technology

The Evolution Of Writing Tools

I’ve had a lot of writing tools over the years. I started out in high school writing in notebooks. I got a manual Brother typewriter for Christmas when I was 12 or 13, but even by the standards of the day (goodness I’m dating myself, but 1989? 1990?) it was archaic, clunky, and hard to use, and the keys always stuck. The only way to correct typos was with white out paper (remember that stuff?), though you could buy ink cartridges with a correction ribbon as well. Nevertheless, I did type out a short story on it and sent it to a magazine. Hilariously, they sent it back unread because the typesetting was so bad as to be nearly unreadable. I was 14 and more optimistic than smart, what can I say?

My first ‘technological’ writing tool was a Brother word processor. MUCH better than a manual typewriter, but by today’s standards still a cumbersome, difficult piece of equipment. They keyboard part (which was also a typewriter) weighed about seven hundred pounds, and the cables to hook it up to the monitor were plentiful. Despite it being a huge advancement over a typewriter, its technological capabilities were limited. Printing anything took years, as it printed by literally typing out everything on the screen (and to print out an entire book took about six ink cartridges). It did take 3.5 disks though, which I saved tons and tons of stories on. I can no longer access those disks because the files on them can’t be read by newer technology. Nevertheless, I wrote many stories and books on it and submitted them to magazines and contests. I even got a short story published. I also had a ‘laptop’ word processor, but I didn’t have a printer to hook it up to so I mostly wrote fan fiction on it.

And then, in 2000, we got our first desktop computer. Oh, the ease of writing! The technology! The mountains of stories and books I wrote and submitted and had rejected! Truly astounding. The internet also enabled me to become a hugely popular fan fiction author, which is where I cut my writing teeth to full sharpness (I won’t tell you the fandom or my screen name, to spare my dignity, but there’s a few friends who read this whom I actually met through that writing).

And then on to laptops, eventually. With each new machine came better technology and a better version of Word. Just recently, I replaced my old laptop because I’d had it nearly four years and it was getting to the point it was usable, but not very efficient. Kind of like that one light switch in your house that’s wired backwards so you have to turn it off to turn it on, or the toilet handle you always have to jiggle. It’s comfortable and you know the workaround by heart, but why not fix the issue and do it without the unnecessary jumping through hoops and voodoo spells you have to cast to make it work right?

My new laptop types beautifully, has more memory, better graphics, more storage, and Word 2016 runs as smooth as butter, the words just flowing from my fingertips onto the screen like the technology is right inside my head. I’ve come all this way from pounding sticky keys and cramping my hand with a pen and notebook. Do I miss the old ways? No, not at all. But nostalgia isn’t always about wishing you could do something the hard way again.

How have your writing tools evolved?

5 Reasons You Should Start A Blog

On Wednesday, I talked about the reasons you should write a book. Even if the industry has too many books and not enough readers, that doesn’t mean we don’t need your book, or that you don’t need your book. If you’re looking for reasons to keep typing, go check it out.

Today, I’m going to tell you why you should start a blog.

I blog three days a week–usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, though sometimes it varies. So you may be surprised to hear that I, for the most part, freakin’ hate blogging. More often than not, I’m wracking my brain for the next blog topic and it’s aggravating. I never know what I’m going to write most weeks, unless I already have something lined up. I’m a tour host for Goddess Fish Promotions, because I want to promote other writers, but also because on average it gives me one ready-made post per week. I’m part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group because it’s an awesome, fun group, but it also gives me a blog topic once a month. I like when it’s easy.

So why do I blog, if I don’t really like it? Well, after you read the list below, maybe you’ll understand.

