Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Five Lessons I've Learned About Twitter: Lesson #3

This week I'm sharing with you five important lessons I've learned in my first three months or so as a Twitter user promoting my crime fiction novel, Blood Passage. I began with Lesson #5, where I learned that Twitter has a lot of marketing potential, and followed with Lesson #4, in which I suggested that Twitter also has a lot of research potential.

Now it's time for Lesson #3: Twitter is a lot more easy to use than Facebook.

My mother always told me that if I don't have anything nice to say I should just keep my mouth shut, and I've tried to follow that rule not only in my everyday life but also in my online presence. It's been a strain sometimes not to publish that negative post about zombie legacy publishers or snooty agents or disinterested publicists. But I've resisted the temptation.

Until now.

As Popeye used to say, "That's all I can stand, I can't stands it no more." I struggle with Facebook. I don't like it. Oh, I understand its value as a social medium and a marketing tool. Many of the indie authors I researched before making the decision to go independent myself have successfully used Facebook to publicize their books and engage their audiences. I understand that very well.

Perhaps it's an individual thing. Some of us get Facebook and some of us don't. To me, it's a very user-unfriendly application.  I have absolutely no idea how to navigate around in it. Whenever I try to do something new, it doesn’t work and I end up in a window I didn’t expect. I have a personal site when I only wanted a fan page. I created a fan page and have no idea how to make certain that people come to the fan page rather than the personal thing. I get notifications that someone has posted a message for me and I have no idea where to find the message within Facebook. Don't get me wrong; I'm computer literate. At one point in my career with Canada Customs I designed computer-based training using scripting programs no one else in the department at the time knew how to use. It's just that Facebook is an unfriendly environment for a casual user such as myself. Perhaps if I lived on it, as my son does, it would be a different matter. But I don't, and it isn't.

Twitter, on the other hand, is a snap. Sure, it occasionally gets a hairball and I have to close it and reopen it. It has a few other flaws that are well-known to everyone, but it was simple to learn, simple to use, simple to understand, simple simple simple. I like simple. Simple works for me. I log on, do my thing, and move on to something else. Love it.

Plus there are a whole whack of apps that can further simplify my Twitter experience. Want to know who's not following me back? I can use "Friend or Follow." Want to shorten those lengthy links to accommodate my full message within the 140-character limit? I can use bit.ly or a similar app. I suppose there are also a lot of Facebook apps I could use, but frankly, do I care? I'd probably get lost in the Facebook jungle trying to find and use them. Bit.ly? It took me about two minutes to find it in a Google search, register and start using it. Simple.

The bottom line? If we take this lesson as a glass half-full thing (Twitter) instead of a glass half-empty thing (@#$%^ Facebook), I've learned that Twitter is a very user-friendly application for me that can do what I need it to do with little effort. Hoorah for Twitter.

Have you noticed differences between Twitter and Facebook in terms of useability and utility? Let us know about your experiences.

Tomorrow: Lesson #2: It's Better to Spend the Time on Twitter Than to Auto-Tweet

Monday, 30 January 2012

Five Lessons I've Learned About Twitter: Lesson #4

Yesterday I mentioned that I have learned five important lessons since I opened my Twitter account, @MichaelJMcCann1, just over three months ago as a way to gain additional exposure for my novel, Blood Passage. Lesson #5, as I explained, was that Twitter has a very interesting marketing potential. It is the most active medium in which I'm working, and it allows me to drive traffic to my website, which serves as a portal to the points of sale for my novel, and to this blog where I'm developing my brand as a crime fiction author.

Lesson #4, as I have discovered, is that Twitter also has a lot of research potential.

Twitter has a hundred million users. 100,000,000!!! That's a pretty deep ocean. It stands to reason, therefore, that there’s a great deal to learn by diving in and studying the behavior of the life swimming around on all sides.

