Thursday, September 15, 2011

Join the Conversation, or Get Moving Turtle!

I've been experimenting with social media and gathering analytics.  In all my research, I've found that the best way (so far) to garner more activity, attention, views to your site, blog, etc. is to be active in the social media community.  Commenting on other blogs increases traffic.

Take this example...a few weeks ago, I noticed that one of my favorite authors, Jennifer Niven ("Velva Jean Learns to Drive"), whom I follow on twitter, tweeted a link to L.A. Magazine's review of her new book ("Velva Jean Learns to Fly").  Several months ago, I had recommended her book in my blog, so I replied to her tweet, saying that while I was no L.A. Mag, I, too, highly recommended her...and included a link to my old blog post.  Not only did she reply to my tweet, but she went to my blog, and left a comment.  Her 100+ twitter followers saw her comment to me, as well as my link.  In one day, views on my blog spiked 25%.

There is another lesson in this example.  Don't assume that just because you posted a blog, everyone saw it already.  Older posts can and should be recycled.  Think about your blog posts having a longer shelf life, and write on topics that will still be relevant six months from now.  You can repost them on your blog, but also tweet links to older posts when it makes sense to do so.  Case in Point:

By day, I work for a marketing agency.  One of my tasks is managing our social media presence.  One of the people we follow on Twitter has 40,000+ followers. He tweeted a comment about how to find the right Social Media Manager.  I had written a post several months ago about how to train your new Social Media Manager.  So...I replied to his tweet, agreeing about how important finding the right person is, and then added "...and when you do find the right fit, here's how to get him started on the right track" with a link to my old blog post.  Activity on our agency blog spiked 20% in one day.

Stay tuned to what your followers (and those you follow) are posting, tweeting and talking about.  And look for opportunities to join the conversation.  If you are dipping a toe into the vast social media pool and are not sure where to start, remember that it's a slow moving snow ball, but each post, comment, tweet makes a ripple, and those ripples will begin to add up.  Keep a slow and steady pace, and you'll slowly add followers, and learn much along the way.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Value of a (Critique) Group or How Big Did You Say It Was?

I like the idea of groups.  Google+ calls them Circles.  Facebook calls them Friends.  There is value in connecting with peers, family, friends, like-minded individuals (you get the idea).

I have been lucky enough to be included in a new Writers' Critique Group (thanks Linda!)  Five women from various backgrounds, ages and stages of life, who bring their own unique writing styles and personalities to our little cluster of soft-backed, sturdy chairs (if you read Sioux's recent post, you know why this group of ours requires a certain functionality in our seating).

I am honored to be a part of this group.  I talk a lot.  But then, I can't help it.  Their writing excites me.  It excites me to read it, it excites me to think about all the ideas and the possibilities, to be exposed to different genres and styles.  And because I come from a Marketing background, I am all about the concepting, the group ideation, especially when it involves chocolate cake (thanks again, Lynn!).

If you find yourself in the enviable position to join such a group.  If you decide you'd like to start one, or be a part of one, or just check out what all the fuss is about, you should definitely do so.  I personally guarantee that it will help your writing, and increase your confidence in what you bring to the (coffee) table, but you just may find a group of people that you enjoy being around. You'll certainly spend a few hours a week (or month) honing your craft. If you're lucky, you'll laugh a little (thanks Tammy!), and you just might stretch beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone and try a new genre or two.

A few pointers for joining (or starting) a critique group of your own:

1. Surround yourself with writers who are at or near your level of writing.  Some might be stronger, some might not have as much experience, and each of them might write for a different genre (fiction, no-fiction, memoir, etc.). This way, you can learn from each other.

2. Come prepared.  Bring a copy of your piece for each person in the group.  Double space to allow room for group members to write comments.

3. Have a game plan.  Set aside the first few minutes of your first meeting to go over the plan.  Will you each read aloud from your work?  Will everyone read your work silently?  Who should start the critique? Should you work your way around the circle so that each person has a dedicated time to speak, or just speak out when you have a thought?  Is the person being critiqued allowed to speak - or only listen?

4.  Create limits.  On the size of the piece you are bringing: I way overstepped mine last night and brought 5 pages.  My apologies, girls.  I think 2-3 pages is quite enough, and I promise to follow this rule in the future! And also on the time you meet: approx. two hours should do it. One hour just isn't enough, and 3 hours...well, who has 3 hours?

5. Use the sandwich approach.  It's helpful to sandwich your critique of someone's work between two positive comments (i.e. "love your writing style!  Your dialogue isn't really working for me, it doesn't sound "real," but your ending is great).  Having been through several college writing courses, I've developed a fairly thick skin, and personally, I don't need niceties (unless of course they are truly sincere and worthy) and really believe I am in this group to learn something - I want my work torn apart so I can put it back together stronger and hopefully ready to shop out.  That said, it's always nice to get a compliment, and if you're just starting out, it can be very helpful.

Ever been in a great writing group? If you've got ideas, thoughts or advice from your own experiences, I'd love for you to share in the comments below...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Something's In the Air

I'm looking forward to this week of autumn-like weather.  "I can feel it coming in the air tonight..." sang Phil Collins.  I can feel it, too.  The winds are picking up, the leaves will be changing soon, school is in full swing.  And the ideas in my head are coming faster than I can write each one down.  I can feel it.  Can you?  There is excitement in the cool breeze.  Open windows, clear days, cool nights.  Soon the leaves will be changing to crisp orange, fiery red, and brilliant yellow.  Shorts will make way for jeans, cozy boots will replace flip flops and cardigans and hoodies will be pulled out from the back of the closet.  I am looking forward to the changes.  Inside and out. The great Sam Cooke's soulful "A change is Gonna Come" is playing in my mind.  I wonder what's in store for me and mine in the coming months.  What's in store for you?