Monday, November 14, 2011

An Author's Guide to Google+ Circles

[caption id="attachment_1833" align="alignleft" width="296" caption="A sampling of my Google+ Circles."]A sampling of my Google+ Circles.[/caption]

Yesterday on Google+, I teased that I had come to an epiphany that resulted in a radical change to my profile. After letting it soak for a day, I think I'm ready to share.

1st Warning: Some of you are going to disagree with this. Strongly.

2nd Warning: I'm aming specifically at authors who want to use their Google+ personal account1 in a professional way. If that's not you, then go away and figure out your own methods on Google+.

3rd Warning: This is very long. Yet terribly short. It's so complex, I'm building out curriculum and will offer it as training on ePublish Unum. Stay tuned.

To circle or not to circle?

As it turns out, not is the correct answer. Not unless very particular circumstances occur. Then, and only then, do you circle back. Take these steps right now. You may want to block off a couple of hours, depending on how far behind you are.

Step 1: De-clutter

Google+ makes it easy to do the wrong things. Assuming you've implemented a different strategy, you need to do some cleanup. Like:

  1. Un-circle everyone. Right now. Do it. Trust me. Save yourself the pain I went through before I decided to take this step. You'll thank me later.

  2. Delete all the default circles that Google+ created for you. None of them are helpful to authors.

Step 2: Make outbound channels

Let's craft this sucker to work for you as you build your professional author presence on Google+, yet still let you be a human  being. Or at least seem like one.

  1. Figure out what you are known for. What are you an expert in? What are you seen as an expert in? This is your primary voice, the thing you'll talk about. You know, the thing you write books about. Write it down. Remember it. But do not make a circle for it. I'll explain why in a moment. For now,  trust me.

  2. Make a circle for "that other thing" you want to talk about from time to time. You're on a social media site, for goodness sake! This is no time to be one-dimensional. Maybe it's photography. Maybe it's a sports team. I don't care. You should care, however.

  3. Circle people to this "other thing" (I hope you didn't call it that) who would mostly be interested in this aspect of your online persona. Look through the people who've previously circled you to see if they fit. But as you naturally discover others, add them to this circle as well.

3: Create your selective attention

To keep you out of the circle-back reflex, create and populate these custom circles:

  1. "Firehose". This is for people you ALWAYS want to hear from. That word is bold, italic and in all caps for a reason. This is not an analog for "Friends". Be very selective about who you circle here. I'm pretty good at handling inputs. And I only have 18 people in here.

  2. A circle for a topic you want to learn about or on which you wish to stay well-informed. When populating, make sure you only circle people who talk primarily on this topic. The occasional on-topic post won't do. To make this work, you need to keep your inputs clean. If you have more than one topic you want to stay informed about. Add it. But remember: this is about your career as an author. You have many other sources of news than Google+, right? Don't dupe.

 Step 4: Check your appearance

Get to your Profile and click the link that says "View profile as..." on the right side under your five-image strip. Click "anyone on the web" and focus on the "In [your name]'s circles (###)" section under your picture on the left side. How does it look? More importantly, what does it say about the implied endorsement you've given those other Google+ profiles and Pages?

If they are off-brand for you, hide them. Make a new circle called "Hidden" (or whatever) and add in the offending profiles/pages. Clicking the "Change who is visible here" from your profile page let's you do just that! Leave it set to "Anyone on the web", as you're wanting more people to learn about you, not less!

Step 5: Gauge and engagement

I'm a firm believer that the ultimate, over-arching goal of any author using Google+ professionally must be to increase engagement with fans. Sure, you want them to buy your books (all of them), but that's something that happens down the road after you've engaged with them and they decide like you. Then they buy. And tell a few dozen of their closest friends to do the same. That's how social marketing works.

Here's the beauty of Google+ where engagement comes into play: Google+ is the only high-volume social network that doesn't limit interactions by default. It matters not if you have circled a would-be fan or not: their ability to interact with you isn't inhibited one tiny bit!

Everything a circled fan can do, a fan outside of your circles can do. That's a huge change from Facebook, where the default level of interactivity among non-Friends is zero. Even Twitter allows extra permissions once you've followed someone.

But on Google+, un-circled fans can comment on your posts and you can comment back to them. They can +1 your posts and you can thank them for it. They can mention you and you'll be notified just like you would be with circled fans. The fan gains nothing when you circle them.

Step 6: Don't ignore the Ignore option

Now that you know that un-circled friends aren't inhibited in the least, it's time to discover that link you've probably been avoiding: Ignore.

