Friday, February 28, 2014

Big Picture vs. Little Details

First, you should know that I’m extremely easy going in almost every way. I’m not a picky eater, I’m happy with whatever temperature you like on the thermostat, and I enjoy movies for what they are. (If it’s a smart movie, I enjoy its smartness. If it’s Sharknado, I switch off my cerebrum and just enjoy the airborne sharks).

But in my current stage of writing, I obsess over every little detail. I fuss over miniscule plot points and little character traits. I’ve even been known to spend 20 minutes deliberating about the perfect punctuation to deliver a joke or accelerate the action. Sometimes, I’ll sketch a diagram of a gizmo that my characters have invented, just so I can understand what it looks like or how someone would interface with the control panel. Go ahead: call me crazy. I’m used to it.

Thing is, this is only one phase of writing. I’m not always like this, only when I shift the mental gears into “nitty gritty.” Right now, I’m in the final stages of revising The Non-Zombie Apocalypse (the long-awaited sequel to Mad Science Institute), and hence my attention is directed to the microscopic. My editor, the very talented and patient Jane Kenealy, courageously returned after editing my first book to help me trim almost 5,000 unnecessary words from the new manuscript—words I can now save for later books and short stories (combating the “info dump” is a topic for another post). I obsess about her edits, too, as I wonder how little changes might shift the balance of character, suspense, humor, and pacing.

If I had the opportunity, I might be pleased to work strictly on big picture stuff—plot, character, and world. But that’s a different phase. Right now, if I have a big idea, I need to jot it down in a notebook and get back to the main project or else I’ll never finish anything. On the other hand, when I’m in the “big picture” phase, spending time spell-checking and grammar-policing scares off my ideas before they can get safely to the keyboard.

Stephen Wallenfel’s prescriptions for writer’s block got me thinking about why I don’t seem to suffer from blocks. I have certainly experienced writer’s block in the past, but it’s been a decade since it’s afflicted me. Why? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe I don’t have enough time to write so the ideas build up inside of me until I get the chance to blast them out onto a page. Or maybe it’s because what some people consider writer’s block is what I consider to be a distinct and important phase of writing. To the outside world I might look like I’m staring off into space, but really my brain is on fire with plans and possibilities.

I have a question for all you other writers, amateur and pros alike: do you find your writing has distinct phases? Do you have the luxury of working on a project one phase at a time, or do you need/prefer to mix up detail work with big-picture work?

Be good, and dream crazy dreams,

Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on, Facebook, or Twitter.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Myth Matters

A few weeks ago I spent a day with 5th graders talking about story structure and writing. My writing  partner and I started with a skit. I pretended I didn’t want my picture taken. He tried to take it several times and every time I’d complain, turn away or try to grab the camera.  Then we asked the students why I might not want my photo taken. At first their answers were predictable. You’re shy, you don’t want to be on Facebook, you don’t like the way you look. But when we told them we were writing a ghost story suddenly they had permission to wander into a wilder landscape. What if when he looked at the photo, I had no face?  And if that was the case, what might it mean?

As they brainstormed, I thought of stories of aliens, invisible people, masked faces and even the urban legend of the Slender Man.  It wasn’t long until I was wandering into the territory of myth. Webster defines myth as “a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence” or “a person or thing having only an imaginary or unverifiable existence.” But in reality it is so much more. Myth adds subtext to a story. It leads the reader into primal woods where others have traveled before. The writer and reader join a conversation that has been whispered for centuries:  where did we come from, where are we going, is the world a safe place.
How do we know when we’ve entered the territory of myth?  I like author Robin McKinley's definition.
 “But myth, to some extent, is where you find it; and you know when you've found it by the way it goes right through you -- like the first heavenly, shocking mouthful of ice cream on a hot day, or falling in love. Whew. Zowie. I always want my stories to be cracking good stories; but I always hope that for some readers there's a resonant depth to them too.” 

