Followers, Readers, and Venn Diagrams

I don't actually like the Followers widget on the sidebar there. I mean, yes, it feels nice every time the number goes up, but it's misleading. Followers do not mean readers. Readers don't mean fans. Fans don't mean friends. And really, I think we all want our blog/Twitter/whatever followers to be one of those last two.

Getting followers is easy. Well, not easy -- it's a lot of work. But it's mostly within your control: comment on and follow 1,000 blogs, and you will instantly get 100 or more followers. Just like that. Elana Johnson has some great advice on getting lots of followers, and I agree with every one of her points. But followers do not mean readers.

Turning followers into readers is a bit harder, but still within your control. Just write something people want to read. It takes practice and (again) hard work to figure out topics both you and other people are interested in (hint: it's not you, not at first), but it can be done.

Now I'm not large enough in the public sphere to understand how readers become fans, though I do know how to make friends (be one). But here's a secret: it's not a progression. The diagram above is far too simple. In reality, it's more like this:

You can have readers who aren't followers. Friends who never read your blog. Followers who genuinely like you and would help you out, but don't have time to read all your posts. Readers who like your blog and like you, but aren't really a fan of your fiction.

It's a complicated world, but the encouraging bit is this: you don't have to get a lot of followers to be successful. You don't have to follow everyone who follows you. You don't have to chain yourself to that stupid widget.

I admit, things can change when blogging becomes part of your profession. In the comments of Elana's post, she points out that her editor sees a 1400-follower blog. In fact it's the only measuring tool an editor, or anyone else, has to see how popular a blog is. But Elana uses her blog to make money. If only 100 of those followers buy her books, that's 100 books she wouldn't have sold otherwise.

But most of us aren't there yet. If I got 500 more followers right now, what good would it do me, even if I could turn them into fans? Not much. Blogging for me is more of a long term investment, so I invest slowly. I use it for practice, for networking, and yes I'm looking for fans and friends, but only so I have some folks to celebrate with when I sell something. I don't need "followers" to do that.

Twittering from the Other Side of the World

I've been using Twitter for a while now, and I like it, really. It's how I met some of my favorite people. But often I get the feeling I use it differently from other people. A lot of that is just living on the other side of the world.

I don't know how Twitter is for you, but when I get on the computer in the morning, I'm greeted with 50-100 tweets from the folks I follow. I'm too obsessive-compulsive to NOT read them all, even though most of them are conversations long dead. Occasionally I find a piece of information or a link that makes me glad I searched through them, but that, of course, only reinforces my OCD.

This is why I have to limit who I follow. I WANT to follow everyone who follows me, but I can't. And I can't take part in most conversations that occur during the American day. I realized how big this was while we were in the States. I got to chat with EVERYBODY. I finally saw what Twitter was good for. Unfortunately, it's not very good for me.

So I just have to use it my way. I'll toss out a tweet when I wake up, maybe another before I go to bed. I respond to any mentions, even if it's hours later. Really, there's little else I can do. And every once in a while I'll get someone who stays up extra late, or someone from the UK, and have a really great conversation. That, really, is why I'm still on it.

How do you use Twitter? Do you read everything, or only whatever shows up when you're on? Do you follow everyone who follows you? Do you expect others to do the same?

(I want to ask something of the folks who don't use Twitter, but all I can think of is "Why don't you use it?" (A) That sounds rude, and (B) I already know most of the possible answers. But feel free to chime in even if you don't use Twitter. I never want to be exclusive.)

The Ocean

I'm sick, so today's post is short. This picture is from our recent trip to the US, in which my son sees the ocean for the first time (that he remembers).

"That's the ocean, Isaac. When you grow up, the Earth will be covered in it, and you'll be the most famous pirate in the world."

Marketing Books for Boys

Okay, sorry for that detour on Monday. That was a lot of videos to dump on you at once, but oh my gosh they're fun to watch. Next time you're bored, that's 25 minutes of free entertainment right there.

So, last Friday we talked about how boys actually do read OMIGOSHWHOKNEW?! Well you guys knew, for starters. The general (and thumbs-up scientific!) consensus seems to be that boys read, they just don't read a lot of YA. Probably, says the consensus, because there's not a lot of YA for them to read.

The thing is, guys like me -- most boys, too, I think -- will read a lot more than we're given credit for. I'm not going to go all the way and speak for all guys everywhere, but these are some of the things said about boy readers, along with how true (or untrue) I think they are.

Boys won't read books with romance. Not strictly true. I think a lot of boys will tolerate romance (that's kinda how we see it, sorry) so long as it's not the point. Look at the Harry Potter and Ender's Shadow series, the Mistborn trilogy, Graceling, or Hunger Games. All of these have romance -- Hunger Games even makes it an essential part of the conflict -- but because it's not the primary tension of the books, boys can read past it and still enjoy the ride.

