Things they don’t tell you about this author deal

by Alex

I actually have a long list of good things I could say.   (Reader mail, for example!)  Coming from screenwriting, as I’ve said many times before, most days I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven.   But there are a few things that are an essential part of the job that no one warns you about that can really work your last nerve.   And it’s winter, and I’m on a deadline, and I’m grumpy, and I’m missing Love Is Murder so that I can MAKE the @#$%^&* deadline, so I’m going to dwell on the bad.

Being an author requires a skill set that no one would necessarily think you’d need to have.

And if this is not Number One among the evil things about being an author, it is surely a close second:

The technology.

Oh, look, I’m okay with computers.  Not a whiz, not a slouch.   Against all odds, I manage to figure out most of what I’m supposed to do.   (Except “tags”.   What are “tags” and why are they important?  And how am I supposed to do them?   On Typepad, for example?   When I write a post, and there’s a box for Technorati Tags… what do they actually want from me?   What’s the upside of doing them, if I can ever figure out how to do them, and what’s the downside if I blithely leave them out?)

I feel the pain of any new author who is confronted with the vast array of Internet – stuff – that we’re all supposed to be masters and mistresses of to do the promotional aspects of this job.  I would be freaking the @##$ out if I hadn’t had to teach myself how to make the unofficial WGA website, WriterAction, happen a few years ago.  I was arguably the least qualified person in the entire Writers Guild to do it, but apparently, for whatever reason, I was also the most motivated, which gave me a sort of slash-and-burn determination about web-related issues.   That learning curve has been a lifesaver in my new career as an author.

Take, for example, MySpace.  Which requires more scary html than other author-related activities. 

In general, I love MySpace because it’s such passive promotion.  Once you get your page up there, people pretty much find you, and it really only requires 20 minutes a week to approve your Friend requests and answer your mail, when you remember to do that, of course.   You have a presence without any work, and people on MySpace actually buy your books, how great is that?  But once in a while it takes some work, and it’s harder to figure out than a lot of the other places.   

This week I had to update my MySpace page for the release of THE PRICE.   I managed to post a new blog and update my profile and upload the new bookcover image and it was all pretty intuitive, nothing suicide-inducing.   The problem was the template that I’d initially somehow managed to get up there to make my profile just a little more than the basic MySpace profile.   After I’d put my new PRICE bookcover up, the old background color was just ungodly, an horrific clash against the colors of the new cover.    But when I tried to go on the site of the template I’d used, to change the colors, it wasn’t letting me on.   And it’s not like you can get live help from these free sites, right?   

Well, I’m not exactly sure how I did it, but I managed to figure out what the color code was from some other link and get it in there to my site and change the color background to something halfway compatible. This is not, mind you, something I’m ever likely to be able to replicate, and not in any way professional design caliber, but at least now clicking on my MySpace profile will most probably not induce nausea, and that’s a victory.

But my blood pressure?   Worrisome.

Then there’s the whole mailing list thing.   Yes, I have one of those mailing list services, Vertical Response, which I found through one of those essential-for-new-author weblists, Murder Must Advertise, and it’s a wonderful thing in theory: with Vertical Response you can build a newsletter with templates and images, and import mailing lists and all this good stuff.   Perfect for authors who actually take time every week to input their mailing lists and that kind of left-brained thing that authors are not likely to be genetically programmed to do.   

Authors like me, for example.   

But, you know, I did a Vertical Response mailing list a year ago when THE HARROWING came out and lo and behold, I still have an imported list of e mails from people who actually care about me and so I can build a newsletter with cool images and links and everything and automatically send it off to those saved lists with one click, and theoretically I can also build more lists out of the five zillion business cards I traded with people on my promotional trail this last year, and everyone in the free world will know about my book release by the time I’m done…

That is, if I had either an assistant or the kind of time to input all those new addresses.

Which I don’t.   But, still, I’ll do what I can, and Vertical Response helps.   Once you get over the sheer overwhelming panic about having to sit down and DO it.. you realize what a godsend it is.

It’s MADDENING, though – the technical stuff.   I’ve recently switched back to Mac from PC, which meant I had to download Firefox to use instead of my more familiar Internet Explorer to even be able to use Vertical Response, and at one point I thought I’d lost my entire newsletter that I’d been building for the last two hours because I clicked the wrong whatever and forgot where Firefox keeps previous open windows…

At which point, everything went black for a minute…

You know, Jane Austen didn’t have to deal with this kind of thing.

(Then again, we don’t have to deal with primogeniture, so… I’ve got to admit we’re ahead.)

Okay, this is the point.   (Hah – you didn’t think I had one, did you?)  You know what I would like to see?   Never mind all the panels and workshops on where stories come from and how to create character.  Anyone who’s ever put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard knows all that already.   You just DO.

Give me a panel on how to do tags, all right?  A workshop on Top Ten Technology Tips.   How do you change the background color on your MySpace page?   How do you do that thing to hook up all your blog sites so you only have to post a blog once?  Or just even show me how not to lose my newsletter on Vertical Response.

And while we’re here, what are YOUR techno rants and tips? 

And for bonus points, you guessed it – what ARE tags, and why exactly should I care?

19 thoughts on “Things they don’t tell you about this author deal

  1. billie

    Oh, god – tags. My Space page. If I have to do those to be an author… I’m not sure I’ll make it.