And here are some reasons why you should add another blog to the internet, because clearly what the internet needs is more blogs:

Five reasons you should start a blog:

  1. It’s cathartic to talk to yourself. When you start out, probably no one is going to be reading your blog, except maybe a few friends who are too nice to tell you no when you ask them to follow you. That’s okay. Blogging is kinda like a diary when you first start out, and it helps you sort your thoughts and learn how you feel about things. It also gives you time to practice before people actually start reading your blog. The more you do it, the better you get at it, and the more interesting things you have to say. It’s okay to fumble around when you first start. Somehow, miraculously, after two years of blogging I have over a thousand subscribers. That means I have to provide some content instead of just talking to myself–and hopefully, I’m managing that. Talk to yourself first, and you will learn to talk to the public.
  2. If you suck at social media, it will give you a platform. I really suck at Twitter and Facebook. I had a personal Twitter a long time ago, and loved using it, but eventually my Twitter fever went away. I have a personal Facebook I’m much more active on than my writing one, but it’s locked to friends and family. My writing Facebook, Twitter, G+, and everywhere else I’m expected to be are mostly full of promotion and regurgitating my blog posts. At least with a blog I’m still reaching an audience, and I can say more here anyway. I can be present without having to be good at everything.
  3. It’s great for procrastinating on your writing. I should be working on the book I’m writing right now, but I’m blogging instead. And I can still say I’m ‘working.’ Ha! Take THAT, productivity!
  4. You can reach people who don’t even read the kind of stuff you write. I know that most of my subscribers don’t even read romance and erotica, but we’ve made friends and enjoy talking to each other because we’ve found each other through places like the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This is why I started a general writing blog instead of focusing on one genre of writing. I’m more interested in engaging other writers than specifically engaging other romance writers. This is up to you, though–but remember, if you make your blog very specific, you need to find a way to reach that specific audience. Sometimes broader is better. It also gives you a lot of freedom in topic matter, too.
  5. It provides site content. If your website is lacking content, if there’s not much to put on there, a blog puts some meat on the skeleton of your online presence. Also, it can be really good for driving traffic to your site. People come to read your posts and check out the rest of the site–that’s a big bonus!

Whether you have a blog already or you’re considering starting one, you should know this: the internet is infinite, and there’s room for you. If you want to blog, then blog! You have a right to express yourself just like everyone else. And even if you find it aggravating, there’s a lot of good reasons to keep at it

Have a great weekend!

Excuse my dust

Over the next few days I’m going to be doing a bit of tinkering with my website. I want to make it a little more streamlined and professional and make things easier to find.

So if you’re visiting me right now *waves* I apologize for any wonky-ness you might encounter. WordPress has a great preview feature for changes, but not all of them are completely accurate and sometimes it’s not until after you’ve applied them that something appears off. I will try my best to keep things functional while I’m tidying up.

I’ve been considering paying to have my site professionally designed, but I’ve done a lot of my own website work over the years and I’m not sure about paying for something I can probably do myself given enough practice and patience. Do any of you have your sites designed by someone else? Is it worth it? WordPress also offers paid themes that I could do more with, but again, I’d like to see how far I can take it on my own.

I think more important than aesthetics, an author’s site should make it immediately easy for visitors to explore their books, so I’m going to put more focus on that. I’m also not a huge fan of sites that employ too many flash components or animations–not everyone’s computer shows these things correctly. I like to keep things simple.

How about you? What sort of websites are most appealing to you, and what do you want to see when you visit an author’s site?

The impact of cover art

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and while that’s true, many people do. Have you ever bought a book because the cover caught your eye? How many times have you seen a well put together cover and felt the urge to read the book based on the cover artist’s prowess? Advertising has a strong influence on all of us, whether we want to believe it or not. And book covers are just that–advertising. A beautiful, compelling, dynamic cover attracts our attention, because that’s the point.

This is by no means a pronouncement that only books with amazing covers are worth reading. You can’t judge a book by its cover. A less-than-amazing cover may house an incredible, compelling story. All I’m saying is you can’t deny the power of advertising and artistry.

I’ve had covers I nearly wept over (in a good way), actually feeling my story was inferior to such an amazing cover. If you’re not an author, you should know: authors get very little say in what their covers look like. Some publishers allow input and ask for suggestions but the publisher has the last say in any disputes (this is often written into the contract).

