Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Eve Ghost Story

Merry Christmas Eve! And to add a little spice to your evening, have a brand new ghost story:

'Til Dawn Comes

Merry Christmas, all. See you in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

This Writing Life 18 – Holi-Whats?

(Note: Wow did I lie to myself about how long it would take to finish editing True Magics. But it's done! And now, a blog post!)

It’s the time when income slows down to a trickle and expenses are blooming like dandelions in a Kentucky Bluegrass lawn in spring and you wonder how in the world you’re going to survive until January when everyone realizes that there’s a ton to do before year end and wonders who is going to write their annual report (hint: me) or whatever.

So as I sit here in my kitchen at 4:30 a.m., regretting my movie night snack choices over a cup of mint and ginger tea, I thought it would be a great time to talk about holidays. Or, as I like to think of them…

Selective Unemployment

Because let’s face it, if you’re freelancing, you don’t get vacation pay, you don’t get retirement pay, and you don’t get health insurance.  You get work, you get a pay cheque, and with a little luck you get by, at least for the first few years. Who has time for a holidays?

You do.

You Need a Holiday

If you’re a writer, your world can become very small. Mine consists of a kitchen and a computer, most days. Even if you love your job (and I really, really love my job), you need some time away from it.

Holidays allow us to see beyond ourselves. They refresh body and spirit, and expand horizons and let us see some of the world and our fellow humans. All of this feeds you creatively, recharges you and becomes grist for the mill.

The nice thing is that holidays don’t have to be expensive. You don’t always need to fly off to a foreign, exotic destination (pauses to imagine…. OK, back now). Going hiking or touring your own city’s tourist spots or visiting the relatives you like can all be just as nice.

But no matter how little or much you spend, holidays do mean taking a break from your routine, which means not earning money.

So Plan for It

The space between Christmas and New Year is a great time to sit down and say, “what do I want to do next year?”

I’m not talking namby-pamby “resolutions,” here.  Those are for people who don't want to commit.

I’m talking hard-core, project-management-style planning, with a white board and sticky notes and a spreadsheet and whatever other tools you need to get where you want to go.

Five steps:

  1. Figure out what you want to do and how much it’s going to cost
  2. Figure out what you need to spend to survive (food, shelter, bills, debts, taxes, retirement savings, education funds, insurance, whatever)
  3. Figure out the difference between the two.
  4. Develop a S.M.A.R.T.* plan to either:
    1. save the difference or 
    2. earn the difference.
  5. Commit to saving/earning that money and stick to it.

Yeah, I know that last one is the hard part. But it’s worth it.

Be Realistic

Sorry to be a downer here but yes, you need to put some realism in your planning. If your take home is only exceeding your expenses by few cents a day, now is not the time to drop $100,000 on a week on a private island.  Plan for something you can afford, or something you can reasonably work toward affording without selling organs or your children.

(Seriously, don’t sell your kids. I know it can be tempting sometimes but the market is down and you’ll never get back what they cost. Also, what sort of a bad person are you?)

That’s it until the New Year. Happy Holidays, whichever ones you celebrate, and I’ll blog at you again in January.

Next Time… I have no clue. So come back in January to find out!

*S.M.A.R.T.: Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-Specific

Monday, December 08, 2014

Blog Pause!

My Editor is giving me the side eye for True Magics, so I'll be taking the week off blogging to get that done and out.

Meanwhile, Have you bought Small Magics or Cold Magics? Because you'd hate to be behind when True Magics comes out in April.

Talk to you all next week!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Monday, December 01, 2014

This Writing Life 17: When is a Project Dead?

Sometimes we have pieces that just don’t work.  At all.  I’ve got at least a half-dozen short stories and one novel that will never, ever see the light of day.  Ever. But how do you know when you’ve gotten to that point?  How do you know when your labour of love/hate is dead as a Dickensian doornail and needs to be abandoned?

So let’s start with the obvious:

How Big is the Project?

If it’s a Haiku
And you’re not happy with it
Write another one.

Anything larger (and even that haiku) is worth a one last look.  And if it’s the novel you’ve been working on for the last year that you’re two-thirds of the way done but just can’t get to “the end” then it’s definitely worth trying to figure out what’s wrong with it before you toss it away.

