A Nine Year Rant

Last week marked my nine year blogiversary. Actually, it’s nine years of blogging, but this blog came afterwards. I sold my first one, the Buzz Bin.

So one might ask why am I still blogging and what have I learned? Here are nine mini-insights and rants about blogging and content as a whole to celebrate.

1) Blogging Is Not Everything

When I was caught up in the social media wave, blogging and the online presence it created was everything. It was an incredibly freeing tool that sent me on a wild writer’s journey, one I had always dreamed about. Over the last few years, I’ve come to see that blogging as little more than a tool. Blogs, photos and social media in general are very useful, but they ALL have their place.

When I see content marketers and other communicators prioritize their blogs as most important, I shrug. Maybe it’s everything for them. Maybe their blog communities are the alpha and omega of their business. And that’s OK. Many good things have happened from such gatherings, and I can testify to that based on my own experiences.

My blog certainly works to inform members of my community, but meeting, talking with, and seeing people in real life and via other venues is much more important. I’ve come to realize the relationships are most important, not the medium.

2) Strong Relationships Don’t Scale

Strong relationships don’t scale in a comment box. When I overinvested in digital media and underinvested in personal contacts, I put myself in a vulnerable position. Clients, co-workers and friends — the ones that impact your life in a positive fashion — matter more than any social score or reply. I’d rather talk with them directly. This is what enables me to retain great relationships — strong ties.

I don’t get as many comments as I used to (who does?). When I do it’s usually with people who I have spent some time with, and that’s important to me.

3) If There Wasn’t Public Commenting, We’d Have Less Haters, BUT…

6730656371_4ee076509a_b

Haters are going to hate. Sometimes people just disagree and that’s OK, too. But there are others who feel they need to be contrarian or think they’re “smart.” They leave their litany of negativity. What would these people do without commenting? Is graffiti still an option?

BUT, you still need comments because it is social media. If a site is publishing without comments, then they are articles, not blogs. Blogging was at the heart of social media before social networks. In my mind, a blog is a two-way street. A publication — whether it’s a traditional masthead or an individual’s enterprise — can reside on a WordPress and not be a blog. Commenting is what makes social media.

4) Frequency Matters Until It Doesn’t

Blogs and content, one isn’t the other though some mistake the two as synonymous. If you’re a content marketer, then you probably know high blog post frequency is just one path to success. If you don’t use your blog as a primary content marketing vehicle, then frequency doesn’t matter. It’s what you choose to do with it. Frankly, if you’re a person you don’t have to content market. You can just be you, too.

5) Content Marketing or UX?

15846786334_e86a434d29_b (1)

Speaking of blogs as content marketing, the latter has been the marketing rage for a few years. Today, many would acknowledge the proliferation of content has just created the new spam. Five entertaining tips (and yes, this list of nine rants pokes fun at the Buzzfeedization of everything) done well are awesome, but the imitators have bludgeoned the customer with me, too efforts. See, here’s the problem: Content is just part of the user experience (UX).

When you sacrifice UX for the sake of personal attention and triggering Google bots, you create a long-term negative-sum game. It’s back to over-marketing. Following someone or a brand via social networks and RSS is a very casual form of permission. We need to consider how frequent average content impacts the customer’s experience interacting with us. Is this really worth talking to folks about?

Mark my words, content is a part of the UX. A great UX is what matters most to a brand, from first touch to every single interaction after a sale. Marketers will be forced to address the UX problem they are creating with content glut.

6) The Blog as a Public Journal (Yeah, Old School)

When I started, blogging was about journaling new technology discoveries, lessons learned, and sharing insights. For a while, a bunch of early adapters chatted together and broke in this fantastic new set of media. Then personal branding, corporate social media, and content marketing changed things. Blogging became a rat race, a demonstrative example of marketing smarts.

Then you have a kid. You run a business. You measure what’s generating leads. And maybe you prioritize.

When you hang up the frequency bite, you realize it’s going to be hard to be heard. You’re not playing the game anymore. Complicate that matter with a restlessness about blogging social media how-tos and trend pieces, and you have a problem. Content marketing is going to be difficult.

So, during the past year, I blog only once a week, and I write whatever I want. Topics can vary, including new media, fiction, photography, and work. When I have a social good topic, I blog about over at the Huffington Post. Most topics are opinion-based, just like they used to be. It’s old school blogging.

You know what? I have enjoyed blogging this past year more than I have since the 2000s. That’s pretty cool.