So what does myth whisper? Too much for one post. I’ve made a list of some of things I’ve learned from writers like Neil Gaiman, Susan Cooper, Jane Yolen, Lewis and Tolkien: 

  • ·         The inside is often so much larger than the outside

  • ·         Like Bilbo Baggins, we are all more than meets the eye

  • ·         There is no easy way out of the maze

  • ·         We can fight dragons and win

  • ·         The world isn’t tame

  • ·         The things we fear are often the wrong things

“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” What truths have you learned from myth?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Getting the Word Out: The Taylor Swift Equation

A couple months ago, James Franco wrote a fantastic piece for The New York Times on selfies, those self-generated glam shots you can post of, yes, yourself doing whatever and in which you think someone might be interested.  It's only a dyslexic step away from Twitter, come to think of it, only completely visual.  Read Franco's article all the way through; this is one smart guy.  Above all, he's an entertainer and understands the draw of--and our fascination with--celebrity.  If you remember nothing else of what he says (and granted, we're talking about a celebrity who understands image and how to generate the illusion of intimacy), this is your take-home: 

"In this age of too much information at a click of a button, the power to attract viewers amid the sea of things to read and watch is power indeed. It’s what the movie studios want for their products, it’s what professional writers want for their work, it’s what newspapers want — hell, it’s what everyone wants: attention. Attention is power. And if you are someone people are interested in, then the selfie provides something very powerful, from the most privileged perspective possible."  (emphasis mine)

Successful entertainers understand the value of attention and how to grab it.  You want an example of someone who's a master?  Taylor Swift.  I kid you not.  Maybe four months before Franco's piece came out--or it might have been longer--I recall listening to an NPR piece on social media and Twitter, and the reporter singled out Swift as someone who really understood how to use social media effectively.  She specifically mentioned that Swift was excellent at mixing in the private moment to further a public agenda.  The example she gave was Swift tweeting something like, oh, making sugar cookies because I'm so happy my latest single was just released.  (I'm paraphrasing here.)  And Swift is very good at this; take a look at this photo montage of her and Kelly Osborne making chocolate peppermint cookies.  

Now the reporter suggested that Swift is comfortable with this because she grew up with it.  Maybe . . . but in this publicity arms race--and it is an arms race; all of us are constantly upgrading and scrambling after the next best thing, which writers have doing since Dickens single-handedly started the celebrity-author tour and authors before him gave lectures to drum up publicity for their other works--I'd suggest that Swift, like Madonna and other consummate entertainers, understand the value of the attention-grab.  Do these people blog?  Not only your life.  Swift tweets; she knows the people she wants to reach only want/need that much.  What she and other entertainers like her do is trade on image, understanding that their image is what fans want because it furthers the sense of pseudo-intimacy: a carefully scripted, ostensibly "private" moment.

For a while now, I've been talking about marketing, the value of certain venues, etc.  Boil it down to its essentials, and what I've been talking about is grabbing attention for you and your work.  (An important distinction: grabbing attention for you is not necessarily the same as snatching this for your work just as different platforms draw the attention of different audiences.)

In her business blog this past Thursday, Kris Rusch talks about the usefulness of social media; as always, she's spot on.  Although I'd suggest that everything on the Internet is potentially a social media site, and that includes your blog.  The folks who might stroll by are not necessarily the same people who will admire a Sunday cake or pictures of your cats.  So, again, we're talking developing your idea of a target audience and which venue best gets whatever you want your message to be across.  (I also disagree, just a tad, with Rusch's points about teens and Facebook.  Yes, it's true that the majority of American teens don't find you on Facebook, and there's some data to suggest that teens are ditching Facebook for other social media sites, specifically Instagram, Snapchat, and--in my experience--Tumblr.  But that doesn't apply to all teens.  Specifically, all those kids I met overseas a couple years back found and have stuck with me through Facebook, on which we routinely interact.)    

