Why it’s so hard for writers to be discovered in the online world

Ever wondered why you don’t get as much traffic as you’d like on your blog? Or why your book’s vanished without a trace of sales on Amazon? I did some checking. In this wired world, the web is one crowded place. Every second, people put:

23 posts on WordPress
463 posts on Tumblr
5700 tweets on Twitter
54,976 posts on Facebook
5757 +1’s on Google+
And over 3.4 million emails are sent.

Woah! That’s quite apart from the growth in those services over the same time-span. I only have figures for Twitter – which gains 11 new accounts a second. Doubtless some are bots, but that’s not the point. What this underscores, for me, is the key issue bedevilling activity on the internet – especially efforts by authors to get their cut of the 51 items sold in that same second by Amazon.

That issue is discovery. Being found amidst the noise.

You spend an hour prepping a WordPress post. In that time, 82,800 other posts have been put up. In the five seconds between clicking ‘publish’ and having it go live, 115 posts have gone up. Promote it on Twitter. In the 15 seconds you spend writing the tweet, 85,500 other tweets have been sent and 165 new accounts have joined the service. Got your publicise function set to push your WordPress post out to Tumblr? While you were writing the post, 16.6 million Tumblr posts went up. And in the 3715 seconds between starting your post and finishing the publishing process, Amazon sold 189,465 items, most of them probably books. Any of them yours? No? Mine neither.

Progress, nineteenth century style; bigger, faster, heavier... more Mordor.

If internet traffic were real and needed carrying. I’m standing next to a Haulmax – 100 tons in one go, uphill. A giga-truck. I’m about 185 cm in the hat.

Ok, I’m a geek. But those numbers tell me that promotion by spam attack on whatever social media sites happen to be at hand isn’t going to make the slightest lasting difference. It’s a drop in the bucket against the quantity flowing through the internet – but a very toxic drop for those on whom it’s inflicted.

What those numbers also tell me is that the system, en masse, is anonymous and transient. Found a blog you liked, didn’t click ‘follow’, and never found it again? Happens all the time. Potential readers of yours, meanwhile, might miss your wisdom in the stream.

But you know the most important thing? The people who’ve found you through that incredible ‘noise’ – the like-minded people who find common ground and keep in contact regularly online over months or years, where you comment and ‘like’ each other’s posts, swap stories and tweets, and stay in touch – become real friends. Not artefacts of a transient 54,976-post-per-second ‘friend’ function, but real people you come to really know.

Just like our parents and grandparents had penfriends who they knew only remotely, but who became real friends. Of course we do things faster in the 21st century…

This is really what social media is about. He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata – people, people, people.

People are important.

As for that ‘discovery’ issue – well, more on that soon. Though I will say that those numbers – again – point to the obvious conclusion that pushing discovery through social media isn’t the answer. I don’t think you can sell that way either.

Time to deploy the Lateral Thinking Hat. Muahahahahaha.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

‘If it’s free, you’re the product’ – and what that means for Facebook

A few days ago I belatedly joined approximately 1.2 billion other people – more than one in seven of the world’s entire population – on Facebook.

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fan I had to pose in the entrance, such as it was - you could circle it, just like the door Aslan made to get rid of the Telmarines in .Prince Caspian'.

OK, can anybody guess what I am ACTUALLY a fan of from the ‘metadata’ on the sign around me? Or will I just get barraged with ads for stupid artisan stuff?

I’ve had reasons to be laggard. Only one is time.  I set up a Facebook placeholder do-nothing page in 2013, to protect my name – but my main leeriness with actively engaging has been their reported attitude to users. There are reports of Facebook allegedly reading private messages and selling the information. Just last month, account holders were unknowingly used for mass psychology experiments. Facebook has also been reported tracking your clicks – including (by cookie) when you’re logged off your account. In short, they know what you do. They have your profile. And a month ago, they openly announced that they’re going to track your browsing.

Most social media does this, and of course the big ones get the highest profile flak. To me, it’s one result of a web-world where users look for ‘free’. How is the service funded? Online providers have turned themselves, as they’ve grown, into advertising companies – in which user conduct, as apparent clue to user preference and want, is the prime commodity.

To me it’s a fairly obvious general outcome of the collision between the human condition, the way that condition has been shaped by history (especially the last few centuries in the west) and technology. This had led to all sorts of specific characteristics of the modern world. One of those is the way data about you – which you can’t control and don’t necessarily know, has been collected. As a friend of mine put it, if it’s free – you’re the product. 