7) Influencers Aren’t Cool

17074855685_7391b50ff4_h

When I started blogging, bloggers were considered wild and rebellious by corporate America. By the end of the 2000s they were considered cool. Somewhere around this time, corporate America started to see the value of bloggers, at least as potential word of mouth endorsers. Bloggers became “influencers” in the corporate vernacular.

Today, word of mouth influencers are still important, but in the larger sense most people just see uber-bloggers/influencers as big over-privileged pains in the ass. Go figure.

8) I May Go Back to High School

I really hated high school. The exclusionary cliques, the stratification of the popular kids based on vapid criteria, and the shaming of the uncool was all too much. High school was an awful experience, and when graduation came I could not leave for college soon enough.

It’s been 25 years now. People have changed quite a bit, at least based on what I see via Facebook. I find myself very interested in attending this year’s reunion. I am sure there will be some of the old shenanigans, but I also think some people will be quite interesting.

Maybe I’ll feel the same way about social media conferences in the future.

9) Perseverance and Longevity

17061167321_27f2cfb3ba_k (1)

My new book will be released later this summer. It will be called Perseverance after listening to the editorial feedback I received from the publisher. Perseverance is an interesting word when it comes to blogging.

There were months on end, long periods of time when I wanted to quit. But I didn’t. As a result I achieved longevity. I had periods of notoriety, but overall I meandered. The body of work moved between professional to personal interest, and back and forth again. More than anything, the blogs reflected my own personal journey and perhaps they suffered for that. That’s OK, I’m still standing.

As time has passed, many, many peers have stopped. Some have had periods of fitful stopping and starting. No matter what, whether they like this blog or not, people know this blog will keep publishing in the foreseeable future. I’ve made it this long. I can’t imagine not making the decade point.

Waiting for Life to Happen

Do you wait for life to happen?

It was Jack Welch who said, “Contol your own destiny or someone else will.” Jack seems to have a superman attitude that fails to recognize the influence of outside forces, but… You can let the world run you, or you can create opportunities.

I don’t wait for things to happen, and I don’t give others full power to determine my destiny. This is true in business and in other pursuits. Yes, things are often out of our control, but we can always create another opportunity by proactively engaging.

I rarely have no options because I am constantly creating other chances and opportunities. If you don’t look for new business, it’s not going to land on your door. Even when opportunity does come, inevitably it’s because of proactive marketing and activities.

But the key is to do the footwork. If you do the footwork, the opportunities appear.

As the old saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The hard part is walking down the hallway and turning all the door knobs until it opens. That’s when the fear kicks in. You have to walk through that fear.

Writing and Destiny

People often ask me when I will write another business book. My honest answer is I don’t know. I’d rather focus on writing fiction, at least for the immediate future, and so I do. And while I can’t invest the time in fiction like I would a business book, it won’t happen on its own. I have to write every day!

Because I want to publish fiction, I didn’t even look for a publisher last year. I went out on my own. Destiny is not kind to fiction authors who leave their fate in the hands of traditional agents and publishers.

Publishing Exodus was one of the most powerful and fulfilling moments of personal destiny I have ever experienced.

I honestly believe one of my books will break open some larger opportunity. Why? Because footwork produces opportunities. Perhaps it’s a movie deal, or a traditional publisher buys the rights to my books, or drops a fat contract opportunity in my email, or maybe by the time I am an old man, they just start selling en masse. But it won’t happen if I don’t pay attention to my hobby when I can.

Moving Forwrd

Today is the first full week of the year. I am pretty busy, but I think that’s because I busted my butt in October, November and December.

Now it’s time to keep moving forward, and create opportunities for the second quarter and beyond. If we want a full destiny, then we must take the necessary actions to make it appear.

What actions will you take to create opportunities in your life?

Featured image by Robert Gouley.

Brutal Economic Reality of Fiction and Those Reviews

People don’t make money from writing novels. Some bestsellers generate just a little north of $10,000. That’s why writers find jobs working as marketers, teachers, lawyers or journalists.

Some can make a living on fiction. They are the few and the lucky.

Don’t kid yourself. If you commit to writing novels do it because writing is your art. And if you need to make a living for family or lifestyle reasons, don’t quit your day job.

I don’t think Amazon and its $0.99 cent independent author world has helped anything. You are basically encouraged to price a book at $0.99 or $1.99 if you want to sell anything as a first time novelist. Guess what the royalties are on that? $.33 a pop, boys and girls.

