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 @#$%^&* deadline, so I’m going to dwell on the bad.
Being an author requires a skill set that no one would necessarily think you’d need to have.
And if this is not Number One among the evil things about being an author, it is surely a close second:
Oh, look, I’m okay with computers. Not a whiz, not a slouch. Against all odds, I manage to figure out most of what I’m supposed to do. (Except “tags”. What are “tags” and why are they important? And how am I supposed to do them? On Typepad, for example? When I write a post, and there’s a box for Technorati Tags… what do they actually want from me? What’s the upside of doing them, if I can ever figure out how to do them, and what’s the downside if I blithely leave them out?)
I feel the pain of any new author who is confronted with the vast array of Internet – stuff – that we’re all supposed to be masters and mistresses of to do the promotional aspects of this job. I would be freaking the @##$ 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?