s logged into Twitter 3-4 times since it first appeared and logs out in less than five minutes.)

That said, not everyone is like PG (thankfully) and some people enjoy checking into various social media platforms on a regular basis. Some of those social media fans buy books, so indie authors will be interested in reaching them with useful (and professional-looking) information.

Therefore, PG is definitely not a qualified social media guru, observer, expert, etc., of any sort.

He is an observer of humanity in general, however.

As he observes humanity, he can easily discern expert thumb-typists using smart phones. He doesn’t think any can beat his speed when he’s using a proper keyboard, but admits that he uses all ten digits while they use two, so a reasonable person would expect differences in speed.

(PG just tried to visualize a thumb-typist hitting 60-80 WPM which PG could easily do after he got warmed up in former days and could not imagine human thumbs moving that fast on teeny digital keyboards. For five minutes or two hours.)

Having worked with a few extremely intelligent college students over the years, if PG were to hypothetically consider using a Social Media Assistant, he might explore the college population. They’re likely to be intelligent and very familiar with the various platforms and the unwritten norms that govern interaction on those platforms.

Working as a Social Media Assistant for a celebrity like PG is much better fodder for a post-graduation résumé (AKA resume) than hustling for tips at a local restaurant, reshelving books in the university library or acting as a telephone operator for the antiquated university phone system at night when no one used it. (Note – The foregoing are a few of the jobs PG held when he was in college during the Pleistocene Epoch. (Sub-Note – PG never put any of those jobs on his résumé.))

PG is interested in comments from the always-intelligent and aware visitors to TPV concerning the social media challenge/opportunity facing authors these days.

One question just popped into PG’s mind (which was not otherwise occupied) – Can you still buy social media followers?

Several years ago, when you for-sure could buy social media followers and PG was in one of his experimental moods wanting to know if social media was useful or not, he gave someone something like $25 and gained over 10,000 followers very quickly. He didn’t notice any improvement in his life, so he didn’t give the person/organization any money after that.

Then he saw a mention of a small, very cheap little program (he doesn’t remember the name of it) that claimed to be able to increase your social media followers by automatically following people who followed you and following people it found online based on a few keywords selected by the purchaser. He gained another 10,000 or so followers very quickly with that program until it stopped working or was banned from social media in general.

Suffice to say, some of PG’s skepticism concerning social media arises from those two experiences. (He wonders if Kim Kardashian got started doing the same thing.)

(Which lead to PG wondering if the reason he never became a social media superstar was that he never though to post a photo of himself wearing a swimming suit.)

All the Things I Don’t Know

From Writer Unboxed:

As I was brainstorming ideas for today’s post, I thought about lessons I’ve learned, wisdom I might share. After all, my fourth novel was recently published, and I’ve got another three under contract. By most measures, I’m doing all right at this writing and publishing thing.

At the same time, I thought, how much can what I’ve learned really help writers who are not quite as far along in their careers? After all, one of the things I’ve learned is that everyone’s process is different. Knowing how I got where I am is no recipe for you getting where you want to be.

So today, instead of telling you what I know, I thought I’d delve into a much bigger, broader topic: what I don’t know.

. . . .

I don’t know if social media sells books. Sure, I can tell you that I’ve built a following on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook. I can tell you that people comment with “This sounds great!” and “I can’t wait for this book to come out” and “AMAZING!” Do they actually buy the book? Some of them, probably. But do I comment on other people’s posts with “This sounds great” and never get around to buying the book myself? Absolutely.

Yes, I have a general feeling that I’m selling more books than I otherwise would because I engage on social media with readers, other writers, and the book community — but there are no hard numbers to back this up. I cannot at all quantify what 15 minutes on Instagram adds up to, sales-wise. I can only say that’s 15 minutes I can’t spend on something else. So I engage on social media because I like it and because it’s fun. Because I can’t prove it does a lick of good otherwise.

I don’t know how to tell if my writing’s any good while I’m writing it. My most recent book was without question the hardest one to write, squeaking out just barely in time for its deadline, a flat-out mess of a process during which I was still researching while writing (the worst) and staying up after midnight every night for months to push, push, push forward. When I finished I was relieved. What I wasn’t: sure that the result I’d been pushing for was any good at all. This story has a happy ending — my editor read it and immediately said it was my best work yet, and readers seem to agree — but I can’t forget that feeling of looking at the completed draft and just having no idea whatsoever if it was my best work or my worst. Thank goodness I have a team of people I trust, but hoo boy. Should it feel this uncertain four books in? I don’t know. Does it? Oh yes.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

The Ultimate Guide to Social Media for Writers 2020

From Kindlepreneur:

Using social media to get our writing out into the world can be an amazing opportunity.  It helps market our works and hopefully, gain a following that will continue to benefit from our writing.

But it can also be a curse. Because of so many social media platforms, most writers languish in obscurity and end up spending more time marketing their writing than just…writing.

Therefore, I’ve constructed this guide to help authors understand the erratic world of social media for writers and authors. I’ll show some of the better social media platforms for writers, how to best approach them, and which writers are doing it right –so you can see what it looks like when done to a level that will bring real success.

That way, if you choose to use social media to promote your writing, you’ll know what tactics to use and who to follow so that your efforts will not go in vain.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The best social media platforms to give your writing the best chance
  • How to effectively use social media for your writing career, so you’re not wasting time
  • The #1 reason why most writers fail at social media and how to fix this

. . . .

Before we start discussing the different social media platforms for authors and writers, I want to discuss an important part of all platforms: Free versus Paid traffic. This is otherwise known as Organic vs Advertisement. Back when social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were first around, you could easily gain followers quickly. And when you posted, a majority of them would see it. But this was before the Age of Advertisement.

With its advent, social media morphed into a pay-to-play model. For instance, Facebook natural reach declined quickly and posts are rarely seen organically. HOWEVER…

This doesn’t mean that you can’t reach your followers organically.  If reaching followers more effectively and efficiently is your concern, then advertising is the best way forward. This way you can spend more time writing and less time pampering your social media accounts for organic traffic. The truth is that gaining a following on social media organically takes a lot of time. Time that you’d rather spend writing.

On the flip side, putting money out there for ads can be scary. Especially when you’re not making a lot of money yet, or you’re not sure what you’re doing. So, if you decide you want to build your social presence in an efficient manner, then be sure to take a course to help you.

. . . .

Facebook is one of the largest social media platforms. It not only has the largest user base, but is also one of the most widely used for all demographics. No matter what you write, your market definitely exists on Facebook.

With Facebook, authors have three ways to market their books and writings:

  • Using your Personal Facebook Profile
  • Creating an Author Page
  • Joining or Creating an Author Group

Your personal Facebook profile is exactly what it says. Some have had success with this. Personally though, I prefer not to mix business with my personal life.

An author page is your official writer page where you can post about your works or anything that is happening in your genre or subject matter. This tends to be the preferred choice for most writers. With a Facebook Page, you have more control of the marketing aspect of your writing. You can also dictate whether your followers have the ability to post on your page or not.

A Facebook Group could be a good fit for you as well, especially for beginning or newer authors. Creating a group of like-minded fans of your genre can keep you relevant and always attracting new readers. It allows you to interact with your groups followers. However, it will require a lot more time because with good groups, you need to mediate and keep the group clean and on target.

Choosing between a Facebook Page or Facebook Group can be a difficult decision at times. Here is an article that breaks down just what the difference is between the two, pros/cons of each, and which should you pursue.

Link to the rest at Kindlepreneur

How to Reduce Your Workload with a Facebook Auto Poster

From Hootsuite:

Let’s face it. Facebook is just one part of your marketing strategy. You have so many other things to do, not to mention a life you want to enjoy. And you have only 24 hours in the day.

That means it’s time to look at automating some of your Facebook marketing efforts. One of the first, easiest things you can do right now is start using a Facebook auto poster to automatically publish your posts. You’ll spend less time on the platform and more time doing other tasks.

. . . .

[A] Facebook auto poster is a tool that publishes your Facebook posts at a scheduled time you’ve established previously.

There are many Facebook auto posters out there. You can choose one that satisfies your needs.

But no matter which tool you opt for, make sure it covers 3 essential features:

  • Options to publish now or schedule for posting in the future.
  • Automatically publish scheduled posts on multiple Facebook pages, groups, and profiles you’ve created at the same time or at staggered intervals.
  • Allow to publish all types of content: Text, links, images, videos.

Besides these features, you may also want to consider a clean and intuitive interface, detailed reporting and dashboards, or the ability to manage multiple Facebook accounts from one place.

. . . .

1. Simplify your workflow and save time

If you ever search for time management tips, you may know this quote: “Work smarter, not harder.”

It may be a bit cliché, but imagine this situation: You’re doing Facebook marketing, and have to post a lot on this platform. Are you pleased with continually copying and pasting the same post into different groups?

The answer is a loud No.

By scheduling your posts ahead of time, you’ll save yourself a significant amount of time to do other things. Your work process becomes simpler because a Facebook auto poster takes on the tedious tasks for you.

2. Reach multiple time zones and post at the best time

The best time to post on Facebook is between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.

Note that this can be different depending on geographic locations (9 a.m in the United States is 11 p.m in Australia, don’t you know?).

That means you need an auto poster to ensure your posts will be published at the time with the highest engagement rates. You don’t have to log in to your account at 3 a.m; you can set it up once and let it run, only tweaking once in a while as necessary.

3. Maintain consistent scheduling across all platforms

Consistency is the key to building and growing your followers on Facebook.

Why?

Because if you consistently show up in your audience’s feed, you are more likely engage them with your brand. By doing that, your organic reach can increase, and your posts may get shown to potential new followers.

Whether it’s a slow news week or the biggest holiday season of the year, posting consistently benefits your business.

Link to the rest at Hootsuite

Five Mistakes That Even Experienced Social Media Managers Make

From Agorapulse:

Social media marketing is never done: It is a continuous process that requires constant attention and effort.

There are also no set rules as to what should be done to achieve certain results.

There are things you can certainly do wrong though, even if you think you are an experienced social media manager.

Here are five mistakes even experienced social media managers do (I certainly did all of those!) and how to fix them.

1. Not Scheduling Social Media Updates

I know, for some social media managers reading this, scheduling is an integral part of their workflow.

How can someone achieve a consistent social media presence without creating a well-balanced schedule of social media updates?

The truth is lots of brand-owned social media profiles don’t really have a consistent schedule. Many social media managers fail to create a schedule regularly. (Yikes.)

Scheduling is not that easy to manage if you’re always in a rush or don’t have a strategy.

I’ve been there many times … You schedule creative social media updates weeks ahead and then overlook the day when your schedule has been exhausted. Time flies and a few weeks or even a month may pass before you realize you should have filled your schedule up with fresh updates.

To overcome this struggle, I’ve been using these two tricks:

Create a social content schedule for the following year

I tend to use a slower period for scheduling. This is when I sit down and schedule 1-2 updates a month for as far a year ahead. Usually, these are weekend updates or posts timed for a holiday or a seasonal trend (back-to-school, Black Friday, etc.) This way, I make sure I will not miss any.

. . . .

Set up a routine

Always schedule monthly updates on a specific day.

For example, always on the last Friday of the previous month or always on the 28th of each month. Doing so will help you to keep yourself accountable.

I also create a recurring calendar reminder to never miss the day.

. . . .

2. Cross-Posting the Same Updates Everywhere

As social media managers, we always have to manage more than one channel. At the bare minimum, your active social media profiles to manage to include Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

It is always tempting to create the same update and cross-post it everywhere.

Doing so will, unfortunately, create a few missed opportunities by making your updates less appealing (and hence easier to miss).

There are platforms that support mostly vertical images, and there are platforms that prefer square images. There are channels that tend to respond better to animated GIFs and / or micro-videos, and there are platforms that hardly support them.

I could go on …

Creating an original, well-crafted (visual) update for each of your channels is not only more effective but also very doable. For example, there are image creation solutions that allow you to resize your images with one click of a mouse (such as Snappa) and there are tools that let you create animated GIFs in minutes (like Bannersnack):

Link to the rest at Agorapulse

PG fails to check any boxes as either a social media pretend-expert or a more than a mini-social media user.

In the earliest existence of TPV, PG had a couple of WordPress plug-ins that automatically spit out a short blurb with hash tags on a couple of TPV social media accounts that PG seldom monitored. PG seems to recall that each of the plugins wanted some money to keep doing what they had been doing at no charge and he hadn’t seen any real benefit from the social media world, so he uninstalled them.

One of the fundamental principles of any sort of advertising or promotion activity is to know your audience, which includes knowing what the audience watches, listens to, clicks on, etc., etc.

While TPV is anything but a finely-crafted piece of self-promotion for whatever he’s selling these days, PG thinks he has a pretty good feel for the people who stop buy to check out what’s going on around here. He watches comments and, on occasion, traffic stats for the site and it’s doing what he thinks he wants it to do, at least today.

If PG woke up one morning and decided he wanted to be a social media star, he would probably ask a neighbor who teaches social media marketing at a local university to identify his smartest student, then hire that student on a part-time basis to help set up PG’s social media empire, launch it, then watch what the student did with social media on PG’s behalf for a few months to learn the ropes.

During PG’s online wanderings, he has read a zillion articles about how to be successful in social media, but he senses that he’s not feeling the rhythms necessary to really do it well.

If he were purely pragmatic, PG might conclude that he’s doing fine without social media and focus on the things he knows how to do and knows will work for him, but he has a soft spot for new gadgets (he can see several by just glancing at the far reaches of his large, wrap-around desk), so he still monitors bright objects like social media.

Should You Hire a Social Media Assistant?

From Jane Friedman:

I hate social media. It’s an addictive rabbit-hole.

I just don’t have time. Social media takes away from my precious writing time.

I’m no good at creating those visuals and posts.

I hate all that self-promotion.

I’ve heard many authors—myself included—express frustration and dismay at the expectation that we will not only produce wonderful books, but also carry out what amounts to a second full-time job as our own marketing team. Most of us don’t mind holding events, whether live or virtual, where we get to engage with readers. Nor do we mind interviews, written or recorded, where we can talk about our books and our writing process. But what so many of us do hate is the seemingly bottomless pit of social media engagement.