Boys won't read books written by girls. Not true! Honestly when I was a boy I didn't even look at the author's name (unless I had to for a book report). You think the droves of boys who read Harry Potter didn't know "J. K." was a girl? So long as it was well-written and had characters I could identify with, I didn't really care where it came from.

Boys won't read books with girls on the cover. Okay yeah, pretty much. I mean, I'll read these now, but I wasn't so secure as a teen. Even as an adult, sticking a girl prominently on the cover -- without any guns or dragons or spaceships or anything -- tells me the folks who made the book don't really want me reading it anyway.

Boys won't read books with girly titles. True, but kind of subjective as to what constitutes a girly title. Red flag words include: girl, kiss, love, lips, pretty, diary, sweet, and affair. The thing is other guys are going to ask us what we're reading, and we'd much rather say Vampire Slayer than Pretty Lips Love Affair.

Boys won't read books with girl protagonists. Not true. Sure we want boy characters we can identify with, but we'll read pretty much anything if there's a chance someone gets stabbed, shot, or explodes.

Okay, so I did slip into talking about 'we' there, but in truth this is just my opinion. What's yours?

Japanese Game Shows

This post is entirely the fault of Natalie Whipple, who with a single YouTube link, got my family to spend all Saturday morning watching Japanese game show videos.

I love these things. You just don't get game shows like this in the States (even when they're taken directly from Japan). I think it's a combination of wacky challenges, insane costumes, and contestants who aren't afraid to ham it up, even if it means losing. Watch and enjoy.
  1. In which contestants wearing bug costumes must navigate a scooter through a narrow passage. Try and figure out what their punishment is.
  2. In which men in suits must charge up a treadmill, eat four cookies, and get to the end before time runs out.
  3. My personal favorite, in which contestants must position themselves to squeeze through oddly-shaped holes in a moving wall.
  4. In which players must successfully swing over a rolling log and onto a floating platform, while wearing the worst costumes imaginable.
  5. A combination of 2 and 4, in which contestants must swing onto a moving treadmill, grab a platform, jump OFF said platform to grab another rope so they can land on the floating goal. (I'm not sure, but I think they put something in the water on these last two. Some of those contestants seem to be reacting to more than just cold.)

Boys Read! Stop Saying They Don't!

Every so often you get an article like "10 Tips to Get Boys to Read" or "Books Boys Will Actually Like". Or else you get someone super excited because, "Oh my gosh, it's a miracle. My son actually likes to read!"

Okay, listen. I'm all for encouraging anyone to read, especially kids. But this whole "boys don't read" thing has to stop. (A) It's not true and (B) it seems to be leading the publishing industry to the more sinister "boys don't read, so we better stop publishing books for them or else we'll lose money."

Start with me: I'm a boy, and I read. I always have. And I know other boys who read. My dad reads, my best friend MattyDub reads, my friend Cory reads, Bear, Emmet, Jamie (he reads like six books a week), Whytey, Mike, Dave...

Those are men, Adam. I thought we were talking about boys.

Fine. Forget the fact that most of those guys have been reading since they were boys. I've also got three teenage boys who come over every week to borrow every book I've got: Pratchett, Card, Tolkien, Rowling, Collins, Gaiman, Crichton, *DEEP BREATH* Asimov, Sanderson, Cashore, Brennan... (The only book I couldn't get them to borrow was Silver Phoenix, I suspect because of the girl on the cover -- sorry, Cindy, I tried).

Anecdotal evidence not good enough for you? All right. I searched for actual statistics on boys not reading and found a single article. I guess in 2002, for overall book reading (whatever that means), young men were at 43%.

That's not a lot, Adam.

I know, hang on. It also put girls at 59%. Fewer boys than girls, but not much. It's still A LOT OF BOYS READING. In a classroom of 30 kids, it means half of them read. Of those readers, 9 are girls and 6 are boys. Certainly enough that books should be published for them, right?

Well, no, apparently. The biggest push still seems to go to books with lips on the cover, "Kiss" in the title, or protagonists with pink, sparkly tasers (for the record, I'm very excited about Kiersten's book that comes out in 4 days, but you have to admit we boys are not the target audience).

There are exceptions, sure. But hearing from people in the industry, it sounds as though they're AFRAID to market books to boys. Jason Pinter suggests this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Publishers believe boys don't read, so they target their book at the biggest market (girls). Boys find only romance stories (with girls or unrealistically hot boys on the cover) and head for the comics section or out the door. Publishers say, "See? They didn't touch [obscure boy-oriented title stocked between "Girl's Rock" and "My Secret Desire" (totally made-up titles)]. They must not like to read at all!"

