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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Short is the New Long: 10 Reasons Why Short Stories are Hot

Ruth Harris will be posting on June 2 instead of today. She kindly switched with me because I'm going to be out of town next weekend, celebrating my Mom's 92nd birthday. Thanks to all of you who downloaded my mom's pioneer saga, ROXANNA BRITTON, and sent it to #1 in Biographies and in Biographical fiction! This week's free book is my comic mystery NO PLACE LIKE HOME. More info below.

May is National Short Story Month, so I figured it was time for another post encouraging you to write more short fiction and creative essays. I wrote a piece last year about why we should be writing more short stories that was one of our most popular posts ever.

Since then, short stories and novellas have continued to surge in the marketplace. As marketing guru Penny C. Sansevieri said in a May 23 article in the HuffPo, "If you'd been staying up on trends you'd know that for a variety of reasons short is the new long. Thanks to consumers who want quick bites of information and things like Kindle Singles, consumers love short."

Thing is, if  you’re like me, you left short fiction behind when you decided to become a professional writer. I thought little stories were for college class work and creative writing exercises. When I wanted to write fiction professionally, I "graduated" to novels. I figured short stories were only for obscure literary journals that paid in copies.

Major mistake. 

Even back then, in the days of shrinking short fiction markets, I would have been better off if I’d spent more time on the short form. At the end of 10 years, instead of having an unpublishable 1000,000 word novel I’d rewritten 25 times, (yeah—I don't recommend it.) I would have had files full of short fiction and creative essays that could be making money for me now. 

Plus, like any other skill, your ability to create short fiction will atrophy if you don’t use it. I find it a lot harder to write a short story now than I did 15 years ago when I wrote them regularly. It’s hard building up those writing muscles again.

I realize that most writers gravitate to one form or the other. I know my ideas generally spool out in about 80,000 words. Shorter is harder for me.

The reverse is true, too. Some great short story writers have a hard time writing good novels. One of our greatest short story writers, Katherine Anne Porter, only wrote one novel, Ship of Fools, which was more like a tapestry of many short stories woven together without a compelling story arc. Critic Elizabeth Harwick said it was " too static" in spite of "the flawless execution of the single scenes."

There's nothing wrong with preferring one form over the other. But these days, it will pay off to work on fiction in a variety of lengths. Right now, I'm experimenting with my first novella. Novellas, once taboo in traditional publishing, are soaring in popularity in the e-age. 

It’s funny that most people think of the big novel as the most legitimate type of fiction, since it’s a relatively new form of storytelling. It was perfect for the age of Gutenberg, but perhaps novels won’t maintain such cultural importance in the digital age.

Cervantes is generally credited with inventing the novel with the 1605 publication of Don Quixote, but the form didn’t make it into English until a century later—and for a long time it had to masquerade as “history” as Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe did in 1719. Non-factual narratives were considered frivolous and time-wasting even into the Victorian era. In the 20th century, the novel finally surpassed the play as the most revered form of fictional artistic expression in English.

But who knows what will happen in the 21st century?

What we do know is short stories aren’t just for creative writing classes any more. In February, Leslie Kaufman wrote an article for the New York Times pointing out how smaller stories are “a good fit for today’s little screens.”

After years of fading popularity, the short story is back on an iPhone near you. 

Kaufman said  “2013 has yielded an unusually rich crop of short-story collections, including George Saunders’s Tenth of September which arrived in January with a media splash normally reserved for Hollywood movies."

And:  "Stories are also perfect for the digital age...because readers want to connect and want that connection to be intense and to move on. That is, after all, what a short story is all about."

She also referenced the phenomenal success of the "Kindle Singles" program on Amazon. Indie and trad-pubbed authors alike have had great success self-publishing short stories and essays as ebooks at the online retail sites.

But note: I don't encourage newbie writers to self-publish your very first efforts at story-writing. To succeed in publishing—whether self- or traditional—you need to put in your 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours. But you can maximize your efforts by spending more of those hours writing short fiction and creative nonfiction shorts.

When it's time to make your professional debut, you’re going to have some serious inventory. Short pieces are “practice writing” that will hold their value much better than all those-half finished novels languishing in our files. They can allow you to experiment with new genres and play with new ideas while expanding your fan base. Joanna Penn wrote a great post recently at The Creative Penn on the benefits of writing short fiction.

And remember almost all successful authors published short stories before they put out a novel. 

Here are ten things that have changed the way we look at short fiction:

1) “Singles” ebooks and other original shorts

By the first decade of the 21st century, short stories had pretty much vanished from any but a handful of mainstream magazines. But it looks as if readers missed them. “Kindle Singles” ebooks launched in 2011 and sold 2 million in the first year.

The short stories in the “Kindle Singles” program sell for between $. 99 and $1.99 and the authors keep a 70% royalty. Many of the top sellers are by name authors, like Lee Child, Stephen King, and Jodi Picoult, but others are by unknowns, according to Kindle Singles editor David Blum. They take both fiction and nonfiction. (The term "short story" usually means fiction, but it can also mean creative nonfiction shorts.)

But you don't have to be accepted into the highly competitive Singles program to self-publish short works successfully. Your royalty will be less than with the official Singles program (If you're not with the KS program, anything sold under $2.99 gets a 35% royalty) but it's probably going to be better than getting paid with a copy of the Northern South Dakota East Campus Community College Review.

Just let people know it's not a novel, and make it at least 10 pages. Any less and a reader feels cheated. Try a collection of five or six if they're ultra-shorts. Or you can make the short perma-free as a teaser for your longer works.

And now exclusive short fiction in showing up in other places. In fact, the airline Qantas is now becoming a publisher, offering fiction works by Aussie authors that are just the right length for a particular flight. The shorter the flight, the shorter the story. I hope this heralds many creative new story venues to come. All lengths of fiction and memoir are finding a market.

2) Smaller screens and shorter attention spans. 

We're a multi-tasking world.

As bestselling short story writer Amber Dermont told the NYT: “The single-serving quality of a short narrative is the perfect art form for the digital age…Stories are models of concision, can be read in one sitting, and are infinitely downloadable and easily consumed on screens.”

And Cal Morgan of Harper Perennial said: “It is the culmination of a trend we have seen building for five years…The Internet has made people a lot more open to reading story forms that are different from the novel, and you see a generation of writers very engaged in experimentation.”

Recently I've been approached by a number of websites that cater to moms, babysitters and nannies that provide links to short fiction, like this piece by Olivia Lewis at the Nanny Network News.  It's the perfect thing for a nanny taking a kid to the park or a busy mom waiting to pick up a kid at school. 

The successes of titles like George Saunders’ means that collections are no longer the unwanted stepchild—even in the traditional publishing world (although you’ll still find it hard to get an agent interested in a collection unless you’ve had them published first in the big-name literary venues. Agents tend to follow trends, not create them.)

3) The success of serial fiction like Hugh Howey’s Wool

Hugh Howey made history (and a nice chunk of change) by self-publishing his sci-fi novel Wool as a series of shorts—like the Saturday matinee cliff-hanger short films of the early 20th century. He put his first episode—a stand-alone that’s also a teaser—perma-free on Amazon, and the fans ate up the succeeding chapters, offered at 99c each.