He’s right. The Guardian called the mechanism ‘surveillance as a business model‘. And it is – the issue being not advertising you can ignore, but what might happen if somebody with different intent and value judgement has that data. Particularly when the context of your thoughts, intentions or other motives isn’t part of the data-set. This is classic 2 + 2 = 486,593. Armand Jean du Plessis – Cardinal Richieleu – summed it up in 1641: Qu’on me donne six lignes écrites de la main du plus honnête homme, j’y trouverai de quoi le faire pendre. “If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.”

As I’ve always said, the tragedy of history is that the stories change – but human nature doesn’t. Think about it.

Me, loitering a bit in the ideal writing place...

Me, loitering a bit in the ideal writing place…so sell me books? Actually, this is me being a science geek inside the Carter Observatory, Wellington NZ.

The other issue is that social media makes derp easy – derp that’s yours. Forever. And sure, it’s cool to publish some pic that means something to you and friends after you’ve pranked the boss. Gives you bragging rights for a day or two. Does it mean anything to anybody else?

We all derp, in various ways. It’s called being human. But do you want that pic of you with a rifle and a dead gazelle to be found 28 milliseconds after you landed a multi-million dollar contract with L’Oreal? Whether you shot it or not? It’s not new. French revolutionary leader Maxmilien Robespierre summed up the way societies respond to alleged conduct over 200 years ago: “Peoples do not judge in the same way as courts of law; they do not hand down sentences, they throw thunderbolts…” And he thought it was as valid, as a mechanism for condemnation, as a court. Sound familiar today? As I say, the tragedy of history (etc etc)…

Rule of thumb? Everything you put into the internet is PERMANENTLY PUBLISHED. Everything? Everything. And assume anybody can see it. Don’t rely on privacy settings. The judgement is straight-forward. Imagine it’s on the front page of the paper. Do you want your name attached? That’s especially so if you’re also trying to build brand and author profile. Basic media management – which pre-dates the internet – applies. How does that sit with genuinely connecting to people – and building an author platform? There are answers. More in due course.

On the other hand, Facebook is expected. Me? For now, a personal page. I might do an author page later. Maybe.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Refurbishing with colour and deco

I’ve refurbished my blog this week – added a new header, new background and changed some of the colours.

Here's the original image - also check out the close-up on my Google+ homepage.

Here’s the original image – also check out the close-up on my Google+ homepage.

The header’s from a photo essay I took in late February in Napier, New Zealand.  It features the upper parts of the 1932 Masonic Hotel building on the right, in early streamline style, and the 1936 T & G building, now called (rather unimaginatively) The Dome, on the left – partly obscured by deco-style foliage.

Napier is set apart by its stunning 1930s architectural heritage. And by its climate, which matches Santa Barbara. It was around 100 degrees F on that scorching late summer day. The camera got hot too, and the photos that came out of it glowed – even the shadows were fully lit, by reflection. The photo at bottom shows what I mean. It was taken facing the opposite direction from the blog header.

What do you think of the new blog look?

Unlikely to have actually driven in 1930s Napier...but who cares?

This is the exact image that came out of the camera – editing was restricted to scaling down for the blog, and adding the copyright notice. It was taken with full polarisation. Note the flared highlights, and how the shadow side of the car is illuminated by sunlight reflected off the footpath. Same phenomenon is why Apollo astronauts appeared to be side-lit on the Moon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

The news. Exciting for me. And you too, I hope

A couple of weeks back I promised I’d reveal some exciting news.

I had to share this pic, taken by She Who Must Be Obeyed. We end up in some interesting places, sometimes. Just in case anybody googles "Stockton Mine".

Why was I wearing hard-hat and luminescent jacket somewhere in Mordor? Research, that’s why. More? You’ll find out soon… Click to enlarge.

Last year, print book sales dropped by 15 percent in New Zealand, nailing a down-trend that’s been happening for a while. I watched that start several years ago and decided to do something about it. Downturn apart, writing’s a business, and reinvention is key to longevity. So is adaptation, including embracing new technology. In this I was spurred by Random House who suggested I should join Twitter, get an author platform going and so forth. I did.

I got cracking in other ways – retrieving many of my publishing licenses to avoid losing control of them amidst the flight of big-name houses from New Zealand. I talked to publishers and discussed  future titles. I was offered new contracts despite the downturn. This last couple of weeks I’ve been fielding publishing schedules, including from Random. More soon. But the news is rather good – and yes, you’ll be the first to hear about the releases, on this blog.

