Information Avalanche

Years ago, when most of us crawled on line through telephone modems, the Internet was often called the Information Super Highway.  Forget that.  Today’s online experience is faster, vaster, a veritable Information Tsunami.  And I, for one, can’t keep up.

I’ve been making an effort.  My friends, most of them writers, dragged me into social media a few months ago, even as I resisted, clinging to tried and true excuses:  I don’t understand it, I don’t need it, I don’t have time for it.  All good excuses.  All valid.  I jumped in anyway.  And I liked it.

But I’m having trouble with Twitter.  No, not technical trouble.  The program is simple enough.  But I’m not really sure I see the point.  For a while I actually tried to keep up.  I followed my friends, local and cyber, a couple of local news sources, pictures of adorable animals, and so forth.  Maybe two hundred Tweeters.

I found myself watching personal conversations, sometimes both sides, sometimes only half, between people who apparently find it easier to tweet from their smart phones than to email or actually phone someone.  I saw pictures of lunches, children, sunsets and bookshelves.  I learned to my amusement (and sometimes amazement) that many of my women friends are extremely serious sports fans.

Many people I follow, particularly my fellow writers, post links to articles and web sites and pictures.  Interesting stories, valuable information, but I just don’t have time to go look at a quarter of them.

I can’t keep up.  Trying to follow Twitter during the day uses up far too much time.  I have a full-time job, but it would be just as much a time sink if I were home trying to write full-time.  And this with only 200 Tweeters in my stream.  Who are these people I see who are following hundreds, even thousands, of Tweeters?  Why would anyone do that?  How could anyone do that?

I don’t tweet  lot myself:  when I post something here, when I buy a book or review one on Amazon, when I see a particularly funny bumper sticker or billboard on my commute.  I’m trying to be interesting–after all, isn’t that the point of having an Internet Presence?  But I honestly don’t know why strangers pop up on my Followers list.  They are certainly welcome, I’m just not sure what, if anything, I’m giving them.

Yesterday afternoon I decided to organize.  I set up Twitter Lists and divided my contacts into various categories.  I unfollowed some of the news sources that were pelting me with things I’d already seen TV or in the newspaper.  I removed one person I couldn’t identify–she hadn’t tweeted since last fall, perhaps even more puzzled by the whole thing than I am.

The lists do seem to make information a bit easier to find.  I’ll add more to the Industry list so I can keep up with the agent/editor/publisher news and gossip.  I’ll check up on my friends and watch for new books from my favorite authors.

And I’ll try to tweet more interesting or amusing comments myself.  Once a day, maybe.

Excuse me while I send this post to Twitter.

Thursday Thoughts

I’m so pleased to report that Laurie Kahn’s Love Between the Covers project met its $50,000 goal this morning.  But you still have four days to become a backer, and pledges of any amount are welcome.  Under the Kickstarter system, someone raising money sets a minimum goal and an end date, in this case $50,000 and midnight on Monday (August 27).  If the minimum goal isn’t met by the closing date, no one’s credit card is charged, and no money changes hands.  If the goal is met, fundraising continues until the end date.  So it’s not too late to join in.

Maybe love has something to do with an odd phenomenon I’ve noticed the last couple of weeks at work, but I have yet to invent a story to explain it.  Every afternoon lately, around four o’clock, a car has parked in front of the Scorekeeper or next door, in one of the few parking places available on the street.  Same car, same Latino couple in it, she’s driving, he’s in the passenger seat.  They sit there, motor running, for fifteen or twenty minutes.  Then they get out of the car, trade places, and drive away.  On several occasions they’ve arrived while I was on my daily trip to the post office, forcing me to park two or three houses down the street, only to disappear by the time I get back to my desk.  What the heck are they up to?

I’m still on the fence about Twitter.  I’m not sure I want to know that much about other people’s daily lives, but on the other hand I’ve followed links to some interesting, and occasionally hilarious, web sites.  Try this wacky list of bedroom tips inspired by a certain notorious trilogy:  Ten Shades of Stupid.  Or this excellent analysis of changes in the publishing industry:  Publishing Is Broken.  So far I’ve pretty much kept up with the flow, since I’m at my computer much of the day, but when I look at profiles of folks who are following hundreds, or even thousands, of Twitter acounts, I have to wonder when they have time to do anything else.

Seen this afternoon on Highway 59 in downtown Houston, on the back of a pick up truck filled with furniture and boxes, a bumper sticker reading TEXAS : the balls of America.  Look at a map.  Then think about . . . Florida.

Catching Up

I’ve been home from the RWA Conference for almost three weeks, but I still feel like I’m trying to catch up–on sleep, at work, around the house.  Housekeeping is not my passion, but even I fall behind with a six-day absence.  I made a stab at catching up on writing, getting back on the “work every day” train, but I fell off that a couple of days ago.  I’ve gotten some rewriting done on the work-in-progress, but not as much as I’d like.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped at Office Depot for a box of my favorite pens, and noticed a rack of pocket-sized guide books, including Twitter for Dummies and Facebook for Dummies.  I’d been telling myself (for months now) that I’d look into more social media activities after the Conference, so I bought both books.  Twitter seemed simpler, and presented fewer privacy questions, so I spent part of a Sunday afternoon opening an account (@KayHudsonWriter).  I still don’t quite know what to make of it.

It didn’t take me long to decide that I did not want to follow any of the news sources Twitter had recommended during the sign-up process, and I unfollowed them before I could be swept away by the flood of tweets.  Instead I began following my writing friends–after all, they were the ones urging me to build a social media platform.  So I gradually added (I’m still working on this) friends from my local RWA chapters, West Houston and Houston Bay Area, and from my Golden Heart classes, the Firebirds and the Starcatchers, as well as a scattering of other writer friends.  That will probably total somewhere around two hundred women (I’m about halfway there), so it’s a good thing most of them don’t tweet a lot.  I seem to be averaging about two tweets a day myself.