Facebook, with all those reader and writer groups. Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest.

“Likes” and “follows.” Comments and messages and shares.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone else could do all this for us?

Someone else can—for a price, and with a few caveats.

What is a social media assistant?

Whether they call themselves virtual assistants, social media consultants, or author assistants, these are people who will manage your social media for you. Unlike publicists, who seek media coverage on your behalf, or direct marketers, whom you pay to advertise your book on their sites, such an assistant takes over tasks that you could, if you wanted, do yourself or learn how to do yourself. They may do it more attractively, strategically, or frequently—but they have no special credentials like the high-level media connections of a good publicist, nor any special access to important gatekeepers. What you’re buying, in effect, is time—and the freedom to use that time in other ways.

The questions are: How much is that time worth to you, and are there other benefits, besides freeing up your time, that a virtual assistant can offer?

. . . .

I now understand that social media is a long game, not a quick grab. It’s about the slow, steady development of connection and engagement. Like all relationships, it takes time and commitment. You have to show up every day, not just on birthdays and anniversaries. And that means a hefty investment of energy.

Not everyone wants to do that. After all, there’s no end to what we, as authors, might do to reach out to readers! Another thing I’ve learned is that no one can, or should, do everything. I advise those who ask me: “Just do the stuff that’s fun for you, and outsource—or forget—the rest of it.”

And there’s the heart of the matter: what should we do ourselves, what should we jettison, and what should we outsource?

Sometimes the answer is clear. If you want to pitch to the book review editor at The New York Times, you need a professional publicist to do so on your behalf—and even then, there’s no guarantee. Many authors I know are unhappy at what they now consider to be a poor “return on investment” after hiring a publicist at a cost of anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000. They’re wondering if there isn’t a middle ground between spending that kind of money, which most don’t have, and doing it all yourself.

A virtual assistant—someone who can manage author promotion on social media—can seem like an attractive option. At a cost far below that of a publicist, with a direct appeal to readers that can actually be tracked, social media assistance is a rapidly-growing alternative.

. . . .

Below are five composite summaries of the models I encountered—what they offer, how they work, their strengths and drawbacks.  In all cases, it’s important to remember what a virtual assistant cannot do. Since a VA has no access to your phone, she can’t post photos of you doing book-related things. Her posts will, of necessity, have a certain “artistic distance” to them.

VA #1 is a self-published author of several books who has a side-business helping authors with services ranging from proofreading and editing to developing marketing plans, social media coaching, and query critiquing. Her experience and familiarity with the writing world made her an attractive choice. I also liked the fact she offered three options or levels of service, although her prices were at the high end. However, she also had a full-time job and a book of her own launching soon. I wondered if she would really be able to give me the kind of ongoing support I was looking for.

VA #2 is a polished professional, whose website and proposal were evidence of the strong visual style I was looking for. She also provided references so I could see the Instagram accounts of several clients she manages, and the same quality or “flair” was evident there. She offered an expensive prix fixe package, with no flexibility—although her proposal was comprehensive and strategic, and included features like a weekly Instagram Story Reel that other proposals did not. I was hesitant, however, because she had never done social media for an author, and the demographic that her posts seemed to be targeting was not mine. Her work seemed to be geared to a younger, more style-conscious audience, and I wondered if she would know how to target the kind of readers (and book-buyers) I sought to attract.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

As a preliminary opinion, PG thinks social media savvy is more important than book biz savvy in a good social media helper for an author.

How and when to work the social media platforms is ideally instinctive and intuitive for a helper. Mixing in the book stuff is probably not hard to do for a good social media jockey.

Social media is about grabbing a few seconds of favorable attention and maybe a click-through. If the helper can do that for the author or the author’s book, PG suggests he/she has done the job.

Perhaps careful crafting and curation could improve click-through on a post a bit, but PG suggests that three good-enough posts -not dumb or clumsy-looking – will provide more benefits than one expensive and time-consuming-to-create post. Once a post is up, its sell-by date is probably measured in hours, a couple of days at most.

For PG, social media posts are analogous to a quip. Make one good quip, get a bit of positive attention, then make another quip.

PG suggests that if you want to dip a toe into the social media assistant water, you may want to hire someone on a temporary freelance basis.

If PG wanted to grow larger in social media (he doesn’t), he would contact a friend who teaches digital marketing at a local university and ask the friend to suggest a couple of smart first or second year students who might want to earn some money on the side and create some examples of their work for their portfolio when they are looking for a real job around graduation. Such a student might write a case study or two based on what he/she did on social media for PG.

While most of the visitors to The Passive Voice are not likely to have a professor friend who teaches digital marketing, at least some live within a reasonable distance of a community college or other higher educational institution. PG doesn’t know whether any high schools (public or private) teach this sort of thing, but that’s another place where some talented social media devotees may be found.

If an author were to pursue this path she/he would want to see some examples of the prospective helper’s work and check out the helper’s social media accounts to see their content plus how many followers, likes, comments, etc., the prospective helper had accrued.

If a potential helper was located, the author would likely want to review each potential post prior to it going online to determine whether it looked like something likely to help sell books, gain followers, etc.

Posting something someone else has created to a social media platform is a task even the majorly technophobic can likely learn with the tiniest bit of practice or guidance.

PG thinks it’s also a good idea for the author to “own” their social media accounts – their name and contact info on the account shows they’re the owner, they know the ID/PW for the social media account, etc. When one social media assistant goes on to bigger things, the author changes the password and hires a replacement.

One nice element that comes with a social media helper is that geography means almost nothing. She can leave the big city for small town life and still do everything she did for the author via the Net. A block away or halfway around the world, the working relationship can continue if both parties want it to.

PG admits that some of his attitude concerning the importance of social media knowledge vs. book domain knowledge comes as a result of working with a very large advertising agency in ancient times. (Printed advertising fliers were the latest thing and calligraphers were on their way out).

Advertising professionals often work on more than one account – insurance plus dog food was one of PG’s combos.

Agencies are also prone to move their employees to different accounts when it benefits the agency’s overall financial performance. Client A needs more agency resources, so creative, research, etc., professionals will be assigned spend time on Client A because Clients B and C shouldn’t need a lot of attention for awhile.

An advertising pro can figure out how to sell anything.

Smith lands Instagrammer’s guide to planning for Ebury

From The Bookseller:

Ebury Press editorial director Emma Smith has acquired Happy Planning, a “practical guide for those who like to prep” from Charlotte Plain, a.k.a. Instagrammer Princess Planning.

Smith bought world all language rights to the title directly from the author.

Plain is the person behind Instagram account and website Princess Planning, where she sells diaries, planners and stationery which aim to help organise and inspire positivity. Happy Planning will give readers the tools they need to plan every aspect of their life, from the weekly shop and daily meal prep to big occasions like weddings, parties and holidays.

The publisher explains: “Planning is about taking away last-minute panic pressure, gaining control and helping you to be the best version of yourself. Charlotte’s everyday approach has been so successful that she launched a business off the back of it, and is now sharing all of her practical and positive know-how in this book. As well as her planning mantras and toolkit, each section of the book is dedicated to an area of life that benefits from planning and is packed with personal learning experiences, planning methods, tips and tricks, practical guidance and interactive elements. It’s simple, positive and practical planning that will lead to a healthier happier you.”

Smith added: “We all need a good dose of practical positive planning in our lives (now, more than ever), so we are incredibly excited to be publishing an Instagram star”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG couldn’t resist visiting Princess Planning Ltd. on Instagram (192K followers). He found several Instagram star gems:

Weight loss is never just about losing the weight.

You have to lose the habits that got you there in the first place and replace them with better ones

Princess.Planning Ltd.

if 2020 was a chocolate it would be a turkish delight

Princess.Planning Ltd.

What would we do without traditional publishers to act as curators of culture?

It’s Not Easy Being a BookTuber

From Wired:

Daniel Greene makes a full-time living off his YouTube channel, discussing fantasy authors such as Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, and Jim Butcher. Talking about your favorite books all day might sound like a dream come true, but Greene says that building a successful channel is harder than people think.

“For a few years I was doing a video every day of the week, seven days a week, which was insane, while also being a software engineer,” Greene says in Episode 431 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’m a workaholic.”

In addition to dealing with sponsors and reading hundreds of pages a day, Greene also spends hours editing his videos to look as polished as possible. He notes that when late night talk show hosts were forced to broadcast from home due to Covid-19, their initial efforts were lackluster. “Those are professionals, those are people who have been doing this for so long, and they couldn’t figure it out really quick,” he says. “It just shows that YouTubers do put time and effort in to make their content quality.”

The biggest challenge with YouTube is adapting to the site’s mysterious and ever-shifting algorithm. Greene is careful to balance less popular content with familiar standbys that he knows will bring in traffic.

“I get 20-30 self-published authors reaching out to me a week, trying to get me to read their books,” he says. “I would love to read their books, I would love to promote them to my audience, but if I did even a fraction of those, it would take up a huge percentage of my videos, and YouTube would see ‘OK, he had five videos this week, three of them were about these self-published books that barely got 10K views, we’re going to demote him.’ And eventually I wouldn’t be able to do this job anymore.”

Link to the rest at Wired

5 Basic Rules of Social Media

From Social Media Just for Writers:

It’s so important to converse with readers, friends, and influencers in your sphere. If you don’t allocate time to chat, you are missing the point.

Because at its essencesocial media is social. So, to engage in social media and not allocate time to socialize, well, it’s antithetical to the very premise of social media.

. . . .

Be a social butterfly, in the best sense possible. Social media was never designed to be a broadcast messaging system the way radio and television are. Conversations are the backbone of social media, and that is what distinguishes it, and that is what has fueled its dominance in marketing. The beauty of social media for authors is that it allows you to converse with your readership in a manner that was never possible before Facebook was created. Indie authors have a powerful medium with which they can market their books, converse with their readers, answer questions in minutes, and further their relationships with their loyal readers, even though it’s all done virtually.

Don’t attempt to be the prom queen; strive to always be authentic and care about others. Don’t talk solely about yourself. Social media is an inclusive media. You will get further and do better if you help others, including helping other authors in your genre. You can interview your colleagues for your blog and share information about their promotions.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

The 22-Year-Old Blogger Behind Protests in Belarus

More under the category, “There are worse things than Covid.”

From The Atlantic:

In the videos posted last Sunday from Belarus, thousands of people can be seen streaming into the center of Minsk, walking up the broad avenues, gathering in a park. In smaller cities and even little towns—Brest, Gomel, Khotsimsk, Molodechno, Shklov—they are walking down main streets, meeting in squares, singing pop songs and folk songs. They are remarkably peaceful, and remarkably united. Many of them are carrying a flag, though not the country’s formal flag, the red and green flag used in the Soviet era. Instead, they carry a red-white-red striped flag, a banner first used in 1918 and long associated with Belarusian independence.

It was a marvelous feat of coordination: Just as in Hong Kong a few months ago, the crowds knew when to arrive and where to go. They knew what they were marching for: Many people carried posters with slogans like leave—directed at the Belarus dictator/president, Alexander Lukashenko—or freedom for political prisoners! or free elections! They carried the flag, or they wore red and white clothes, or they drove cars festooned with red and white balloons.

And yet, at most of these marches, few leaders were visible; no one ascended a stage or delivered a speech into a microphone. The opposition presidential candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who probably won the contested election held on August 9, fled the country last week. How did everyone know exactly what to do? The answer, improbably, is a 22-year-old blogger named Stsiapan Sviatlou, who lives outside the country and runs a channel called Nexta Live on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

On Sunday morning, Nexta—the word means “somebody”—posted a red and white invitation to the march. “Ring the doorbells of your neighbors, call your friends and relatives, write to your colleagues,” the message instructed them: “We are going EXCLUSIVELY peacefully to the center of town to hold the authorities to account.” The invitation also contained a list of demands: the immediate freeing of political prisoners, the resignation of Lukashenko, the indictment of those responsible for a shocking series of political murders.

People went to the Minsk march, and to dozens of smaller marches across the country, because they saw that message. On subsequent days, many went on strike because they saw another message on that channel and on channels like it. Over the past 10 days, people all across Belarus have marched, protested, carried red and white flags and banners, and gathered at factories and outside prisons because they trust what they read on Nexta. They trust Nexta even though Sviatlou is only 22 years old, even though he is an amateur blogger, and even though he is outside the country.

Or to put it more accurately, they trust Nexta because Sviatlou is only 22, and because he is an amateur who lives outside the country. In Belarus, the government is a kind of presidential monarchy with no checks, no balances, and no rule of law. State media are grotesquely biased: Memo98, a media-monitoring group, reckons that Belarus state television devoted 97 percent of all political news programming to Lukashenko in May and June, with only 30 seconds devoted to opposition presidential candidates. Political leaders in Belarus are routinely repressed, and their voices are muffled: Tsikhanouskaya was running for president because her husband, Siarhei Tsikhanouski, was arrested before he could start his own presidential campaign. Other candidates and politicians were also arrested, along with their staff. Some are still in prison. Human-rights groups have evidence of torture.

. . . .

Paradoxically, the Lukashenko regime is also the source of his unusual power. By suppressing all other sources of information, it has given him unprecedented influence. This also has its downsides. One member of the tiny but determined community of independent journalists in Belarus—I am leaving him unnamed because he remains in Minsk—pointed out that the administrators of Telegram channels outside the country (Sviatlou is one of several) have no way to check whether what they are publishing is true, and no way to coordinate what they are doing with anyone else. Although he does communicate with other channel administrators, as well as with coordinators in Minsk, mistakes are sometimes made. A couple of days ago, crosscurrents of information nearly led one group of opposition protesters into a public brawl with another.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Yoast SEO Secrets of the WordPress Elves

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Our fantastic webmaster, Barb Drozdowich of Bakerview Consulting, put a Yoast SEO plug-in on this blog when she rescued us several years ago. (After my disastrous attempt at turning this into a “monetized” blog. Note: Author blogs shouldn’t be monetized.)