I’ve been blessed so far, my covers have been created by some amazing artists (click on the covers to see them in their full size detailed glory):

MorganMegan_TheWickedCityThe Wicked City (and the sequels) are done by the amazing Fiona Jayde. I nearly did backflips when I found out she was my cover artist, as she’s one of the best in the business!

The cover for Her Darkest Secret was done by the equally amazing Celairen.

 

 

And the cover One Night In Chicago (and all the City Nights series covers) was done by the extremely talented Cora Graphics.

 

 

 

How about you readers out there–do you judge books by their covers? And if you’re an author, how do you deal with covers you hate and covers you love? Does it fill you with anxiety waiting for the cover art, or are you happy just to have a cover at all? Let’s hear your thoughts!

Atypical writer’s tools

Certain online writer’s tools many of us already know and love: Google and Wikipedia for research, thesaurus.com, The Chicago Manual of Style onlineAmazon’s Author Central for keeping your details up to date, Yahoo! groups for keeping in the loop, Google Docs for storing and collaborating. All are valuable resources and places to research, store, promote, and enhance our writing.

Today, I’ll share with you a few other websites and apps I use to help my writing, as well as keep my social networking manageable:

Dropbox – The best online storage site. Even the free version has lots of space. I use it to back up my writing from my computer. I can access anything I have stored in it, anywhere. This makes transferring stuff between my laptop and netbook extra easy. When I’m working on something I like to save the updated versions of the manuscript to Dropbox as I go–just in case! You can download an app for your computer, tablet, and smartphone and connect everything.

Google Street View – Writing about someplace you’ve never been? Need to know what a street, building, or area looks like? This is the most incredible resource ever created for visiting far-off places and getting information you might not be able to glean from text. I use it quite often. Great for absorbing the sights and atmosphere of the places you’re writing about, too.

My Writing Spot – A place to write and store your work online, complete with a word count tracker. Very simple and easy to use. There’s probably a lot of other places online you can do the same thing, but I really like this one.

Grammar Girl – An invaluable source for looking up those pesky grammar questions that gnaw at your brain, explained in a way that makes them easy to absorb and remember! I visit this site a lot.

Spotify – If you’re like me, music enhances your writing experience. Personally, I love to have good mood music relevant to what I’m writing at the time. With Spotify, you can listen to very nearly any song ever made, whenever you want to. You can also create playlists and experience new artists without any monetary commitment. You might find the soundtrack to your next novel or the perfect song for one of your characters! The free version is just as awesome as the paid version, though it has ads. I have the paid version–super cheap, by the way–and it’s a worthwhile investment.

– Tweetdeck – Awesome app for keeping track of your social networking. You can make multiple columns for twitter lists and sync your Facebook with it as well. I’m sure a lot of you out there already use it, but if you don’t–try it out!

VistaPrint – Need swag? Need it to be cheap and highly customizable? Want a huge selection of products you can make for your fans? This is a great service!

PDF to Word Converter – Sometimes you need to switch your files up. This is 100% free and does it perfectly.

How about you? Do you have any sites or apps that help your writing, either directly or indirectly?

Modern technology in fiction

Have you ever considered how the characters in your story communicate with each other: across airwaves, in cyberspace, through high-tech devices? I’m not even talking about sci-fi. The future is now, and as an author you have keep this in mind when you’re creating contemporary worlds.

As a paranormal author, I can tell you this much–it’s no longer easy to isolate characters as a method of creating fear and tension. Even if you abandon your characters in the woods, someone’s bound to have a cell phone (and just because they’re in the woods doesn’t mean there’s no signal, in fact, you usually get clearer signals in open spaces). You can’t have your characters break down on a back road either, because there’s roadside assistance and OnStar. They’re not even likely to end up on a back road unless the GPS takes them there or someone they know lives there, and then they can just call and tell their friends they’ve broken down.