Yet what Rusch describes in terms of publisher expectations has been my experience, too.  Now, neither publisher has ever told me how many times I must blog or tweet or Facebook or whatever, but I was told I had to mount a website, get on Twitter and Facebook, and "join the conversation."  For the longest time, I had zero idea of what that meant.  I thought it meant figuring out key websites--you know, the ones that might have bearing on what I was doing--and then jumping in with comments.  (Remember I mentioned in an earlier post how bloggers look at blogrolls to see who you're following, and (for some of them) if you're following the right people?  So that's what I was doing: trying to follow the "right" people the same way a new kid tries to figure out who's with the popular crowd.  It's actually all rather sophomoric.  Anyway, I did that for a while, but I couldn't see the utility, plus it took a lot of time and, frankly, a ton of those sites catered to books in the wrong age and demographic.  I certainly didn't see that I was adding anything to the conversation, and we all remember high school, right?  The more you wanted to hang with the popular girls, the harder they made it for you.  

Then I wised up and realized: the idea was that should be the one getting the conversation going, not some random voice chiming in about whom no one else gave a damn.  (People may still not give a damn, but I can live with that.)  I would have to become an entertainer of sorts, someone who could walk into a crowded room, get the ball rolling, and start to turn eyes my way.

Oh . . . is that all?

Look, not everyone can do this.  Most of us don't have the gazillion assistants standing by to take that perfect Taylor Swift glam shot (or Franco's compositional sense).  Some of us are shy.  I, for one, have zero ability to vamp for the camera.

So what this means is that, regardless of which media you choose, you have to understand what's required to get the most out of it.  If you want to do selfies, then you might follow Franco's lead, carefully titrating the personal and non-personal, for example.  (It also helps if you don't hate the way you take pictures; I have a supremely goofy smile.)  In other words, you have to give some serious thought about how to make the media work for you instead of you struggling to figure out what the media's for--or worse, working against it.

Take Twitter.  I forget who said that it's a place where writers can connect with other writers . . . and I've certainly never thought of it that way for myself, but I have noticed that the most popular folks do what Rusch also points out: the best tweets are funny.  Author Maureen Johnson knows how to do this; she also does things I wouldn't dream of because they're just not in my nature.  For example, I remember a tweet a couple years back of her newly painted toenails.  Me, I have ugly feet.  (Frankly, I think that anyone who looks at her own feet and doesn't laugh . . .  I'd never dream of posting a picture of my toenails.  Opossums, sure.  Cats and cakes and orchids?  No sweat.  But my toes?)  It works for Johnson, though, because she knows how to work it--and she's having fun.  Or she's appearing to, which is all that matters.  Appearances are all that matter when it comes to the truly ephemeral nature of most social media.  

Rusch makes this point, too; if you're going to do social media, for God's sake, have some fun while you're at it.  Yes, yes, it's marketing; it's work . . . but it is also your chance to let your hair down a little.  My co-blogger Jordan Dane tweets bon mots as she watches Sleepy Hollow.  Me, I'd miss half the show while trying to keep my tweets pithy and sweet--although, lately, I'm not above getting all snarkazoid about House of Games.  Of course, that show is something I can watch when I've got time, so I don't have to multi-task.   I have a publisher-friend who gathers up all her Facebook buddies to watch American Idol together.  I once had the experience of FBing during a Packer playoff game; it was totally random and thoroughly fun.

Random is the key there, too.  Think about this: a post to Snapchat disappears within ten seconds--and teens love this site.  So you're talking about grabbing teens with the attention span of gnats.  Which means humor works.  The outrageous works, and the shocking.  It also means that snagging anyone's attention is thoroughly random . . . at least in that venue and maybe in them all.

Paying attention to audience is also important.  The teens who adore Snapchat--and given my experience of them, I'd say that would be most--are not going to come to your blog to read what you have to say.  They're just not; they don't care.  For them, your blog/website is the gateway; they will come to find you so they can get a conversation they care about started.

Read that again: teens and most fans will come to your blog in order to talk to you about what they care about.  They are not coming to your blog to talk about what you care about--at least, not initially.  (That can happen.  It certainly has for me.  I've had some wonderful interactions with kids over environmental issues, for example, and after posts on Facebook, I would add.)  But I know these same kids are not spending the time to really read anything I say (especially when they ask questions that I've written whole long blogs about) . . . but that's okay.  I've come to accept that, for teens and most young adult fans, my website is a place for them to find out how to talk to me.  