Click on your Circles, then the text that reads "People who've added you (####)". Change your Sort option to "Not yet in circles". (This doesn't show you only those people. It just puts them first in the list.) Scroll to the bottom, and you should see rectangles for people with small rings in the lower right corner. That's not a ring, it's a circle. When you see it, that indicates the person is in your circle.

Now is when it gets fun. Or terrifying.

Go back to the top and start selecting some people who aren't in any of your (now much limited) circles. If you have no idea who they are, click the Ignore button on the upper right side. Poof! They're gone. Keep going. Liberating, isn't it? Who says Inbox Zero can't apply to Google+!

This is the only action the Ignore button has: to remove people from your list of to-be-circled. Those you've ignored can still comment, +1, mention you... all of that. The block feature is entirely different and stops all interaction. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're just cleaning house. And keeping it clean.

Step 7: Start publishing!

Remember how you didn't make a circle for your primary topic?  That's because it's 100% the same as your public posts! This is the thing you talk about. Always. Every day. Multiple times a day, if you can. You don't need a circle for it because you aren't limiting these posts. These posts work to define you on Google+. Even those people in your "other things" (really, you didn't name it that, did you?) circle shouldn't be immune to your public posts. If they un-circle you for your primary content; fine. They probably shouldn't have circled you in the first place.

But you can (and should) send out some public posts of interest to this "other things" circle on a regular basis. Remember -- don't be one dimensional. But some things of interest to this group may be super geeky, and you may not wish to share that with your regular audience. Great. That's why you made this special circle. Send it only to them and keep it away from your regular audience.

Step 8: Maintenance

People are joining Google+ at a crazy rate. Expect to be circled a lot. Especially as your career grows. Click the "Notifications" link from under your Stream list. From here you can see any new people who have circled you. And Google+ provides a quick Ignore link right from here. Use it. Liberally.

As I said earlier, this isn't going to sit well with some people. I fully expect a slew of "who the hell are you to be dictating how I use Google+" comments and posts. It comes with the territory. But if you have a dissenting opinion and want to engage in a spirited dialog, I'd love to hear from you. Even if I haven't circled you on Google+.

1 - Not to be confused with a Google+ Page. Yeah, they are different.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Office hours for authors on Google+ Hangouts

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="OPEN by Tom Magliery on Flickr"]OPEN by Tom Magliery on Flickr[/caption]

Earlier this week I gave a Google+ Hangouts tip to fiction authors. Here's one for non-fictions authors -- use Google+ Hangouts for "office hours".

Think back to college. Sure, it's hazy from time, beer and... college. Remember when you were struggling like mad to grasp the concepts of electron clouds because your shitty high school chemistry teacher knew nothing of basic science and only wanted to blow things up in the lab like you so you didn't really learn anything and now here you are at university and...

Wait. Sorry. I'm already off-track.

College professors deal with the failings of secondary education all the time. And one tool they use to help students (like me) with personalized attention is through office hours. These are posted times when they are available to walk-in students. They sit in their office, have a light workload, and wait for students to come to them with questions. They're the experts. We're the... well, students.

The parallel for non-fiction authors, typically masters of their chosen field, should be obvious.

So do it. Find a time that you can commit to being in front of your computer each and every week. That's really the key part; consistency. Make that time publicly known. Post it everywhere. Add it to your Twitter bio. Set up auto-tweets to remind people about it. Create a Facebook event and invite your fans. And obviously, talk about it on Google+.

When it's time for the event, start your Hangout. Don't just sit there and stare at the screen waiting for the masses to come to you. That way lies madness. And depression. Instead, get some work done. I would not recommend writing. At least not on the computer that's running the Google+ Hangout. File papers. Read a book. Fiddle with your tablet. But stay in view of the camera, and keep your sound up so you can hear when people join.

Who will come? Dunno. That's the beauty of it. It's open season. What will they ask? Anything, really. Hopefully things related to your expertise. It's your job to steer the conversation there.

What happens if more than 9 people want to be there at the same time? If you fill up on your Hangout, make a post on G+ asking people to be patient. And as soon as you've answered someone's question, exit them from the Hangout to free up a slot.

What happens if no one comes? Then you have a great hour of not futzing with the computer in front of you. Use it wisely!

If you decide to try this, please let me know. Send me a message on Google+ and tell me about. I'd love to hangout and watch the experiment unfold!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Google+ Hangouts for Author Readings

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="reading by Hans Splinter on Flickr"]reading by Hans Splinter on Flickr[/caption]

One old promotional trick gets a facelift with Google+. I'm talking about author readings, something that was previously limited by proximity.