The amount of trivia bouncing around the Twitterverse is amazing. with some folks seemingly throwing random thoughts out several times an hour.  Some are conducting conversations, some are promoting books (their own and others), some are telling jokes.  A lot of the friends I follow have followed me back, which is a nice friendly thing to do, but I’ve picked up other followers I don’t know at all.  They’re quite welcome, but I can’t help wondering how they found me.  Sometimes I feel like I’m eavesdropping, but I’ve also followed links and hashtags to some interesting articles, blogs, and web sites.

I’ve used the Twitter search function to look for some old friends from school and such, but haven’t turned anyone up yet.  Maybe they’re all hanging out on Facebook.  I did search for my own (very German) maiden name, expecting to find only a few people, one or two of them possibly my cousins.  I didn’t find anyone I recognized as a relative, but I was astonished to see far more people than I expected, many of them posting profiles in Portuguese.  Apparently I have a raft of (very distant) cousins in Brazil.  Who knew?

One of our Scorekeeper clients brought us flowers the other day, for no particular reason.  Mine are sitting on my coffee table, looking lovely.  I took pictures.  As you can see, I am still struggling with lighting.  Backgrounds that look perfectly well lit through the camera are much darker in the photograph.  Maybe because I’m fooling around with this indoors, and usually at night.  I’ll have to take some daylight shots of my horribly unkempt back yard, before I hire someone to clean it up.

I’ve been good (i.e. restrained) about buying books since I got home with two dozen or so from the Conference, so I was a bit puzzled the other night when I got one of those “your order” emails and couldn’t remember ordering anything.  Even more so when I opened the email and saw the title:  A Cat Was Involved.  I like cats, but I still couldn’t remember ordering anything.  When I checked my Amazon account, I discovered that I had preordered the short story by Spencer Quinn last May.  I’m a big fan of his Chet and Bernie mystery series, and this promises to be the story that Chet, the canine narrator of the novels, has been teasing us with, the tale of how he washed out of K-9 school and became Bernie’s partner in the Little Detective Agency.  The fifth book in the series, A Fistful of Collars, will be out next month.  Meanwhile, maybe this weekend I’ll find out exactly how that cat was involved.

Two Meetings and Half a Dozen Books

I belong to two local chapters of Romance Writers of America, and this month the meetings fell as close together as they ever do, West Houston last Saturday morning and Houston Bay Area last night.  Both meetings featured interesting speakers on topics that I have yet to tackle myself.

On Saturday, West Houston heard from Alyssa Goodnight, who showed us how she is using the combined impact of several social media channels to promote her new release, Austentatious.  She has tied together input to Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads, Pinterest, and her website, and claims that it takes relatively little work to maintain her online presence.  I could only watch in admiration–looks like a fulltime job to me.  And I already have one of those.

Last night Joan Reeves gave Houston Bay Area a very interesting talk about some of the technical and legal challenges involved in independent publishing, including copyright laws and piracy problems.  Check out Joan’s blog for a wealth of information on the field, and check out her popular ebook releases while you’re there.

This has been a busy month for West Houston authors, with a whole stack of new releases:

  • Real Vampires Hate Skinny Jeans is the latest in Gerry Bartlett’s very popular Glory St. Clair series.
  • How To Ravish a Rake, by Vicky Dreiling, is the third in a trilogy of charmingly funny Regency historicals.
  • The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek is the first in a new series by Jane Myers Perrine.

  • The Quakers of New Garden anthology includes “New Garden’s Inspiration” by West Houston author Claire Sanders.
  • Wanted: Undead or Alive is the latest installment in Kerrelyn Sparks’ NYT bestselling Love At Stake series.
  • The Kingdom is the second in Amanda Stevens’ Graveyard Queen series, to be followed next month by The Prophet.

I bought books for myself, and an extra copy of Jane’s book as a thank you gift for my neighbor.  Books make terrific, thoughtful, and affordable gifts.  Go out and buy one for someone you’d like to say “thank you” to.

Inching my way toward a platform in cyberspace,

I’m taking the cautious path.  One social media site at a time, and the important word here may be time.  Time to set the planks up, and time to tend them.

I’ve just finished reading a helpful book on the subject, We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media, by Kristen Lamb.  This book from Bob Mayer’s Who Dares Wins Publishing offers to guide the social-media-challenged writer onto WordPress, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.  It does all that and more.

I’ve been here on WordPress since April, and I may well venture onto Twitter soon.  I’m still hesitant about Facebook, and MySpace, while Lamb says it is essential for the Young Adult writer, may be one plank farther than I want to climb on my platform.

Long before she gets to the instructions, Lamb covers a wealth of information and advice on the uses and usefulness of social media for writers.  (I was happy to learn that I’ve gotten off on the right foot with my baby steps, using my own–and only–name for what little I’ve done.)  She piles on more information on marketing and branding than most of us could absorb in one reading.

And before she gets into the nuts and bolts of signing up for accounts (or polishing existing ones), Lamb covers content, from head shots and bios to topics and tags, and networks, what they are and how to build them.

Lamb advises establishing all the planks of your platform at the same time (even if you leave your fledgling Facebook fan page unpublished for a while) and bolting them firmly together, and she gives detailed instructions for doing so.  She ends with a much-needed section on time management.

I do have a complaint or two about the Kindle edition.  The illustrations are unreadably small at their normal size and fuzzy when zoomed, and the table of contents is not hyperlinked.  I plan to use the book while setting up more of my own planks, but I may grumble while searching for the information.