Now Amazon has a Kindle Serials program like the Kindle Singles. It's highly selective, but I've heard it pays off very well for authors who are accepted. There's an art to writing serial episodes. They need to have the same kind of story arc as a short story, with a cliff-hanger instead of resolution at the end.

4) E-Book Anthologies

Short story anthologies are one of the best ways to increase your visibility. They're inexpensive to put together as ebooks. They usually don’t pay, and often donate proceeds to a charity. But if you can get a story into an anthology with some well-known authors in your genre, you’ll be paid in publicity that would be hard to buy at any price. All those authors' fans will be exposed to your work.

Being in an anthology also gives an unpublished writer some great cred as a professional. Many successful authors I network with were first published by the Literary Lab anthologies

Another plus for anthologies: Some of the biggies, like the Chicken Soup series, also come out in print and are stocked in bookstores. It’s a great way to get noticed by the old-school reader, too.

5) Online literary journals and showcase sites

One of the important steps on the road to a big publishing contract has always been to place stories in respected literary journals. In fact it’s still  pretty much the only way to a publishing contract if you write literary fiction. (Can you name any big name literary writers who haven’t first appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review or at least McSweeneys?)

But nobody ever got the first story they wrote published by The New Yorker. First they had to place dozens in small literary journals—those tiny labors of love that used to cost a ton to produce and often had under a hundred subscribers. Often you had to pay $25 or more to subscribe to find out what kind of things they wanted and get the info on how to submit to them.

But these days, most literary journals are available online. They have larger readerships and you don’t have to pay a fortune to read them or find out what the editors are looking for. Online literary journals like Compose (info below) can be a great stepping stone to success in publishing literary fiction.

And if you write genre fiction, you don't have to start your career getting endless rejections from the ultra competitive print magazines that still buy short stories, like Women's World, Ellery Queen and Asimov's.

Now there are showcases for short fiction springing up where you can get critique and start getting fans. Readwave is a story sharing-site that looks like a promising venue for the new writer.

6) Indie films

Stories are easier to adapt for the screen than full-length novels. Cheaper too. They tend to have fewer crowd scenes and more small interior settings. Cost matters in the growing indie film world. Just as indies are revolutionizing the publishing industry, they are also the life-blood of the film industry. While the big studios concentrate on huge comic book spectacles and remakes of old TV shows, the more emotionally rich, award-winning films are coming from small-budget indies.

Some of our most enduring films have come from short stories. Classic films like The Birds; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Don't Look Now; Double Indemnity, Flowers for Algernon—and I’d need a whole post to list the stories of Stephen King and Philip K. Dick that have been made into great films. More recent Oscar contenders like Brokeback Mountain and the Squid and the Whale were originally short stories.

7) Online retail sites favor authors with more titles

The more titles you have in an online bookstore, the more visible you are. You can write and publish a lot of shorter titles and have a bigger presence on Amazon than with one long book. Most writers can’t turn out more than two or three books a year, but they can turn out a lot of short stories and novellas.

8) Contests 

Contests are easy to discover and enter in the era of the Interwebz. Hope C. Clark's Funds for Writers and the website Winning Writers are good sources for vetted and free contests.

Entering short story contests is an excellent way to get your career started. A big win for one of your pieces looks great in a query or a bio. Plus you might even win a money prize. A lot of those prizes are bigger than the advances publishers offer on novels these days.

But you do have to be wary. There are a lot of bogus contests out there. Here's a great article by Hope C. Clark at Writer Beware to help you spot the red flags of bogus writing contests.

9) Shorts keep your fans interested between novel releases

Forward-looking agents are now encouraging their authors to self-publish shorts to fill in the gaps between novels. They especially like shorts that are about characters in your novels. They keep your fans interested while they’re waiting for the next book. (Note, if your publisher has a non-compete clause, you won't be allowed to do this. Another reason the non-compete clause is a bad thing for writers.)

Consider writing a couple of shorts about your main characters while you're working on the novel. It may get you through a tricky spot in the big work as well as giving you a saleable product for later down the road.

10) Short stories make money and hold their value 

In terms of labor, a short story can make more money for you than a novel. Not only does it take less time to write and often sells for the same price as a novel in an ebook, but it can be re-purposed many times.

Kaufman reminds us that "all but one of the tales in Mr. Saunders’s Tenth of December had been published earlier, many in The New Yorker, but that does not appear to have hurt sales."

The 21st century may become the era of the short story, so it's worth it to work on your short-form muscles. And hey, you might even end up with your story on your very own stamp, like this Irish Teenager. 

How about you, scriveners? Do you favor one form of fiction over another? Have you been taking advantage of the new popularity of short stories? Do you find it hard to get back into the short form after writing novels? What about the new popularity of novellas? Have you written one yet?


But if you still like reading novels, I happen to have one going FREE this week. NO PLACE LIKE HOME is a mystery with a lot of laughs in spite of the serious theme. Usually $4.99. It's book #4 of the Camilla mysteries, but can be enjoyed as a stand-alone.

"A warp-speed, lighthearted comedy mystery, No Place Like Home offers lasting laughs beneath which a message resounds – Being homeless is scary. Bookstore manager Camilla and home fashion maven Doria have been, distantly and very recently, wealthy. But each suddenly finds herself scrambling nightly for a safe place to sleep, with chaotic and often interesting results."–Abigail Padgett
And if you're a fan of romantic comedy, there's a cornucopia of 99-cent deals for your Summer Beach reading from the Official Chick Lit Group, including my rom-com mystery, THE GATSBY GAME, still 99c until the end of the month. It's at Barnes and Noble, too.


1) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post—is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

2) COMPOSE Literary Journal debuts next month with their debut issue. Submissions are open for their Fall 2013 issue.  This prestigious journal was founded by Suzannah Windsor, of Write it Sideways, and she's put together an amazing editorial staff. I'm so honored to have my poem "No One Will Ever Love Him" included in the debut issue. They are looking for art and photography as well as poems, literary short fiction, novel excerpts and essays. Must not be previously published (that includes anything that has appeared on your blog.)

3) Readwave: A showcase for short stories: ReadWave is a community of readers and writers who love to discover and share new stories from contemporary writers. Readers can access thousands of stories and read them for free on mobile or desktop—and writers can use ReadWave to build up a fanbase and market their stories online. ReadWave has created a new reading widget, that allows bloggers and website owners to embed stories online in a compact form. The ReadWave widget is the first reading widget to allow readers to "follow" the writer. When a reader follows a writer they are added to the writer’s fanbase and can receive updates on all of the writer’s future stories. ReadWave puts writers in touch with the readers that are right for them.

4) SMOKE AND MIRRORS  podcasts. Get your short story recorded FREE for an online podcast! Fantastic publicity if your story is accepted by SMOKE AND MIRRORS. They broadcast about three stories a week. Spooky, dark tales preferred. No previous publication necessary. They judge on the story alone.

5) MIDLIFE COLLAGE is looking for short-short creative nonfiction stories from people at midlife. They offer cash prizes and there's no fee to enter. Submission guidelines here. 