And that's just fine.  I can live with that.  What I have to decide is something we all must: how many platforms; what content for which; and how much time we really want to give this.  Marketing/grabbing attention/vying for power is time-consuming.  You can trick yourself into thinking that it is work, and as valuable as, say, a finished short story or novel.

But blogging is not work.  Flitting around various social media platforms is not work.  Writing is work.  Producing that book is your work.  Without your books, you're just another person who's always wanted to be a writer.  You could be anybody and everyone.  You have to make people care about your books, and in order for that to happen, you have to write them.  Call it the Taylor Swift equation, if you want, but bear in mind that the only reason a gazillion eyes care about Taylor Swift's cookies is because she's Taylor Swift.  Without her songs, Taylor Swift is nobody but another lady in an apron.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Crazy is the New Black

Jordan Dane

I'll admit that I've gone a little cra-cray over Fox's Sleepy Hollow. Yes, Tom Mison is the real reason I watch the show. There I said it, but the insane way the creators have put together such an inventive twist on Washington Irving's short stories (The Headless Horseman & Rip Van Winkle), thrown in the Bible's Revelations, added a spicy mix of conspiracy theory & history surrounding George Washington and the revolutionary war, and topped it off with demons and witches--makes my writer juices flow. It's like they had a dartboard and write about whatever they hit. I call it painting yourself in the corner and trying to figure your way out. The wilder, the better the challenge. I've been dying to try a book using this method and here the notion has unfolded in a TV show. The way season 1 ended, the finale was monster. It's hard to imagine what will come in season 2, but I will be in the front row and live tweeting every episode.

Anyone else a fan of Sleepy Hollow?

Another show that has its season 2 premiere coming Feb 28th is Hannibal on NBC. Crazy man Bryan Fuller has taken Thomas Harris's Red Dragon and reinvented what happens between profiler Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter. Fuller asked a great writer question: What if Will met Hannibal before he knew the man was the most prolific serial killer the world had ever known? Then make Hannibal his therapist. That is bent and twisted. If you haven't caught season 1, do yourself a favor and try it. It is graphically violent. So fair warning, but the mental mind games of Hannibal will blow you away. Season 2 is Will fighting back and Hannibal will regret how much he's taught Will about being a master manipulator and sadistic killer. This show may not be for anyone who is squeamish or prone to nightmares, but it puts me in my happy place. Weird, I know. I love Hugh Dancy in this role. He's such a strong actor and Mads Mikkelson as Hannibal is a perfect pairing. Mads has completely owned the iconic role that Anthony Hopkins used to dominate. Move over, Sir Anthony.

These shows (and a few more) have stirred my creative imaginings as a writer. They remind me that a writer is only limited by his or her own imagination. Staying the course and picking a safe book plot won't allow you to stand out in a crowd. To take the risk of pushing the envelope on what you write can be unnerving, but the upside can be ENORMOUS--and it's just so much damned fun.

There are other shows that have twisted storylines with the creators' wild imaginings. Please share some of your favorites and tell me why you like them. Do we have any Game of Thrones lovers out there? Fantasy supreme.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Rx for Writer's Block

I’ve been doing some research on writer’s block because I seem to be suffering from a bout of it at the moment.  The web is teeming with suggestions of how to get unblocked and start writing again.  So many, in fact, that it made me wonder if this is the subject writers write about when they’re stuck.  The solutions ranged from step away and do something else, to chain yourself to the chair and write your way over, under, around or through it.  One of my favorites was from a site ( that quoted twelve famous authors and how they dealt with blockage.  Three of my favorite authors were cited:  Hemmingway, Steinbeck and Bradbury.  Of the twelve, Orson Scott Card had the answer that agreed most with my own personal diagnosis: 

“Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on.”

Or more concisely stated: if you don’t like the solution, change the problem.

While doing this research (translation: not writing) it occurred to me that, in keeping with the traditions of western medicine, we should treat the symptoms rather than the disease.  I’m talking hard drugs, the kind that writers would use—but someone needs to invent them.  To help speed the process along, I took the liberty of identifying five common states of writer’s block along with the drug that could be prescribed to treat them.