So how do we do that?

Step Away From It

Sometimes, the best thing you need to do is to take time away from the project. Work on something else. Clean your apartment/house/whatever. Go for a seven-day hike in the bush. Whatever it is you do to put some time between yourself and a project, go do that. And when you are done that, come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

Figure Out Why It Isn’t Working

Sometimes, once you know why something isn’t working, you can fix it. With both Small Magics and Cold Magics (which you really should buy), I got badly stuck. So bad I didn’t think I could go on.  So I went back and read through each one and in both cases, figured out what I did wrong and managed to finish the book.

So go through your work and find out what’s wrong:

  • Is it a character thing?  
  • A plot thing?
  • Are you focusing too much on the theme at the expense of the story? 
  • Do you just absolutely and completely hate everything about the book and everyone in it?

Then ask yourself two questions:

  • Can I fix it?
  • Is it worth the effort?

Usually the answer is yes. Sometimes it’s no.  Both are all right, because they allow you to move on.

Let Someone Else Look at It

I don’t usually recommend this with unfinished work, but sometimes you just need an outside set of eyes to look it over and help you see the problems and get past them. If you do decide to do that, make sure of three things:

  1. The person you get to read it will be brutally honest with you.
  2. The person knows you only want them to help find what's wrong, not to help you write it.
  3. You can deal with it like an adult if they agree with you that it’s so bad it can’t be fixed.

As with Figuring out what's wrong, this may lead to a fix, it may not. Both results are good.

Let It Go

Cue Disney song here and no, I’m not linking to the video.

Seriously. You’ve taken time off, you’ve figured out what’s wrong, you’ve had friends try to help.  If, after doing that, you decide it can’t be fixed, or that you hate it too much to bother, then let it go. Move on to your next project with a lighter heart and a happy grin because you tried.

Two Notes:

If You’re Getting Paid for It, Finish It

If the contract is signed, you need to deliver, whether or not you end up working on stuff you don’t like/hate/despise with a holy passion. Finish it anyway. Because writers who don’t finish work they’re getting paid for are writers who quickly end up with no work to do.

That Said…

If you are ready to chuck in the towel on a paid project, you need to ask yourself some things first:
  • How much money will you lose?
  • What damage will it do to your relationship with the client?
  • What damage will it cause to your reputation?
  • Will you be sued for non-completion of the contract?

If the answers to those questions are something you can live with, quitting may be an option, but generally, if you are getting paid, the best thing to do is to finish.

Then, you can promise yourself to never work for that client/ on that type of project/for that little money again.

Next Time: But I don't WANT to read in public...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Marketing True Magics 15: 10,000 Twitter Followers! Now What?

I now have 10,000 twitter followers!  Joy! Excitement! Thrills!

Sort of…

Why 10,000?

Because it’s big shiny number and it looks impressive!

No, seriously.

I wrote here why I used follow-backs to gain followers. In short, it allows me to find people with similar interests and market to them. Cold blooded? Yes. Effective? Time will tell.

What Does Having 10,000 Followers Get Me?

1. ReTweeters!

If you talk about interesting things, people re-tweet you. Last week, I got 21.9K views of what I tweeted, and 177 link visits. Not bad at all. Because more views lead to…

2. More Followers!

 10,000 followers sufficiently large enough that anyone who sees one of my tweets or re-tweets and clicks on my profile might say, “Hey, this guy has a lot of followers. Maybe he’s interesting…” and read through some of my posts, which should (if I’m doing my job right) make them decide that yes, I am worth following, which then turns them into…

3. Potential Customers

I need people to buy my books so I can eat.  And every person who follows me on Twitter is a person who may buy my book. And in the end, that’s what this is all about.

What Having 10,000 Followers Doesn’t Get Me

1. Fans

Followers are not fans. Fans buy your books, read your stories, come see you when you are in town, and promote your work to other people. Followers follow you on Twitter.

