Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Random Writing Tips – Accept the numbers game


For the first six or seven years I was on Twitter, I was rather hit or miss on trying to get followers.  I posted whenever, and followed people I though seemed interesting and just hoped they might follow me back.  But then I decided to be more active.  I started to regularly post stuff, and I started to build up my followers.  What I would do, is I would check out who was following someone interesting or somebody I was following.  I would then start following people with interesting bios.  But since there was a limit on how many people you could follow, I started keeping track of who I followed and if they followed me back.  I think every Friday I’d note the last person I followed, and if they didn’t follow me back within a week or so, I’d unfollow them.  Unless they were really interesting.

It took me a couple of years, but I eventually had just over 7000 followers on my writing account.  (I think I had just over 5000 followers on my personal account.)  How many of them were actually people, who were interested in what I posted (often links to my books), and who actually saw my tweets, I’ll never know.  But things were looking up.  Then came Musk.  For various reasons, I stopped posting on Twitter, stating that if an adult took over I’d be back.  But I think too much damage has been done and all my work to build up a following there is gone.

At some point, I had started a profile on Mastodon.  At first, it was just to be another site to reach a different audience, but when I left Twitter, it became my main social media and marketing platform.  I do regularly post stuff, although I’ve drastically cut down on posting links to my books.  Screaming into the Twitter void “Buy my book!” was perfectly normal, but constantly marketing – especially on my instance – isn’t the Mastodon thing, so I’ve been reduced to posting stuff that people will find interesting and maybe check out my books.  I haven’t tried too hard for followers, but I did recently break 300.

Marketing on Twitter was always weird.  I’d tweet about Book A, and then someone would buy Book B, but I never knew how they ended up on Book B.  I had started keeping track of what books I tweeted about and which books were bought, but the results were inconclusive.  But one thing that seems pretty clear is my books sales have dropped dramatically since I left Twitter.  Apparently, having thousands of followers did help. 

All of that was to get to my tip: accept that to really have any success selling books, you need to play the numbers game.  You could be your generation’s greatest writer, but if nobody knows about you, you won’t sell anything.  So between writing and revising and living your life and probably a day job, you also need to find a social media site – or better yet two or three – and put in the time to build up a following.  To that end, check out Mastodon, and maybe give me a follow.


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Ideas that don’t work

Recently, I had the idea for a scene where a 1950’s scifi writer was telling his agent about his latest novel.  It was set in that far off year of 2024, and told of the beginning of a robot rebellion.  The idea behind it was, while all the technology was wrong, parts of this robot rebellion sounds a lot like what people fear will happen when the AIs take over. 

It was a nice little scene, but I wasn’t sure what to do with it.  I eventually had the idea of this writing getting sucked to now, and he is amazed with how far we’ve come in some areas, smartphones, but disappointed in how little we’ve done, like, where are the Mars colonies?  At first, this seemed like an interesting idea.  He ends up with a granddaughter who is trying to finish and update some of the stories left behind when he mysteriously disappeared, and she has to beat the casual misogyny and racism out of him. 

I can’t remember if I had the first idea while I was driving to work, or while doing my mind-numbing day job, but I wrote the basics down in my writing notebook during my lunch break.  But I kept thinking about it when I went back to work, and that’s when things started to unravel.  Basically, everything was to have this grounded reality, but then there was this random time portal that … threw everything off.  I don’t know how long I thought about it, or how many little changes I made to try to get the story to work.  And when I finally had something that might work, I realized that it little to do with the original idea of a robot/AI rebellion, which had been the whole point. 

I have a whole folder of Dead Stories.  Some are just ideas I quickly figured out weren’t going to work, but others I didn’t figure out weren’t going to work until they were half-finished.  And I know that all the time spent writing – even work on Dead Stories – is still writing exercises that help future writing projects, but sometimes I wish I could put out a collection of my half-finished Dead Stories and people would be curious enough to buy it.  I mean, it is late stage capitalism, I need to monetize everything just to squeak by.  Say, have you checked out my most recent collection, The Uncapped Pen?

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Short story – “I Just Write Stories”

“I Just Write Stories”

As a regular patron of the bookstore, Janet had often seen the fliers for the Pen Jockeys, the writing group that met every month in the store’s café.  She didn’t consider herself a writer, just a dabbler who wrote two or three short stories a year to post on her blog.  Several people – not just her friends – had said that she had talent and should write more.  After much debate, she decided to at least check out the writer group and see if she could learn anything from real writers.

