I really, really try not to talk too much about blogging and social networking on here — mainly because I think that kind of navel-gazing can quickly become kinda pointless and meta and irritating — but as I’ve been trying to reach out and build a following online this past year, one of the tools I’ve found useful is Klout. The tide of public opinion seems to be turning against them lately, so I thought I’d take a minute to talk about what I get out of it.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me bring you up to speed: Klout is a site that tries to examine your activity on various social networking sites, and analyze how people respond to that activity, and assigns you a “Klout score” from 1 to 100 to indicate how influential they think you are.
Several people have expressed concerns over privacy issues, largely because Klout was creating “accounts” for people who had never signed up for the service, and because some of those people were minors. I agree that this is problematic, but I think their response has been appropriately swift and contrite. (When they realized they were pulling in information about minors, they made changes to their system within two hours.) People called them on this issue, and they said, “yeah, you’re right, we screwed up,” like grown-ups.
Other people started complaining when Klout recently changed the way that they calculate their scores, and several users found that their score had dropped dramatically overnight as a result.
Me, for example. My score dropped by fifteen points. Now, I can totally get why some people would take this way too personally, but I’m not one of them. It’s their ranking system; if they decide they want to change their methodology and the number that comes out of that revamped system is a little different, I don’t see how that’s worth losing sleep over. I’m still just as “influential” as a I was the day before they made their changes. It’s like getting a different grade in a class based on, say, a certain number of right answers vs. giving some answers more “points” than others, vs. grading the entire class on a curve — none of that changes how well you actually did on the test.
But some people aren’t comfortable with Klout doing the grading at all, and one of those people is author John Scalzi:
Who made Klout the arbiter of online influence, aside from Klout itself? [....] I’m sure Klout has what it considers an excellent rationale for whatever stew of algorithms it uses to assign you a number, but neither you nor I know what it is, or (more importantly) why it’s valid as an accurate determiner of your online influence and popularity.
I’m not sure I get this argument at all, and Scalzi’s certainly not the only one making it lately. Let me ask you the same question about someone else:
Who made Google the arbiter of what web pages are the most important and relevant on their topics, aside from Google themselves?
Nobody on the Internet who steps forward and says “I’m an expert!” is democratically vetted, put through due diligence, and given some official stamp of approval. People either believe them or ignore them.
From everything I can see, the people behind Klout seem like pretty smart guys. Their system may not be perfect yet, but I can tell they genuinely care about it and are working to make it as accurate as they can. They have talked about what goes into their rankings, without going into any detail that would give away their trade secrets, and I think it makes sense. I don’t need to know exactly how the sausage is made.
But that aside, it leaves one main concern — what is your Klout score for? What good is it? Scalzi writes:
Aside from the occasional quid pro quo freebie, it seems that what Klout exists to do is create status anxiety — to saddle you with a popularity ranking, and then make you feel insecure about it and whether you’ll lose that ranking unless you engage in certain activities that aren’t necessarily in your interest, but are in Klout’s. In other words Klout exists to turn the entire Internet into a high school cafeteria, in which everyone is defined by the table at which they sit.
Oh, huh. Okay. I can see why it might seem like that. And I can see why a lot of people might treat it like that, even, and I can see where that would create an issue.
I don’t think of it that way. I am not my Klout score, and my Klout score is not me. I am not the thing being measured. Not even my “popularity” is the thing being measured.
What is being measured, as best as I can tell, is — how well am I engaging with people? How many conversations am I starting? How much of the information I put out there is interesting and relevant enough to people that they’re sharing links to it with their friends? Am I communicating enough, and does that communication have any effect?
All of that is very important to me — it tells me whether or not I’m doing my job. I can see it fluctuate based on how active I am — if I go too long without posting to this blog, starting conversations on Twitter, talking to people — I can see my Klout score drop. When I get back into making more of an effort to engage in conversation — I see it go back up.
That’s why Klout is valuable to me — not as a metric of my “popularity,” but as something that reminds me to keep putting myself out there and getting in conversations with people like you.
So now that we’re having a conversation — what do you think? Do you pay any attention to Klout scores, either your own or other people’s? Let me know in the comments.
So this morning over on the Twitters, @elkoholick asked me a question:
. . . I said I thought that was a slightly wide-ranging question to answer in 140 characters, and promised that I would write up a blog post about it instead.
I suppose first off, I’d point you to a couple of things I’ve written before: “Making the Leap” is the introduction to my latest book, and it goes into some detail about my history with writing and publishing, and the road I took to making the decision to self-publish said book. You might also want to check out “Saying No to Ninety-Nine”, where I talk about why some writers are pricing their e-books at 99 cents, and why I don’t think it’s a good idea.