Of course, the REALLY exciting news is due within a few weeks…and, I hope, more after that (when I catch my breath).

Meanwhile, here’s my updated author page at Random:

http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/authors/matthew-wright.aspx

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More exciting news. And stuff.

A totally cool and exciting taunt

I post a lot on this blog about writing – but not often about the writing I’m actually doing myself. That’s partly because it’s often commercially sensitive. But also partly because you’d soon get sick of my blurting on all the time hard-selling my books. And I’d certainly get sick of writing about it.

Wright_SydneyNov2011Most of my books get a profile for a few weeks – and then I’m on to other content. But there’s a time and place for everything, and I’ve got a couple of exciting things happening this year which I’m going to share.

First one’s coming up in a couple of weeks. Watch this space.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: writing tips – tomorrow – plus history, science and general mayhem. And some news.Watch this space.

Welcome to 2014 in M J Wright blog-o-land

It’s 2014 – and I’m rolling into the new year and new blog posts. I’ve got a full programme lined up for you kind folks this next few months.

MJWright2011There’s ‘Essential Writing Skills’ – a regular weekly series outlining what writers need. It’s backed by my 30 years in the business as a published author, publisher and journalist. You’ll discover what writers need to write well, effectively – and get results. Everything from editing to proofing to writing to content to viewing the projects as a business to approaching publishers and agents – and more.

There’s ‘Write It Now’ – musings on writing, books and the industry, including where it’s going, why it’s going there, and what we can do about it.

I’ve got more weekly science and sci-fi geekery, spiced with history and other cool stuff. And more fun stuff – humour, commentaries, thoughts and more. Why? Because life needs to be fun.

For the next few months, the schedule is:

Mondays NZT (Sunday EST) – Write It Now
Tuesday or Wednesday NZT (Monday or Tuesday EST) – Fun science or fun history. Or something similar.
Saturday NZT (Friday EST) – Essential Writing Skills

Watch out for surprise stuff on other days.

Needless to say I wouldn’t be doing this blog without you – it’s thanks to you kind folks that I keep posting. And that means the blog’s really about you – about interaction, it’s about having a conversation. About cool stuff. About fun stuff. About serious stuff.

And if there’s something you’d like me to blog about – ask!

Let’s get talking.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: See above… ☺

Secret revealed: the most searched-for thing ever!

A few days ago WordPress sent me a barrage of statistics about my blog in 2013.

A sample of nothing.

This is the most searched for thing on my blog.

Intriguing stuff. I discovered, for instance, that if each visitor was equal to a hydrogen atom, then I would not have had enough visitors to fill the Atlantic ocean with water. And that on 18 June I received 22.3 visitors in 18 seconds, 22.1 of them me.

More seriously, WordPress gave me the most popular discovery searches. These were:

1. blank square
2. jk rowling writing tips
3. adler gabriele 25
4. 12 blank squares
5. logline generator.

I’d like to explain, but somehow I can’t. ‘Blank square’? A block of nothing. Perhaps I bought some from Malcolm McLaren (he told me once, in a lecture, that his ambition was to sell…nothing.)

As for the others – well, I’m sure J K Rowling has some great writing tips to offer, but what you’ll find here is actually mine. I own an ‘Adler Gabrielle 25‘, and it’d work if I could find a Type 1 ribbon for it (go on, Google search…bet it will lead you back here…). I also wrote a logline generator.

But there was one search they didn’t mention – one that found my blog and which piqued me deeply. Of that, more tomorrow.

Meanwhile – what’s the weirdest search string that found your blog?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: Regular writing posts resume this weekend, science geekery, humour and more.

Wrapping up 2013 and a shout-out to some wonderful bloggers

There are no two ways about it – 2013 has been a year to remember. Not least because my city, Wellington, was slammed by two major quakes – and thousands of aftershocks – mid-year.

Wright_SydneyNov2011

High points? For me, some surprises. General book sales have dropped twenty percent and publishers have been fleeing the country. But I had a book at No. 3 on the Whitcoulls best seller list for August – where it stayed for three months. Woohoo! My Bateman Illustrated History of New Zealand also entered the charts (not quite so impressively) – and fielded awesome reviews. Yes!

As for 2014, I know what’s coming up for me, at least – and you will too, soon. Watch this space.