6) New Literary Journal, The Puffin Review is looking for submissions of short fiction, (up to 3000 words) poetry and essays. They welcome new writers.

7) The Huffington Post's Huffpo50 is now publishing short fiction!   The rules: You must be 50 or older to enter. Writers can submit only one story per year, and all pieces must be 5,000 words or less. Send your original submissions, as well as your contact details, to 50fiction@huffingtonpost.com. If you want to know what they're looking for, check out this great story by Judy Croome, a long-time follower of this blog. 

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

How NOT to Self-Publish: 12 Things for New Indies to Avoid

Self-publishing has lost its stigma, and it’s the publishing path of choice for a lot of writers these days.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Or that everybody who self-publishes will succeed.

Unfortunately, I’m seeing a lot of writers dive in head first without having a clue what they’re doing. Even long-time trad-pubbed authors who think they know the ropes can make fatal errors because self-publishing has a different set of rules. One of them lamented his fate in an article in Salon recently.  

But the poor guy had an amateurish cover (not-to-do #3)  and a dismal Amazon buy page (#4). He also tried to market an ebook like a trad-pubbed book (#7). Most of all he seems to think self-publishing means “second-class,” so he presented his book as a second-class product.

Full disclosure here: I'm not self-published. I'm "indie" in the old fashioned sense—I publish with a small, independent press. But I belong to lots of indie groups where the vast majority of authors are self-published. Quite a few are doing very well for themselves—better than the average mid-lister with a big publisher—but many more aren't.

Unlike Tolstoy's happy families, most happy indies are not alike. Successful indies seem to follow quirky, personal paths. But the less successful ones seem to make similar mistakes.

If you want to launch a career as a professional, self-published author, here are some things it's better not to do.

1) Publish your first novel before you’ve written a second. 

The most popular way of marketing a self-published book right now is giving away a lot of free copies. But this only works if you have other books for the customer to actually pay for.

You should write at least two novels before you try to publish—whether you’re hopping on the query-go-round or self-publishing. Marketing takes a whole lot of time, and once you’re doing it, writing novel #2 is going to be really tough. Give yourself at least two novels worth of time before you jump into becoming an author-publisher.

2) Think you don’t have to follow “writing rules” because you’re not dealing with agents and publishers. 

A lot of those "agent rules" are based on stuff that’s hardwired to the human brain. If you’re boring or self-indulgent, you’ll get bad reviews, disgruntled customers and dismal sales.

Some agent rules can be ignored, like "no prologues", "never use the word 'was',"  and “if you’re not writing YA Steampunk Zombiepocalyptic dystopian romance, go die."

But things like, “start with an inciting incident, not 49 pages of musing”…that’s going to be a good rule no matter how you publish.

And yeah, you need a plot. Successful self-publishers are almost all genre writers. Literary musings probably aren't going to sell to an online audience—and successful indies make most of their sales online.

Also, you still have to learn basic spelling and grammar rules. They are the tools of your trade.

3) DYI editing, cover design and formatting 

Some of the early Kindle pioneers got away with amateurish presentation. There weren’t so many ebooks to choose from in 2009 and 2010. Now, there are 1000s of new indie titles coming out every day. You gotta have a professional-looking product or you’re not going to sell.

4) Amateurish buy page 

Lots of indies neglect their buy pages on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, etc. Make sure you take advantage of the "editorial reviews" section if it's offered, and include quotes from good blog reviews. Check to see if the “peek inside” feature is working, and write a snappy product description.

Here's some great advice on how to write a compelling product description in a guest blogpost from indie superstar Mark Edwards.

5) Market exclusively to other authors

Unless you have a nonfic book for authors like HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE (had to get a plug in there), other authors aren't your market.

Bloghops are a fun way to get to know other authors, but they don't sell a lot of books

And guilt-tripping and spamming author sites that are meant for mutual support and exchange of information is going to backfire. There are some authors I'm much LESS likely to read because they’ve hijacked author info sites with “tweet and share and make my book the most successful in history and screw you if you have a book to sell too because I’m going to bump my posts up the thread every 15 minutes…it's all about me, me, ME!!”

You want to make FRIENDS with other authors, not get to the top of their list of "A**hats to Avoid."

Successful indie authors know their audience and market to that niche. As indie publishing guru Orna Ross said, "to succeed as an indie you need to go where your readers are, which means understanding your place within the reading ecosystem."

6) Solicit a bunch of phony rave reviews 

Getting Aunt Susie and the gals in her garden club to all write glowing reviews of your opus can backfire, big time. Buying fake reviews is even worse. Ditto manipulating other authors into positive review exchanges. Some writers have even written themselves dozens of  rave reviews under various aliases. All this stuff erupted in a big review scandal last September.

Amazon responded by removing 1000s of reviews and banning some writers from Amazon for life. You may not love the Mighty Zon, but it still sells more ebooks than any other site. You’d miss them.

And don't bully your readers into reviewing. It's fine to ask for reviews from time to time, but readers are starting to get fed up with all the begging, spammy newsletters. An angry reader vented on the subject in the HuffPo recently.

7) Expect a lot of sales right away

Self-publishing works on the principle of slow building. It doesn’t work like traditional publishing with a big splash, push for about a month, then a slow petering of sales, followed by returns, pulping the leftovers and rinse, wash, repeat. Self-publishers sell mostly ebooks, and ebooks are forever.

A title can sell nothing for months—or even years—then suddenly take off once you’ve built an audience with other books.

8) Put on an expensive book launch party 

If you want an excuse for a fun get-together with your friends who haven’t seen you all those years you’ve been in your writing cave—fabulous. You deserve a celebration.

But as a marketing tool, it doesn’t make much sense. A real-world book launch is expensive. Even if you can get it in the local paper, you’re not likely to make enough money back to pay for it unless you have a very large, wealthy, extended family who have all pledged to buy copies in bulk.

9) Treat other authors in your genre as rivals instead of colleagues

It’s not a zero-sum game. The rising tide raises all boats. If your genre is hot, more people will read it.

One of the most disappointing things in the review scandal last fall was discovering that some authors were actually writing fake 1-star reviews for other authors in their genre, in some misguided hope they’d push their “rivals” off the bestseller lists.

That’s not the way it works. If you can get interest in your genre, all the authors in it will sell more. Teaming with more successful authors can do nothing but help your own sales. Patrice Fitzgerald did this with Hugh Howey—getting his permission to write a novella in his Wool series—and her career took off.  So who knows, you might actually be able to collaborate with the star in your genre some day, the way so many authors do with James Patterson.

Appearing in anthologies with big sellers can also really boost your sales. So don’t fight them, join them!

10) Publish through a vanity press 

“Oh, sure. I know that,” sez you. "I’d never get duped by a scammy outfit like PublishAmerica. I’m going with a big name publisher: Simon and Schuster. I'm using their self-publishing wing, Archway."