Not any more.

In the olden-days of, oh... 3 days ago, author readings were the bastion of book tours and conventions. Readers had to be at the same place as the author at the same time to experience the reading. Sure, readings could be recorded and later broadcasted. Or podcasted. Or accessed through live-streaming sites like But while the technology to reach the masses was there, they by-and-large weren't connected to the author's network, so they didn't spread very far.

Google+ can change that through the Hangout feature.

Google+ Hangouts are live video sessions that can house up to 10 people. Now, I know what you're saying: 10 people does not a broadcast make. I agree. But hear me out.

First, consider this is the first large-scale social network to tightly couple the idea of friends/followers -- called "circles" in G+ -- with the ability for multi-person, bi-directional video chat. That's key to making the author feel like they aren't talking to a camera -- they can actually see the people who are part of the audience. And rather than drumming up interest on one social channel (Facebook) and then trying to drive people to go to another social channel (uStream) to watch the show, it's 100% self-contained.

Yes, Google+ really needs to get some sort of "event" feature like FB has. That would allow authors to announce and let fans RSVP to the reading in advance. I trust that they are working it. And a lot more.

But back to the 10-people-max problem. Which is really a 9-people-max problem, because you -- the author -- are one of those 10. I'm going to compound the problem and suggest you have an assistant taking up another seat, which makes it an 8-person-max problem. The horror!

Don't think single-instance audience size -- think volume. That assistant has a single job: to rotate people through the hangout. Maybe it's on a timed schedule. Maybe some sort of RSVP system is used. And maybe Google will eventually figure out some sort of round-robin. But the idea is sound: authors build interest in their readings and give those readings in a Google+ Hangout. People come and go through the experience.

Will it work? I think so. The infrastructure -- the important parts, at least -- is built. Creating a joining a Hangout on Google+ is incredibly simple. Just work through the issue of having too many people and you're well on your way. And I wouldn't sweat it too much. I think Google has plans on increasing -- drastically -- the number of people who can attend a Hangout. So cut your teeth on them while they are somewhat controllable.

The more I dig into Google+, the more I really like it for the indie author or publisher. I'm off to think about it some more. In the mean time, circle me on Google+. You know you want to...

Google+ Pages for Authors

[caption id="attachment_1817" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Google+ Pages Logo"]Google+ Pages Logo[/caption]

Yesterday, Google announced that the business-side of Google+ was open for business. Often called "the Facebook killer", Google+ was off-limits to anything but people. And real people. No funny anonymous names like "FuzzyBunny142". Real names, or at least the names you were commonly known by in the real world.

Now with the launch of Google+ Pages, entities other than people are free to make profiles. I've had about 3 hours to play around, creating G+ Pages for and ePublish Unum, and think that there might be a play for authors here. My thoughts are only about half-baked, so I don't want to write much more here this morning other than some immediate observations and steps you, the indie author or publisher, might want to take.

  1. There's value getting in early. Yes, there's also the chance that a new thing will fail to take off. Google has plenty of failed social projects. This one doesn't smell that way. As more people get involved, those who have built a good presence will naturally garner more attention.

  2. Go slow and complete. Like all-too-many social properties, Google+ Pages encourages you to "share your page with friends!" way too early in the process. Resist that temptation. Fill out your About section (smartly), load some pics (get creative), and make a few solid posts before shouting to the masses.

  3. This isn't Facebook. Facebook is fun. It's friends and family. It's a place to be social and goofy. Google+ just feels different. More serious, perhaps? More research- or discover-focused? Hard to put my finger on it. Google+ Pages lack a lot of the support structure (currently) that you'll find on Facebook Pages. I assume those are coming soon.

  4. Don't cross the streams. I'm not sure there's a lot of value in reposting everything you do on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and your own blog on your Google+ Page. Or even your Google+ profile. That seems like wall-papering, and I fail to see the value. Each of the channels is different. Your content should be, too.

  5. Consider making a Google+ Page for each of your books. Wow. I can't believe I just wrote that. But there is an option to set up a Google+ Page for a book. Select Arts, Entertainment or Sports > Book to do this. Right now, it doesn't look like there are any custom fields you get when you make that choice, but you can bet there will be. Perhaps with links back to Google Books, I'd wager. And probably places for reviews and such. Yeah, this is starting to make more sense.