The good news is you can convert followers into fans with work. Not all of them, but enough to make a difference which is why I don’t have…

2. Time to Relax

Must keep the information flowing.  Must keep the fun and exciting tweets going out. Must start the Christmas “Buy my Books” Campaign.  Must begin developing contests and twitter talks and other exciting things so people will keep paying attention.  But doing all that on Twitter does not give me…

3. An Excuse Not to Use Other Marketing 

Twitter is nice, and I started with it because it’s the easiest. But email lists work far, far better and that’s an area I haven’t even started figuring out yet. I still need to develop my Google+ presence, and my Facebook page for those who are already fans. Then there’s planning next year’s convention and promotion circuit to go with my new book (True Magics, out in April).  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

And speaking of that…

Next week: Marketing Plans 2: Why do I need all this background stuff?

Monday, November 17, 2014

This Writer’s Life 16: There’s no such thing as writer’s block (and how I deal with it)

I was hoping to make a joke about how I was trying to write about writer’s block and got writer’s block from attempting to write, and be all meta or something. (Is that meta? What is meta anyway? Is it meta to reference meta, or is it only meta when I reference myself referencing meta?)


The Myth of Writer’s Block

One day, you sit down (or stand at your standing desk) take out your pen and paper or open your laptop or take out your clay tablet and spike (I’m looking at you, writer of Gilgamesh) and you prepare to start writing but, horror of horror, nothing comes!  I can’t write! I have writer’s block! I’ll never write again!

Yeah. Right. Suck it up, Buttercup.

There is no such thing as writer’s block. It is a myth writers invented to give themselves an excuse not to work on their projects. (And won’t that statement make me popular, eh?)

The Brain Never Stops Working

Seriously, never. You are designed to have continuous brain function and to be continually observing, thinking and reacting.  Doesn’t matter how good you are at meditation, doesn’t matter how tired you are, doesn’t matter how much TV you’re watching. The brain is always going.

Which means you are always able to write.

If it’s not Writer’s Block, What is It?

It’s called being stuck and it happens. And the nice thing about being stuck is, whether is a car in the snow, a boot in the mud, or your story on a page, you can unstick yourself (and for those who want to argue about drowning in quicksand, that is not being stuck, that is being caught and yes, I am being overly pedantic).

Here are some of the tricks I use:

1. Start Writing Anyway

Seriously. WRITE. Write what your character is wearing. Write what room they are in. Write the weather for that day in the story. Write “ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY” a few dozen times (unless you and your family are alone in an isolated creepy hotel in the middle of winter in which case, better not). The very act of writing something can be enough to get your brain going and get you back on task.

2. Questions and Answers

Ask yourself questions about the project and write down the answers. How does the character feel about his/her mother?  Why is he in that room?  Why did you make her wear the red shoes with the green pants? What will the rain do to the fields? Doing this forces you to think about the characters, their world, their lives and relationships and helps you get into your project.

3. Do an Outline

I used to hate outlines. These days I rarely write without one because they act as signposts on the way to “the end” and get me there faster. Outline your story. If that’s too big, outline the chapter. If that’s too big, outline the scene.  Break it down into smaller and smaller pieces until you have something you can write. Then write it.

4. Edit

If I’m in mid-project and stuck, I go back 5 or ten pages and edit. I clean up the language; tighten up the character’s lines; improve the descriptions.  This forces me back into the world of the story, which can give me the boost I need so that when I get to that blank part of the page, I can keep on going.

5. Go Back and Read

When I get really badly stuck it’s usually because somewhere I’ve done something that makes it impossible to move the story forward. Maybe the demon was supposed to come to terms with its raccoon mother but I killed the kid already.  Maybe the matching pants and shoes will save the world but I made her wear red and green.  Maybe the rain was supposed to put out the small fire they were building but I wrote the driest summer ever and now there’s a grass fire.   Whatever it is, I’ve messed up the story. So I start reading from the beginning until I find the place where the story stops making sense. Then I fix it and get it moving forward again.

Need other Suggestions?

Hayden Trenholm (author, publisher, and all-round smart man) wrote a great post on Writer’s Block  that is well worth reading. There are also (according to Google) 13,570,000 other articles on the Internet about writer’s block.  Search through and you’ll find something that suits your process.

But no matter what, write.

Next Time: When is a project dead?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Marketing True Magics 14: What is a Marketing Plan?