Wright_Whitcoulls1I’d like to thank all my regular readers and blogging friends for taking the time to visit my little corner of the blog-o-sphere, for their thoughts, and for posting such fabulous, inspiring material on their own blogs, including:

Dennis Langley- Minnesota http://langleyblog.wordpress.com/

Lemuel Lyes –  Fellow Kiwi and history geek. His blog is a truly amazing place – run, do not walk, to: http://historygeek.co.nz/

Herman Kok – South Africa http://kokkieh.wordpress.com/

Karen Huber – Florida http://kmhubersblog.com/

S. Thomas Summers – New Jersey: http://inkhammer.wordpress.com/

I’d also like to thank – among many others – Stuart Young, August McLaughlin, Janice Spina, Cymbria Wood, Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes, Roly Hermans, Bev Robitai, Pete Denton, Leslie Berry, M. Hatzel, Christina Hawthorne, Tom Burkhalter, Susie Lindau, Elizabeth Fais, Elisa Nuckle, Karen Rought, Caitlin Kelly, L. Palmer, and Susan Keirnan-Lewis.

Thank you, all, for your kind support through the year – it’s great to be able to make friends with such a diverse, talented and wonderful group of people over such a wide part of the globe.

Take care. And here’s to a fantastic 2014.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: Bursting into 2014, my review of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, and more. Regular writing posts, science geekery and all the usual features begin second week January.

Write it now: celebrity book signing sessions

Over the years I’ve done a fair few book signings. You sit in a bookshop or public venue with a pile of books, while people you don’t know – who often put you on a pedestal – queue up to meet…you. And get you to sign a book for them.

Wright_Illustrated History of New Zealand 2Most people I’ve met at these events are friendly, chatty, and welcoming.  Engaging, and I’ve spoken to some interesting and kind people along the way, all of whom have had wonderful stories of their own. I recall one delightful experience, particularly, in which I got chatting with one couple who were very enthusiastic about art deco (as, indeed, am I).

Some authors are cautious about the number of books they sign. I’m not. It’s a personal touch – and that’s great. Sometimes I’ll drop into the local bookstore and sign their stock – which adds sales potential. Signing the book also, I suspect, makes it less likely the store will return it to the publisher under ‘sale or return’ arrangements.

Still, for me these are always nerve-racking moments. Partly because I don’t regard anything I do as special, or that I should be important because of it.

But it’s nerve-racking mainly because I sometimes get asked to inscribe my books, and  I can’t hand-write. Not legibly, anyway.

It’s like this. As a kid, I was left handed, which was why I wrote backwards and upside down in a sea of spattered ink. Alas, despite heroic efforts with every tool at their disposal – humiliation, class ridicule and many ingenious punishments – the teachers were unable to get me to write with the Proper Hand. Thus proving, apparently, what a stupid and worthless child I was. Of course, it could have been that the New Zealand school system was run as a barbaric exercise in conformity, enforced by weak and sadistic bullies who got their personal jollies out of punishing children entrusted to their care. But I digress.

The upshot was that I left primary school with worse hand-writing than I’d gone into it with, and I’ve never bothered trying to fix it. I can read the stuff. But it gets awkward when I fill out forms – assuming I don’t misread the form in the first place. And so when somebody buys one of my books and asks me to inscribe it, I’ll happily sign my name, but I don’t want to mess up their purchase with hand writing.

I remember one time a reader persisted – would I please, please, inscribe a particular phrase. I didn’t want to let them down, I did my best…but there’s no backspace with pen and ink. Sigh.

I did think of getting  a rubber stamp made, but it wouldn’t be the same.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: More writing tips, humour, science posts and – well, you’ll see. Watch this space.

NaNoWriMo tips and other stuff – more on what’s coming up

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve got a lot of content coming up for National Novel Writing Month. Here’s some more details. I’ll be rolling from this Friday with…

1195430130203966891liftarn_Writing_My_Master_s_Words_svg_med* Sixty Second Writing Tips – quick-fire tips for NaNo and for every writer (Friday/Saturday)

* Write It Now – my long-running series explaining every aspect of writing (Saturday/Sunday)

* Occasional NaNo writing prompts

* Mid-week posts on fun science and other things. Like why giant mechs are a silly idea and how to measure the speed of light using custard (you can – I am not joking).

* News – I hope to have some exciting stuff to bring you in the next few weeks.

…and…

* Some posts, from November, marking thirty years in the writing and publishing business.

Normally I post three or four times a week, but there’ll be more through October and November. Feel free to check out the blog generally – I’ve been publishing a lot of writing-related stuff, with more to come.

And I love hearing from you – so join any debate, tell me what you think. Have your say.

Party’s on, folks…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Tomorrow: Science geekery – the physics of uber mechs. And on Friday – the NaNo tips begin.