Like most things about WordPress, I found the Yoast SEO secrets stuff daunting at first.

Some judgmental algorithms I call the “elves” wouldn’t give me a “green light” to publish my posts unless I passed muster with them. And they can be pretty fierce in enforcing their rules.

The elves have two tribes: the “readability” elves and the “SEO” elves. (SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.) That means getting Google and other search engines to notice you, and hopefully put your post on the SERP. (First Search Engine Results Page.)

Both tribes can drive a creative writer batty.

On the other hand, our blog keeps getting Google love and our Alexa rating is down in the 120K range. It was up in the 600K range before we started using the plug-in. (Most author blogs can feel good about being in the 1 million range.)

So the elves know what Google likes, and if Google likes you, your traffic goes up.

. . . .

Yoast SEO was originally called “WordPress SEO.” A man named Joost de Valk developed it as a WordPress plugin in 2010. In 2012, WordPress renamed it Yoast SEO. (I assume “Yoast” is a phonetic spelling of Joost’s Dutch name.)

The “readability” rules are based on Flesch Reading Ease Test and Flesch-Kincaid reading grade level. The Reading Ease formula was invented by Rudolph Flesch in 1948 to help people write readable military training manuals.

Yeah. Military training manuals. Not fiction. Or creative nonfiction. Or fun, punchy blogposts.

Which is why when I put up a blogpost every week it almost always involves a battle with the elves.

. . . .

With the Yoast plug-in, you don’t get a list of rules. You discover each one when the elves give you a red, amber or green light on your copy. If you get a red or amber light, you must scroll down and find out what you’ve done “wrong” according to the Yoast rules.

This is probably wonderful for training manuals, but I do find some of the rules are less than helpful.

The problem is that the elves will red-light a lot of poetic writing. I do worry about what that is going to do our language in the long run. Online content is 90% of what most people read these days, and if it’s always aimed at a 7th grade level, will we lose the ability to write and  read more complex thoughts?

. . . .

Here are the things the readability elves will ding you on.

Repetition

They give you an automatic red light if you start three sentences in a row with the same word. So never quote Charles Dickens “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom…”

Bad Mr. Dickens would never get a readability green light.

Long sentences

Any sentence longer than 20 words is considered too long.

Big paragraphs

Break up your paragraphs into two or three skimmable sentences.

A dearth of “transition” words

The elves love them some transition words. These are words and phrases like “And, But, Moreover, On the other hand, Therefore, Hence, Besides, Consequently,” or “In Summary.” They are the words a military training officer might use to make a point.

However, these are not words and phrases I use often, so I get the most scolding from the elves on my lack of transition words.

. . . .

The passive voice

If any more than 10% of your copy is written in the passive voice, you are on the elf poop list.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG tried Yoast a very long time ago when it was still WordPress SEO, but removed the plugin for reasons he doesn’t remember now.

Perhaps he’ll try it again if he can get over its bias towards the passive voice.

Fast or Slow

PG just discovered an interesting and potentially useful website.

Called Fast or Slow, it checks how responsive your website (or, apparently, any website) is in responding to various locations around the world.

Fast or Slow

PG is not certain exactly how accurate it is, but it seems (to his untutored eye) to provide potentially useful data. It’s sponsored by Wordfence, a reputable website security plugin.

I was thinking in status updates

When I was detoxing from social media, I realized that I was thinking in status updates. It seemed I had trained my brain to translate everything I experienced throughout the day into 140 characters or less.

Glennon Doyle Melton

6 Ideas for Promoting Your Book While Watching TV

From The Book Designer:

I’m one of those people who likes to watch TV to unwind, but just can’t sit there and watch TV. Know what I mean?

I don’t really like that about myself, but I’ve not only accepted it, I’ve learned to take advantage of it. I try to do something productive while sitting there – knitting, cleaning out my inbox, promoting my books, and so on.

That’s right. I promote my books while watching TV, and you can, too. If you’re a like me and find it difficult to just sit and look at the screen, try doing one of these book promotion activities the next time you’re sitting still in front of your favorite show.

1. Follow people on social media

Pull up the Twitter app on your smartphone and scroll through your notifications to find who has followed you recently — and follow them back. When you’re done with those, find a popular author in your genre on Twitter, and follow the people who follow her.

Do the same thing on other social networks, including LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram if appropriate.

2. Schedule tweets

Use a desktop tool such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck or a phone app like Everypost to schedule your tweets several days out — all during commercial breaks.

You can also retweet what others share either from your computer or smartphone — all without missing any of the TV action.

. . . .

4. Create tipographics and share them on Pinterest

Tipographics — also known as tip-o-graphics — are tip lists presented as images. I create them from my blog posts.

Each tipographic image features just the tips from a specific post. I add each image to my “Book Marketing Tipographics” board on Pinterest, and link each image back to the original blog post with all of the details. 

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

To tag or not to tag—when author feedback gets personal

From The Bookseller:

Would you walk up to an author at a book event, or on the street, and tell them how much you hated their book? No? But by creating a public work of art, surely authors are opening themselves up to scrutiny and should be prepared to take the rough with the smooth?

The idea of directly confronting an author with negative feedback may seem ridiculous—but it’s exactly the subject of a debate raging in social media. Many will have stumbled across the Twitter thread started by American sci-fi author Elizabeth Bear last week, in which she described any author tagging as “rude”.  As with many controversial opinions on Twitter, this sparked immediate attention—was it wrong to tag authors in reviews at all?  Or just the negative ones? Do all authors hate being tagged? Is it part of the job and a useful chance to get feedback, or just another sneaky form of cyber-bullying?

According to Bear, her original comment was slightly misinterpreted: “Of course, nobody minds being told, ‘I love your work!’” she explains. “The problem arises when an artist is placed in a position of having to seem to ignore, to endorse or to publicly disagree with criticism (even positive).” In other words, the real issue for Bear is having your hand forced—being baited not just to read reviews but to engage, even if by omission. In times gone by, responding to reviews was a rare phenomenon, save the odd newspaper-letters-spat. But isn’t simply being present on social media an invitation to engage?

Many authors on Twitter were quick to defend the bloggers and reviewers who—after all—bring much-needed attention to new releases, with several expressing a desire to be tagged in reviews no matter their content. “As an author, I love to hear readers’ opinions, good, bad or indifferent, so do like to be tagged,” explains UK thriller writer Matt Hilton.   

Others, like author Dawn Goodwin who pens psychological thrillers, felt being made aware of negative feedback was a useful way to improve their work going forward. “As an author, I like being tagged, opening a discussion with a reader, learning more about them. I think it makes me a better writer and I’m always appreciative of someone taking the time to engage with me,” she explains.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

8 Social Media Scheduling Apps for Writers

From Social Media Just for Writers:

If you don’t want to be online all day posting your tweets and images, you need to check out this list of eight social media scheduling apps.

The beauty of scheduling apps is that you can spend a few minutes each day or a week uploading your images, messages, captions, hashtags, and status updates.

Once you schedule your posts, all you have to do is check your social media accounts a few minutes a day to engage with your readers.

These apps help you stay regular with your posts and also improve your account growth. If you are starting with social media, apps on the lower end of the price range are an excellent option for you. 

. . . .

The Social Media Scheduling App I Use

#1 SocialOomph

SocialOomph is a social media scheduling app that lets users plan their posts on various social networking platforms. Use it with Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Reddit, Discord, and others. 

However, the free services are only active on Twitter and are very limited. The subscriptions start at $15 a month, and the app also features annual subscription options.

Pros: It’s easy to use and set up with Twitter. You can use this app to schedule recurring tweets. For example, if you create an image with a quote, you can set up the tweet to repeat every 24 weeks, once a year, or every 12 weeks or even more frequently. It is a useful feature that other apps don’t offer. I also set up recurring tweets for specific blog posts.

Cons: You can only use certain features on twitter for free. It isn’t straightforward to connect the app to LinkedIn. Also, the recurring post feature is available at an additional cost. Although I use and like this scheduling app, most writers will want an use one that is easier to set up.

Link to the rest at Social Media Just for Writers

Facebook hacking that causes emotional distress

From Internetcases:

A recent federal case from Virginia provides information on the types of “losses” that are actionable under the federal anti-hacking statute, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”).

. . . .

Plaintiff worked as a campaign manager, communications director and private sector employee of a Virginia state legislator. While plaintiff was in the hospital, defendant allegedly, without authorization, accessed plaintiff’s Facebook, Gmail and Google Docs accounts, and tried to access her Wells Fargo online account.

. . . .

Plaintiff sued, alleging a number of claims, among them a claim for violation of the CFAA. Defendant moved to dismiss. Although the court denied the motion to dismiss on other grounds, it held that plaintiff’s alleged emotional distress was not the type of “loss” that is actionable under the CFAA.

. . . .

One can bring a civil action under the CFAA if the defendant’s alleged conduct involves certain factors. One of those factors, set out at 18 U.S.C. § 1030(c)(4)(A)(i)(II), provides recovery if there is “the modification or impairment, or potential modification or impairment, of the medical examination, diagnosis, treatment, or care of 1 or more individuals”.

Plaintiff alleged that defendant’s unauthorized access and attempted access to her accounts caused her to sustain a “loss” under this definition because it caused her to suffer emotional distress for which she needed to seek counseling.

The court disagreed with plaintiff’s assertions. Essentially, the court held, the modification of or impairment of a plaintiff’s treatment must be based on impairment due to the ability to access or used deleted or corrupted medical records.

Link to the rest at Internetcases

Looking deeper into the Goodreads troll problem

From Camestros Felapton:

The repeated spamming of Patrick S Tomlinson’s unpublished book with fake reviews continues on Goodreads [see earlier post]. Looking at the long list of reviews (currently 124 ratings) it is clear that some have been removed, presumably after being flagged by multiple people. However, with the trolls targetting the book easily generating new accounts the net number of fake reviews continues to grow.

Current authors whose names have been stolen for fake reviews include:

  • Chuck Wendig
  • Gareth Powell
  • Beth Cato
  • Cat Rambo (and her deceased father)
  • Patrick Tomlinson himself
  • Will Tate
  • Monica Valentinelli
  • Marshall Ryan Maresca
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Tobias S Buckell
  • Sarah Pinkser
  • Elizabeth May

This kind of coordinated pre-emptive spamming of negative reviews isn’t new. The film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes had to take steps last year to curtail a right-wing attack on the as-the-time unreleased Captain Marvel.

. . . .

Preventing reviews of unreleased properties seems like a minimum first step in limiting the capacity of coordinated campaigns to hijack a review site. While it won’t prevent other coordinated attacks on released books, unreleased (but listed) works are more vulnerable as they have no natural reviews being written.

The identity theft aspect of these specific attacks is also a great concern. The overt and blatant aspect of the impersonations makes it unlikely that people would be easily tricked into thinking the accounts are genuine. However, the extent of them and how easily the trolls have generated multiple accounts using real identities, demonstrates that Goodreads is open to more subtle mischief and identity theft.

The source of the attacks is from members of a disbanded subreddit that have been engaged in a sustained harassment campaign against Tomlinson since 2018. Tomlinson himself has a longer explanation that documents the harassment in other venues: https://www.patrickstomlinson.com/2018/09/29/how-trolls-hack-twitter-to-silence-us/

The existence of a documented online harassment campaign really should be enough for a major website to take added measures. For example, Wikipedia limits the capacity of people to edit pages (particularly biographies of living persons) when there is repeated vandalism or disputed content. A temporary block on reviews on a Goodreads entry would be a wise measure to have available in the event of an alleged spam attack. Notably, a book receiving large numbers of reviews from accounts that are both new and which have made only one review should be an obvious red-flag.

. . . .

Actions that undermine reader’s ability to trust reviews and which undermine the capacity of authors to identify themselves manifestly undermine the basic aspects of Goodreads model as a service. This makes the difficulty the site is having dealing with this specific issue surprising. The ease with which a troll campaign can brazenly manipulate the site, strongly implies that a less overt campaign can manipulate ratings or spread disinformation unnoticed.

Link to the rest at Camestros Felapton

“Overestimating Humanity”: 21 More Reasons Why We Need #PlatformAccountability

From Creative Future:

Here we are … again.

Mark Zuckerberg was chewed out (again) on Capitol Hill.

Google enraged their employees (again) by trying to spy on them and for siding with China (again).

Cloudflare was outed (again) for refusing to crack down on criminal behavior on their network.

In other words, here is the latest installment in our ongoing coverage of the dumpster fire engulfing the world’s most powerful internet platforms.

And though these behemoths are now being scrutinized, investigated, and generally crapped on like never before, they just keep on raking in money. In the third quarter, Facebook’s earnings rose 29 percent from a year earlier, to $17.7 billion, while Google’s earnings report showed their profits rising by 20 percent to $40.5 billion. Meanwhile, Cloudflare’s IPO disappointed investors, but still created staggering wealth for the people responsible for the company becoming the service of choice for bad internet actors.

When will the cycle in which harm to society translates to big bucks for these companies end? Only when they are finally held accountable for their actions. The governments of the world are (much too) slowly catching on. But, they will only act if all of us keep the heat turned up.

To bring you up to date, here are 21 more reasons why we need #PlatformAccountability now, culled from across the spectrum of political, cultural, and sociological discourse.

. . . .

1. Because “accuracy and fairness” are not core to their mission.
“It is high time that we directly address the stark difference between legacy newspapers, radio, and television and today’s dominating digital technology companies. Traditional media companies have long accepted the burden — along with the significant cost and time — required to verify the words, images, and videos they publish. Accuracy and fairness are core to their mission. But not today’s digital media giants. Wrapping themselves in legal immunities that apply to no one else, digital publishers accept zero responsibility for the amplified fabrication, viral insanity, and dangerous untruths they routinely empower users to publish. Doing so would undermine their business model, which depends on monetizing users with targeted ads.”

– Julie Bernard, Chief Marketing Officer for Verve, a mobile marketing platform

2. Because they are publishers, but they don’t act like it.
“I am the owner of TIME magazine, and we’re a publisher. And, we’re responsible for the content on our platform… Well, Facebook is also a publisher. They need to be held responsible for what’s on their platform.”

– Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

3. Because they have “zero incentive” to care about abuse by bad actors.
“The ramifications of Section 230 immunity don’t just impact those harmed. Section 230 harms us all as a society. We are entering an era of greater surveillance, Artificial Intelligence, self-driving cars, facial recognition technology. Companies developing this have ZERO incentive to be thinking about how their products will be abused and exploited by bad actors. Why? First and foremost because there is no pressure on them from the threat of litigation.”

– Carrie A. Goldberg, author of Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls

. . . .

7. Because their business model is “overestimating humanity.”
“Zuckerberg greatest mistakes have come from overestimating humanity. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to bring the world closer together. Without safeguards, Facebook’s tools can help tear it apart. It’s time for Facebook and Zuckerberg to recognize the difference between free expression and paid expression.”

– Josh Constine, Editor-At-Large, TechCrunch

. . . .

10. Because it’s 2019 and slavery is “booming…” on these platforms.
“An undercover investigation by BBC News Arabic has found that domestic workers are being illegally bought and sold online in a booming black market. Some of the trade has been carried out on Facebook-owned Instagram, where posts have been promoted via algorithm-boosted hashtags, and sales negotiated via private messages.”

– BBC News

. . . .

14. Because when they aren’t enabling child abuse, they are busily hard-wiring kids’ brains toward addiction.
“More than twice as many young people watch videos every day as did four years ago, and the average time spent watching videos — mostly on YouTube — has roughly doubled, to an hour each day… Usage has surged despite mounting concerns from parents and consumer groups about the grip that smartphones and screens have on kids’ lives and development. Advocates worry that features hard-wired into certain tech platforms, such as YouTube’s default autoplay setting, reinforce the impulse to keep watching.”

– The Washington Post, reporting on a study released by Common Sense Media

15. Because they are infested with fake, stolen, and dangerous goods.
“Google is among the search engines that show fake and possibly dangerous counterfeit goods in as much as 60% of their search results, putting consumers at risk… The potentially dangerous fake goods include car parts, pharmaceuticals, toys, appliances and safety equipment… Counterfeiting and piracy are estimated to cost brands billions of dollars in lost revenue worldwide, while also hampering their efforts to generate brand awareness and customer loyalty.”

– Marketing Dive, reporting on a study by intellectual property and brand protection company Incopro

. . . .

19. Because the size and scale of the platforms’ problems have lulled us into a state of helplessness.
“We are at an extraordinary crossroads. We have sufficient information to know that Facebook’s platform was used to subvert and undermine elections in the US, the UK and many other countries. But we pretend to be helpless to prevent it happening again. We’re not. We’re simply hamstrung by a government and an opposition that have chosen to ignore it.”

– Carole Cadwalladr, British journalist who exposed the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal

Link to the rest at Creative Future

The 30 Scariest Author Website Mistakes And How To Fix Them

From Bad Redhead Media:

I recently had the pleasure of taking part in the Wednesday evening #BookMarketingChat hosted by BadRedhead Media. Our topic was easy updates to refresh your author website. To prepare for the chat, I visited the sites of several writers, including those who have left comments here in the past. I figured I would snoop around and find out what kind of slips the average writer is making with this vital part of their online platform.

My verdict? As a community, we need to pull our socks up if we want to show our readers we value their website visits and respect their time. I saw too many websites that were dated in design, neglected in content, or both.

According to a Stanford University study, 75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website design. Readers will lose trust in your professionalism and the quality of your work if you can’t present a reasonably spiffy website to the world.

Since it’s October and Halloween is fast approaching, here are the 30 website mistakes I consider the scariest, in terms of turning your reader off. I’ll start with the ones I saw on multiple websites that are easiest to fix.

Dated items, which show how long you’ve neglected your website. For example:

  1. Blog post dates
  2. A book page which announces a title is “Coming Spring 2018”
  3. An events page with nothing forthcoming or recent
  4. Copyright year not current

. . . .

 Links to social media accounts that you no longer use. Watch out in particular for an icon advertising Google Plus, which shut down 6 months ago!

. . . .

Cluttered sidebars. Sidebars are a magnet for outdated distractions, for example: tag clouds, tiny photos of your followers, or badges for everywhere you’ve ever been featured. A little social proof is important, but too much looks desperate.

. . . .

No “About” page, and/or no contact information. Even if you’re writing with a pen name, you should still give visitors some context to connect with. Your readers want to get to know you, not just your work.

. . . .

Unless you’re using a free service, you don’t have to declare which theme you’re using, or that you’re powered by WordPress. Professionally designed websites don’t do this, so you needn’t either.

Link to the rest at Bad Redhead Media

 

What’s an Influencer Worth to Books?

From Publishers Weekly:

A mini-scandal lit up Twitter last month when the Cut featured a tell-all essay by 27-year-old writer Natalie Beach. In the piece, Beach exposes her seven-year relationship with her friend Caroline Calloway, who scored an agent and a reputed $375,000 book deal for her memoir. Beach, who ghostwrote the book, says her former bestie bought Instagram followers after being told by literary professionals that “no one would buy a memoir from a girl with no claim to fame and no fan base.”

Platform has always been key when putting together a nonfiction book proposal. But back in the not-so-very-distant past—a mere dozen years ago!—publishers were throwing six figures and two-book deals at anyone who had a half-decent story and a clip in the local newspaper. These days, a huge following on social media, particularly Instagram, is a must for a book deal.

The moment agents or editors hear an author has a small following or no following, it’s over. Yes, there are exceptions. Still, worthy authors are overlooked every day—in favor of a young woman with a photo of macarons that went viral? Now her friend the ghostwriter has CAA shopping rights to her story? Which era is crazier?

The Kardashian/Jenner sisters have 500 million followers. So how come fewer than 500,000 viewers (18–49) tuned in to the latest episode of their show? Kim Kardashian’s book of selfies sold fewer than 40,000 copies, according to BookScan—yet she remains a powerful influencer. When are publishers going to concede that number of followers (fake or not) is only one key to book sales?

Naturally, some influencers produce books that are megabestsellers (usually with a lot of help). That is because they deserve a wide audience for whatever message they are sending. Ariana Grande, who has one of the biggest social media followings in the world, should get a huge deal… because she’s an incredible singer with a fantastic story to tell—not because of her follower count!

. . . .

This latest story about two millennial influencers and their book deal reminds me of that hype. Except now I’m overprotective. Some wanna-be authors are using the acquisitions process to snow us, to dupe us, to basically make a mockery out of what publishing stands for—content. Is this what they mean by influence?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG has two reactions to the OP:

  1. He has zero sympathy for publishers who are snowed, duped or mocked by anyone, including authors (or more likely their agents) who are looking for a book contract.
  2. If PG were looking for a book contract (he is not and never will), he would be inclined to buy Instagram followers if that would help get him a deal. If publishers can’t look farther than the number of followers on an author’s Instagram account, why not? Is there a strict code of ethics that binds publishers to do or not do things like puff up the quality/importance of a book they’re releasing? What’s sauce for the goose . . . .

Facebook has begun hiding likes (in Australia)

From C/Net:

Facebook began hiding likes on Friday, Sept. 27, making the number of reactions, views and likes visible only to a post’s author. The test kicked off in Australia, the social media giant confirmed last week, and includes ads.

“We are running a limited test where like, reaction and video view counts are made private across Facebook,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNET in an emailed statement on Sept. 26.

. . . .

As of Sept. 30, Facebook said it is still expanding the experiment to more people in Australia, but it should be out to the majority of people in the country within the next day or two.

The social network indicated earlier in September that it might experiment with hiding likes, after testing the approach on Facebook-owned Instagram this year. In August, Facebook said the Instagram test was meant to “remove the pressure of how many likes a post will receive” on Instagram, and that Facebook was “excited by the early test results.”

Link to the rest at C/Net

PG would be interested in comments from serious Facebook users about whether this is a good/bad/whatever idea for authors who use FB as an important part of their promotional efforts.

6 Platforms to Add to Your 2019 Paid Social Toolkit

From Social Media Week:

According to Hanapin, 26% of marketers plan to reduce their ad spend on Facebook. Inspired by the report, we suggest other places to fill in the gaps.

. . . .

Paid social is becoming a crowded space, with 97% of marketers reportedly dedicating money to advertising through social media. Between the growing audiences of these platforms, and the rising cost of similar ads in search, ad spends across social make far more sense to the budget-conscious and the efficiency-obsessed. To that end, Hanapin Marketing takes time every year to assess the state of the paid social marketing landscape, and this week they shared their latest learnings with the world.

Where is most of the crowd congregating? To the surprise of no one: Facebook, who has garnered the attention of 91% of the surveyed population. Brand managers and agency reps aside have grown to depend on it for reliable reach and sophisticated analytics. But in a number of ways, new platforms are rising to rival its dominance…especially as 26% of marketers reported they plan to spend less on the platform throughout 2019.

. . . .

“We are becoming conditioned to favor video as a means of communication,” Hanapin reported in their study, “and it is unsurprising that social media consumption would reflect that behavior.” Moreover, it is unsurprising that platforms who are friendly to video – both algorithmically and in terms of features – will rise quickly as this conditioning takes root. As such, Instagram and YouTube were the two platforms Hanapin found that have the biggest chance of rivaling Facebook.

On each platform, highly dynamic ad formats were found to be both incredibly popular and highly effective. For YouTube, pre-roll (skippable) ads are far and away the most frequently used format; even when skipped, they do play a role in consumer decisions. And for Instagram, compelling Story Ads have fast become the most effective form. Not only has each become more hospitable to how we regularly consume content, but the interfaces that allow us to craft and place ads have grown in sophistication—making our time and energy in these spaces ever more worthwhile.

. . . .

“Quora was predicted in last year’s report to be an up and coming platform for advertising,” Hanapin shared in this year’s report, “and it sure has proven itself.” While numbers are still small for paid social, investment in ads on the question-and-answer based platform has quadrupled in 2019. Much of this can be attributed to the attention Quora itself has given to advertising; they’ve released 5 beta programs to target and place ads, and stand to release several more before year’s end. You’d be wise to explore the platform before it too gets crowded; 27% of marketers want to up their spend there (compared to 9% the year before).

For the fringe treatment that Reddit often gets, Hanapin rightfully points out the highly engaged and authentic nature of its users, additionally sharing that its average use and engagement outpaces other outlets we look to more readily for advertisement—including Twitter, Pinterest, and the aforementioned Snapchat and Pinterest. As with Quora, their ad targeting, reporting, and campaign management tools are continuing to evolve, likely to anticipate more advertisers wanting to be there. For brand managers and agencies hoping to help clients stand apart, this pair of rising platforms could be worth your time, energy…and ad dollars.

Link to the rest at Social Media Week

Tumblr and the End of the Eyeballs-Are-Everything Era

From The Wall Street Journal:

At its apex, Tumblr had more users than both Instagram, now estimated to be worth close to $200 billion to parent Facebook , and Pinterest , which has a market cap of nearly $18 billion. In 2013, Tumblr sold to Yahoo for $1.1 billion. On Monday, the parent company of WordPress.com bought it for a pittance.

The precise amount is hard to pin down but insiders have observed that there are modest homes in Silicon Valley that might be comparable in price. Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s former chief executive, once described Tumblr as an “incredibly special” property with “105 million different blogs, 300 million monthly unique visitors and 120,000 sign-ups every day.”

“We promise not to screw it up,” she famously added. And now look where we are.

Tumblr was ostensibly a blogging site but it quickly became one of the dominant, if hard-to-navigate, social networks of the early aughts. It attracted users who made and shared memes, art, their random thoughts and, eventually, a sense of community. Its mechanisms were opaque to outsiders: For many years, it didn’t have a function for direct messages or even traditional commenting, forcing users to communicate with each other by, among other things, reblogging each other’s posts.

Since it was difficult or impossible for outsiders to insert themselves into conversations, and because it was and still is a place that allows pseudonymous accounts, the site felt safe for members of marginalized communities, says Alexander Cho, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Irvine, who coedited a forthcoming book on the history of Tumblr.

“Tumblr can be as anonymous as you want it to be, and that allows people to share in a way they might not on Facebook,” says Catherine Holderness, Tumblr’s senior community trends analyst.

. . . .

Alas, Tumblr was inherently ill-suited to advertising, says Katrin Tiidenberg, a social-media researcher at Tallinn University in Estonia who has studied Tumblr for years. Its impenetrability was a challenge to advertisers. On top of that, many of its users interspersed their posts on various fandoms, obsessions and memes with sexual content. “A lot of advertising clients, particularly in the U.S., get disproportionately nervous about being seen next to someone’s boobs,” says Dr. Tiidenberg.

Advertisers instead turned increasingly to the ostensibly safer realms of Google and Facebook. Together, the two giants now suck up 57% of all digital ad spend, according to eMarketer. In addition to owning the biggest ad networks, their crown jewels are incredibly sophisticated advertising engines that drive measurable results for advertisers.

. . . .

It also doesn’t help that Tumblr, never a very polished or particularly reliable service to begin with, had a hard time going mobile. That’s where Google and Facebook ended up moving—quickly, through acquisitions and manic development—to maintain their revenue growth.

“The site was just fundamentally broken; it broke all the time” says Klaudia Amenábar, a senior media producer and comics vlogger who is also a self-described Tumblr power user. Now 24, she found the service at 16 and has been on it ever since, building a career in fandoms and social media from what she learned there. “The mobile app is a lot better now, but before, jokes about the mobile app were rampant on Tumblr,” she adds.

In the past year, Tumblr’s traffic has dropped by more than 40%, from approximately 640 million visits in July 2018 to around 380 million now. Much of that drop happened after the service implemented a ban on adult content.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Three Years of Misery Inside Google, the Happiest Company in Tech

From Wired:

On a bright Monday in January 2017, at 2:30 in the afternoon, about a thousand Google employees—horrified, alarmed, and a little giddy—began pouring out of the company’s offices in Mountain View, California. They packed themselves into a cheerful courtyard outside the main campus café, a parklike area dotted with picnic tables and a shade structure that resembles a giant game of pickup sticks. Many of them held up handmade signs: “Proud Iranian-American Googler,” “Even Introverts Are Here,” and of course, “Don’t Be Evil!” written in the same kindergarten colors as the Google logo.