Sorry. Archway is run by AuthorSolutions, a notorious vanity publisher (even though AS is now owned by Penguin.) A lot of people thought the Penguin buy was a bad move, and the lawsuits suggest that’s the case. Unfortunately a lot of other traditional publishers are teaming up with AuthorSolutions too, like Hay House's Balboa Press, Thomas Nelson's West Bow Press, and Harlequin's Horizons. Don't go there.

For more on vanity presses and how to avoid them, see David Gaughran's Blog or  Writer Beware.

You don’t want to publish with a vanity press because they make money off the author, not book sales. They often charge 10 times what the normal self- publishing route would cost and the books are so overpriced you can’t make a profit selling them.

There is a tried and true method of self publishing that almost all self publishers use. Don’t self-publish without reading this from Sarah Woodbury. There are a whole lot of books out there on self-publishing. Probably too many, as Porter Anderson lamented in Writing on the Ether this week. The one I see most highly recommended by successful indies is David Gaughran's, Let's Get Digital. (on sale for 99c this week. No. Mr. Gaughran doesn't give me kickbacks, alas.)

The indie’s best friend, Mark Coker of Smashwords, has lots of great information on his site for free. Or  if you need affordable help with the tech side of self-publishing, try BookBaby or Draft2Digital. Smashwords, BookBaby and Draft2Digital help you with formatting and post to retail sites for you, but they are not publishers or vanity presses. BookBaby provides ebooks and pbooks (paper).

The two biggest pbook printing companies are CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) and LightingSource (owned by Ingram, the biggest distributor to bookstores in the US) Lulu is good too, but beware their more expensive packages—those have gone over to the Author Solutions dark side, too

11) Believe there is one formula for publishing success 

What worked in the past may have been overworked since then. And what sells books in one genre may not work in another. Every book and every marketing plan has to be different.
  • Prolific chick lit author D.D. Scott keeps on the bestseller lists with her “Snickers bar” pricing, but her method may not work for every genre. 
  • Some authors find professional blog tours are a great way to launch a title. Others say they’re an exhausting waste of money.
  • Sci-Fi superstar Hugh Howey used the cliff-hanger serial format to build his audience. But a whole lot of authors have tried the serial thing since then and only managed to infuriate readers who expected a whole story.
  • Giving away free books has been the big thing recently. But everybody’s Kindle is full of freebies now, so this may not work for long.
  • At the moment, everybody’s having pretty good luck with those expensive ads on places like BookBub and Kindle Nation Daily, but Amazon no longer allows “affiliates” to advertise unlimited free books, so we’re not sure if they’ll have the same cachet a few months from now. (Some cheap ebook newsletters are not affiliates, like the UK bargain book site below.) 
Pay attention to your own sales and what seems to boost them. Do more of that. And be patient. Very patient. And go write another book. That’s the only proven way to increase sales.

12) And the biggest no-no of all? Dissing a reviewer who doesn’t like your book

Somebody is going to hate your book. I guarantee it. And they may be snarky about it. Especially if the book is self-published. But trad-pubbed books get nasty reviews, too. Look at the nearly 150 one star reviews of The Great Gatsby. Or some of the bad reviews J.K Rowling got for the Casual Vacancy. Every reviewer dislikes some books, and some reviewers revel in their dislikes. Put-downs can be fun, unfortunately.

Accepting the snark with grace is part of being a professional. You will feel the sting, of course, but deal with your anguish offline. Anything you do in response to a negative review is likely to backfire in a major way.

Note: this does not extend to bullying. Most bad reviews are not “bullying,” but some misguided morons do abuse the review system in order to attack or "punish" authors for imagined transgressions or out of sheer malevolence. People who use reviews for bullying generally follow a certain pattern.

1) They make it pretty clear they haven't read the book
2) They attack an author personally
3) They often attack in packs, using identical talking points
4) They may be organized by a "rival" author (yeah, mean people are usually kinda stupid, too.)

If you are being bullied, do NOT respond to the bullies in the comments or engage with them in any way. But DO report them for abusing the review system. I'm glad to hear that Amazon is rolling out a new program for reporting abuse. If you see this kind of bullying happening on any author's buy page, report it.

All writers benefit from fighting this kind of abuse, because it renders the whole review system useless.

If you're a victim, stay away from groups where bullies hang out and try to get some good professional reviews to quote in your product description to counteract the lies.

And trust that your readers can tell the difference.

If you want to read more about online bullying, I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago on Gangs of New Media.

If you're still sitting on the fence about self-publishing, Orna Ross has a great post this week at Jane Friedman's blog with 15 questions to ask before you self publish.

If you'd rather go the traditional route, but don't write in a genre on the agent hot list right now, take a look at indie presses. Escargot Books, listed below, has just opened to submissions in most fiction genres and accepts both agented and non-agented work. And there's a list of small digital presses with ratings at ePublishaBook.com.

What about you, scriveners? Have you made any of these mistakes? Have they turned out not to be mistakes at all? And what’s up with that steampunk stuff? If agents love it so much, why isn’t it all over the bestseller list? Have I missed something? What other advice would you give a new indie author? Have you ever been bullied by a review bully? 


Roxanna Britton, a biographical novel by Shirley S. Allen will be FREE on Amazon from May 22-25. It's Little House on the Prairie meets Jane Austen. In this wonderful novel, my mom tells the story of her own great-grandmother, an amazing pioneer of the Old West.

 "This true biographical novel of an American pioneer is gripping and exciting in every sense. From Ohio to California one cannot help but admire the courage of the Britton women... If true history is your cup of tea, I strongly advise you to buy this book."--Karen Mabry Rice

"A family saga I could not put down. Ms. Allen has written a fascinating tale of real people, full of danger and tension, in prose that flows easily and pulls the reader along."--Susan Tuttle

The Gatsby Game, based on a real unsolved Hollywood mystery, is only 99c at Amazon and Barnes and Noblethrough May 31st, in honor of the debut of the Baz Luhrmann film. It's based on the mysterious death of David Whiting, a man I knew in college. Nobody knows what happened the night he died in Sarah Miles' motel room during the filming of a Burt Reynolds movie, but I have a theory, and this is a fictionalized account of it. Like David, my anti-hero Alistair Milbourne is obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and imagines himself to be "the ghost of Jay Gatsby, in a straw boater and spats, whistling a tune by Cole Porter." 

"I was thoroughly entertained by The Gatsby Game. It has all the elements for a good mystery, and would also appeal to readers who enjoy romance in a women’s fiction style. I give the characters, cultural references, story building, and especially the slightly sarcastic narrator voice a 5 star rating" --Donna Hole


1) Iron Writer Insane-a-Thon!

The Dreadful Cafe will hold their annual writing marathon on July 13, 2013. There are prizes for the most words written in a 24 hour period and for raising the most money for their charity, St. Jude's Hospital. It's a wild and crazy insane-a-thon for a great cause. More at The Dreadful Cafe. Send in your entry to submissions@dreadfulcafe.com before July 14th.

2) Spoonfuls of Stories Contest 

For new, unpublished writers of children's fiction. HUGE prizes for the winning stories for children age 2-6. This contest, sponsored by Cheerios, offers a $5000 grand prize and some hefty runners-up prizes too. More info at spoonfulsofstories.com  Deadline is July 31. 

3) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK 

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until June 30th, on a first come, first served basis.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

4) Orion Magazine

Submission Window Opens June 1  “America's finest Environmental Magazine" is open to submissions only three times a year. Orion accepts essays, narrative nonfiction, interviews, and short fiction that focus on nature, culture, and place. 1,200 to 5000 words.

5) Escargot Books is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions.

Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, health and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. This is an indie press with some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Top 10 Questions from New Writers: Answers to Your Most Burning Questions

We welcome questions from readers, and we always try to offer an answer or at least steer you to a place where you can find one.

A good place to get more detailed information is a book I co-wrote with Catherine Ryan Hyde: How to be a Writer in the E-Age…and Keep Your E-Sanity. It addresses these and most other questions a beginning writer might have. It’s not a tech or self-publishing manual in spite of its techy cover. We may be changing that...

But I realized recently that I spend a lot of time answering the same questions in emails, so I thought it would make sense to put some of the answers here on the blog.

In fact, we could make this a regular feature if people want to send in questions. Just go to the “contact us” page for our addresses and put “Q and A” in the header. Remember the only stupid question is the one you don't ask.

Here are ten of the most common questions we’ve been getting in our emails.

10) Q. Does Facebook count as a Blog / Website? If not, why not? And what site would you recommend?

A. Facebook does NOT count as a website and should not be your primary Web presence. Lots of reasons for this:
  • Facebook requires membership. Not all your readers are going to be members.
  • Facebook can kick people off for very minor infractions—or even if you've done nothing at all. If some troll reports you for spam, nobody checks on the troll, but you're outta there, and it's tough to get reinstated. It happened to me.
  • The site has probably peaked. Younger people are leaving, and lots of users are fed up with the ads and lack of privacy and the fact you now have to pay to have more than a few people see your posts.
  • An author needs a primary Web presence that you can control yourself. You need to establish your brand, with your own choice of colors, tone, photos, etc. It doesn't have to cost money. A Blogger or Wordpress blog is free.
I use Blogger (blogspot.comowned by Google)  It's easy enough for a technomoron like me to use. And I like free. More tech-savvy folks prefer WordPress. Both are 100%  free and work for most writers. Look up in the right hand corner of this blog. See the button for "create blog"? Hit it—and in about 5 minutes, you're a blogger. I don't recommend you do that though. Get things assembled, like photos, ideas for a title, etc. You can get more info on HOW TO BLOG right here. and through some of my popular pieces in the sidebar.

9) Q. Does every new writer need an agent? And how much do they cost?

A. No, every writer does NOT need an agent.
  • If you write short stories or poetry, agents won't be interested. 
  • If you write novels or memoir, you shouldn't seek representation until you have at least one finished, polished book—and most agents would prefer two. 
  • If you've got a nonfiction book or two, an agent might help you, but most nonfic authors do better with self-publishing or small presses these days because most agents require a Dr. Oz-sized platform. 
But if you are Dr. Oz, or you have a couple of novels with a potentially huge global market—the kind that will appeal to one of the Big 5 multinational publishing houses or some of the larger “medium” sized ones like Harlequin (except some lines)—you definitely need an agent.

Small and some medium-sized presses do not require an agent (for more on which ones require agents, they're listed in my book How to be a Writer in the E-Age.)

Most self-publishers don’t have agents, although the role of agent is changing, and now many agents are helping authors self-publish. I think it's a good plan for most first novelists to query agents to see if there’s interest. Going through the query process is a great way to learn about the business and hone marketing skills and it keeps your options open in this rapidly changing business.

But if you do get an offer, always have a lawyer or knowledgeable third party look at the contract before signing. Some agent contracts these days can be predatory, even from legitimate agencies. As far as cost: agents charge a commission—after they've sold your work. They pretty much all charge the same: 10%-15% of domestic sales, 20% foreign.

And NEVER pay an agent anything upfront. It’s not considered ethical to charge a fee for reading your manuscript. The network of agents and editors is fairly small, and a fee-charging agent won’t belong to that network and won’t be able to sell your book to a reputable publisher. Here’s a blogpost with more on how to spot bogus and unethical agents.

8) Q. Do I need to set up my own store to sell a self-published title? How do I set up my blog so readers can buy my book?

A. You probably don't want to bother with your own store unless you have a whole lot of titles and a ton of tech and business savvy. Most authors I know who've tried it say that running their own store is more trouble than it’s worth.

Obviously getting 100% of your cover price instead of 35%-70% is very tempting. But unless you have high visibility already, you’re going to sell more on the retail sites like Amazon, iTunes, and Barnes and Noble to make up the difference. If you prefer not to work with mega-companies like Amazon, consider Smashwords for ebooks and Lulu for paper (but avoid Lulu's more expensive packages, which are operated by AuthorSolutions.) .

As far as linking to retailers, here's what you do on Blogger: 
  1. Click "design" in the right top corner of your blog main page (once you're signed in.)  
  2. This takes you to your “dashboard". 
  3. Go to the list of links on the left hand side of the page that comes up and click "layout." 
  4. A basic pattern of your layout comes up. 
  5. Then hit "add a gadget" wherever you want your book to be. 
  6. Then choose "image". 
  7. A window will come up where you can upload your cover image and there will be another window that says "add a link". 
  8. Paste in the link to your buy page at your publisher or Amazon or wherever you want.
It sounds like a lot of steps, but it only takes a minute or two.

7) Q. I want to know if I have the talent to be a real writer. Will you look at my WIP and let me know if I’m wasting my time?

A. No writing wastes your time. Writing is about organizing thought. It keeps your little gray cells well exercised. It’s like a gym workout for your brain.

As far as being a “real writer”—if you’re writing, and you’re not a puppet carved by an old Italian guy named Gepetto, you’re a real writer. A writer is a person who writes, full stop. It’s a long learning curve, but I believe anybody can learn if they’ve got the drive.

But we can’t give free critiques. Our schedules are jam-packed and we’re always on overload. Plus critiquing can be a thankless job. Lots of beginners aren’t ready to hear how much work goes into learning to write narrative. I recommend CritiqueCircle.com for exchanging critiques.

6)  Q. How much platform-building should I do before I sit down to write my first story? 

A. If you write fiction, NONE. Write a book first. Or at least some short stories. It takes a long time to learn to write good fiction.

You can read some great advice from Jane Friedman about platform right here. Don’t let yourself get obsessed with platform until you have a finished draft and you’ve written some short stories that are ready to send out to contests and journals.

Learning to write well enough to publish usually takes at least three years (or 10K hours.) If you waste that time playing on the Internet, your learning curve will be longer.

If you’re a nonfiction writer, it's a different story. It's a good idea to start right away with a blog. I think all nonfiction writers benefit from blogging and you might as well start building an audience while you learn your trade.

5) Q. I want to get my WIP critiqued, but I’m afraid somebody will steal my plot. How can I make sure it won’t get stolen?

A. Relax. This is the most common fear in beginning writers, but you can let it go.

All your work is copyrighted to you as soon as you write it. If you want it official, you can pay to copyright a finished work with the US copyright office, who have a handy PDF pamphlet to help you along. But make sure it's finished, edited, and polished or you'll have to do it again. Could get expensive.