The Book Hustle

They tell you to market better. Go blog, and build a social media following to sell books. Yeah.

Really, you sell books en masse via speaking engagements, direct marketing, media relations, virtual and live blogging tours, and third party reviews. So the social aspect is really out of your hands. The other people in your network have to rally behind the book. Even then, you are looking at only a few books that go 100% bananas. By the way you can buy some peanut butter and jelly afterwards with the royalties. Or if you also have a day job, you can use the money for a massage to relieve you of sleep deprivation induced stress.

Coincidentally, to be included in many blog-driven social email lists that refer independently authored books, you must 1) pay and 2) have a minimum level of reviews to be included (on Amazon, of course). That in turn creates another need for reviews.

I hit this wall last week when I tried to get Exodus into a few of these lists and didn’t have enough reviews. It really turned my stomach having to basically beg for reviews. My brand of blogger ego comes in the form of self reliance, but in the end I needed your help. I asked my community for help, and you delivered. For that I am grateful. It’s moments like this request over the weekend that I learn real humility, and an appreciation for others.

I used to poo-poo authors who asked for reviews. If there is anything I have learned over the past three years with the Fifth Estate, Marketing in the Round, and now Exodus, it is how necessary reviews are. Books must be discussed publicly and frequently, good or bad, if they are to succeed.

I have been rejected by two of the four blog/email sevices already, one based on the number of reviews, the other on subject matter, but at least I am in the game. And if I breakthrough and have a big social email? I might make a few hundred bucks.

More importantly, I will be read by more folks. For me, the book is my art. And that’s what I care about.

You Can Make Money as an Author

Now look, you can make a living as an author. Thousands already do so in the United States.

By the way, more than ten thousand people make a living as pro sports athletes in the United States. That includes the minor leagues, and some minor league players only earn $1100 a month.

To succeed, you have to build a repertoire of books, more often than not a series, which creates a back catalogue. Each new work helps sell the older works. Movie rights and big breakthrough moments create a macro effect on an author’s entire catalogue. Prolific successful authors make money.

The rest of us, well, it’s what we do. Until (or if) our time comes.

We live to be read, make a few extra bucks, and most importantly to have our art read and seen by the world. The currency to get there is word of mouth conversation and reviews.

For those of you who have helped me this past week, thank you. I am so grateful, you have no idea. It’s what this business is all about, and to have so many folks who have read Exodus come out of the woodwork and drop a review, well, it overwhelmed me. Thank you!

What do you think about the fiction ecosystem?

Featured image by sbluerock

Experimenting with Extended Storytelling

Many entertainment brands have begun experimenting with transmedia, an academic term for extended storytelling across diverse social and traditional media forms. Since I am publishing a novel this year, I decided to experiment a little with transmedia.

From the extended Star Wars Universe to the X Factor, Hollywood is mixing in extended online media to build comprehensive experiences. Perhaps even more innovative are new projects like the City of Conspiracy in London, which combines rap music, a novel, events, photos and of course, web postings.

Here are some of the ways I am experimenting.

Jason on Twitter

After reading Goran Racic‘s approach to his fictional protagonist Thomas Cloud, I created a Twitter account for Jason, the antihero of Exodus. You can follow Jason on Twitter using the @JasonExodus handle.

With this handle, people can ask Jason questions, throw tomatoes at him, or just get book updates. I also intend to use Twitter as a means to extend the novel experience, and provide bridge teasers between books one and two of The Fundamentalists (the first of which I am targeting for an early 2015 release).

It’ll be fun reprising the role of Jason, and at the same time a challenge. I’m not really sure where the journey will take the character or impact book two (if at all), but in the social interaction era it seems silly to publish a static novel.

So if you’re game and want to experiment or you love the book, please follow @JasonExodus.

Special thanks to Erin Feldman for creating the character’s avatar. Erin was one of the developmental editors for the book so I asked her to sketch a personal interpretation of the young man.

Timeline of Events

The above timeline is a sequence of events that occur in Exodus prior to Chapter One.

All of the current entries are referred to the novel, but this medium allows for additional entries that backfill the story. After the novel has been out for a while, I intend to add critical moments in the book to the timeline.

I may add additional elements to the timeline that aren’t available in the novel as I begin writing the next books in the series, The War to Persevere and Hypocrisy.

I built the timeline with Timeline JS, a very friendly tool, which can be used for any chronological story.