After a few rounds of call-and-response chanting and testimonials from individual staffers, someone adjusted the rally’s microphone for the next speaker’s tall, lanky frame. Sundar Pichai, Google’s soft-spoken CEO of 15 months, stood in the small clearing in the dense crowd that served as a makeshift stage. “Over the last 24 to 48 hours, we’ve all been working very hard,” he said, “and every step of the way I’ve felt the support of 60,000 people behind me.”

It was, to be precise, January 30; Donald Trump’s presidency was 10 days old. And Executive Order 13769—a federal travel ban on citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and a wholesale suspension of US refugee admissions—had been in effect for 73 hours, trapping hundreds of travelers in limbo at the nation’s airports. For the moment, the company’s trademark admonition against evil was being directed at a clear, unmistakably external target: the White House.

To all the world it looked as if Google—one of the most powerful, pro-immigrant, and ostensibly progressive corporations in the United States—was taking a unified stand. But that appearance of unanimity masked a welter of executive-level indecision and anxiety. It probably would have been more apt if Pichai had said that, over the previous 48 hours, he had been backed into a corner by thousands of his employees.

In those first days of the Trump era, Google’s leaders were desperate to avoid confrontation with the new regime. The company’s history of close ties to the Obama administration left executives feeling especially vulnerable to the reactionary movement—incubated partly on Google’s own video platform, YouTube—that had memed, rallied, and voted Trump into office. (It didn’t help that Eric Schmidt, then executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, had been an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, or that some 90 percent of political donations by Google employees had gone to Democrats in 2016.) Kent Walker, Google’s risk-averse vice president of public policy, had been advising staffers not to do anything that might upset Steve Bannon or Breitbart. So when the travel ban was announced on the afternoon of Friday, January 27, Google executives initially hoped to “just keep [their] heads down and allow it to blow over,” according to an employee who was close to those early calculations.

But the tribal dictates of Google’s own workforce made lying low pretty much impossible. Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the former Montessori kids who founded Google as Stanford grad students in the late ’90s, had designed their company’s famously open culture to facilitate free thinking. Employees were “obligated to dissent” if they saw something they disagreed with, and they were encouraged to “bring their whole selves” to work rather than check their politics and personal lives at the door. And the wild thing about Google was that so many employees complied. They weighed in on thousands of online mailing lists, including IndustryInfo, a mega forum with more than 30,000 members; Coffee Beans, a forum for discussing diversity; and Poly-Discuss, a list for polyamorous Googlers. They posted incessantly on an employee-only version of Google+ and on Memegen, an internal tool for creating and upvoting memes. On Thursdays, Google would host a company-wide meeting called TGIF, known for its no-holds-barred Q&As where employees could, and did, aggressively challenge executives.

All that oversharing and debate was made possible by another element of Google’s social contract. Like other corporations, Google enforces strict policies requiring employees to keep company business confidential. But for Google employees, nondisclosure wasn’t just a rule, it was a sacred bargain—one that earned them candor from leadership and a safe space to speak freely about their kinks, grievances, and disagreements on internal forums.

Finally, to a remarkable extent, Google’s workers really do take “Don’t Be Evil” to heart. C-suite meetings have been known to grind to a halt if someone asks, “Wait, is this evil?” To many employees, it’s axiomatic: Facebook is craven, Amazon is aggro, Apple is secretive, and Microsoft is staid, but Google genuinely wants to do good.

All of those precepts sent Google’s workforce into full tilt after the travel ban was announced. Memegen went flush with images bearing captions like “We stand with you” and “We are you.” Jewglers and HOLA, affinity groups for Jewish and Latinx employees, quickly pledged their support for Google’s Muslim group. According to The Wall Street Journal, members of one mailing list brainstormed whether there might be ways to “leverage” Google’s search results to surface ways of helping immigrants; some proposed that the company should intervene in searches for terms like “Islam,” “Muslim,” or “Iran” that were showing “Islamophobic, algorithmically biased results.” (Google says none of those ideas were taken up.) At around 2 pm that Saturday, an employee on a mailing list for Iranian Googlers floated the possibility of staging a walkout in Mountain View. “I wanted to check first whether anyone thinks this is a bad idea,” the employee wrote. Within 48 hours, a time had been locked down and an internal website set up.

. . . .

As the Trump era wore on, Google continued to brace itself for all manner of external assaults, and not just from the right. The 2016 election and its aftermath set off a backlash against Silicon Valley that seemed to come from all sides. Lawmakers and the media were waking up to the extractive nature of Big Tech’s free services. And Google—the company that had casually introduced the internet to consumer surveillance, orderer of the world’s information, owner of eight products with more than a billion users each—knew that it would be an inevitable target.

But in many respects, Google’s most vexing threats during that period came from inside the company itself. Over the next two and a half years, the company would find itself in the same position over and over again: a nearly $800 billion planetary force seemingly powerless against groups of employees—on the left and the right alike—who could hold the company hostage to its own public image.

In a larger sense, Google found itself and its culture deeply maladapted to a new set of political, social, and business imperatives. To invent products like Gmail, Earth, and Translate, you need coddled geniuses free to let their minds run wild. But to lock down lucrative government contracts or expand into coveted foreign markets, as Google increasingly needed to do, you need to be able to issue orders and give clients what they want.

For this article, WIRED spoke with 47 current and former Google employees. Most of them requested anonymity. Together, they described a period of growing distrust and disillusionment inside Google that echoed the fury roaring outside the company’s walls. And in all that time, Google could never quite anticipate the right incoming collision. After the travel ban walkout, for example, the company’s leaders expected the worst—and that it would come from Washington. “I knew we were snowballing toward something,” a former executive says. “I thought it was going to be Trump calling us out in the press. I didn’t think it was gonna be some guy writing a memo.”

. . . .

“[Conservative male Google engineer James]

Damore framed his memo as an appeal for intellectual diversity, identifying his reasoning as a conservative political position silenced by Google’s “ideological echo chamber.” “It’s a perspective that desperately needs to be told at Google,” Damore wrote.

Plenty of Damore’s colleagues, however, had heard this perspective before. Ad nauseam. “People would write stuff like that every month,” says one former Google executive. When the subject of diversifying Google’s workforce comes up in big meetings and internal forums, one black female employee says, “you pretty much need to wait about 10 seconds before someone jumps in and says we’re lowering the bar.”

. . . .

To Liz Fong-Jones, a site reliability engineer at Google, the memo’s arguments were especially familiar. Google’s engineers are not unionized, but inside Google, Fong-Jones essentially performed the function of a union rep, translating employee concerns to managers on everything from product decisions to inclusion practices. She had acquired this informal role around the time the company released Google+ to the public in 2011; before launch, she warned executives against requiring people to use their real names on the platform, arguing that anonymity was important for vulnerable groups. When public uproar played out much as Fong-Jones had predicted, she sat across from executives to negotiate a new policy—then explained the necessary compromises to irate employees. After that, managers and employees started coming to her to mediate internal tensions of all sorts.

As part of this internal advocacy work, Fong-Jones had become attuned to the way discussions about diversity on internal forums were beset by men like Cernekee, Damore, and other coworkers who were “just asking questions.” To her mind, Google’s management had allowed these dynamics to fester for too long, and now it was time for executives to take a stand. In an internal Google+ post, she wrote that “the only way to deal with all the heads of the medusa is to no-platform all of them.”

. . . .

On Monday morning, Google’s top management finally met to discuss what to do about Damore. The room, according to reporting by Recode, was split. Half the executives believed Damore shouldn’t be fired. Then YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and head of communications Jessica Powell urged their colleagues to consider how they would have reacted if Damore had applied the same arguments to race, rather than gender. That persuaded them: The engineer had to go. In a note to employees, Pichai said he was firing Damore for perpetuating gender stereotypes.

In his message, Pichai tried to assure the left without alienating the right. “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” he wrote. “At the same time, there are co-workers who are questioning whether they can safely express their views in the workplace (especially those with a minority viewpoint). They too feel under threat, and that is also not OK. People must feel free to express dissent.”

. . . .

In the past Google had fired an employee for leaking internal memes from Memegen. But when the targeted employees reported harassment, they say, Google’s security team told them that the leaking of screenshots might fall under the legal definition of “protected concerted activity”—the same labor right invoked by Cernekee.

To Fong-Jones, the security team’s answer was both shocking and instructive; she didn’t realize a leaker could be protected. “Everyone thought Google had an absolute right to stop you from talking about anything related to Google,” she says. Yet here Google’s hands were apparently tied by labor law.

Link to the rest at Wired

PG reminds one and all that TPV is not a political blog.

The reason he posted this excerpt from a much longer article is because most SEO strategies used by many authors (or promotional service-providers) are focused on Google. Additionally, within Amazon’s world, similar SEO practices often come into play with respect to book descriptions, the wording of advertisements, etc.

PG doesn’t recall seeing anything recently about Amazon’s practices impacting the visibility of categories of books that promote disfavored ideas but he may have simply missed such reports.

That said, Google and Amazon recruit engineers from the same overall pool of young smart recent college graduates.

PG is particularly concerned about the rising acceptance and use of deplatforming, a form of political action/prior restraint that proactively shuts down controversial speakers or speech, frequently by denying them access to a venue in which to express their opinion.

Under established First Amendment law in the United States, prior restraint of speech (prohibiting  speech or other expression before the speech happens) by government action is greatly disfavored.

A distinction is drawn between prior restraint by government and prior restraint by non-government actors. However, for PG, the underlying rationale disfavoring prior restraint is still persuasive, particularly when prior restraint is focused on squelching a popularly-disfavored view and exercised by a large and powerful corporation against an individual.

 

Why Should Authors Read Your Bad Reviews?

From The Guardian:

History has yet to find the book that is universally adored – or the author who enjoys reading bad reviews. While Angie Thomas has topped the charts and scooped up armloads of awards for her two young adult novels, The Hate U Give and On the Come Up, her recent request that book bloggers stop sending her their negative reviews saw her on the receiving end of a wave of vitriol.

Thomas wasn’t asking reviewers to stop writing bad reviews. She was just asking that they didn’t give her a prod on Twitter or Instagram to tell her about it.

“Guess what? WE ARE PEOPLE WITH FEELINGS. What’s the point of tagging an author in a negative review? Really?” she wrote on Twitter. “We have to protect our mental space. Too many opinions, good or bad, can affect that … Getting feedback from too many sources can harm your writing process. I have a group of people whose feedback I value – my editor, my agent, other authors who act as beta readers. With the position I’m in, social media is for interacting with readers, not for getting critiques.”

. . . .

Authors have been saying for years that they would prefer not to be tagged in bad reviews on social media. In November, Lauren Groff wrote that “tweeting it [a review] to a writer is like grabbing their cheeks and shouting it into their face”. It even happened before the social media era, such as when Alain de Botton was told about Caleb Crain’s review of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (“I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make,” wrote de Botton on Crain’s website). And perhaps, Martin Amis’s publishers should have kept him in the dark about Tibor Fischer’s write up of Yellow Dog. (“A creep and a wretch. Oh yeah: and a fat-arse,” said Amis of Fischer.)

But the blowback against Thomas is disproportionate when compared to how reviewers have reacted to this request in the past. As she herself points out: “Plenty of white authors have said the same thing about reviews without getting the same kind of attacks that I’ve received.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Social Media Could Make It Impossible to Grow Up

The following is a longer post/excerpt than PG usually includes on TPV, but the topic fascinated him.

PG is happy that the foolish things he did in high school and college have disappeared into thickening mists of the fading memories scrabbling for survival within the minds of himself and fellow members of the Order of Lavishly Idiotic Youth.

From Wired:

Several decades into the age of digital media, the ability to leave one’s childhood and adolescent years behind is now imperiled. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, it is evident that a majority of young people with access to mobile phones take and circulate selfies on a daily basis. There is also growing evidence that selfies are not simply a tween and teen obses­sion. Toddlers enjoy taking selfies, too, and whether intentionally or unintentionally, have even managed to put their images into circula­tion. What is the cost of this excessive documentation? More spe­cifically, what does it mean to come of age in an era when images of childhood and adolescence, and even the social networks formed during this fleeting period of life, are so easily preserved and may stubbornly persist with or without one’s intention or desire? Can one ever transcend one’s youth if it remains perpetually present?

The crisis we face concerning the persistence of childhood images was the least of concerns when digital technologies began to restruc­ture our everyday lives in the early 1990s. Media scholars, sociolo­gists, educational researchers, and alarmists of all political stripes were more likely to bemoan the loss of childhood than to worry about the prospect of childhood’s perpetual presence. A few educa­tors and educational researchers were earnestly exploring the poten­tial benefits of the internet and other emerging digital technologies, but the period was marked by widespread moral panic about new media technologies. As a result, much of the earliest research on young people and the internet sought either to support or to refute fears about what was about to unfold online.

. . . .

Many adults feared that if left to surf the web alone, children would suffer a quick and irreparable loss of innocence. These concerns were fueled by reports about what allegedly lurked online. At a time when many adults were just beginning to venture online, the internet was still commonly depicted in the popular media as a place where anyone could easily wander into a sexually charged multiuser domain (MUD), hang out with computer hackers and learn the tricks of their criminal trade, or hone their skills as a terrorist or bomb builder. In fact, doing any of these things usually required more than a single foray onto the web. But that did little to curtail perceptions of the internet as a dark and dangerous place where threats of all kinds were waiting at the welcome gate.

. . . .

A common theme underpinning both popular and scholarly arti­cles about the internet in the 1990s was that this new technology had created a shift in power and access to knowledge. A widely reprinted 1993 article ominously titled “Caution: Children at Play on the Infor­mation Highway” warned, “Dropping children in front of the com­puter is a little like letting them cruise the mall for the afternoon. But when parents drop their sons or daughters off at a real mall, they gen­erally set ground rules: Don’t talk to strangers, don’t go into Victoria’s Secret, and here’s the amount of money you’ll be able to spend. At the electronic mall, few parents are setting the rules or even have a clue about how to set them.”