Now, I'm not a marketing expert or social media scientist or business consultant. I have quite a few Twitter followers who work in these fields, and I imagine you do as well because they tend to be very active in the medium. They could probably explain to you in much better ways how effective Twitter can be as a research tool, and I encourage you to seek them out if you're interested. However, as a lay person and rank amateur, I still have eyes and a brain and I can figure out what's obvious and right in front of my nose. It's obvious that Twitter can teach me a few things about how to sell my book.

Occasionally I glance at the Trends column to see what’s trending around the world of Twitter, but I haven’t really taken much advantage of this so far because I’m not really a Belieber, I don’t follow Italian football and I don’t really want to share the #5ThingsICantStand. I took a shot at #FreeShippingDay in December, but that's about it so far.

I make a lot more use of the Search field. It occurred to me early on that I could steer some of my tweets to specific categories by using the hash tag. A newbie lesson, of course, but now I’ve trained myself to think not only in terms of my followers but anyone in the Twitterverse who owns a #Nook, might want to buy a copy of Blood Passage from #Barnes&Noble, and might check out the Nook and B&N trending categories before shopping online.  Looking for great #crime fiction? You might find a tweet about Blood Passage if you ran a Twitter search on #crime fiction!

Lest you think that’s a marketing point and should have been in the previous Lesson, well, you’re correct, I suppose, but more and more I conduct searches before using hash tags, to get a feel for the kind of tweets that end up in certain categories based on keywords I’m considering. More than once I decided to skip the hash tag, given the low quality of tweets I found. For example, I was going to tweet that Blood Passage was #hot new crime fiction. I checked #hot and saw a lot of junk tweets. I didn't think there were a lot of book buyers there, so I didn't bother with that one at the time. 

Was I wrong? Maybe I should do more research!

Additionally, I mentioned in Lesson #5 yesterday that I ran an experiment by tweeting about free copies of the book, trying to drive traffic to my blog and onward to Smashwords. As a beginner, I'm trying to learn what works and what doesn't. An important part of my research is watching what other people are doing to generate interest in their product or service, and trying to decide how effective it might be. Some of my favorite people on Twitter are getting very creative with their campaigns, hoping to entertain followers as well as attract their business. When I see their tweets retweeted, I can sense they're succeeding in catching interest.

This is an important lesson I hope to learn a great deal from in the next while: Twitter can teach me much about how to promote my book.

What have you learned from Twitter that you can apply to your own efforts? Please share your experiences with us!

Tomorrow: Lesson #3: Twitter is A Lot More User-Friendly Than Facebook

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Five Lessons I've Learned About Twitter: Lesson #5

I opened my Twitter account, @MichaelJMcCann1, just over three months ago as a way to gain additional exposure for my novel, Blood Passage, and the others in the series that will soon follow. I did so reluctantly, because I didn’t really understand the concept and didn’t want to devote even more of my rapidly-shrinking time to another dubious social medium that made me grouchy just to think about it. Fortunately, friends and fellow writers @JasmineAziz and @kenmbyars insisted, so I went home, opened the account, and tried to figure it out.

Since then I’ve attracted over 550 followers at a rate of about five a day, I’ve posted almost 1,200 tweets, and I've spent a fair bit of time doing so, more than I’d like to admit. While I'm still a very small fish in the Twitter sea I’m pleased at how it’s gone so far. Thinking about it today I decided there were five clear lessons I’ve learned about Twitter that I thought I’d share with you over the course of the coming week, beginning with Lesson #5 and counting down to #1, which has had the biggest impact on me to date.

Bear in mind that after three months I’m hardly an expert. Just the opposite, actually, because I know I’ve only scraped the surface of this remarkable medium. So I invite you to leave your comments below and share with me some of the things YOU’VE learned about Twitter.

Lesson 5
Twitter Has A Lot Of Marketing Potential

Apparently Twitter has more than 100 million active users. Holy cow! Just looking at that number makes it obvious Twitter’s a marketplace unlike any other the world has known. If only one percent of these users bought my book, I’d be a million-copy seller! 