  6. Consider making a Google+ Page for your protagonist. Here I go with the crazy talk again. But sure enough, Fictional Character is an option. I'd hold off on creating one for every character you have. That way lies madness.

  7. Link in your other primary social properties. And your website. That's on the About page.

  8. Start circling people. Which Google+ Pages makes rather difficult, since a G+ Page can't circle someone unless the person first circles the G+ Page. Leverage your existing Google+ Profile (your personal one) to start getting the word out about your new one. Encourage folks to pass it along to the people in their circles, too. But you better make sure you have solid content for that. The novelty of "hey, I have a G+ Page" will wear off in about 3 more days.

  9. Delete the dumb default Circles. Create your own. You're using this as a marketing tool. I'd go with Fans, Support Staff, and maybe Superfans. You can create and direct messages to these very specific groups.

  10. When people circle you, circle them back! All of them! They are opting in to your communication stream. Why wouldn't you add them to a circle? And if Google+ Page circle you, circle them back, too. A person is behind that Page, so why not? Stick them in the generic "fans" circle. Or if you want to keep up with what they are doing from an approach POV, create a new circle called Other Pages.

That's it for now. Much more to learn in the coming days. When I've got it all figured out, I'll probably post about it on ePubish Unum.

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

3 reasons I hate NaNoWriMo

[caption id="attachment_1808" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="No, I'm not participating. Should you?"][/caption]

This time of year, thousands of authors are gearing up for a month of uber-productivity. They're canceling weekend plans. They're figuring out how to re-set their alarm clocks. They're shifting work deadlines so they never, ever have to work late. At least not for the next month. And they do these things for a single purpose: to write a novel in 30 days.

Yes, next month is NaNoWriMo. And I hate it.

Sorry, but it's the truth. The mere thought of this causes a Cheney-like sneer to dominate my features. My eyes being to auto-roll at the mention, and I start looking for sharp objects to end the pain. One way or another.

On the surface, NaNoWriMo is a great idea. You join a thousands-strong peer group and achieve the unthinkable; you write your own novel, and you do it in 30 days. No editing. You just write. You shock your brain into a routine that keeps your butt-in-seat, forces you to pound on the keys, and just keep going until you hit (at least) 50,000 words. Then... you win.

All of that? I love. And hate.

I hate NaNoWriMo for 3 basic reasons:

  1. Repeat offenders. NaNoWriMo, at its core, teaches you that yes, you can put the requisite work in to write 50,000+ words. Congrats. You've done it. You know you can. You have what it takes inside you. And you did it in only 30 days. Imagine what you could do with 365 days?

    But you forget that last part. You've somehow become conditioned that the only time you can write is in November, and the only way you can complete a novel is to do it all within a month.

    What are you, Pavlov's dog? You did it! Great. It's time to move on. It's time to incorporate writing into your daily routine. It's time to move from doing a novel activity and becoming a novelist. Did you think high school was so great that you wanted to repeat it again? Of course not. So stop it. Get serious with your writing.

  2. Premature epublication. The writing process is not over when your word counter ticks past the 50,000 mark. That's just the first draft. And since every author will tell you that their first published novel sucked compared to their other works, imagine how terrible your first draft ever really is!

    This is reality. Writing leads to re-writing. Lots of it. And then it leads to editing. Which feeds back into more re-writing, more editing... Rinse. Repeat.

    You are not done when you hit 50,000 words, or on November 30th. But I will bet money that around mid-December, every eBook publishing marketplace will see a new crop of "NaNoWriMo 2011 Winner!" books show up on their virtual shelves. I know for a fact I'll be bombarded with "winners" presenting me audio book-versions of their freshly "completed" books for Hold the fort! NaNo just ended days ago! How did you go through all the revisions, editing, production, design and the rest of the things necessary to create a digital book for publication in a matter of days? Oh... that's right. You didn't. Writing is just the beginning.

  3. Not everyone is cut out to be a writer. I hesitate to use the word most because it assumes I have knowledge of over half the population, and I obviously don't. But I'm going to break my own rule and say this: Most people do not possess the skills to write a cogent novel. And I'll go so far to say that most people could not be taught the skills to write a cogent novel. And of those that do, most won't put in the time, energy and effort to get better at the skill of writing. Like a never-was cover band, they'll continue to pump out the same low-level work and never, ever improve.

If you've made it this far, you're either fist-pumping in the air with me or just looking for my contact info to tell me what a giant douchebag I am. Thanks to the former, and it's under contact for the latter.