. . . .

In such a context, it is easy to understand why the imperiled innocence of children was invoked as a rationale for increased regulation and monitoring of the internet. In the United States, the Communications Decency Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, gained considerable support due to widespread fears that without increased regulation of communications, the nation’s children were doomed to become perverts and digital vigi­lantes.

. . . .

Jenkins was not the only one to insist that the real challenge was to empower children and adolescents to use the internet in productive and innovative ways so as to build a new and vibrant public sphere. We now know that a critical mass of educators and parents did choose to allow children ample access to the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s. Those young people ended up building many of the social media and sharing economy platforms that would transform the lives of people of all ages by the end of the first decade of the new millen­nium.

. . . .

Among the more well­-known skeptics was another media theorist, Neil Postman. Postman argued in his 1982 book The Disappearance of Childhood that new media were eroding the distinction between childhood and adulthood. “With the electric media’s rapid and egalitarian dis­closure of the total content of the adult world, several profound consequences result,” he claimed. These consequences included a diminishment of the authority of adults and the curiosity of children. Although not necessarily invested in the idea of childhood innocence, Postman was invested in the idea and ideal of childhood, which he believed was already in decline. This, he contended, had much to do with the fact that childhood—a relatively recent historical invention—is a construct that has always been deeply entangled with the history of media technologies.

While there have, of course, always been young people, a number of scholars have posited that the concept of childhood is an early modern invention. Postman not only adopted this position but also argued that this concept was one of the far­-reaching consequences of movable type, which first appeared in Mainz, Germany, in the late 15th century. With the spread of print culture, orality was de­moted, creating a hierarchy between those who could read and those who could not. The very young were increasingly placed outside the adult world of literacy.

During this period, something else occurred: different types of printed works began to be produced for different types of readers. In the 16th century, there were no age­-based grades or corresponding books. New readers, whether they were 5 or 35, were expected to read the same basic books. By the late 18th century, however, the world had changed. Children had access to children’s books, and adults had access to adult books. Children were now regarded as a separate category that required protection from the evils of the adult world. But the reign of childhood (according to Postman, a period running roughly from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries) would prove short­-lived. Although earlier communications technologies and broadcasting mediums, from the telegraph to cinema, were already chipping away at childhood, the arrival of television in the mid­-20th century marked the beginning of the end. Postman con­cludes, “Television erodes the dividing line between childhood and adulthood in three ways, all having to do with its undifferentiated ac­cessibility: first, because it requires no instruction to grasp its form; second, because it does not make complex demands on either mind or behavior; and third, because it does not segregate its audience.”

. . . .

In the final chapter, Postman poses and responds to six questions, including the following: “Are there any communication technologies that have the potential to sustain the need for child­hood?” In response to his own question, he replies, “The only technology that has this capacity is the computer.” To program a computer, he explains, one must in essence learn a language, a skill that would have to be acquired in childhood: “Should it be deemed necessary that everyone must know how computers work, how they impose their special world­view, how they alter our definition of judgment—that is, should it be deemed necessary that there be uni­versal computer literacy—it is conceivable that the schooling of the young will increase in importance and a youth culture different from adult culture might be sustained.” But things could turn out dif­ferently. If economic and political interests decide that they would be better served by “allowing the bulk of a semiliterate population to entertain itself with the magic of visual computer games, to use and be used by computers without understanding … childhood could, without obstruction, continue on its journey to oblivion.”

. . . .

Thanks to Xerox’s graphical user interface, eventually popularized by Apple, by the 2000s one could do many things with computers without knowledge of or interest in their inner workings. The other thing that Postman did not anticipate is that young people would be more adept at building and programming computers than most older adults. Fluency in this new language, unlike most other languages, did not deepen or expand with age. By the late 1990s, there was little doubt that adults were not in control of the digital revolution. The most ubiquitous digital tools and platforms of our era, from Google to Facebook to Airbnb, would all be invented by people just out of their teens. What was the result? In the end, childhood as it once existed (i.e., in the pre-­television era) was not restored, but Postman’s fear that childhood would disappear also proved wrong. Instead, some­thing quite unexpected happened.

. . . .

Today, the distinction be­tween childhood and adulthood has reemerged, but not in the way that Postman imagined.

In our current digital age, child and adolescent culture is alive and well. Most young people spend hours online every day exploring worlds in which most adults take little interest and to which they have only limited access. But this is where the real difference lies. In the world of print, adults determined what children could and could not access—after all, adults operated the printing presses, purchased the books, and controlled the libraries. Now, children are free to build their own worlds and, more importantly, to populate these worlds with their own content. The content, perhaps not surprisingly, is pre­dominantly centered on the self (the selfie being emblematic of this tendency). So, in a sense, childhood has survived, but its nature—what it is and how it is experienced and represented—is increas­ingly in the hands of young people themselves. If childhood was once constructed and recorded by adults and mirrored back to children (e.g., in a carefully curated family photo album or a series of home video clips), this is no longer the case. Today, young people create im­ages and put them into circulation without the interference of adults.

In sharp contrast to Postman’s prediction, childhood never did disappear. Instead, it has become ubiquitous in a new and un­expected way. Today, childhood and adolescence are more visible and pervasive than ever before. For the first time in history, children and adolescents have widespread access to the technologies needed to represent their lives, circulate these representations, and forge networks with each other, often with little or no adult supervision. The potential danger is no longer childhood’s disappearance, but rather the possibility of a perpetual childhood.

Link to the rest at Wired

Here’s the blurb for The End of Forgetting:

Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, our younger selves have been captured and preserved online. But what happens, Kate Eichhorn asks, when we can’t leave our most embarrassing moments behind? Rather than a childhood cut short by a loss of innocence, the real crisis of the digital age may be the specter of a childhood that can never be forgotten.

And here’s a review from Inside Higher Ed:

Someone brought a video recorder to Thanksgiving 1980, during my final year of high school. Not a close relative, certainly. Back then, it was too insanely extravagant a piece of consumer electronics for any of us to imagine buying one. (Not for several years, anyway.)

The camera sat on a tripod and recorded the holiday goings-on, which were shown — continuously, as they were happening — on a nearby television set. It would have been able to record two to four hours, depending on the format and system. A blank video cassette cost the equivalent of $50 to $75 in today’s currency. There was much apprehension over very young family members getting too close and knocking something over.

The novelty of seeing one’s actions and expressions from the outside, in real time, was intriguing but unsettling. Nothing meaningful or interesting happened, and I cannot imagine anybody getting bored enough to watch the recording. But it means that my 17-year-old doppelgänger may be preserved on a tape in an attic someplace in Oklahoma, and that possibility, however slim, has kept the memory vivid. No adolescent photograph would ever be as awkward. The tape was probably Betamax: technological obsolescence can have its upside.

. . . .

Most 17-year-olds today probably do not remember a time when they had not yet seen themselves onscreen. Chances are that many of the videos will have been their own recordings. Creating them requires no technical skill, and duplicating or transporting them is equally effortless.

None of the technology is unwieldy or uncommon, or all that expensive. And while the storage capacity of a phone or laptop is not boundless, neither is it much of an obstacle. Everything ends up in the cloud eventually. (That may not be literally true, but all trends lead in that direction.) “With analogue media,” Eichhorn says, “there is invariably a time lag between the moment of production and the moment of broadcasting; in the case of digital media, production and broadcasting often happen simultaneously or near simultaneously. Adolescents are in effect … experiencing the social world via documentary platform.” And it is a kind of social death when they can’t.

In this cultural ecosystem, the normal excruciations of adolescent self-consciousness are ramped up and acted out — often before an audience of unlimited potential size — then preserved for posterity, in endlessly duplicable form.

. . . .

The potential for embarrassment increased by several orders of magnitude after America’s Funniest Home Videos debuted at the end of 1989, but even that looks minimal in the wake of YouTube. Two or three cases of extreme humiliation and bullying via digital video are now familiar to millions of people.

Eichhorn discusses them while acknowledging the ethical dilemma that doing so runs the risk of perpetuating mindless cruelty. But her point is that the famous examples represent the tip of the iceberg. Digital images are produced and circulated now in ways that encourage the self-expression and experimentation that Erikson regarded as one of the privileges of youth — while at the same time creating a permanent record that is potentially inescapable.

Inescapable, that is, because unforgettable.

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed

Over 400 years ago, William Shakespeare famously wrote, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Perhaps the Bard peered into the future and somehow discerned Twitter and Facebook.

It occurs to PG that Twitter and Facebook would have made lovely names for a couple of the fools which populate some of his plays.

This is to make an ass of me, to fright me if they could.

– Bottom, Act 3, Scene 1, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What You Get Back When You Reclaim Your Time from Social Media

From Medium:

Last fall, in the midst of touring for my latest book, I stepped away from the public stage that arguably made my publishing career possible.

After investing six years into growing my following on Twitter from zero to over 42,000, with millions of monthly engagements, I left the platform, at least for now. This might not sound like such a momentous decision, but it was for me. My 127,000 tweets — an average of 57 tweets per day — had dramatically raised my profile as a writer, sociologist, and scholar on race. The platform prompted countless interactions and conversations, frequent media attention, and valuable professional opportunities — such as connecting me with my literary agent and helping secure a publishing deal for the book I’m still touring with, How to Be Less Stupid About Race.

Yet at the precise moment when most writers would have redoubled their efforts to promote their work, I felt compelled to step down from my bully pulpit and shutter my most successful social media account.

. . . .

Most disconcertingly, even when I wasn’t tweeting, I found myself thinking in tweets — crafting pithy, retweetable observations about my life, social dynamics, and world events to share with my followers as soon as I could get my hot hands on my phone or laptop.

And then I reached a critical breaking point. Crisscrossing the nation for the book tour and connecting with readers in real life was a new, thrilling experience for me, but it was also unspeakably exhausting.

. . . .

While the vast majority of my interactions with folks at book events were uplifting and supportive, I never quite knew what to expect from Q&As. I felt the constant need to mentally prepare for everything from microaggressions to outright hostility.

What I faced most often, however, were the racialized and gendered expectations that I provide on-the-spot emotional processing, counseling, and strategizing for a never-ending stream of racial dilemmas and existential trauma. “How do I deal with my racist cousin?” a white woman would ask, expecting a sensible answer in 60 seconds or less, while a dozen people waited in line behind her. “What should I do about racism on my job?” a man urgently inquired as I signed a copy of the book.

. . . .

But as I struggled to give the fullness of my attention and intention to each and every person who I met on the road, I began to realize that I had little energy left for myself, and no energy at all for Twitter.

I began experiencing debilitating insomnia for the first time in my life. Anxiety became a daily concern.

. . . .

Media technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are quite literally invested in making us internet addicts. They’re effectively manipulating social psychological responses to ensure that our clicks and engagements don’t fizzle — or else their bottom line will. Sean Parker, one of Facebook’s founders, described the platform’s “like” button as “a social validation feedback loop… exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”

. . . .

If it feels difficult to quit social media, it’s because corporate strategists and programmers work very hard to embed their apps with digital carrots that ensure that scrolling through our feed feels deeply rewarding. Facebook “likes,” Twitter “hearts,” and Instagram notifications all drive addictive behavior by doling out intermittent and unpredictable rewards. These rewards, in turn, fuel the release of neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which are associated with the experience of pleasure in the brain.

. . . .

Of course, the sense of community created on social media has many potential benefits when used appropriately and in moderation. But these fleeting digital rewards come at a great price. Social media apps are able to stealthily manipulate our brains into believing that we are experiencing pleasure, despite the fact that heavy usage leads to increased depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and reduced quality of life.

. . . .

“Computer internet businesses are about exploiting psychology… we want to psychologically figure out how to manipulate you as fast as possible and then give you back that dopamine hit. We did that brilliantly at Facebook.” And it’s not just the individual that this affects, he observed: “We have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

. . . .

As Alex Hern has pointed out in the Guardian, many social media executives and developers have either stopped using their own products or never used them excessively in the first place. Facebook made Palihapitiya a billionaire, but he has said he doesn’t use Facebook himself, and his own children are not allowed to use social media. Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, “rarely replies to strangers and avoids discussions or arguments on the site,” Hern wrote. “He doesn’t live-tweet TV shows or sporting fixtures. In fact, he doesn’t really ‘use’ Twitter; he just posts on it occasionally.” Mark Zuckerberg, meanwhile, has an entire team to manage and curate his social media account for him.

. . . .

Emotionally, my mood has greatly improved. I feel less glum, pessimistic, and angry with the world than when I was constantly “connected.” I keep a gratitude journal and count my blessings. While I sometimes miss the creative, intellectual, and political community of my tweethearts, I’m immensely relieved to no longer feel the mental pressure of organizing a social media press conference several times a day in response to trending hashtags, controversies, and tragedies.

Link to the rest at Medium

 

 

These Researchers Are Trying to Keep Facebook Users from Feeling Depressed

From Fortune:

A couple of years ago, a group of researchers at Facebook realized that users felt worse about themselves after incessantly scrolling through their news feeds. The researchers decided to do something about it.

They surveyed Facebook users about their emotional reactions to using the social network. Those findings helped drive one of the biggest changes Facebook has made to date: Showing users more posts from friends and family rather than businesses.

The point was to increase interaction between users, whether commenting or liking posts. The more that people did so, the better they felt, the research found.

The change pushed by Facebook’s little-known well-being team is just one of many issues the group has explored. Its mission is to reduce any negative effects associated with using Facebook, a nearly ubiquitous presence in modern life.

. . . .

The team has a major challenge ahead as it aims to solve a growing conundrum within the tech industry: How to positively impact users’ lives. And over the years, various independent studies have shown that using Facebook can increase depression and make users feel less satisfied with their lives.