And the cycle continues.

Jason also says that if the industry pushes boy books, boys will come to read them, even if it's slow at first. I agree. But for now can we stop being surprised when we see boys reading? Can we just believe that a lot of boys DO read, even if it's a whole 15% fewer than the girls?

Cuz the statistic that really worries me is that half of the kids in that study DON'T read. Let's work on them instead, aye?

Writer Tips for MS Word (and to a Lesser Extent, Open Office)

There's lots of great novel-writing software out there, but chances are good you don't use it. Chances are, like everyone else in the industry, you use MS Word. But how do you use this thing -- designed for 10-page essays and well-outlined reports -- to keep track of 100,000 semi-organized words? How do you critique someone's novel so it won't be hard to find your notes or make use of them? Here's what I do. (Note: screenshots are from Office 2010, but all these features are available at least as far back as Office XP. Probably farther.)

Also known as the Navigation Pane, this useful feature allows you to see all headings and sub-headings in your document at a glance. It appears on the left as an outline structure. You can click on any heading, and Word will automatically take you to that spot in your document. Also it will highlight the section where the cursor is at the moment, so you don't have to wonder which chapter you're in.

Unfortunately Word doesn't do this for you automatically. You have to tell it what your headings and sub-headings are. To do that, select a line of text, right-click, and choose "Paragraph...". Then look for a drop-box called Outline Level. In that box, "Body Text" is any text you do NOT want to show up in the Document Map. "Level 1" is for top-level headings, "Level 2" for sub-headings, and so on.

I use Level 1 for my chapter titles and Level 2 for each scene (enlarge the picture above to see what that looks like), but you can use it however you want. If you get tired of manually selecting outline levels, you can use Styles.

In the toolbar on top, MS Word has a number of styles preset for you -- a list or drop-box with selections like 'Normal', 'Heading 1', 'Heading 2', etc. These are a quick and easy way to use consistent formatting throughout your document.

You probably won't want to use Word's default styles, but it's not hard to set up you're own. If you use them for the months (or years) it takes to write your novel, it's time well spent. Decide on a font, typeface (bold, italic, etc.), and an Outline Level, then save it as a new style. (I forget how it works in Office XP, but 2010 lets you select text, right-click, and choose "Save Selection as a New Quick Style...").

This is my favorite feature of MS Word. Anywhere in the text, you can hit Ctrl-Alt-M (in Open Office, Ctrl-Alt-N) to add a note or comment in the margin.

I love it because it lets you type anything you want without screwing up the formatting or word count of the manuscript AND it's really easy to scroll through without missing a single note. (Open Office actually keeps track of Notes in the Navigation Pane, so it's even easier).

They're great for critiquing other people's manuscripts or just for making notes to yourself that you don't want to forget. In the screenshot, I've used it to record comments people made when Natalie workshopped my prologue. I also use it when I'm revising my own stuff and get stuck on something. Rather than sit there for an hour trying to think of a better phrase than "She ran", I'll add a note that I don't like it and come back to it later.

A quick note on Open Office. It's open-source software designed to do everything MS Office can do, but for free. That's a major plus, and if you're low on cash or want to go legal, you should check it out.

But even though it costs over $200 less than Microsoft, I'm hesitant to recommend it. Some of the things that bothered me (they might not bother you, so pay attention):
  • Open Office lost outline levels when opening or saving from Word Doc format.
  • Bulleted lists and outlines didn't play nice when swapped between OO and Word.
  • For the life of me, I could not get OO to save my manuscript in RTF without totally screwing up the formatting. (This one made me particularly mad as an agent asked for my full in RTF format).
  • OO's thesaurus sucks.
  • This has nothing to do with novels, but MS Office has a nice feature that allows you to compress all pictures in a document or PowerPoint slideshow (meaning it reduces the size and resolution to what is actually displayed), thus significantly reducing the size of your document. Open Office doesn't do this, and as far as I can tell has no plans to.
  • Numerous minor, mostly-cosmetic annoyances (many to do with Notes and Track Changes) that I would normally put up with if they were the only problems.
Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

Last one, then I'm out. You know how to use Track Changes, right? No? Man, it's the best way to do line edits. Turn the feature on (it's in Tools or Review or something) and then make any changes you want to your buddy's manuscript. Your changes will show up in a different color, making them easy to spot. Deletions will either be struckout or put in a Note on the side, so all the original text is still there. And of course you can add your own Notes to explain why you're making the change.

When your friend goes through the changes, they can cycle through each change individually, accepting or rejecting each one (so you don't have to manually make the changes if you don't want to). Optionally you can choose to accept or reject all changes at once.

So that's how I use Word. What program do you use for writing? If you use Word too, are there any features I neglected to mention that you find useful? (Maybe I don't know about them!).