Ah. If only I could figure out how to reach those darned one percenters.

I’m using Twitter in such a way that it fits into my overall marketing scheme. I also maintain two websites, one for Michael J. McCann and one for The Plaid Raccoon Press (actually there’s a third, free website promoting my first book but it will eventually come down), and I maintain this blog, The Overnight Bestseller.

The two websites serve as information stations about me as an author and The Plaid Raccoon as a micropublisher, and they also serve as portals to the points of sale where readers can purchase the books, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and local bookstores. As such, they’re relatively stable and require only periodic maintenance.

This blog is a more active medium. To put it in marketing terms, this is the spot where I’m actively developing my brand as crime fiction author Michael J. McCann. Trust me that I’m cringing as I write this, because it sounds impersonal and insincere, but in actual fact it’s not. Readers look for certain characteristics in the authors they read, and I’m working to develop and display them here on a consistent basis. Traits such as professionalism, a high level of literacy, and a positive attitude are examples of what I’m working toward here because they're what I value as a person.

Finally, Twitter is the most active medium in which I’m currently working. (I’ll get to Facebook in Lesson #3, later.) I’m trying to develop the same consistent traits in my tweets as here in this blog, and I’m using Twitter to drive traffic downstream, as it were, to the blog, websites and points of sale. 

I’ve definitely seen results in three months. Not tremendous results, mind you, but a trickle. Trickles are great. Trickles are just fine, thank you.

I've run a few experiments. At one point I posted a coupon code here in The Overnight Bestseller for a free copy of Blood Passage through Smashwords. I then used Twitter to direct followers here for the code, hoping they would then hop over to Smashwords and download the book. In retrospect it was far too early in the game. I saw through the numbers that it would work, but would work much better with more followers and different kinds of followers.

Ah, now there's an interesting point. How do I attract and keep followers who will be willing to buy and read my books? I've noticed that writers follow writers, and writers follow bloggers, and bloggers follow writers, and so on and so on. But I don't think a lot of writers buy the books of other writers. Am I wrong? I think a lot of writers checked out my blog and Smashwords profile to compare it to theirs.


I've been trying to engage other Twitter communities in my Follows, hoping they'll turn out to be readers who follow back and buy people's books. Indie musicians, artists, craftspeople, photographers, foodies. The odd social media specialist.... People different than myself, with different priorities, different lives, different obsessions. But wait, I'm anticipating Lesson #1, and I've got three others to discuss before that.

Have you also tried to attract followers from different circles than your own? How has it worked? And have you had success in using Twitter as a marketing tool?

Please feel free to let me know in your comments. And stay tuned:

Tomorrow: Lesson #4: Twitter Has A Lot of Research Potential

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Blood Passage is in the spotlight Today!

Blood Passage is being featured today on Kindle Mystery Authors, a blog that features "exciting mystery authors from around the world."

The Spotlight feature includes a five-star reader review and an excerpt from the story.

Links are included to Amazon's website where readers can purchase a copy for their Kindle.

Click on the link above and check out Blood Passage's moment in the spotlight!

Monday, 23 January 2012

The Fregoli Delusion, Progress Report #5

As promised, here's another update on the manuscript of the third novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, The Fregoli Delusion.

When I last checked in, I had just finished Chapter Six, which was a difficult one because the suspect pool was at its widest and I was trying to contain the scope of the story so that readers wouldn't get swamped.

I'm happy to say that I'm now halfway through Chapter Ten, and should (knock on wood!) be able to finish it tomorrow, which (knock on wood again) should be an uninterrupted writing day. Today having been a family-related day, as referred to in an earlier post. (By the way, when it comes to Alzheimer's, God has a lot of 'splainin' to do. Just saying. I look forward to hearing it down the road.)