. . . Okay, you’ve read those? All right, so, let’s talk actual advice.
1. Figure out if you’re honestly going to be satisfied with self-publishing.First off, I have to give the caveat that I don’t have a ton of experience with traditional publishing — I’ve sold to some on-line markets, and had some small-press success, but the only time my work has appeared in what you’d call a Real Actual Goddamn Book was my story for “How the Doctor Changed My Life.”
But, well, I’ve never really had a lot of interest in the idea of traditional publishing, either. Real publishing moves too slowly for me; I’m way too impatient. It can take years to place a book with a publishers, and maybe a couple more years after that to actually get your finished book into bookstores. Also, all the promotion that publishers used to do to advertise your books? Yeah, they don’t really do that anymore, not in this economy, not unless you’re Stephen King or Stephenie Meyer. New traditionally-published authors, and even established midlist authors, have to hustle just as hard as indies to make sure people find out about their books. So the way I figure it is, if I’m going to be the one doing all the work, I am sure as hell going to be the one keeping all the profit.
So that’s my “victory condition” — making the most money off of my work, keeping all the control over the product. But that might not be your victory condition. You might end up deciding that what you really want is to have a “real” book, to have the legitimacy and respect of having a big publishing house behind you, to maybe see your book in bookstores. If you decide that’s what you want, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. You’re playing your game, and no one else can decide for you if you’re winning or not.
2. Keep your e-book prices down.99 cents is too low — you don’t make any money and people are going to think your work isn’t worth more than that. But they’re not going to pay a lot more than that, either, not for someone whose name they don’t recognize. You’re going to want to publish through Amazon’s Kindle store — that’s really where all the action is — and $2.99 is the lowest price point where their royalty rate switches over from chicken feed to a decent 70%. Price your novel at $2.99. If you ever have a series of novels someday, a lot of people have had success at pricing the first one at 99 cents and the rest of them at $2.99 or higher. Something to keep in mind someday.
3. Print-on-demand is awesome. But don’t expect to make any money at it. POD books used to be crap– cheap paper, a binding that would fall apart, a cover whose glossy plastic surface would start to peel at the edges. Those days are gone. The books you get from somewhere like CreateSpace look and feel practically indistinguishable from anything you’d pick up in a bookstore. And there is nothing like holding a physical book in your hands that has your name on it. They’re wonderful. And people are not going to buy them.
If you suspect people might think twice about spending as much as $2.99 on an e-book from an unknown writer, then you know they’re not going to plunk down $12-$15, plus shipping charges, for a physical book from said same writer. But, on the other hand, setting up your book on CreateSpace is free. So why not? Think of it as being there to be available in case anyone who loved your novel decides they have to have a copy to grace their shelves. Think of it as something that might make a nice present for your Aunt Millie. Or, if you do want to really sell a few of them, you can do what I do: order copies for yourself, at cost — it’s pretty cheap to go that route — and sell them by hand. Sell them to your friends, sell them at readings, sell them at conventions.
4. People do judge books by their covers. If you’re not an artist/designer — and I mean a good one — then you need to find someone who is. Your cover absolutely has to look good enough to compare favorably with a cover from a major publisher. People scrolling through lists of books on Amazon glance at each cover for literally less than two seconds before moving on. (They’ve timed it.) If your cover doesn’t make them go, “Oh, hey, what’s this?” then it’s never going to matter how good your book is — people aren’t going to look at it. Some cover that you think is just merely “good enough” is going to look like amateur hour to your potential readers. Get a good cover.
5. Oh, yeah, and your words matter, too. The words inside the book, natch — someone other than you will need to edit and proofread the damn thing, and you’ll probably have to pay them. Having another set of eyes is crucial — believe me, I’ve done proofreading professionally for years, and I can’t catch all the mistakes in my own prose.
The words in your book description matter, too. Again, just like your cover, a flat and uninteresting description on your Amazon listing will make a reader’s eyes glaze over almost faster than they can hit the back button. Go look at some listings of your favorite books, see how their descriptions are written, study and replicate their structure.
6. Get ready to hustle. Remember all that promotion I was saying traditional publishers don’t do any more? You have to do it. Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy ads in the New York Times and go on a multi-state book tour. But you do need to build a following, using every bit of social networking you can — Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and more. A lot of people put their book up on Amazon and sit back and wonder why it’s not selling. Simple — it’s not going to sell unless people know about it. And that’s your job.
Well — that’s about all I can think of off the top of my head, and probably enough rambling out of me for one day, anyway. Any questions?