Diagnosis:  Distractitus
Description:  Too many outside distractions (aka life) pulling you away from and out of your work.
Rx:  Distractin
Dosage:  2-3 hrs of uninterrupted silence taken aurally every 24 hours.
Diagnosis:  Focal Dislocation
Description:  Too much going on in your story.  You can’t focus on the characters and their internal motivation because the A, B and C plots keeps getting in the way.
Rx:  Focacyllin
Dosage:  2 pills dissolved in snappy dialogue but not to exceed more than two characters.  Cannot be combined with flashbacks.

Diagnosis:  Inertial Character Estrangement (ICE)
Description:  You’re trying to move from point A to point B, but your characters haven’t done or said anything meaningful in so long, you’re wondering if they still have a pulse.
Rx:  locomotorpsychocycline
Dosage:  3 mml injection directly into protagonist (or antagonist) whichever is least cooperative.

Diagnosis:  MetaDataSurplexia
Description:  The confidence you had that you possessed the skills required to write your story in the first place is either suppressed or simply gone leading to hours (days, weeks or months) of research and story analysis.  (Frequently misdiagnosed as Analysis Paralysis)
Rx:  Cerebelladumpacodone
Dosage:  24 hr IV drip, reducing data feed until confidence returns and writing flows freely.

Diagnosis:    Creative Collapse Syndrome
Description:  Your creative well is tapped out.  The hose that used to feed the garden of your imagination has gone from a steady steam to a slow, sludge-like ooze.
Rx:  Createanoxitonin
Dosage:  Unrestricted topical application of life, friends, family and laughter.   Continue liberal doses in stress-free preferably beach oriented environment until creativity flows and words return to the page with little or no discomfort.

So there’s my trip around writer’s block along with a few recommended prescriptions to treat a common problem infecting writers dating back to the first time a caveman (or cavewoman) stood frozen, stick in hand, unable to remember what possessed him to start painting on the wall in the first place.

What do you do when faced with blockages of your own?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love and Words

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Or, for those of you who object to an arbitrary holiday fabricated by a corporation for the purpose of selling cardstock at ridiculous profit margins, I wish you a dour Singles Awareness Day (SAD). Yeah, Valentine’s Day is way more fun, so let’s go with that.

In celebration of February 14th, I had my writing students perform an amusing little exercise that ended with a lot of laughter. (My students are now sworn to secrecy about it because if anyone finds out that we have fun in my class it would ruin my rep.) I got this exercise from a very distinguished colleague, and it goes like this:

Write a love poem which includes the following words: Sludge, Penguin, Search Warrant, Pancreas, Textbook, Byproduct, Garlic, Banana Slug, Memo, Boredom, Recycling Bin, Porcupine.

Most of the responses were hilarious, although I’m not sure Hallmark would want to make a card out of any of them. Still, a few budding poets managed to turn the words into something that actually sounded nice. Here’s one clever example:
You could read me like a text book
                Since the day I said “Hello,”
We’re a byproduct of love
                Didn’t you get the memo?
Babe, you’re like a porcupine
You pierced right through my heart,
I’m as sure that I love you
As I am that they sell garlic at K-Mart.
Your love is a wall
I wish only to break through
If beauty were a crime
They’d have a search warrant out for you.
You’ve got me all goopy inside
Like a pile of warm sludge.
You try to push me away
But, girl, you know I won’t budge
Got me feelin’ like a penguin
But this ain’t happy feet
You’re everything in my life
You’re the reason my heart beats.

Okay, not exactly a love sonnet by Sir Phillip Sydney, but I’d wager it’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever read that included the word “Sludge.” Too bad he didn’t have time to write a verse about recycling bin.

Despite the goofiness, this exercise contains an important lesson about writing. If it had been a poetry class, I might have added requirements to follow a certain meter or structure, but, even more essentially, this illustrates the power of words to create an impression. The right word can make your readers feel like they’re right there, seeing and feeling what you’re describing. One single wrong word (such as “penguin” or “banana slug”) can send them into a tailspin of disbelief. This student did a great job of forcefully romanticizing the un-romantic words, but you can see how hard he needed to work to tap dance around the inherent connotations.