The truth is there are a whole lot of things to be afraid of out there in the publishing world: bad contracts, fee-charging agents, vanity publishers that masquerade as publishers—but this isn’t one of them.

Most writers have more ideas than they can write down in a lifetime. The more you write, the more ideas you have. Nobody needs to take yours. No matter how brilliant it is. More on the rarity of plot stealing here. 

4) All I get is rejections. Should I give up writing? 

A. Every successful author gets tons of rejections, so only quit if you know you’d rather be doing something else. 

No matter how far along you are in your career, I guarantee somebody will hate your work and say that you “can’t write.” Look at the 140 one-star reviews of the Great Gatsby, which has become a #1 bestseller 90 years after its debut and has never been out of print..

All a rejection means is that you’re sending your work out there. Which puts you ahead of the writers who aren’t getting rejected yet. Ruth Harris has a great post on how arbitrary rejections can be. And here's a guest post on the subject from Catherine Ryan Hyde.

If your rejections are personalized—say you’ve had three that say your novel has structure issues, or point of view problems—you’ve been given a gift. Find a book, blogpost or class on structure or POV and work on your weak points. We all have them.

But if you find you really don’t enjoy writing novels, don’t think that giving up is “failure”. There are lots of other writing outlets besides the novel format. Short fiction is soaring in popularity. Or you may find that you’d prefer to put your energy into blogging. Blogs can reach a lot more people than a novel.

Novels are not somehow “better” than other formats. Writing is writing, and there are lots of ways to be successful at it.

And remember that learning to write takes time. How much time?  Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours are a reasonable estimate.

Or maybe you'd rather create in an entirely different medium. That's OK, too. Pablo Picasso was probably a lousy writer.

3) Q. What do you think of bloghops and will you join ours? 

A. Blog hops are a great way for new bloggers to network and form community—an essential thing when you’re starting out. If you have time to devote to daily blogging for a month or so, it can be a fun way to get to know your fellow writers and move your blog up in the search engines.

But personally, we’re kinda hopped out. Ruth and I have found the “hop” format doesn’t work well for this blog, because it’s a once a week “slow blog” (most blog hops require daily posts.) Plus this blog is more informational than personal. We don’t talk a lot about our writing process or characters unless they illustrate a point.

And remember other authors aren’t your primary audience. Blog hops are not going to sell a lot of books. They’re for building community.

2) Q. Should I use a pseudonym? 

A. Funny how many writers worry about this as soon as they set out to write their first fiction. Pen names are definitely a good choice if you write erotica or your real name is Donald Trump. 

But if you’re using a pseudonym so your family won’t know you’re a writing a book, you probably will get outed by the time you publish anyway, so consider the hassles of doing business as two people.

If you do want to use a pseudonym, choose one as soon as possible in your career and use the same one everywhere, so all your platform building and social networking can be done under your author name.

Do Google the name to make sure it doesn’t belong to another author, anybody who already has a big Web presence, or is wanted for a heinous crime.

Not everybody agrees with me on this, but I think authors can write under one name for all their books unless they write wildly incompatible genres like BDSM erotica and children’s picture books. These days lots of writers publish different genres under the same name. You can signal your genre with cover design, title and font, and you’ll save yourself a huge amount of time if you only have to build one platform. 

And by far the most popular question is:

1) Q. Can I write a guest post for your blog to promote my book/service? 

A. Probably not. Ruth and I take very few guest posters, as you'll see if you look around. Since we only post four pieces a month, each one has to offer a lot of value. It has to be informational rather than promotional. Unfortunately we've been seeing our stats drop off a cliff whenever we have a guest, even somebody wildly famous—and we've hosted Oscar winners and literary icons.

I'm not sure why that is. It may be that when we read blogs we're like schoolchildren with a substitute teacher: we want what we're used to or we don't feel we have to pay attention. In any case, this means we pretty much have to limit guests to people with their own online followings who can bring some audience with them or people who are pretty well known in the industry.

The best way to get on any blog is to start commenting and get to know the regulars. Readers are more likely to welcome one of their own. If we do start taking more guests, that would definitely put you ahead of the game. If you want to query us, there's more on guest posts on our "contact us" page and here's my post on HOW TO BE A GOOD BLOG GUEST.

BUT: If you have a contest going to promote your service, or you’ve got a literary zine or podcast and are looking for submissions, do send us the deets and we’ll put it in our “opportunity alerts.” That's why I created this section.

How about you, scriveners? Do you have anything to add to my answers to these questions? Do you have questions of your own you'd like us to tackle in future blogposts? 


1) COMPOSE Literary Journal debuts this week with their Spring 2013 issue. Submissions are open for their Fall 2013 issue.  This prestigious journal was founded by Suzannah Windsor, of Write it Sideways, and she's put together an amazing editorial staff. I'm so honored to have my poem No One Will Ever Love Him included in the debut issue. They are looking for art and photography as well as poems, literary short fiction, novel excerpts and essays. Must not be previously published (that includes anything that has appeared on your blog.)

 2) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post—is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

3) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until May 31st, on a first come, first served basis.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

4) The Lyttoniad contest for the WORST first sentence of a novel. The classic Bulwer-Lytton Contest makes news every year. Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. E-mail entries should be sent to Scott Rice at srice@pacbell.net in the body of the message, Ariel 12 font. One e-mail may contain multiple entries. Entries will be judged by categories, from “general” to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners. No prizes that I know of, but lots of admiration from your fellow writers.  Deadline is June 30th.

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Gangs of New Media: Twitchforks, the Hive Mind, and “Social Lasers of Cruelty”

by Anne R. Allen

I spend a lot of time here telling writers how and why to use social media, but I don’t often address the dangers. Yeah, they exist. I don’t know why, but otherwise sensible people can morph into irrational brutes when they’ve got their fingers on a keyboard and a connection to the Interwebz.

Bad behavior abounds in all social media. In an article in the NYT last week, Henry Alford said Twitter can be like "a crowded barroom that bristles with a certain kind of white male rage...marked by a hostility toward anything poetic or naïve."

The easy anonymity of the Interwebz is usually blamed for the nastiness—and I admit things have felt safer here since I disabled anonymous comments—but I think the most egregious abuses spring from something far more dangerous: mob mentality. A gang of self-righteously indignant “groupthinkers” can do more damage than one lone anonymouse, even a sociopathic one.

"Groupthink" is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values.” It's also known as “the hive mind.”

Writers new to social media need to be aware that anybody can become a target of one of these groups—often people who have done nothing wrong—and we all need to be careful not to jump into online dogpiles of crazy, no matter how righteous the cause appears to be.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to be sucked into mob behavior. Somebody says something that doesn’t conform to the majority opinion in a forum or comment thread and suddenly you’re part of a frenzied mob going after Mr. or Ms. Nonconformist with the digital version of torches and pitchforks.

I’ve seen Twitter version called “Twitchforks” —great word.

If you’ve ever become part of one of those mobs, you probably felt awful later. And if you’ve been the victim, you know their power to hurt, especially if the crazy invades your real home and affects your health and livelihood.