In the café, two tables had been pushed together to make room for about a dozen people.  A sign in the middle of one proclaimed the tables reserved for the Pen Jockeys.  It was still about ten minutes until the meeting time, but two men and a woman already sat there.  They welcomed Janet and had her join them.

“I’m Brian,” the first man said.  “I write gay fantasy.”

The second man introduced himself as Doug.  He explained, “I write science fiction with strong libertarian underpinnings.”

“And I,” Samantha added, “write historical fiction with strong female characters.”

“It’s nice to meet you all,” Janet said.  “I … just write stories.”

The three looked confused.  “What kind of stories?” Doug asked.

Janet shrugged.  “Whatever comes to mind.”

“Do they have specific themes?” Brian asked.

“Um … no.  Just your basic run-of-the-mill stories.”

“What are you trying to achieve with them?” Samantha asked.

“Ah … they’re just fun.  I usually post them on my blog.” Janet looked around at them for a moment before asking, “Is that a problem?”

The three looked at one another.  “Well,” Doug began, “if you really want your writing to take off you need to write to a specific audience, be they gay, libertarian, feminist, what have you.”

“Oh,” Janet replied.  “Well, I’m just starting out, so I’m more interested in learning about writing, not the marketing aspects.”

“Writing is a business,” Brian stated.  “Too many people who want to be writers never learn that.”

Janet was quiet as she thought that over.

Samantha then asked, “You said you just write … for fun?”

“Yes.” Janet looked around.  “Don’t you?”

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Beating a weird, coincidence horse

I believe it was a sometime in the summer of 2001, a few weeks after I moved into my first apartment, my phone rang.  I answered it, and a guy says, “Hey Steve, it’s Tom.”

I didn’t know any Toms, so I asked, “Who?”

He replied, “Tom,” slightly angrily.

I took a moment and thought.  I had gone to school with a Tom, but I hadn’t spoken to him in a decade or so, and there was no way he could have gotten this number.  “Who?”

“Karen’s brother,” he almost shouted. 

I almost shouted back, “Who the fuck is Karen,” but I stopped myself and said I think he had the wrong number.  I think in the following months there was a message or two on my machine for the other Steve, so apparently our numbers were very close.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I put up a post asking “What’s the weirdest conversation you’ve had?” and I gave a condensed version of that story.  A few days after I did that, I came across an old blog post I had done that resulted from that incident.  Apparently, I was trying to come up with a very short story, and I came up with an idea:

The story was set in one of those dystopian futures where people have numbers instead of names, for example, A517 or A to his friends.  Well, A sits down to a “genuine, vat-grown steak” when his comm buzzes.  He answers and someone goes, “Hey A, it’s T.” A doesn’t know any Ts, so T explains he works with R at the clone factory.

A still doesn’t know who T is, so T in frustration asks, “This is A571, right?”

“No, I’m A517.”

“Oh.  I’m sorry.  I guess I have the wrong number.”

Now, I know the first draft – let alone the rough outline – of everything sucks, but I highly doubt any amount of editing could turn that into something … halfway good. 

I wrote that in my notebook, and then forgot about it.  Some years later, I was flipping through my notebook and saw it, and wrote up the blog where I was thinking about an author putting out a collection of their terrible stories, and what would be a good title for it.  And I wondered if how we react to our bad stories could be some sort of personality test for writers. 

So, the chain of events: I got a wrong number call.  A few years later, I use that as the base for a failed short story.  A few years after that, I come across this failed short story, and use it for the base of a blog post.  Many years after that, I use the original wrong number story for a social media post.  A week or so later, I come across that old blog post, and use the whole story for this new blog post.  At this point, I’m wondering what I’m going to do with this in five, or ten more years?  Maybe I will put together a collection of my terrible stories, and I’ll basically just copy this for the introduction.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Writing Newsletter First Quarter 2024


Probably the biggest writing news for this first quarter of 2024, is that for the first time in years I’ve submitted a story to a magazine.  I’m still waiting to hear if they’ll accept it, but I hopefully will have good news on it for next quarter.