When writing contemporary pieces, you have to remember we live in the future, right now. Technology is vast and commonplace. I had this underlined for me when an editor on one of my books pointed out even in hiding, my protagonist would probably have access to the internet and get her information from bloggers. Also, she was originally getting a lot of information from newspapers and I realized very few people read paper newspapers now.

This is not the world we thirty-somethings (well, I might be forty-something…) grew up in and your characters certainly aren’t in it.download

You also have to adjust for certain trends: are your characters watching television, or more specifically, the news? A lot of people watch their favorite TV shows online. A vast percentage of people get their daily dose of news from online news sites. The internet has to come into play at least peripherally if you’re writing a contemporary piece, especially if someone in your story needs information. These days people are more likely to look something up online rather than consulting an encyclopedia. And no one, not even the most countrified bumpkin, is wholly technologically isolated.

What do you think? Would you rather say “screw it” and write historical pieces, or is it easier to keep track of how people really live these days, hardwired to the mainframe?

Advertising–does it work for authors?

Like many ‘just getting started’ authors, I have a budget for self-promotion and marketing. Even though one of the publishers I’m with is well known and prestigious, they understandably reserve the bulk of their marketing money for their big authors. I am in no way saying they DON’T put money into marketing me, because they do, it’s just the reality of publishing. If you have to decide between dumping tons of money into your bestseller or a newbie, who are you going to pick? Understandably, the one you’re going to make your money back on. I ain’t mad. I ain’t bitter.

If you’re with a small press, it’s a given you will be doing most of your own marketing. Not because they don’t care about you, but because they don’t have the resources bigger publishers do. That being said, smaller presses can be much more responsive and family-like in their interactions with you, so you trade off the glitz and glamour of a bigger publisher for the nurturing environment of a smaller one–and it’s also a good place to learn.

So let’s talk about advertising. Let’s talk about the paid and unpaid advertising I’ve done, and I’ll tell you how it panned out for me.

Paid Advertising:

– Today starts an ad for my novel on EReader News Today. This is a huge site with tons of visitors and tons of subscribers to their newsletter (which also features your ad). Placing an ad here is moderately to hugely expensive, depending on what you get, your genre, and the pricing of your book. It has stringent requirements, including the sale price of your book, your number and quality of reviews, as well as length, editing, and cover requirements. Since this is the first day of the ad I can’t tell you how it’s done for me but I hear a LOT of good things. Go here to check out advertising with them. (Edit: holy heck, by the day after my sales SKYROCKETED–highly recommend this service.)

– I have an ad on The Romance Reviews right now (on the right sidebar). If you’re a romance author, they offer great perks when you register on their site as an author, giving you 15 credits toward running an ad on their site and three free headline ads. I took advantage of this. The link on my ad comes back to my site so I can see how many people clicked on it–so far, very few. But it was a good opportunity and the ad was almost free with my credits, so I gave it a go. Sign up here as an author. (You can also request a review and run a contest as an author.)

– I will have an ad on Long and Short Reviews, as well as participating in their anniversary party. Moderately expensive depending on what you get and I can’t tell you yet how it fared, because my ad and the party haven’t happened yet, but they’re a very popular and well-viewed site. Go here for their advertising options. (Edit: my ad is up now, I haven’t seen anything come back from it yet, though)

– I did a blog tour with Writer Marketing Services. Cheap, fun, and very accomodating–and I seemed to get a lot of traffic back to my site and interaction on the tour stops. Full disclosure, Lucy Felthouse who runs the service is my editor at one of my publishers, I got a discount because of this (through my publisher) but I’m not just pimping her because of that–she’s great! If you write erotica she also offers ads on Erotica For All, which has a huge amount of viewers. This seemed to get the most people talking to/following me.

– I have also had release day and cover reveal blog tours with Pump Up Your Book, but these are organized and paid for by my bigger publisher, so I can’t tell you much about pricing. This service gives you a huge amount of scattergun exposure…lots and lots of sites host you…but I’ve gotten very little kickback from it. However, the customer service and interactions I’ve had with the organizers is top notch.