Like Mark Twain said: “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—‘tis the difference between the lighting bug and the lighting.”

I’d add that the different between the right word and the absolutely wrong word is funny. Take a malapropism for example: “that orchard hires migraine workers.” Or Dan Quayle’s famous line: “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.” Or what a student of mine once actually said: “My uncle has prostitute cancer.”

You writers out there know what I’m getting at. A single key word can make or break an entire description.  Do any of you have a favorite example of the right word that created the lighting? Or the wrong word that sent the whole house of cards toppling to the floor? I’d love to hear your picks.

Be good, and dream crazy dreams,


Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on, Facebook, or Twitter.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Off Balance and Full of Surprises

The forecast really wasn’t so bad. The mountain pass had slush in places, but was mostly clear, and no snow was forecast until we would be safely across. That prediction held true until we reached the other side. The east slopes of the Cascade Range caught us by surprise. On two smaller passes, snow was falling heavily. The wind swept in with vengeance reducing visibility to a few feet. We kept creeping forward on that snow and ice coated pavement. My inclination, if I had been driving, was to stop on the side of the road, sob for a while, and wait for spring. But I wasn’t driving. We kept going. Pulling off the road, turning, changing direction, were all hazards. Sometimes there are no stopping places.

Perhaps some of you think you know where this post is going. But I’m not going to quote El Doctrow’s famous line “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” Instead I’m taking a different direction. I’m thinking about the unpredictability of life. And how we’re caught off guard. In the last two weeks, one author friend became a grandpa for the first time, another had a parent die and a third is dealing with an adult child’s romantic break up. Good news and bad, playing havoc with our writing schedules.

As writers we know the engine that drives tension is that balance between hope and fear we create for the readers. It’s also the balance in which we live our lives. More often than not, we’re tipping to one side or the other. Off balance. Trying to find tracks to follow in the snow. We’re pulled out of our stories. Our characters slip down ravines and we have to haul them back. I used to wait for balance to be restored, for the winds to stop and visibility to increase. In the last few years, I’ve discovered that may not happen predictably. I’ve become more of a stop, drop and roll kind of writer, squeezing in moments on the page between life’s surprises. And it’s made me wonder if this isn’t our natural state of being, off balance. And our task is to get that tension on the page.

And while I finished this post, look what arrived at my door!
Paperback Peculiars!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Getting the Word Out: Your Blog and You

After my blog last week about paid reviews in which I looked at Clarion Reviews and San Francisco Book Review, I'd intended to go on to other venues in which you might be able to get your book reviewed.  It's worth looking at the blog from last week, however, because the CEO from San Francisco Book Review weighed in on my post. Take a couple moments to read her comments and my response--and pay attention to what I focused on, i.e., that a consumer wants and needs certain information in order to make a decision about whether to go with a particular service or not.

Her comments got me to thinking, too.  No, not about my job as an investigative journalist: I don't even pretend to that.  But what I am and continue to be, first and foremost, is a customer, and in that case, a potential consumer for the services the SFBR would like to offer.

Readers are consumers/customers, too.  So it stands to reason that when a reader comes to your blog, she's looking for information.  She's coming there as a consumer/customer.  The question is, what kind of information is that reader looking for? 

I'll be honest: I think that books direct readers to blogs, not that blogs direct readers to your books (unless there's a specific post about you as part of a blog tour).  Blogs can help readers find your other books, but the reason that any reader bothers to Google your name is because she's read your book and is interested in knowing more about you. 

Not convinced?  Want to test this out?  Easy.  Look at the number of entries I've had for the MONSTERS audiobook giveaway, one that has relied solely upon Facebook, Twitter, and traffic to my blog; and then go look at the Goodreads giveaway for WHITE SPACE.  There's no comparison.  I've had a very small number of entries for the MONSTERS Rafflecopter giveaway.  Yet, for WHITE SPACE on Goodreads . . . there are over 2400 entries--and that's because people have a reason to be on Goodreads.  Goodreads is a community.  By contrast, there is no community organized about Ilsa J. Bick.