Fregoli will have a subplot. Perhaps you think I'm insane. I understand, after having previously described the lengths to which I was going to contain the scope of the central murder investigation. However, the narrative arc of the series includes Hank Donaghue's relationship with Peter Mah and the local Triad brotherhood, introduced in Blood Passage, and after a brief vacation in Marcie's Murder (coming in April) Donaghue will find himself back in the mix in Chinatown, like it or not. This Chinatown subplot has been followed in the free short stories available from Smashwords, if you care to check them out. Now it will be picked up again in Fregoli. It will be front and center in book five of this series, which is still only a tiny little worm living in the back of my brain. But yeah, I have a plan!

So to get back on point, I should be able to wrap up Chapter Ten of Fregoli tomorrow. At the moment the word count is 26,400ish. At this point the manuscript may run a little long, but I'm not going to worry right now, hip-deep in the first draft. I'm telling a good story and I'm going to let it flow. Writing is writing, and revision is something else again. This book centers on Hank Donaghue himself, and there's a lot I haven't shown of Hank to this point in the series that I want to show here and now, in this story. This is the book that's going to get it out there.( The next one will be Karen's.) Yes, I have a plan!

I wish I could spend more hours writing Fregoli than I am, but I keep reminding myself that guys like Mofina and Forrest write on the bus and in airports. I've got it good in comparison, so no complaints. What matters is that the story is living in me and is coming out, chapter by chapter.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A Writer"s Methods: Reference Photos

In a recent interview featured on The Character Connection I mentioned that while designing the character Karen Stainer for Blood Passage, the first in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, I used a reference photo to help visualize the person I was creating. The photo helped to bring together all the various elements of the character into a round, three-dimensional fictional entity. As I said in the interview, when I saw the photo I understood who Karen Stainer was going to be.

Many other writers use this technique when developing characters, and celebrity actors often serve as models. It’s well known, for example, that John Grisham wrote The Pelican Brief with Julia Roberts in mind and that he visualized Paul Newman and Brad Pitt as his central characters while writing The Chamber. In his case he was obviously thinking ahead to the movie versions of his novels, but for some of us it’s merely a matter of having a useful visual reference point.

Reference photos are also very helpful for setting. Thriller writer John Mefford, author of  COMMITTED, recently posted a series of photos on his website that are intended to “provide a pictorial representation” of the locales featured in his novel. They include a curtain stirring in the window of a brick building, a fire escape behind a drab motel, and an old shed with a rusted tin roof. His photos help set the mood for his story and pique the interest of readers.

I’ve used Google Earth to explore neighborhoods and landscapes while visualizing the settings of my stories, particularly for places in Maryland and Virginia I haven’t yet been fortunate enough to visit. I use reference photos for other creative prompts as well. For example, when I’m writing a scene involving characters sitting in a particular type of car I’ll look for a photo of the interior to make sure I have the details correct. It would be embarrassing for Hank Donaghue to put his cup of coffee into a cup holder in Karen’s 1979 Firebird, for example, if it didn’t actually have cup holders.

I’ve also looked at photos of restaurant kitchens, hotel lobbies, elevator interiors, and other places before I write a scene if the image in my head needs a little tweaking while I’m mentally walking through it. This approach is similar to that of a graphic designer or illustrator who consults reference photos while researching a new illustration.

Do I do this with every scene I write? No, thank goodness. Most of the time I can imagine exactly where I am when I’m writing and I don’t need any assistance.

Do I want my readers to “see” these things, people and places the same way I see them? Absolutely not. I tend to minimize description whenever I can, in large part because I want readers to do much of the heavy lifting themselves. When they can visualize my story themselves in their own mind’s eye, I know I’ve successfully engaged them in the fiction-making process!

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Masquerade Crew is giving away copies of Dan DeWitt's novels.

Book Details

Title: Orpheus

Author: Dan DeWitt

Find him online:

Genre: Horror (Zombies)

Synopsis: Cameron Holt is fortunate enough to survive the initial outbreak that turns his New England island community into a hive of the undead. So is his son, Ethan. Now, the only thing keeping Holt going is the determination to rescue his son from the undead...or remove him permanently from their ranks. Unfortunately, zombies aren't the only thing getting in his way.