I’ve continued writing a story for my website each month, publishing “Scheming,” “Outstanding Merit,” and “Always a Catch.” I’ve also posted “Deaf Ears,” “Always Have a Strong Finish,” and “Deadweight” on my Ko-fi account.  And I also posted “How Did They Get Our Number?” on one of my blogs.


In these three months, I’ve posted microfiction stories on my Mastodon and Bluesky profiles on the following days: 1/12, 3/6, 3/11, 3/20, 3/23, and 3/25.  I’ve also posted haikus on 1/8, 2/19, 3/4, 3/18, and 3/26.  I’m slowly working on collections of both, so my plan is to post them more often to force myself to write the hundreds of each I need.  I guess we’ll see how well I do.


In this quarter, I only managed one Free Story Idea, that of Star Jumping.  In my last Newsletter I wrote that I was thinking of only doing one a quarter, but I had been trying to do one every other month.  But, like other times, it seemed other things kept coming up.  And as with everything else, we’ll have to see what I’m able to do.


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Random Writing Tips – You need to write


Your reaction to the title was probably along the lines of, “No shit.” So let me explain my point.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a previous Random Writing Tips about Schedules.  In that I talked about how if people know every third Tuesday there will be a new Random Writing Tips post on your blog, they’ll be more likely to check it out.  And I figured having schedules for posts on social media would work as well.  I had a schedule of posts I did on Twitter, which I modified when I moved over to Mastodon.  And over the past year, I’ve added new things to post.  For example, every Tuesday there’s a writing quote, I pose a question every Thursday, and I have a poll every other Sunday.  To keep track of all of this, I have an Excel document where I can check off everything once I schedule or post it.  The system is a bit cumbersome, but I’ve used it for so long I know how to work through its problems.

Then last week, I had an idea for a new system.  And I probably spent several hours setting this new system up.  The over simplified explanation, is that I went from each row representing a week, to each row representing a day.  And with some functions I just learned how to use, it should be easier for me to see what I still need to do to keep to my schedule. 

And if you’re wondering what does all that have to do with writing, as I said, I spent several hours preparing the system for the next two months.  I’ll see how it works, and if there are any little improvements I can make before spending a few more hours setting it up for the rest of the year.  But at several points while working on this, I thought to myself, I could be using this time writing a story.  Will this new system make me more productive with my scheduling resulting in more people finding me and learning about my books?  Probably not.  I did have a system, a clunky system I admit, but I knew how to work through the clunks.  But I wasn’t just cleaning the house, or whatever because I didn’t want to write, I was setting up a new system that was “writing related” which, is close enough.


Image from Pixabay.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Writing business cards

Recently, I was doing some cleaning and I came across some business cards I made years ago.

I think, in some office supply store, I found a pack of blank business cards.  Each sheet had like ten cards you could separate, and the pack had four or five sheets.  On the pack there was a note about how it worked with some template in Word.  You filled out the template, then put the sheet in your printer, and you could even print on both sides.  And then you had business cards.

Part of why I wanted business cards was because there were businesses that had containers on the counter with signs like, “Put your business card in and we’ll draw one each week for a free pizza.” I wanted business cards to get free pizza (I never won any such drawing) but I also figured if the business card was interesting enough, it might get people to check my stuff out and maybe buy one of my books.  I could also leave them in places where people could find them and be intrigued.

So I needed something interesting to put on a business card.  I don’t remember if I came up with “Professional dreamer and destroyer of worlds” before I started making my business cards, but I figured it was perfect to be noticeable.  To explain, I think writers are professional dreamers.  We dream of something and, if we’re lucky, we get paid for it.  As to the destroyer of worlds, well, not to brag but with my bare hands I’ve driven humanity to extinction, twice.  At least twice.  More like four or five times, but some of those stories start with humanity extinct, so should they count?

Anyway, these cards are no longer good.  On the back I had my website and my writing email, which are still good, but I also had a writing blog I haven’t posted to for over a decade as well as my writing Twitter, which I don’t do anymore.  Should I make new ones?  I don’t know if I have any more blank sheets, and I don’t have a printer.  Plus, where I used to live there were dozens of pizza places within half-an-hour.  Where I live now, there’s … one.  Also, do places still do business card drawings?  I don’t go out much, but business cards seem more for businesses so customers can know their website and email, and not for people.  Of course, I could be wrong.  But I still don’t see much point for making new cards, even if all I’d need to do is update the back.