It happened to me in 2011. I endured a month-long barrage of threats and insults after somebody misunderstood one of my blogposts. I got hit with real world consequences: panic attacks, disordered sleep and stress-related illness. I thought I was taking it in stride, but the trauma of a death threat stays with you.

Thing is: most of the people who attacked me thought they were doing good. I've even made friends with some of them since.

Wanting to belong to a group is an instinct older than humanity. We were tribal animals before we walked upright. A recent study shows monkeys will go along with the crowd even if it means eating yucky food.

So it’s natural to carry our instinct to form tribes into the world of social media. Joining an online group can give us a warm, supportive feeling of community. It can make us feel welcome in the alien environment of cyberspace. Other members can teach and help each other on the road to success.

But the same instinct that urges us to help each other can be misdirected to do terrible harm. Especially if we’re led to believe our actions are sanctioned—or required—by the tribe. An us/them mentality can make people do unspeakable things in the name of protecting their own.

A minor, but significant attack by a cybermob with Twitchforks happened recently at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. A bunch of agents, objecting to a keynote speech by author Barry Eisler, set off a swarm of nasty Twitter barbs against Mr. Eisler during his presentation.

The incident reverberated through the book community and serves as an embarrassing example of how even respected professionals can morph into a mob through the magic of the Internet.

Another more disturbing mob attack happened when superstar author Anne Rice had an over-the-top reaction to a bad review on Facebook and sent her fans to attack the reviewer—a young UK blogger with fewer than 100 readers. Rice's hordes called the reviewer obscene names and pelted her blog with classy comments like "I hope you get herpes." Kayleigh, the blogger, took the barrage of anger with grace. (I'll bet she got a lot more followers out of this.)

But I'm sure most of those commenters thought they were doing good in defending their idol.

When a group of people band together, they can be an unstoppable force. As Margaret Mead said,

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world.”

Unfortunately, that needs a corollary:

“Never underestimate the power of a small group of misguided people to devolve into a mindless, bloodthirsty mob.”

That hive/gang mind that can do so much good can also be one of the most dangerous forces in the universe. It can make people do things they’d never dream of doing as individuals.

The hive mind is what powers pogroms, gang rapes, witch hunts, lynchings, war and genocide.

There’s a reason some of the most horrifying SciFi villains are semi-human creatures that share an unreasoning, destructive mind: like The Borg on Star Trek and Dr. Who’s Daleks.

I’ve seen dozens of good people attacked by gangs on social media in the past year or so. Usually for unverified infractions of murky rules. I’m not sure the people who sent me death threats even knew what I was supposed to have done. (I’m still not clear on that myself.) They only knew somebody told them the hive was under attack, and I was the designated villain.

Plus they were getting a rush from their own smug, self-righteous rage.

It’s that rage-induced high and feeling of superiority that is probably at the root of the problem. Anger management specialists tell us that self-righteous rage can trigger brain chemicals that mimic the high of cocaine. And it’s just as addictive. The angrier people are, the better they feel, so they feed their rage, often with unsubstantiated rumors their rational mind would recognize as lies. It’s why radio-ranters and conspiracy theorists are so popular.

Unfortunately a lot of those rage addicts feed their habit on the Interwebz.

Jaron Lanier, one of the early pioneers in Internet technology, has preached against this phenomenon for years. He has long warned people of what he calls “digital barbarism.” He sees terrible danger in “instant twitchy social networks which are designed to create mass action. “

And they get twitchier all the time. Look how one tweet in April nearly crashed the Stock Market.

In an interview with Ron Rosenbaum in the Smithsonian magazine in January, Jaron Lanier said,

“This is the thing that continues to scare me. You see in history the capacity of people to congeal—like social lasers of cruelty. That capacity is constant.

For more on this, Lanier has a new book coming out this week, Who Owns the Future?

I saw one of those lasers aimed at an Internet friend this week. She was a much less high-profile target than Barry Eisler, so the “social laser” could get away with a lot more cruelty. She was erroneously accused of piracy (a buzz-word guaranteed to set the hive-mind swarming.) The accuser didn’t deal with her directly. Instead he tweeted a call for the hive to attack. The victim was humiliated and castigated by dozens of authors (some of whom I know to be otherwise sensible individuals.) One rage-fueled smugster even posted the home address where the accused author lives with her disabled child.

The victim had the sense to call the FBI. Which is what I should have done when the crazies started sending me photos of my house and telling me they were armed and they’d “get me.”

She and I join the hundreds—probably thousands—who have had our homes and families targeted by mindless attacks by various branches of the online book community. Yes, these people are our fellow writers, readers, and reviewers. And I'm sure they all think they're doing good.

  • I saw it happen last year to a bestselling author who nearly lost a major national award because of a similar army of cyber-jihadists, feeding on rage fuelled by misinformation.
  • There was a Goodreads group of bullies/antibullies (all the same at this point) who attacked each other last summer by posting addresses and photos of their children.
  • A similar vigilante attack was waged against a disabled veteran who set up a book sharing site that was accused of piracy.
  • And later the people who were swept up in the anti-piracy mob were targeted with attack-swarms of one-star “reviews” on Amazon and Goodreads.

Terrorizing victims and their families in their homes seems to be a pattern with the booky hive-mind. As is the fake review attack.

Posting addresses and photos of family seems to come from a twisted misunderstanding of what used to be done to silence anonymous trolls—stemming from the outing of hatemongers like “Violentacrez”, who terrorized Reddit a few years ago. Some clever person discovered his real name and residence and posted them online to keep the troll from continuing to pollute the site with anonymous hate speech.

But somehow these literary vigilantes don’t see how that’s different from posting the personal addresses and family details of a fellow author or reviewer who is NOT anonymous in the first place.

Talk about unclear on the concept…

But hey, nobody ever accused the Hive Mind of being smart. Ever tried to reason with a swarm of bees?

The other weapon of choice of the book hive is equally stupid and clueless. Wielding one-star reviews as weapons to assault the author’s character undermines the whole literary community by rendering customer reviews worthless.

Mind you, these cyber-militias claim to be standing up for the “integrity” of the writing community. They think writing fake, libelous “reviews” of books they haven’t read is a great way to show how honorable they are.

Come to think of it, those bees look pretty smart and reasonable in comparison.

So what can we do about cyber-gangs?

Nobody can stop groupthink-bullying on the Interwebz, but you can do your part by refusing to participate.

1) Check facts. Before you join in a cyber-attack sparked by a tweet or a FB post or other online call to jihad, read real news sources, not garbled hysteria from other members of the frenzied tribe.

2) Take a breath: Five seconds in; five seconds out. This will bring down your heart rate and give you time to remember that you have not, in actuality, been assimilated by the Borg.

3) Remember why you’re on social media in the first place. Are you here to alienate all potential readers who favor a different publishing path from yours, hate prologues, or prefer LeStat to Edward Cullen? Or are you here to make friends you hope will buy your books some day?

4) Consider what Joe Konrath said in his post about the attacks on Eisler:

The Internet is forever. Things you say will always be there to come back and bite you.”