Author’s Insights and Short Tales

The video trailer for Exodus provided some insights behind the novel. I hope to do a few more video shorts that describe some of the reasoning behind the book, but will likely wait for feedback to see what people are most interested in.

In addition, expect to see additional stories from The Fundamentalists world to be published on geoffreyrobertlivingston.com. These will likely be short stories that preceded the events in Exodus.

Nathan Burgess had several good ideas as well, and I may act on one or more of them. They include a Pinterest board of Jason’s recommended gear, a graphic novel, and a journal for Helen, Jason’s true love.

Exodus is coming out on August 26, but if you’d like to receive an advance copy email me at geoffliving [at] geofflivingston [dot] com.

What do you think of transmedia-based extended storytelling?

Crazy Characters Work Better

So I thought it might be talk about creating fictional characters as we head into the weekend. On that note, when writing about folks I prefer boiling unpredictability into characters, or a little bit of crazy.

When reading or watching stories, I prefer main characters who screw up, make bad decisions, flip flop, and do other things that generally drive people a bit crazy. They are human, and we can identify with or simply doubt them.

Developing a character or screenplay in a novel requires tension and conflict. And there is no greater conflict than the one that lies within. We think we know how folks will respond, but then they do things contrary to expectations. This is true character development to me, reflecting what we experience in reality.

Tensions exists because we lack certainty about how protagonists will act. It’s the quintessential trust issue. Perhaps that is more a reflection of my own expereinces with people.

Invariably, man or woman, people will always let you down at some moment. This is the human condition. But principles never do, and that creates tension between doing right and wrong.

Favorite Crazy Characters

frodo

This crazy factor is why Cervantes’ Don Quixote is perhaps the most brilliant of early novels. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are maddeningly nuts (chase that windmill!). They don’t make characters like that anymore!

In the modern tough guy vein, Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs evolves and matures over time. Morgan’s work created a series that I could not put down, and desperately hoped would continue. Like so many characters though he does seem to fit into a stereotype, the anti-hero tough guy that survives and eventually conquers, albeit in a never-clean fashion. You kind of always know how Kovacs is going to respond to things.

In Lord of the Rings, Frodo is a sweet young man who faces terrible challenges. His character is pretty straight forward, and in that oh so English way, he continues because he must. Frodo does succeed, but the journey bludgeons him, killing his spirit. In the end as he sails off to Valinor in an effort to find peace.

While I loved Kovacs and Frodo, I’m not sure they’re really human. Because both protagonists are heroes, they rise above the normal foibles we all seem to muddle through.

A better tough guy is the comic character Batman, who is just nuts, as all of us familiar with the movies know. The underlying gritty subversiveness of the Bruce Wayne/Batman character reminds me of the duality of ideal versus humanity.

This same character tension was played out subtly and brilliantly in Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. Through narrator Nathan Zuckerman’s recreation of the Swede we saw how really crazy and subversive people are regardless of their outward presentation.

Exodus features an anti-hero character, Jason. I actually named him after Jason of the Argonauts, because that Jason seemed too perfect to me. I thought a little more perspective on a young “hero” was needed. Several of the characters are named after Greek legends, an intentional ode and post modern riff on epic tales.

In Jason’s case, the fundamentalist threat alluded to in the novel’s teaser text provides external conflict, which in turn forces his internal crisis by thrusting a great responsibility on his shoulders. This is a classic character development technique.

Most novels make you wonder how the hero will succeed. Me, I wonder if Jason can handle it or if he’ll go nuts. His process is very much what I think happens in real life as opposed to the archetype of yeah, we know he’s going to make it, it’s just a question of how and when.

What do you like about your favorite characters?

[Tweet “I like a little crazy in my fictional characters. How about you?”]

12 Books to Read

8035528465_e83943650d
Writers read, right? At least they are supposed to… Since spring break is here, and many of us have begun traveling for the annual conference season, here are some books I hope to read.

Fiction

John Scalzi’s Redshirts: When I read fiction, I lean towards scifi with a focus on cyberpunk or hard science fiction in the Asimovian vein.

Redshirts is a hilarious play off of Star Trek, the original TV show. Junior away team members try to avoid getting killed! I’m halfway through and have caught myself laughing out loud several times. I highly recommend this book if you need a something light.

Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin: A National Book Award winner, this book takes us back to New York City of the World Trade Center towers in the 1970s. Hailed as a literary masterpiece, Great World Spin looks tense and captivating. Plus I’m always up for a good Bronx Tale.
Continue reading “12 Books to Read”