Orpheus received two five-star reviews from The Masquerade Crew.

An Interview With The Author—Dan DeWitt

What's your writing background?

Nothing too exciting. I have a Bachelor's degree in English, which means next to nothing when it comes to writing fiction. Still, I took a bunch of creative writing classes and really enjoyed them. Before that, I dabbled in short stories here and there, but wasn't ready to try and make a career out of it. I wrote one screenplay in 2001 that advanced to the second round at Austin (and I'm about ¼ of the way into its novelization). I've always been a voracious reader, and I got really serious after participating in NaNoWriMo in 2006. Since then, I've published a couple of short stories in e-zines and one non-fiction profile in a local magazine. But I'm really just a guy who loves to read fiction and tell a story from time to time.

To read more of this interview, click here.

Win a copy of Orpheus

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Fregoli Delusion, Progress Report #4

In an earlier post I pledged to keep followers of The Overnight Bestseller up to date on the progress of my new manuscript, The Fregoli Delusion, which is the third novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series. I thought it might be interesting for readers to track the ups and downs of the writing of a new book. It's been a week since the last update, so I guess I'm due.

Manuscript progress
Today I finished Chapter Six. This was a relief because the chapter was an absolute killer. Donaghue and Stainer are investigating the homicide of a billionaire who was the president and CEO of one of the largest corporations in the state of Maryland, and in every investigation there's a point early on where you have a maximum number of potential suspects and no hot candidates. Every interview seems to widen the field rather than narrow it. This was Chapter Six. One key witness was interviewed onstage and two others offstage, and the pool of suspects seems deep at this point. I had to write the chapter in such a way as to suggest the thoroughness of the investigation without drowning the reader in characters. It was slow, thoughtful, time-consuming work. From this point on the field begins to narrow, so we (writer and reader) are over the hump and with luck the next few chapters will write themselves more quickly. Knock on wood.

Looking Ahead
During the month of January I'll continue to provide you with periodic updates on the progress of the manuscript, but beginning in February I'll shift my focus to updates on Marcie's Murder, the second novel in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, which I'll be preparing for April publication. I want to make sure readers are ready for Marcie's Murder this spring and will be looking forward to the publication of Fregoli in the fall.

A Final Thought
Here you have a glimpse into the hectic life of an indie author. I'm busily publicizing the book that's currently on the shelves (Blood Passage) while prepping the next one (Marcie's Murder) as editor and publisher all while I'm writing the third one (The Fregoli Delusion). There are days when I feel like the guy who used to spin plates on the old Ed Sullivan show. But I wouldn't have it any other way!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Indie Music Note: Jan. 7, 2012: Little Tybee

Regular followers of this blog know that my posts include a series featuring indie musicians I happen to come across during my cyber-travels. In my previous post in this series I drew attention to a blog post written by indie author Karen de Lange, who described how she was inspired by a song recorded by independent musician Beck Goldsmith. Beck’s music was a revelation and I became an instant fan.

Today’s post is one I’ve been looking forward to writing for at least a week, and now finally have a chance to get it done. I’ve been concentrated a great deal of my marketing efforts for Blood Passage these days on Twitter, working hard to build up a following and to get the message out there that Donaghue and Stainer are the hottest new detective team in crime fiction. People will follow you, of course, if you follow them, and I’ve spent a fair bit of time trawling for interesting folks whose tweets look engaging and whose links lead to interesting blogs, online articles and the rest.

Recently I was followed by Paper Garden Records, an independent record label based in Brooklyn, NY. I peeked at their website, which looked good, and followed back. Not long afterwards I was followed by Little Tybee, an indie band from Atlanta, Georgia that records on the Paper Garden label. I did the same thing: I followed their links, played a bit of one of their video clips, and followed back.
I spent about another ten minutes on Twitter, looking for more good follows, when I suddenly realized that the tune playing over and over in my head was from the Little Tybee video I’d sampled. I’d been thinking about the video and humming the tune sotto voce without really being aware of it. I stopped what I was doing, went back to the link, and watched the video all the way through. You can find it on YouTube here.