A study earlier this year by researchers unaffiliated with Facebook found that people who deactivated their Facebook accounts were happier and more satisfied and felt less anxious and depressed. It was in sharp contrast to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who often brags about Facebook being a critical tool for connecting the world.

. . . .

Similarly, a study by researchers at Yale and the University of California at San Diego published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2017 suggested that the more people used Facebook, the worse their mental health and personal satisfaction.

. . . .

Any suggestion the team makes to Facebook’s management is only that—a suggestion. Facebook’s leaders get the ultimate say about what should be adopted.

And that’s the problem, suggests Jennifer Grygiel, a Syracuse University assistant professor who has studied the problem of policing social media content. Hate speech, violent content, and harassment have become so widespread that Facebook can’t keep up. And while users may complain, Facebook is under no requirement to make any changes to address those problems or any others.

“These are corporate entities, and they’re accountable to their shareholders and their profits,” Grygiel said. “They say that they want to help us—that they are putting processes in place to protect us—but they aren’t and don’t have the resources in place to do that.”

The problem with Facebook’s internal research boils down to one thing, says Grygiel: “Nothing can truly be independent when Mark Zuckerberg is the majority shareholder of the company.”

. . . .

Facebook’s researchers define the term “well-being” as “how people perceive their lives.” Within that scope, they focus on three specific areas: unhealthy amounts of time spent on Facebook, loneliness, and declines in self-worth related to users comparing themselves to others.

“These issues are things that have a deep impact on people lives and have played out on Facebook,” Facebook’s Guadagno said.

. . . .

Well-being also shows up in one of the company’s risk factors in last year’s annual report. Facebook said that its overall business could be harmed if users felt that the social network was negatively affecting their well-being.

“The company has always cared about well-being,” said Chandra Mohan Janakiraman, Facebook’s well-being product manager. “What’s changed is our understanding in terms of the impact our product has had.”

Link to the rest at Fortune

While reading the OP, a thought flitted across PG’s mind (so you have been warned).

Many years ago, large advertising agencies made a great deal of money from their clients who manufactured and sold cigarettes.

A couple of PG’s college friends worked at those agencies. As reported, walking into the head office of a major cigarette company involved seeing large bowls of loose cigarettes (separate bowls for each brand of cigarette) and ample ashtrays wherever one might go in those offices – waiting rooms, conference rooms, break rooms, elevator lobbies, etc. – across multiple floors. Someone was evidently tasked with replenishing the cigarette bowls because they were never empty. Elegant table-top cigarette lighters were close by in case you had forgotten to bring your own.

One of the most consistent messages carried by the advertising across all brands of cigarettes was that smoking made you feel great, enhanced your sense of well-being and was integral to a fulfilling and active social life.

The enjoyable lives of smokers were all wrapped up with cigarettes.

The final quote in the excerpt above, “The company has always cared about well-being . . . . What’s changed is our understanding in terms of the impact our product has had,” resonated like a smoky echo from other large, wealthy and influential businesses in times past.

We’re All Bozos on This Bus: 10 Lessons from 10 Years of Blogging

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Ooops. I seem to have missed my 10-year blogiversary! I posted my first attempt at blogging on Friday, March 13, 2009.

Yes, Friday the 13th. Apparently I have a need to tempt fate.

But I immediately lost the blog for about three months, and didn’t write my second post until June 20, 2009. It was a post on Writers Conferences.

After that, I posted pretty regularly, so I figure today is my real 10-year blogiversary.

I knew pretty much nothing about blogging at that point. I simply wanted a place to put the unpublished columns I had written for Inkwell Newswatch, a Canadian writers’ zine that stopped publication in January 2009.

So after somehow finding the blog again, I fumbled around with Blogger and started posting my unpublished columns on my new blog.

It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t know how.

I settled on putting up weekly posts on Sunday at 10 AM. I can’t remember why. Maybe I pictured my fellow writers relaxing with a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings and surfing the writing blogs the way I did.

Later I read that “the rules” of blogging say that Sunday is the worst day to post to a blog.

But this blog has never followed the rules. And that’s probably the most important of the 10 things I’ve learned:

1) Question Authority

“The rules” will come and go. So will gimmicks and tricks for SEO, ROI, SERP, and LMNOP 🙂 . The only thing that stays the same is the value of good content.

When I started out, “the rules” said a blogpost should be 300 words long and you should blog at least twice a day. Yeah. How many successful authors do you know who do that?

We were also told that an author blog should follow the same rules as a blog about make-up tips for teens or how to make decorative pillows out of dryer lint.

And we were supposed to run advertising all over the site. I remember reading that the #1 failure of new bloggers was “failure to monetize.” (I had to look up the word “monetize.”)

How many successful author blogs are peppered with irrelevant advertising these days?

Also, you needed a niche. You could only blog about jelly doughnuts or training your cat to use the toilet. Otherwise, readers would get confused.

Rule-makers are always underestimating readers. I slowly found out an author can blog about anything. We’re blogging to attract readers who will like our books. So we can write about anything those people would like to read about.

We simply have to make sure that what we say is honest, well-written, and helpful.

. . . .

4) Your Commenters are Your Most Important Asset.

A blog is nothing without readers. And readers who comment are giving you a lovely gift. Even if they disagree with you.

Answering comments quickly and honestly is one of the best ways for a blogger to get commenters coming back. (Although I have to admit I’m going to be away from the computer for a while today. But I will answer all your comments by the end of the day. )

Responding to comments acknowledges your readers as your equals. You’re not supposed to be sitting on a blogthrone waiting to be adored. You’re exchanging ideas with your peers.

I met Ruth Harris as well as two of my publishers when they commented on this blog. Plus I get some of my best ideas for new blogpost topics from the comments here.

. . . .

7) An Author Blog is Not a Business Blog.

Business blogs are for selling stuff. Author blogs are for communication. They’re simply a place for you to get in touch with other writers, readers and potential readers and exchange ideas.

So the most important thing is to be real and entertaining, not hype-y. A blog is a place on the Web where people can come and hang out with you.

Pushy, “buy my book” posts don’t get traffic. And following all those complicated business blog rules will exhaust you and drive away readers. You don’t sell books like cat-carriers or Ginsu knives. Hammering readers by endlessly screaming your title at them does not make people want to relax and hang out with your work. It makes them want to block you.

I’ve watched a lot of author-bloggers give up because they tried to blog so often it became drudgery. An author doesn’t need to blog more than once a week. You want people to read your books, not daily reports of what you had for lunch. Besides, when you’re bored and miserable, your readers will be too.

Have fun with your blog. and when it isn’t fun anymore, take a break.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Doctors Are Braving Social Media to Battle Medical Misinformation

From Medium:

Health misinformation plagues the internet, and it isn’t only anti-vaxxers who buy into it. From influencers peddling useless supplements to fashion publications extolling the virtues of CBD oil face masks, misinformation — while often not malicious — touches most of us. At best, it can waste time and money. At worst, it puts people’s lives at risk.

The question of how best to battle this misinformation, if at all, is a vexing one within the medical community. What responsibility do doctors and other medical professionals have in fighting pseudoscience, particularly online? Some believe doctors should essentially be seen and not heard. A growing contingent of the medical community, however, is choosing to voice their frustration and correct the record on social media. But this comes with some risk, as confronting conspiracy theorists and alternative health moguls can be exhausting and even dangerous.

These medical professionals — doctors, nurses, even health policy lawyers — often differ in their methods, but for the most part they share one goal: to battle the health misinformation that infiltrates every corner of the internet. And while anti-vaxxers, who cluster in private Facebook groups and other closed communities like fervent supporters of some new church, may be beyond the reach of even the savviest doctor online, the rest of us — from those who may have questions about new dermatological treatments to those who aren’t entirely convinced one way or another about vaccines — could stand to benefit from the wisdom of the medical professionals who dare wade into social media’s treacherous waters.

Austin Chiang, a gastroenterologist based in Philadelphia, is the president of the Association for Healthcare Social Media (AHSM), a new nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate doctors on proper social media use and advocate for it as a crucial tool in the public health toolbox.

. . . .

Patients are getting their medical information from social media and Google — everywhere “except for the clinic visit that they have with us for 30 minutes at a time,” Chiang says. “With every single field out there, there’s something that is misinterpreted or misconstrued by the general public… We want to meet the patient where they are.” Chiang points to the existence and belief in colonic cleanses and detox teas as two issues that plague his own specialty, along with the most commonly known medical misinformation issue, anti-vaxxers.

Doctors need to consider their digital bedside manner as they approach all of this, but there’s a problem. Medical professionals, says Chiang, aren’t taught how to communicate online in an engaging and accessible manner, while the communications teams employed by hospitals and doctor’s offices don’t possess the same medical expertise as the doctors and nurses themselves. “If we aren’t engaged with online discussion, then the conversation is dominated by other people, and who knows where they’re getting their information from,” he says. “There are plenty of docs and nurses online these days, but relatively speaking, compared to the number of health professionals we have out there it’s still a very small minority.”

Link to the rest at Medium

PG wonders if there are any other groups of professionals of whatever profession who are undertaking this sort of task, to battle blatant misinformation online. He is unaware of any group of lawyers who do so, although there are quite a few trustworthy sites that provide reliable legal information on various topics.

Amazon is clapping back at politicians on Twitter

From The Washington Post:

Amazon’s public relations Twitter account is starting to look a lot more like a political rapid response unit as the retailer increasingly becomes a punching bag for Democrats.

The company clapped back yesterday at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and defended its $15 minimum wage for workers after she criticized Amazon chief executive and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos for paying people “starvation wages” in an interview over the weekend.

. . . .

That’s part of a broader pattern: The company has also sought to fact-check statements from 2020 hopefuls in between tweets promoting one-day shipping and its Kindle devices. It disputed former vice president Joe Biden’s comments last week about how much it pays in taxes and pushed back in April on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s criticism of its treatment of competing sellers on its platform.

. . . .

This is a marked change from the traditional tech industry strategy to keep an arms-length from the daily political debate and wait out 24-hour news cycles. But Amazon appears to be realizing that a quiet playbook doesn’t work as the concentration of corporate power becomes a key 2020 issue for Democrats on the campaign trail — who have no qualms with singling out specific companies.

“[Amazon] can’t afford to be passive about it,” said Larry Parnell, an associate professor of strategic public relations at George Washington University. “Corporate America is finding that engaging in the political process — like it or not — is part of doing business.”

. . . .

For Amazon, Twitter could be an avenue to quickly set the record straight when they feel prominent politicians are spreading false information about the company.

“Amazon is simply correcting the record when high-profile candidates or elected officials make statements about the company that are either incorrect or misleading,” said a person familiar with the company’s thinking. “Errors and misunderstandings become accepted truths if they go uncorrected.”

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG says this is (or should be) basic corporate public relations in 2019. He understands that a great many large well-known business organizations besides Amazon have rapid response teams that operate 24/7 to reply to and/or rebut social media criticism as quickly as possible.

PG would not be surprised if at least some of these teams include both official company spokespeople and those not formally associated with the company but who can also quickly act to generate additional online rebuttal messages. If you’re worried about potentially damaging effects from a Twitter mob, you might want to have your own Twitter mob on call.

Like him and the tone of his communications or not, Donald Trump works social media in a manner that PG thinks is effective (if not tasteful, dignified or suited to the office of the President). His tweets are eminently quotable, make news and frame political discussions. In the online universe, he can’t be ignored or overwhelmed by a digital mob.

Like it or not, Amazon is a large target for criticism from a wide variety of individuals and organizations. It can’t prevent criticism, justified or not, but a rapid response can help prevent an online assault from breaking out into the rest of the world with a lot of momentum.

Anyone who asks, “What does Amazon say about this?” should be able to obtain a quick answer. If Amazon doesn’t have an answer, human nature and mob psychology will assume the company is hiding something that reflects badly upon it.

 

Construction Guy Instagram Influencer Turns out to Be Coffee Ad Stunt

From Petapixel:

A construction guy named Omar in Austin, Texas, became an “Instagram influencer” recently after attracting hundreds of thousands of followers to his @justaconstructionguy account with just a handful of photos. But it turns out the guy was a carefully crafted persona designed to help a small coffee shop sell coffee.

After being created in May, the account shot to Insta-stardom when it was Tweeted out by Twitter user @barbzlovescarbs, who purported to be Omar’s daughter.

In his photos and captions, Omar was apparently an ordinary construction worker who had a knack for poking fun at Instagram’s exploding “influencer” culture:

. . . .

The coffee roaster Cuvée Coffee in Austin finally revealed that the whole thing is actually a clever marketing stunt that resulted from a “creative brainstorming session.”

“The whole idea was what we always thought as an influencer, and what we used as an influencer in the past, they don’t always fit our brand,” owner Mike McKim tells BuzzFeed News. “We need a different type of influencer: a hard-worker, blue-collar guy.”

McKim enlisted the help of the advertising agency Bandolier Media, which helped him to create “Omar”, a fake influencer persona who’s played by an actual Austin-area construction worker. @cuveecoffee is tagged in several of Omar’s posts. After the @barbzlovescarbs Tweet, things just took off, spreading through social media and sites like Reddit.

Link to the rest at Petapixel

A Loss for Words No More: Caption Any Photo Will Fill in Your Blank Slates

From Social Media Week:

I’m sure that when they were first composing captions for their Student Government Association at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Ja’Bre Jennings and Juwon Nicholson couldn’t have imagined they’d one day build a business around the snappy words they’d add to photos. But only a few years later, they’re garnering good buzz for their app, Caption Any Photo , designed to share their talents with the masses.

Caption Any Photo was born in an MBA class Jennings was taking; he developed the app as part of an assignment. But once the project was completed, he realized the idea had legs. Calling upon his friend and business partner, they did market research with college students, touring the East Coast during homecoming season to ask attendees how they felt about the app, if they’d use it, and how to improve it.

What resulted from this unconventional market research was an app that can help caption photos in categories like Homecoming, Girls’ Night Out, Selfies, Mardi Gras, and many more. At present, a combination of user submissions and captions developed with machine learning and data analytics has created a database of over 35,000 captions. But they have their sights set higher than their initial college student market; they’re now hoping to assist solopreneurs and small businesses increase engagement in ways that affect their bottom line.