– Facebook ads. If you hate your money, just throw it into a slot machine instead, you’re more likely to get a return. Facebook ads are a joke and here’s why.

– Facebook parties. Expensive, but fun. You need to give away prizes, usually gift cards. But you will have fun. Someone wisely told me not to give away too many free copies of my work: give away gift cards instead, so people will buy your books with them. Think about it–if you run a contest and the prize is your book, how many people are gonna go buy it, if they can win it for free?

Free Advertising:

– Blog hops. I take part in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (which posts the first Wednesday of every month) and I took part in the Blogging From A-Z Challenge (which is hosted in part by the same people). Nothing–NOTHING I’ve done paid-wise has gotten me the kind of exposure these have. They drive insane amounts of traffic to my site and I’ve made so many new friends and connections (and readers) through them. Blog hops are great for exposure, but only if they meet two requirements: 1. They have tons of participants. 2. They’re widely known. It’s fun to participate in blog hops but you get more exposure with the bigger ones.

– Facebook groups. Facebook has tons of groups for whatever your book may fit into: genre, publisher, on sale. You can join these groups and promote your work. You’re shouting in a room full of people who are also shouting about themselves. The response is lackluster.

– Facebook ‘like’ threads. Sometimes people will post threads where you can link to your FB page and everybody can go ‘like’ the people who interest them, or threads where people pimp specific types of books. This seems to get some traction, depending on the popularity of the person posting the thread and their number of followers. I got 20 new likes last week doing this. Friend people on FB, join groups, and look out for chances to talk about yourself.

– Being a blog tour host. I’ve recently signed up to host blog tours with Goddess Fish Promotions. The theory is if you host a popular author, people will come to your site to see them and then they’ll also see your work (also some authors offer opportunities for prizes to the blogs who host them). I’ll let you know how it goes. Keep in mind there are requirements to being a blog tour host, including how many people visit your site, the genres you represent, and your availability.

– Networking. If you can get a prestigious author to give you a shoutout, it’s worth all the advertising on the internet. Be gracious and make friends. You never know.

– Social networking. Keep in mind you’re screaming in a room full of other people screaming. Find a way to stand out, be kind to everyone you talk to, and hope someone important retweets your tweet.

– Write another book/story. Keep your name in front of the masses.

– Blog. People like to read about other people and all their failed attempts at advertising.

So how about you? What methods of advertising have you tired? And also, here’s some free advertising right now–pimp your work in the comments, if you like!

G is for Google

This post is part of the Blogging from A to Z challenge–blogging every day in the month of April (except Sundays!) with each letter of the alphabet.

One of the most invaluable tools in my writer’s tool kit is Google. Not just the search function, though that too is amazing. I’ve been writing for a long time and I remember when ‘research’ meant going to the library, checking out a bunch of relevant books, poring through them, and taking notes. You might get what you’re looking for on the first try, you might have to go back. Now I can type in anything I need to know about and instantly get thousands of results. You still have to do some picking and searching, but I never have to leave my house.

Is there a nostalgia for the old way of doing things? Certainly. Is the new way easier? Absolutely. Would I go back to the old ways for nostalgia’s sake? No. We look back on nostalgic things fondly because we know we don’t have to do them anymore.

Google has another extremely useful feature for the writer–Google Maps. Google Maps has a brilliant function called Google Street View. This means I can see what virtually any spot in the world looks like at ground level. I think we become so used to technology that we don’t stop to think about how utterly brilliant and magical this is, how we live in the future now, how such an amazing thing is possible and so accessible to us. I can write accurately about places I’ve never been. I can stand on a street with my characters in some far-off place and see exactly what they see. I can build worlds based on accuracy. I’m a visceral writer, so being able to grasp the ‘feel’ of a place is immensely useful to me. Until the day I can just blink myself there, this is the next best thing.

How about you? Do you find technology useful in your writing? What futuristic things are in your tool kit?