Called “Boxcar Fair,” the video weds the musical talents of Little Tybee with the marionettes of artist Tom Haney. It runs 3:32 and was shot “in one take with no cuts or edits.” It is an utterly charming and captivating piece, and I immediately wanted to hear more. Still on YouTube, I selected “NERO, Live at The Goat Farm” and  5:13 later eagerly clicked on “Hearing Blue at Doppler Studios” which ran 5:38. I could go on, but I need to get to the point.

Actually, there are two points I want to emphasize. The first point is that Little Tybee is a terrific band with a sound I absolutely love. They describe themselves in their Twitter profile as “Progressive Folk with a classical undertone sunk in a Latin grooooove,” and I guess I’ll buy into that description with no problem, but it may undersell a little the remarkable nuances and textures carried in their music. Featuring Brock Scott (guitars/vocals), Josh Martin (8-string guitar), Nirvana Kelly (violin), Ryan Donald (bass), Pat Brooks (percussion) and other players, Little Tybee plays music I want to hear over and over again. Their albums are Building a Bomb (2009) and Humorous to Bees (2011). Their name will soon be on everyone’s lips.

The second point I want to make is that independent writers, musicians and artists seem to be particularly open to a crossover effect. Little Tybee’s  Brock Scott talks about his personal reactionto the work of Tom Haney:

I love using collaboration as a way to bring different artists and mediums together in creative ways … You could imagine how ecstatic I was to find that one of the most amazing kinetic sculptors I have ever seen lived just down the street! His name is Tom Haney.  Tom is an artist who creates beautiful automata vignettes depicting figures performing random and often beautifully mundane actions. The delicateness of the pieces mixed with Tom’s amazing craftsmanship and ingenuity creates a window into his intricate world.

When you watch the video and listen to the music, you begin to understand how different artistic media can cross-pollinate and influence each other. Which may also explain why, when I finished my break and went back to writing the next Donaghue and Stainer crime novel, I was humming a particular tune as I worked, and was feeling a little pumped up….

Friday, 6 January 2012

Interview Today at The Character Connection

The Character Connection is featuring an interview with me today in which I discuss Detective Karen Stainer, so click on the link and check it out. I'd love to see your comments afterwards, so come on back and let me know what you think.

Now I have to get back to work!

Have a great Friday, everyone.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Author Interview Tomorrow on The Character Connection

Followers of the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, be on the alert: I will be the subject of an author interview on the blog The Character Connection, a book blog "that explores the motivation and likeability of characters."

In particular I will focus on Karen Stainer in this interview, discussing what I like and dislike about her as a character and how I came to create her.

Don't miss it!

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Fregoli Delusion: Progress Report #3

I sincerely hope that everyone enjoyed a happy and safe holiday season. Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2012!

In keeping with my promise to update readers on the progress of The Fregoli Delusion, the third in the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel series, I should tell you that I spent less time at the keyboard the last few days than I'd wished, but just the same the manuscript has moved forward. I completed Chapter 5 as planned. I've moved on to Chapter 6, which is going to be a tougher nut to crack. For some reason, I had a little difficulty with this chapter when I was outlining it, perhaps because it has a level of technical detail, in terms of police procedure, that's slowing me down a bit. In the last two days I've only produced five pages, but within those five pages there is a fair bit of problem-solving related to the storyline, and I'm satisfied it's going in the right direction.

The two previous days, of course, were family-related days, since it was New Year's Day, and family always has first priority. Being away from the story slowed me down a bit and took me out of the early rhythm I'd developed, but the few hours I spent today bulling through a couple of pages will hopefully go a long way toward recapturing that rhythm. This is when writing is work. A book is such an up-and-down thing. The key is to remain determined. I will tell this story. Bear with me. It's coming.