    Thus far my husband being a software architect and my web designer have saved me from the hard stuff. I can figure out more than I let on, but avoid doing it b/c I really don’t enjoy html, not one bit.

    My advice? Find a savvy teenager. I had an issue with my cell phone last year – and in about 5 minutes a teenaged client had upgraded the software to my cell phone, fixed the problem w/o a call to Verizon, and further customized things I’d never even known were possible.

    I think the conferences should have, not just ‘how to change the color on your My Space page’ but actually tutor you through making the page right there in the course.

    I’d still probably take the class on how to create good characters, though!

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Actually, now that I’m thinking about it – I’m pretty sure that the next con I’m going to – Southern California Writers Conference – DOES have a hands-on workshop like that. O happy day!

  3. Mark Terry

    MySpace basic is easy, but I agree, adding your own touches or modified things can be a pain in the ass–which is why I haven’t done much. Like, I’m busy writing, people, who has time for this?

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Exactly, Mark – who has the time? I spent ALL DAY on this stuff yesterday. That’s a whole day I could have been writing, and I needed to be writing.

    I swear, there’s a niche for an all-in-one tech service for authors.

  5. R.J. Mangahas

    I think my biggest complaint about technology is that once you have something figured out, they have a new version.

    Being a graphic Designer is another occupation where you run into this stuff. And believe me, the upgrades are NEVER cheap for the professional design software. Plus, if you buy the latest software, the print shop you go to may not have the latest version. GAAAAAHHHHH!!!!

    AS far as suggestions, there are two book series that have a manual for just about everything. The Dummy series and Visual Quickstart. These are great because you can just look stuff up as need be and there’s not a whole lot of technical jargon to deal with.

  6. Louise Ure

    God, X, you’re already so much more technically savvy than I am.

    And there’s a whole ‘nother list of “things they don’t tell you about this author deal”, but that’s a topic for another blog day.

    Welcome back to Mac, girl!

  7. Alexandra Sokoloff

    RJ, I never even thought to look for a “Dummy” book for some of this stuff. What a great idea, thanks!

    LuLu, what are you talking about? You’re the one who always posts with photos and oie charts and all those great graphics.

    Do YOU know what tags are?

    I agree – we could have a whole week here of THINGS THEY DON’T TELL YOU.

  8. Jeanne Ketterer

    If you can tell me how to make that blessed pinwheel (or beachball) STOP on my Mac, maybe I can do those other things …

    Falling a little out of love with my MacBook that keeps crashing.


  9. Lois

    Tags are like subject headings in a library catalog or keywords for an internet search. They serve a couple purposes – as a memory prompt to help people get back to something they remember you blogging about, and to bring in new readers who are interested in the topic you are blogging about. So sometimes you want to use broad general tags and sometimes specific ones, or probably both. :)And the librarian in me recommends keeping a list so that you don’t use mystery for part of the time, and mysteries for part of the time, because that won’t keep everything together.

  10. toni mcgee causey

    Alex, I’m not entirely sure if I’m correct, but tags are basically keywords which pertain to your blog entry that you put in that technorati box. Technorati searches (and groups) by keywords, so if you put in something like “horror writing” and someone is searching for that, your blog would show up as one of the options to click on.

    I think.

    Or I could be totally making that up and delusional–always a real possibility.

  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Jeanne, if you holf down the Apple and option keys together, then the Force Quit box will come up and you can quit the program that is listed as “not responding”.

    Then you have to reload your program.

    It does happen with Mac, a lot.

  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Okay, Lois and Toni, I almost always do type in those key words, but so what you’re saying is, I don’t have to link them or anything – I just have to type in the words?

    Because THAT I can do!

  13. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, Alex,You’re already lightyears ahead of what I know. And I have to wait for any teenagers in my life. Argh!

    Thanks for asking about tags. I had no idea what they were, but typed in stuff anyway.

    Are there takers out there who would like to write a couple of articles on how to effectively use some of the terminology out there? If so, contact me — or any of the ‘Rati — and let’s talk!

  14. Mike MacLean

    Hey Alex,

    Just sending a note from the underground (aka fatherhood).

    Anyone else wonder how necessary are these things, the Myspace pages, and blogs, and newsletters? Rationally, I know the more people an author reaches, the more books he or she should sell. But is there any proof? Are there writers out who can quantifiably trace their growing book sales to their internet presence?

    An old question, I’m sure, but one I’ve never received a satisfactory answer to.

    Great post BTW. I use a Go Daddy website template. It often makes me want to run face first into a brick wall.

    Hope all is well,

    Mike MacLean

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    How great to see Mike here! We really miss you! You need to send photos.

    You want proof of efficacy, do you? Hah. I’m not even sure >I< exist. My sense is – everything helps, and nobody has any idea how much. A couple of columns by people who actually know what they’re doing would be excellent, Pari! I’m going to ask someone I know when I’m in San Diego and see if he’ll do a guest blog.

  16. JT Ellison

    Ha! I leave for a few days and you come up with a post I can actually answer!!!

    It’s a good suggestion, a panel on how to deal with the technology. I got started when I taught myself how to build this blog, and it’s gone on from there. Though my husband built my website, the darling. He learned how to program for me.

    Toni and Lois are right about the tags.

    Pari, we should definitely look into this. I’ll do whatever I can to help.


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