(Also called "Building a Marketing Plan, part 1." I thought I should change the title to reflect what we’re talking about. I hear that helps people to know what they’re reading and, you know, find stuff on the internet.)


It’s Planning Time!

This is the fun part of the whole thing. Planning!  Figuring out every action you’re going to take for the next six months and justifying your reasons for every single one. Fun!

No, seriously. It’s fun.

I love planning. Planning is the thing that makes everything else work, and when each step of the plan works you get to do a little happy dance.

Of course, you need to be flexible in your planning because, no plan ever survives contact with reality intact. So you plan in flexibilities and contingencies and hope you’ve thought of everything.

Before I start waxing eloquent on all that (which will be over the next several posts), I thought I’d use this post to define what a marketing plan is and does:

Marketing Plan – Short Definition

A marketing plan is a detailed document that explains exactly what you will do to convince people to buy your products, and why you are doing it that way.

What a Marketing Plan Does

Forbes puts it like this:

“The right marketing plan identifies everything from 1) who your target customers are to 2) how you will reach them, to 3) how you will retain your customers so they repeatedly buy from you.”

Sounds simple enough, right?


Elements of a Marketing Plan

Unfortunately, the devil (and a lot of annoying perspiration) is in the details. And while Forbes definition is correct, there are a lot of things you need to do to get there.

Background: This section examines all elements of the environment in which a product is being sold, including:

  • Date of product release
  • Venues of sale
  • State of the market for product
  • Competition
  • Previous products
  • Success/failure of previous marketing efforts
  • Financial state of the organization
  • Resources available for marketing
  • Benefits of marketing the product for the organization

Marketing Objective: How much of what are you trying to sell by when? And yes, you need to have an end date. Otherwise it isn’t a plan, it’s a long, slow march towards obscurity.

Communications Objectives: What things do you want people to think, feel and do so they will buy your product?

Target Audiences: To whom are you selling your products? And which people do those people listen to who could help you sell your product?

Key Messages: What will you say to convince your target audiences to buy the product? What other messages can you use to support that message and who will you say them to?

Channels: What channels will you use to market your products? Note this is not where you are selling them, but where you are convincing people to buy them.

Communications Strategies, Tactics and Evaluations: This is the brass tacks stuff.

  • Strategy: What you will do to achieve your communication objectives
  • Tactics: How you will do it.
  • Evaluation: How will you measure success for each tactic and strategy.

Critical Success Factors: Without these nothing else will come together. Example: you are selling a book, but you don’t actually write it. Marketing campaign fail.

Tactical Map: This is where you get to play with spreadsheets! Look at all your tactics for all your strategies and figure out:

  • How are you going to do it?
  • When does it start, when does it end? (timeline)
  • Who is going to do it and who is going to support them?
  • How much you’re going to spend on it? (budget)

Next Steps: Assuming all this works out, then what do you do?

So just a little bit of work to do, right?

I’ll be continuing on about marketing plans in 2 weeks. But first...

Next week: 10,000 Twitter followers. Now What?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

This Writing Life 15: Getting Through The Bad Days


This article does not deal with mental health issues. Mental health issues are a whole other kettle of fish.  If you think you suffer from a mental health issue, the Health Information Page on the CAMH website has good information. Read it and visit your doctor.

If you are in crisis, if feel you want to kill or hurt yourself or someone else, please call 911, or your local emergency number.

I like you and want you to stick around. Get help.

That Being Said…

Everyone has days where things don’t get done and goals don’t get met. Where they stare at their computer/tool bench/blank canvas/empty notebook/whatever, and bemoan their art, their job, their family and their existence. I’ve had several of them recently, and they’re what inspired this post.

Fortunately, here at Erik Buchanan Writing and Communications, we have come up with an effective solution:

Suck It Up, Buttercup

Yeah. Seriously. Suck it up.

As soon as you finished reading this post and have out of sheer gratitude purchased my books, Small Magics and Cold Magics, get off your couch/chair/self-made cross and do something productive.

Anything productive.

It doesn’t have to be a big thing; it just has to be something. Because even the tiniest accomplishment makes the difference.