So it's clear that my blog--just me and my vanilla random thoughts--doesn't generate much traffic.  Yes, I have fans, and yeah, I get a fair number of comments and fan mail.  But it's not me that makes people come to the blog.  What makes them come there, if they come at all, is that I've written a book they like.

So when they come to the blog, what should they find?  What is it that you want your blog to reflect about you and your work?  Is there some hook you can use to keep a random consumer--someone who's read one of your books and decided to look you up--coming back?

Remember, I said that the Internet is nothing but a vast marketing tool.   Blogs and every aspect of social media is/are marketing tools.  In her blog last week, Kris Rusch mentioned a few things the standard blog ought to provide a consumer in terms of basic information about you and your work, past and current.  Take a few minutes to read her blog; it's well worth your time, although I'm not sure that I agree that your blog needs to be genre specific.  For me and most people I know, a blog needs to be clean and easy to navigate.    I used to have a different theme for my blog,  one that I thought was very spooky and kind of cool. But I also found that that particular theme got to be too cluttered, busy  and difficult to read.  At the time, I'd been influenced by other folks' blogs--no, I won't tell you who--that had all kinds of bells and whistles.  I mean, navigating their blogs was like playing a video game.  Roll over this, something would happen; click this, something else would blow up.  All very nifty.  But also very pricey--and not easily transferrable to things like iPads and iPhones, which don't use Flash (and something I discovered to my chagrin after shelling out a fair amount of cash for an animated sequence for ASHES that relied on Flash.  All that money for nothing.).

So, recently, I switched, going for a blog format that I think is clean and easy on the eyes.  Is it as spooky and creepazoid as I would like?  No, but it's easy to navigate; you can find out all you want to find out about me (or, as much as I'll let you find out) and you can also read about my upcoming releases and where to find them. That's really all the information that a blog needs to provide the average consumer. 

But once you've enticed a consumer to your blog--to that bit of advertising about you--do you want to keep them coming back?  If so, what can or do you offer?  Some writers give out free fiction; others just post their opinions about this, that, or the other; some folks talk about what recipe they're trying out that week.

Or . . . are you targeting different consumers?  That is, if someone loved your book, will they keep coming back to your blog if you talk about writing?  Or cats?  Or what cake you baked that week?  Do you capture a different audience on Mondays--when you post a picture of your latest cake, for example (actually, Sundays are when I usually post mine--and on Facebook and Twitter because I don't think people stroll by my blog then, but I know they're on the other platforms)--and yet another on a different day when you offer advice on writing?  Or share your latest needlepoint pattern?  Or your Charger's new paint job?

There are some fans who read a book and then want to know all about you, and so they're the ones who will happily read a post about yak tea on Monday and your car's new paint job on Wednesday.  There are others--and I would say that they form the majority--who only come to find you because something you wrote touched them in some way.  They happen by your site and drop a line . . . but they don't keep coming back.

Except . . . don't we want them to keep coming back?

So that then begs the question, the very same one I had for SFBR's CEO: if I want to use a certain service, I need to understand the target audience.

It's the same for us as writers.  Who's your blog for?  Who's your target audience?  Who do you want to engage--and are those people you engage on, say, Monday, the same folks you engage on Thursday?  My guess is that you can't please everyone, and people cherry-pick.  As I've said before, I happen by a particular blog every week on the day that I know there will be information I think might be useful.  But that's all.  But if I were to offer, say, a free story on a certain day and do it reliably . . . would that increase my traffic?  Chances are good that, eventually, it would--and if a reader's read enough free fiction, he or she just might want to pony up to buy an actual novel.

I'm not suggesting that all we writers need to or can do that, but I think that a writer who provides an array of content--say, a story one day a week, advice another, a recipe a third--is one who understands a diversified market.

Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing from other writers out there, and bloggers, too: do you even think of a target audience?  If you do, do you think in terms of different audiences and different platforms for those audiences?