I’m really pretty psyched about this — I’d asked Timothy C. Ward if he’d be willing to review “Slices” for me if I sent him a copy, and he said that he would, sure — but that his reading list was so stacked right now, he wouldn’t be able to get to it immediately. No worries, I told him, and sent him a copy anyway.
Turns out that he read at least the first story, and he liked it so much that he’s starting a new column on his blog just to spotlight short stories, and mine was the first he’s reviewed!
“The premise of a hypochondriac mom turning a whole city on its head is layered with intrigue and suspense, as her son tries to figure out how to stop a plague that might or might not really be happening. Michael’s details and present tense first person create a tactile experience of the chaos to come when people start getting sick. Great psychological horror like this puts the reader in terrifying circumstances where one has to get a little dirty in order to survive. I really enjoyed seeing the character arc in motion, and was completely engaged to discovering the solution to his epic problem. The mythos of his mother’s powers creates layers within the story that make this a story you can read over and over. The ending is perfect, and keeps you wanting more.”
You should definitely go check out the rest of the review at his site — he asked me a few questions about the story, and you can read my answers there, and listen to the exclusive audio excerpt he managed to sweet-talk me into doing. (Creepy piano music in the background is courtesy of Kevin McLeod.)
If you haven’t had a chance to read “Cold Season” yet, and this review talks you into it — since it’s the very first story in “Slices,” you can read it for free by downloading the Kindle sample of the book. Just go to the Amazon listing and look for the box on the right that says “Try it free.”
Man, I just realized — I never announced the winner of my Coffin Hop giveaway, did I? Here I made such a big deal about it, and then I left you hanging. Sorry! I’d already mailed the winner directly, and I made an announcement on my mailing list, but I never posted about it here.
Okay, well, let’s correct that — the winner is J.C. Martin — writer, kung fu instructor, and fellow creepy doll enthusiast. Congrats, J.C.!
I’ve also contacted the other entrants and offered them copies of “Slices” in exchange for a review of same, so no one had to walk away empty-handed. I think all of them enthusiastically agreed — I don’t think anyone’s unaccounted for. So, yeah, I will be dropping those books in the mail sometime this week.
Now I bet you wish you’d entered, don’t you? Well, take heart — if you’d be willing to review “Slices,” I’m always willing to hand out free coupon codes for an e-book version. Just drop all the way down to the bottom of the page and you’ll find my e-mail address — just let me know you’re interested and I’ll be happy to set you up.
Many thanks to everyone who entered! Hope you all had a great Halloween. (I’m still not quite ready to admit Halloween is over, myself, although the calendar tells me otherwise.)
Another year, another Halloween, another successful reading! Sorry I haven’t posted sooner — on Wednesday I was too busy with the Day Job, and on Tuesday I was too busy nursing a hangover. (Apparently, a couple of White Russians, plus a liberal amount of Halloween candy? Not a good idea. Who knew?)
Many thanks to everyone who came out, especially to those of you who brought friends who had never been to one of my readings before. I’m glad they had a good time, and I hope I’ve helped to cement your reputation as someone who knows when the cool shit is happening.
Everything went very smoothly, except ironically enough, after years of me telling people to turn off their damn cell phones before I start, I forgot to turn mine off. And so my “go-to-bed” alarm went off during the last story. Twice. Considering that I have stopped talking to a friend of mine who actually answered her cell phone during one of my readings, I’d say I at least owe myself a good hard slap. Well, maybe we’ll take the hangover into account and call it even.
Oh, yes, and one other thing happened.
My curse struck again.
No, really, go back and look through my list of readings I’ve done and you’ll notice a strange pattern emerging. The first readings I ever did outside of science-fiction conventions were at a little Goth/Industrial coffee shop — yes, really — called Aurafice Internet and Coffee. I started doing readings there in 1999, and kept doing them there until they closed down in 2006.
From there I moved onto Wayward Coffeehouse for my 2007 reading, and kept going there until a fire forced them to close their doors in 2010.
So what I’m getting at is, when I showed up at The Reading Room — which only opened, what, a couple months ago? – I was pretty floored, but once I stopped to think about it, honestly not all that surprised, to find this sign out front — “Our final night.” (Click to embiggen.)
Yes. Really. They were closing the next day. I am now killing venues dead on contact.
What I’m really getting at here, kids, is that I’m gonna need a new venue to read at. So — if you can think of anywhere in the Seattle area that would be perfect for my needs, and that you would like to see go out of business, please, by all means, let me know in the comments.
(A couple of people have pointed out to me that Wayward Coffeehouse found a new location and just reopened, so it seems to have escaped my curse. These people are ruining my perfectly good doomsaying with their irritating logic. I am happy that Wayward’s back, though.)