That last sentence is so important it’s worth repeating, rephrasing, expanding and putting in bold and italics:

When you are having a bad day, do something productive because even the smallest accomplishment makes a difference, and can motivate you to accomplish other things.

So suck it up, Buttercup, and go do something. And if you need help getting started, here’s a process:

Step 1: Make a list

Get something to write with and something to write on, and make a list of things that need doing.  Not things that you want to do, or things that you like to do, things that need doing.

Don’t number the list, because numbers give a false sense of priorities. Put little checkboxes beside each one.

Step 2: Do the simplest thing on your list

It may be taking out the trash. It may be deleting the spam in your email account. It may be putting on pants (no, seriously, it may well be that on a bad day).  Whatever the simplest, easiest thing to do is on your list do that.

Congratulations! You have accomplished something! Celebrate it! Pat yourself on the back and….

Step 3: Do the next simplest thing on your list

You can see where this is going, right?

Each task that you accomplish reinforces your perception of yourself as a person who gets things done.  Even if you only get one little thing done today, that means you know you’re capable of getting at least one thing done in a day.  Tomorrow, shoot for two.

But What if There’s Nothing Simple on My List?

Then you are thinking too big. Take the big tasks and break them down into small tasks. Example: Do the dishes.

Doing the dishes is not one action, it’s several actions:

  • Finish your coffee
  • Take the dirty dishes from the dining room (if you have one)
  • Take the dirty dishes from the bedroom (hey, don’t judge)
  • Pile the dishes on the counter
  • Take the dirty dishes out of the sink
  • Rinse out the sink.
  • Put in the plug
  • Fill the sink with water
  • Wash a glass
  • Repeat until all glasses are done
  • Wash a plate
  • Etc., etc., etc.

You may not manage to get all the dishes done, but each step brings you closer.

So suck it up, Buttercup, and get stuff done. Because you and I both know that you can. You just need to get started.

Next Week: Writer’s Block Doesn’t Exist And How I Overcome It

Monday, November 03, 2014

Marketing True Magics 13: How’s that Marketing Plan Going?

Uhhh… good. Really good. Yeah. Things are going great right now.  I have 8,972 Twitter followers.  No problem. Excellent. Amazing in fact…

Did I mention the 8,972 Twitter followers?

All right, I’m not where I want to be, which brings us to the real point of this post:

Staying on Track

The biggest danger of a marketing plan is that we think of it as set-it and forget-it, like a land mine. And like a land mine such thinking can blow up in our faces.

What have I done with my marketing plan?

  • Built my twitter following
  • Made desultory attempts to build my facebook page
  • Blogged a lot
  • Thought about how to re-jig the marketing plan to improve it

And that’s it. Because I have a plan, and once you’ve got the plan, that’s half the game, right?

Right. A half-won game is called a loss. What I want is a win.

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have one.  So having done that in as public a manner as possible, it’s time to start fixing it.

So, how do we do that?


A marketing plan isn’t like online dating. It’s a long-term relationship that needs to be nurtured, checked in on, and developed. Sometimes it needs to be chucked and started over, but that’s a different conversation.

I have not been checking in on the marketing plan. I’ve been faithful about building my twitter followers and keeping my feed fun and alive. I’ve been fairly faithful about blogging, but that’s about it. It’s the equivalent of doing the dishes once a week and saying you’ve done your share of the housework.

Avoid the “Tyranny of the Urgent”

(Not my phrase, and if you know whose it is, let me know so I can credit them properly.)

Remember that post on scheduling? Urgent/not urgent/important/not important? I’ve allowed my attention to get swallowed up by the urgent. Now some of that urgent is important:
  • Taking care of my child
  • Keeping my relationship with my girlfriend healthy
  • Earning money to pay the bills

But a lot of it is not:
  • Must finish that computer game
  • Must check twitter every 5 minutes
  • Must read the news compulsively
  • Must track friends on Facebook
  • Must find out what happens next on Protect the Boss (Korea does good drama, by the way).

None of that gets me any closer to the big goal of this marketing plan (selling more copies of True Magics) nor does it help me build a viable marketing platform to use for future book sales.  And looking closely at that first list of important and urgent things I’m doing, what do you not see?