Having said all of this, I remain committed to helping indie authors and publishers be even more awesome than they already are. But that presumes a certain amount of awesomeness to begin with. And yes, I can point to a myriad of awesome indie authors. These are the people who elicit a little squee from me when they publish a new book.

So see? I'm not a cold, heartless bastard who's trying to keep you from expressing your creativity. Far from it. I'd just like you to do it better. Much, much better. If you don't know if you have what it takes to write a novel, then I highly urge you to take part in NaNoWriMo this year. Or next. And then once you've learned that you can, it's time to learn the rest of what it means to be a writer today. Because you're just getting started!

Oh, and because someone will ask: No, I've never participated in NaNoWriMo. I'm not a novelist. And I have no desire to be one. My love/hate relationship is much more pragmatic than simple jealous anger.

Let the hate mail begin.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Why Authors Should Attend Podcamp AZ

At the digital publishing workshop Jeff and I gave last month, a sizable portion of the authors wanted more information about making their work into audio books. As I explained to them, very good and very inexpensive pro-sumer grade recording equipment is out there. And while you may not pull off a performance of Scott Brick's in-studio caliber, many authors do a damn fine job recording their own audio books at home.

A great way to learn how to record your own audio book will be to attend Podcamp AZ on November 12th & 13 in Tempe, AZ. No, the conference isn't specifically about recording audio books. But it is a great place to get your "how do I get started" questions answered by people who are there in the trenches, recording audio every day. You can also see and get hands-on experience with recording equipment you can buy at your local music shop or on I'm telling you, this isn't rocket surgery.

And it's free!

I'm currently slated to give the following talks at the following times. This is a preliminary schedule and is subject to change:

  • Saturday @ 9:15a - Lessons From A 7-Year Podcasting Veteran

  • Saturday @ 1:30p - Podcasting Panel Discussion

  • Sunday @ 11:15a - You're At Podcamp - Let's Make A Podcast!

I'll talk quite a bit about authors and podcasting in all of my talks, as it's largely the place I've been involved in podcasting since the start.

Outside of those talks, I'm completely available to chat, give ideas or push you in the right direction. Podcamp AZ is a blast, and I think any author serious about embracing digital publishing -- even if you aren't ready to record your own audio book -- should attend.

Here's a smattering of the other talks happening that authors and publishers would get the most from:

  • Branding, Not Bragging - It's presented by Carey Pena, local TV personality and awesome person!

  • Social Media for Historical Figures - I expect great non-standard ideas authors can adapt to their needs.

  • Building Your Brand Without Being A Social Media Douchebag - Presented by finalist for Nicest Guy In Phoenix James Archer.

  • How To Pay The Bills With Your Blog - Great insights for a new outlet for you (us) non-fiction authors!

  • How Anyone Can Shoot Great Video - Book trailers are all the rage. Izzy will show you how to do it with style!

  • A Writing Panel that includes the Grammar Girl herself, Mignon Fogerty!

And that's just the start. Talks on WordPress (because your website probably sucks), email marketing, using photos in your work and loads of other information you need as a digital author or publisher is all there for the taking. Come on!

So go register. Right now. It's free. And then drop me a line. I'd love to get together!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Digital Publishing for Authors Workshop was a hit!

On Saturday, Jeff Moriarty and I talked for 8 hours. No, you're not surprised. But this time, it wasn't just to see which one of us got tired first.

That day marked the first of many workshops, classes and educational experience for a brand new company we started, ePublish Unum. The intent? To educate independent authors about the world of digital publishing. And by all accounts -- half the post-class surveys are in -- it was a smashing success. If you were one of our attendees, much thanks for coming out. We really enjoyed presenting to you.

I'm not going to wax poetically on the event here. I'm going to let Ruth and Dan do that, as they both have great posts on what the class meant to them. And no, we didn't ask them to say nice things about us, either!

If you missed it, fear not. We have many more planned. Yes, more full-day workshops like this one. Even some multi-day conferences. And a slew of smaller, much more highly targeted opportunities as well. And that's just the in-person stuff! We're scheming on a virtual options for those of you who don't live in the greater Phoenix area. Stay tuned for more.

Finally, a huge THANK YOU goes out to my lovely wife, Sheila Dee, and Jeff's lovely wife, Dannie Moriarty. Not only are they tireless (oh, but I can only be they get tired) supporters of the two of us, but they also quite literally built the workbook we used during the class. And it got rave reviews! Thank you, ladies. We could not have done this with out you.