And they WILL bite you. Especially if you—
  • Participate in snark attacks or throw “Twitchforks”
  • Denigrate the review process with fake 1&2 star "reviews" 
  • Spread unsubstantiated, harmful rumors
  • Sabotage a fellow author’s livelihood
  • Threaten a person’s life and/or family
  • Make personal attacks on reviewers
That initial rush of smug rage will subside. You’ll be left with nothing but a damaged reputation and digital egg on your face like those agents at Pike’s Peak.

5) Listen to the wise words of Porter Anderson, from his April 26th Writing on the Ether post:

“I recommend we create a little code for our community. ‘Pikes Peak.’ As in ‘Remember Pikes Peak’. If we see a conversation, a presentation, a thread online starting to spiral out of control, maybe if we remember Pikes Peak it will help us recall a sequence of negative emotions and reactions that we really don’t need to revisit.”

How can we avoid becoming gang victims?

You can’t. Not entirely. Barry Eisler’s speech was anything but incendiary. The accused “pirate” was actually promoting her favorite authors' work. I was attacked for writing a piece on my own blog to help fellow Boomers who aren't Web savvy. I admit I was naïve. But we’re all naïve about something.

However there are some things I could have done.

1) Contact law enforcement if your safety is threatened. The FBI has a hotline to report cybercrimes.

2) Delete out-of-control threads in your own blog before rage escalates. If a thread on your own blog gets out of hand, or a bunch of commenters gang up on another, just hit the little trash can icon. I used to think it was better to hang in there—and it probably was in the case of the Anne Rice fan attack—but when things get nasty on your blog, it can reflect on you. A lot of the stuff that made people most angry at me were things other people said in the blog thread, which were later attributed to me in the subsequent game of blog telephone.

3) But don’t delete messages and comments that are actually criminal. At least save a screen shot. You may need them for evidence. (I made this mistake. I thought deleting them from my computer would delete them from my mind. Doesn't work that way.)

4) Stay away from gang-infested forums and websites. Any forum that projects a them/us mentality can be dangerous. For some reason, the oldest forums seem to be plagued with the most groupthink and snark. A whole lot of writers no longer feel safe at Absolute Write, so I’ve stopped recommending them. Ditto the Amazon Forums (the Kindleboards tend to be a bit more civilized, but don’t expect many warm fuzzies.) Reddit could be toxic in the days of Violenticrez. I don't know if it has improved. I’ve also heard some Goodreads groups can get pretty nasty, but I belong to some great ones.

5) Look for community at moderated, helpful forums like Kristen Lamb's WANAtribe,  Nathan Bransford’s forums, CritiqueCircle.com and SheWrites. (If you know of more good ones, do let us know in the comments.) I’ve left all the LinkedIn writing groups I belonged to because of idiots taking over the threads to stage one-on-one combat (and the misguided guys who think it's a dating site) but I haven’t seen overt gang activity. Maybe some of you know some good groups there.

6) Be careful where you post comments. Some blogs are heavily weighted pro- or anti- self-publishing or pro- or anti- author and may be controlled by a hive mind. If you see name-calling or blanket dismissal of a whole segment of the population by a blogger, you have wandered into a private clubhouse of snark and your time will be better spent elsewhere.

The internet book community is ours to create. We can become a jungle of irrational, violent thugs, or we can behave like literate, civilized adults. If you have a personal problem with an individual, consider talking to him or her about it in a reasonable, non-accusatory way. If the person is misusing a forum, or you see criminal activity, leave the group temporarily and contact the appropriate authorities.

As Konrath said—

 “Have the integrity to defend your public statements and the courage to respond to people with different views.”

Probably braying “Exterminate. Exterminate. Exterminate….” like a Dalek is not what he means by "courage."

Here's my own message to anybody who is tempted to "go along with the crowd" and persecute a fellow writer rather than engage in intelligent discourse.

Remember you have your very own personal brain. Even when you’re on the Interwebz. Use it.

How about you, scriveners? Have you been the victim of a cyber-gang? What did you do about it? Have you ever found yourself being swept up in a gang-frenzy, saying things you later regretted? What groups and forums do you consider safe for writers who are new to social media?

This week, in honor of the debut of the new film of The Great Gatsby, and of course the Stephen Colbert Book Club, which has made Fitzgerald's classic the #1 Bestseller on Amazon, Anne will be making the rounds talking about her own novel about a real-life Gatsby-obsessed con man, the Gatsby Game. ONLY 99c until the end of May!

On Monday, May 6th, THE GATSBY GAME will be featured at reviewer Donna Hole's blog. with an in-depth look at the real events that inspired the novel.
And I'll also be at Janet Boyer's Blog, giving my #1 piece of advice for new authors.

On Tuesday, May 7th, THE GATSBY GAME will be featured on The Cheap Ebook. Anne is going to be talking about the new film, and how she feels about a giving a contemporary soundtrack to the greatest story of the Jazz Age. She'll also be talking about the real Gatsby-obsessed man who inspired her novel.

On Thursday, May 9, I'll be talking about the real-life Hollywood mystery behind THE GATSBY GAME with Elaine Raco Chase at the Author's Corner at Triangle Variety Radio.


1) Win a free book cover makeover! Westin Lee's Cover Cleaning Contest. Are your sales sluggish? It could be your cover. In this fun contest—open to self published writers and writers with small presses who have permission from their publishers. There's an easy online form. But you've only got a week. Winner and runner up will be announced May 15th, so get going!!

2) The Saturday Evening Post’s Second Annual Great American Fiction Contest—yes, THAT Saturday Evening Post—is holding a short fiction contest. Could you join the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald; William Faulkner; Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.; Ray Bradbury; Louis L’Amour; Sinclair Lewis; Jack London; and Edgar Allan Poe? $10 entry fee Deadline July 1, 2013

3) FREE book advertising to British readers from EbookBargainsUK Lots of authors and publishers have had huge successes with their free or sale books by advertising on BookBub, ENT, KND, POI, etc. But none of those target the UK, and their links go to US sites Brits can't use. But now there’s a newsletter for UK readers only. It links to all the big UK retailers like Apple UK, Waterstones and Foyles as well as Amazon UK. They don’t sell books direct or get paid for clickthroughs, so they don't have any restrictions on how many free books they can spotlight like BookBub and the others. So it's THE place to tell Brits about your book when it goes free or on sale in the UK. Since Brits have the highest number of readers per capita of any country in the world, this looks like a great idea to me: Plus: the site will be offering FREE book ads until May 31st, on a first come, first served basis.

And if you're in the UK, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the UK bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

4) The Lyttoniad contest for the WORST first sentence of a novel. The classic Bulwer-Lytton Contest makes news every year. Each entry must consist of a single sentence but you may submit as many entries as you wish. E-mail entries should be sent to Scott Rice at srice@pacbell.net in the body of the message, Ariel 12 font. One e-mail may contain multiple entries. Entries will be judged by categories, from “general” to detective, western, science fiction, romance, and so on. There will be overall winners as well as category winners. Deadline is June 30th. No prizes that I know of, but lots of admiration from your fellow writers.

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