My writing. Client writing is under “earning money to pay the bills” but just paying the bills isn’t the goal, is it?

The goal is to write my books/stories/screenplays/we series for a living, and if I am not writing, and if I’m not marketing, I’m not getting near my goal.

Well, that’s enough of that, folks.

Getting Back on Track

The first step is to get back on schedule overall, with the necessary changes to make it happen.  I revamped mine over the weekend. It includes:

  • Daily writing time
  • Daily marketing time
  • Daily client time
  • Family time
  • Internet/TV time (very limited)

Second step is to turn my anti-distraction software back on.  I use Antisocial, which I highly recommend if you have a Mac.

Third step is the hardest one: get to work. Because planning is one thing, but if you’re not doing, you’re not going anywhere. For my marketing plan, that means:

  • Get the marketing plan up on the calendar!
  • Set goals for each week based on the plan
  • Meet that week’s goals
  • Measuring the success of those goals
  • Set next week’s goals based on the plan and success of previous week’s goals

So back on track and let's get this plan going! And speaking of planning...

Next week: Building a Marketing Plan Part 1 (and yes, I should have talked about this earlier)

Monday, October 27, 2014

This Writing Life 14: Why I Hate Writing Groups (and why you might want to join one)

Many writers like writing groups. They find them helpful, useful, and companionable. They find people with common goals, common interests and a common desire to help each other succeed.

I don’t.

My Writing Group Experiences

The first writing group I joined was led by two psychiatrists big into literary fiction and poetry.  I was writing a screenplay about a Kung Fu student who has to fight of an army of invading demons. They critiqued it my half-finished draft and I never finished it.

Not a good fit.

My second writing group was with two dear friends.  Both are smart, both write well, both had projects they were working on.  Neither was trying to writer for a living, which is too bad, because what they wrote was good.

Our meetings became irregular.  People didn’t have the promised pieces when they were supposed to have them.  We didn’t get a chance to meet often and eventually it dissolved.

What Went Wrong?

First time?  I was young and not sure what I was looking for. I didn’t know what I wanted from a writing group, and how it was supposed to work.  I joined a group of people with different goals and expectations, and as a result felt out of place and that my work was being critiqued for what it wasn’t (literary fiction) instead of what it was (kung fu movie with mythic elements using both “realistic” and “fantasy” kung fu tropes as well as elements of horror to create a multi-dimensional adventure).

I really should finish writing that.

Second time, it was about commitment. All of us were building our careers, but mine was the only one that was a career in writing. The other two had other concerns. There was no set agenda, no dedication to the group, and so it faded away.

On the Other Hand

There are many writers who swear by writing groups, Julie Czerneda [], whose new book, A Play of Shadow [} launches next week, and Brandon Sanderson [ ] (best known for completing Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series and an excellent writer in his on right) among them.

These writers have found (or have helped to found) a group of like-minded individuals with the same level of dedication to craft and to getting the work done.

Should I Join a Writer’s Group?

I don’t know. Do you want to?

That’s Unhelpful

I don’t know what’s going through your head! Maybe you really just want a book club.  Maybe you’re desperately pining after someone who’s in a writing group and think that joining will help you build a relationship.  Maybe you’re a writer who likes quick, quality feedback and would thrive in a writing group environment. I don’t know your life.

But I do know a few things:

Don’t Waste Their Time

 A good writer’s group is about writing. They have rules and standards and requirements, and if you can’t meet them, don’t bother joining.  Just like you want to get something out of it, so do they. Respect it.  If you can’t keep up, drop out and spare them the embarrassment of kicking you out.

Don’t Waste Your Time

A writer’s group should be about helping each other grow and improve as writers.   Does the group critique members work and if so, how? Do they provide useful (specific, helpful, and honest) feedback or not (vague, unhelpful and don’t want to hurt your feelings). Do they meet regularly? Do they look down on the genre you write in?  Do they spend their time talking about their projects instead of giving you samples?  If any of the above are “yes”, they are probably a waste of your time.

Don’t Think a Writing Group Will Make You A Success

There are a lot of writers in writing groups who will never be published and never make a living at this.  That’s because there are a lot of writers who will never be published and never make a living at this. It’s a hard business.