“A lot of businesses were having a lack of engagement due to not knowing what to post. Once you find the photo, we give you the quote and caption to actually let you post to social media and increase engagement,” Jennings said to Blavity. These captions, when deployed thoughtfully, can drive people to needed products or services – something Jennings and Nicholson learned when doing social media work previously for the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. There, they realized that captions are more than just a way to make friends laugh or express yourself; they could be key to driving users toward much needed but occasionally stigmatized services.

Link to the rest at Social Media Week

You can find Caption Any Photo in Apple’s IOS App Store.

Although PG may have overlooked it in the Caption Any Photo website, but it appears that, at present, you can’t match images and captions on a computer (although PG understands most social media pros (not the celebrities or other clients they work for) don’t create most of the image/caption combinations they use on Pinterest, Instagram, etc., on their phones because it’s faster to do it on a computer), so he created a faux Instagram post by combining an image with a Caption Any Photo caption he got on his phone.

 

Fact-Checking Can’t Do Much When People’s “Dueling Facts” Are Driven by Values Instead of Knowledge

As PG has mentioned more than one time before, The Passive Voice is not a blog about politics and PG intends to keep it that way. There is no shortage of online locations that will provide political commentary in all shades from the darkest Blue to the brightest Red to some other color PG has not yet learned about.

However, TPV is about writing and a great deal of writing these days is either comprised of or about misinformation. Public or private debate about the meaning or impact of facts that each side agrees are real is, to PG’s way of thinking, a useful exercise.

However, debate in which each side has a different set of facts about the same events may not be so useful. As Daniel Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

Yesterday’s post on this issue generated a lot of detailed and, at least for PG, interesting comments.

As to the connection of the following article to writing, PG suggests that the Internet has vastly increased both reading and writing by a far wider range of individuals than has been the case in times before the Internet.

A tweet is not a novel, but it definitely is writing with its own style and impact.

Twitter reports that more than 6,000 tweets are sent each second. Each tweet may be read by no one or thousands of people (sometimes more). In Q1 2019, Twitter reported that an average of 134 million people used Twitter every day and could see Twitter ads.

In its financial reporting, Twitter reports Average monetizable DAU (mDAU), Monetizable Daily Active Usage or Users. Monetizable means users who access via means that permit Twitter to show them advertisements. Many more tweets are read by people who see the tweet copied to a website or email, but are not included in mDAU.

It seems that almost everyone is a news reporter in some way and, when it is impossible for an individual to know everything that is happening in the worlds, real and virtual, she/he has to choose who and what to consume.

Because it is impossible to read everything, of necessity, everyone can and does curate their information by eliminating the overwhelming majority of the words floating around the Internet, regardless of whether those words describe true things or not. In some places online, white is white. Elsewhere, white is black. It’s all about the words.

In former times, large cities supported multiple daily newspapers that were well-known for their political leanings. In Chicago, The Chicago Tribune was known for its conservative views. In New York, The New York Times was reliably liberal. Someone who wanted to examine what would likely be a balanced view on a topic might read both newspapers to understand the arguments of each side.

There were other publications which promoted more extreme views on the left or right (or some other side) of such issues, but a great many people believed, rightly or wrongly, that such publications could not be trusted to report facts accurately or base their opinions on facts at all.

From The Nieman Lab:

The Mueller report was supposed to settle, once and for all, the controversy over whether the Trump team colluded with Russians or obstructed justice. Clearly, it has not. Reactions to the report have ranged from “Total exoneration!” to “Impeach now!”

Shouldn’t nearly 700 hundred pages of details, after almost two years of waiting, have helped the nation to achieve a consensus over what happened? Well, no. As Goethe said in the early 1800s, “Each sees what is present in their heart.”

Since 2013 — long before Donald Trump was even a candidate — we have been studying the “dueling facts” phenomenon: the tendency for Red and Blue America to perceive reality in starkly different ways. Based on that work, we expected the report to settle…next to nothing.

The conflicting factual assertions that have emerged since the report’s release highlight just how easy it is for citizens to believe what they want — regardless of what Robert Mueller, William Barr or anyone else has to say about it.

Our research has led us to several conclusions about the future of political discourse in the U.S. The first is that dueling fact perceptions are rampant, and they are more entrenched than most people realize. Some examples of this include conflicting perceptions about the existence of climate change, the strength of the economy, the consequences of racism, the origins of sexual orientation, the utility of minimum wage increases or gun control, the crime rate and the safety of vaccines.

This has serious implications for American democracy. As political scientists, we wonder: How can a community decide the direction they should go if they can’t agree on where they are? Can people holding dueling facts be brought into some semblance of consensus?

To figure that out, it’s important to determine where such divergent beliefs come from in the first place. This is the perspective we began with: If dueling fact perceptions are driven by misinformation from politicians and pundits, then one would expect things to get better by making sure that people have access to correct information — via fact-checking by news organizations, for example.

We envisioned the dueling facts phenomenon as being primarily tribal, driven by cheerleading on each side for their partisan “teams.” We assumed, like most other scholars, that individuals are simply led astray by their team’s coaches (party leaders), star players (media pundits), or fellow fans (social media feeds).

But it turns out that the roots of such divergent views go much deeper. We found that voters see the world in ways that reinforce their values and identities — irrespective of whether they have ever watched Fox News or MSNBC and regardless of whether they have a Facebook account.

For example, according to our data from five years of national surveys from 2013 to 2017, the most important predictor of whether a person views racism as highly prevalent and influential is not her partisan identification. It is not her general ideological outlook. It is not the amount or type of media that she consumes. It isn’t even her own race.

It is the degree to which she prioritizes compassion as a public virtue, relative to other things like rugged individualism.

Values not only shape what people see, but they also structure what people look for in the first place. We call this “intuitive epistemology.”

Those who care about oppression look for oppression — so they find it.

Those who care about security look for threats to it — and they find them.

In other words, people do not end up with the same answers because they do not begin with the same questions.

For example, the perception that vaccines cause autism — against all available empirical evidence — is now shared equally by Democrats and Republicans. Partisanship can’t account for that dueling fact perception. But when we looked at the role of core values and their associated questions, we found the strongest predictor.

If someone we surveyed ranked this question highly — Does it appear that people are committing indecent acts or degrading something sacred? — they were by far the most likely to believe that vaccines are dangerous. Partisan identity had no relationship at all with those beliefs. Because the starting points for different groups of citizens are deeply polarized, so are their ending points. And the starting points are often values rather than parties.

The stronger those commitments to their values are, the stronger the effects. Those with extreme value commitments are much more certainthan others that their perceptions are correct.

Perhaps the most disappointing finding from our studies — at least from our point of view — is that there are no known fixes to this problem.

Fact-checking tends to fall flat. The voters who need to hear corrections rarely read fact-checks. And for those who might stumble across them, reports from distant and distrusted experts are no match for closely held values and defining identities.

Link to the rest at The Nieman Lab

Your Google Data Is Getting the Auto-Delete Tool It Always Needed

From Fast Company:

While Google has spent years insisting that users are in control of their privacy, it’s never given users a way to wipe old data automatically. If you wanted to keep Google from building up a lifetime of personal information without opting out of personalized features entirely, you had to remind yourself to delete the data on your own.

That’s about to change: Google will soon introduce an auto-delete function to its account activity page. This will give users the option to delete old searches, location history, and other activity, either after three months or a year and a half. Google says the auto-delete feature will roll out “in the coming weeks.”

Google’s tendency to save everything indefinitely was the subject of a recent New York Times investigation, which found that police are using Google’s location database to trawl for potential crime suspects, and sometimes ensnaring innocent people in the process. A wave of stories on how to disable Google’s location tracking followed.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

PG says some people have been regularly creating new Google accounts while abandoning old ones due to Google’s collect-and-hold-everything practices.

PG regularly uses several Google accounts for different purposes as a simpler method of just about accomplishing the same thing.

If you would like to do something like this or just start a new Google (or Facebook, etc.) account every few weeks, PG recommends getting a password manager like LastPass, 1Password or Dashlane to keep track of multiple account names and passwords. The last time PG checked each of these organizations offered a completely useful free version that you could upgrade into a paid account with more bells and whistles.

 

Facebook Ban

From CNN:

Facebook announced Thursday afternoon that it had designated some high-profile people, including Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who’s notorious for using anti-Semitic language, and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, as “dangerous” and said it will be purging them from its platforms.

Jones and his media outlet InfoWars had previously been banned from Facebook in August 2018, but had maintained a presence on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. On Thursday, Jones and InfoWars will be barred from Instagram as well.

Other people banned on Thursday included Paul Nehlen, an anti-Semite who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 and 2018, and fringe right-wing media personalities Laura Loomer, Milo Yiannopoulos and Paul Joseph Watson.

“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN Business. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today.”

Link to the rest at CNN

Facebook Gets a New Look

From The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook Inc. rolled out a substantial redesign of its website and mobile app, geared partly toward steering users to participate in more group conversations as the company strives to reduce abusive content and the scrutiny resulting from it.

. . . .

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in an interview that the changes unveiled Tuesday mark the most significant alteration to Facebook’s core platform in years and are part of a larger effort to offer less-public ways of communicating. The company also made its video- and photo-heavy feature Stories more prominent in the redesign, building on the popularity of similar features in its sister app, Instagram.

. . . .

In addition to the removal of the blue banner and a generally lighter color scheme, hundreds of smaller details have been altered to reflect “that groups are at the heart of the app, not just friends,” he said.

. . . .

Mr. Zuckerberg positioned the latest redesign as part of a broad rethinking of Facebook’s product design, priorities and even values that he has touted publicly over the last two months. In early March, he said the company would focus on more private communications, embracing encrypted and ephemeral messaging across its products and guiding its Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram platforms toward similar sets of features.

Weeks later, Mr. Zuckerberg began championing a global approach to internet regulation, declaring decisions about content on Facebook’s platforms too important to leave to the company.

Facebook is cultivating Groups as it shifts toward relying more on users to help police content and prevent harassment. Group administrators, not Facebook, are already front-line moderators of behavior within their often closed forums. The company is adding new resources, including a tool that flags violations of Facebook standards within the group for moderators, said Fidji Simo, the recently appointed head of the Facebook App.

Expanding the role of users in policing behavior on Facebook could relieve some pressure on the company to do so—after it has spent billions of dollars in recent years to hire contract moderators and build artificial-intelligence systems to screen for abusive content.

One risk of encouraging like-minded users to connect and discuss shared passions in groups is the potential for forums that share misinformation to blossom further. Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook would discourage users from gravitating toward such groups by making them less prominent. “If people really seek it out on their own, fine,” he said of existing Facebook groups that promote conspiracy theories. “But part of our responsibility is to make sure we don’t recommend groups that share misinformation.”

There may be more to work out. A search for “cancer” in the Groups section shows one of the top recommendations is a “Cancer Cures & Natural Healing Research” group, which lists 96,000 members and claims pharmaceutical companies are suppressing natural cancer treatments to maintain their profits.

“The US government poisons babies, practically from birth,” an administrator of the group wrote in a Monday post, falsely alleging links between fluoride and autism in children, saying the government’s support of fluoridated water “goes light years beyond terrorism” and “will cause your baby’s brain to turn into mush.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry about the paywall)

Instagram Memers Are Unionizing

From The Atlantic:

Instagram memers have had enough.

They generate the engagement that helps keep Instagram growing—but, they argue, the multibillion-dollar platform doesn’t pay them for their work, or give them any control. So they’re fighting back. And before you write off IG Meme Union Local 69-420 as a joke, the organizers of the collective would like you to know that they are very serious.

“Solidarity actions with memers. Memers of the world unite,” the Instagram page for the union reads, encouraging followers to “seize the memes of production.”

The IG Meme Union will probably never be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board, but organizers say it can still act as a union for all intents and purposes. “We’re calling it a union and doing union-organizing tactics,” Paul Praindo, a representative of the organizing committee, told me. “We stand in firm support of others who are working to organize anti-labor industries. We think these movements mark the beginning of a labor renaissance.” Some other “unions” function this way: The Freelancers Union, for instance, doesn’t have a formal management structure to negotiate with, but does advocate collectively for independent workers.

Similarly, the IG Meme Union, which is currently taking applications through an online form, hopes to negotiate better working conditions for memers who say they have been exploited by Instagram and other tech platforms for too long. “People are doing a lot of work, doing it for free or little compensation, or not recognized for the work they’re doing,” Praindo said. “All these people are bringing revenue to Instagram, producing this major profit margin for this

. . . .

“We as content creators want to have worker protections,” Praindo said. “Even if you’re producing funny pictures of Shrek, that should not determine whether you’re taken seriously as a creator or your livelihood is imperiled at the drop of a hat … We are a meme union; the whole point of it is to work for protections for other content creators.”

. . . .

A few things the IG Meme Union wants: a more open and transparent appeals process for account bans; a direct line of support with Instagram, or a dedicated liaison to the meme community; and a better way to ensure that original content isn’t monetized by someone else. “Having a public and clear appeal process is a big thing,” Praindo said. “People appeal now and get turned down, and they won’t know why.

. . . .

Memers represent a burgeoning sector of the labor force that currently has no job security or formal protection. “If you’re spending all your time as a Twitch broadcaster or creating memes, that is work,” says John Ahlquist, an associate professor at the University of San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, who has done research on the changing nature of work. “People that are trying to earn a living on these platforms are recognizing how vulnerable they are on an individual basis with respect to the platform, and so they’re turning to this tried-and-true model of collective action.”

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

PG is not an expert on labor law, but he wonders if there is any real solution residing in a labor union when so many people are willing to post to Instagram with no financial compensation.

If the Memers want to organize, offering to their collective talents elsewhere (PG doesn’t know enough about Instagram’s competitors – if any, to point out a possible alternative) or setting up a competing meme/image site (he understands you don’t recreate Instagram overnight) might be a more effective response.

Another question popped into PG’s mind – Is Patreon a possibility for Instagram stars?