…Or a Failure

Because Brandon Sanderson, Julie Czernada, and others. Because sometimes the best thing to improve your work is to have a group of people who care about it rip it to shreds. Because you may flourish as a writer when you have external deadlines and a group waiting for your work.

As For Me

I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, because so far it seems to be working.

Next Week: Getting Through The Bad Days, or Suck It Up, Buttercup

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Marketing True Magics 12: Why Facebook Rocks (no, really)

Some posts are harder to write than others and this was one of them.

I said last week, Facebook sucks for marketing, but that it was still worth it.  And then I spent a week struggling to figure out why.

Because, I was thinking about it wrong.

It’s like this:

Facebook’s Business Model is the High School Clique…

You don’t get to see what everyone’s doing. You get to see what the popular people are doing. And if you aren’t popular, well, you can use money to buy popularity (Yep. Still bitter about high school).

And Posts End Up Lost and Alone and Ignored…

It used to be that I could post to Facebook with exciting news about my books and expect a fair number of followers to see it and respond. These days, I get very excited message from Facebook explaining 8 people saw my post and wouldn’t I like to give Facebook money so more can see it?

So How Can I Promote on Facebook?

The answer is, you can’t.  Not effectively.  Not anymore. And that’s all right, because…

Facebook is Not for Promotions Anymore.

It took an hour of writing this post to reach this epiphany, folks, so listen up:

Facebook is for Fan Retention

People no longer find out about you on Facebook. People find out about you through other means and then go like you on Facebook. And someone who goes out of their way to like you is called a FAN. And fans are very, very good.

Fans like you and check your page regularly. They have notifications for your feed turned on. They are the ones most likely to buy your books, and so they deserve special treatment. Fans should see special content and get special insights and fresh gossip and a chance to speak to you.

So, here’s some ways to use Facebook as a Fan Retention tool:

Targeted Fan Events 

When you get an invite to an event, it makes you feel special. Now, most of the time you’re too busy to go, but at least you were invited, right?

With Facebook you can post an event (whether real or virtual), and invite people to it.  More important, though, is that you can target that invite to specific locations, so if you’re doing an reading in Elbow, Saskatchewan (yes, it’s a real place []) and you know you have a fan base there, you can target your fans from Elbow specifically in your event and send out a special invitation to for them to attend.


Like events, contests are now for fans.  They are a chance to reward the people who care about you and have a bit of fun doing it. Your fans get a chance to connect and to get something others don’t, like free books or autographs or posters or whatever it is you are giving away this week.

Remember: contests on Facebook cannot be used to do anything that will promote your product or yourself (Annoying, eh?). You can’t ask people to share a post, or share a page, or like your page.

However: You can to drive some traffic to your page and hopefully increase your number of fans, but you have to be careful. Use sentences like “Tell your friends about this contest so they can get a chance to win, too!” and “If you want to learn more about what Erik Buchanan is up to, please like this page and turn on Notifications so you can keep up to date on all contests, events and posts.”

What you can’t have are any sentences that imply a benefit to any person promoting your contest, because the only one allowed to benefit from promotions on Facebook is Facebook.


Q&A’s are events. You set up a public event saying “Ask Me Anything!” (or something similar) and invite all your existing fans to come to your page at a specific time and date and do just that.

When it is time for the event, in your “Ask Me Anything!” post to the top of your feed. People put their questions in the replies in the comments and then you reply to their replies.  It’s a great way for Fans to connect and learn more about you.

And, like a contest, you can ask those you’ve invited to invite their friends to come along.  Because it’s fun to meet a celebrity…

Hey, I can dream...

And who knows, those friends may become fans after they meet you.

Wait! How do I get non-fans to my Facebook Page?

Massive cross-platform promotions utilizing your website, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, blogs, Google+ and whatever else you've got.

Or, you know, give Facebook money.

Next Week: How’s that Marketing Plan Going?

Monday, October 20, 2014

This Writing Life 13: Finding Supportive People (because we need them)

(Lucky 13th post of This Writing Life! Yay!)

So, substitute job for “baby” and this pretty much sums up some days:

So how do you find supportive people when you’re a work at home type?


You are not the only writer/freelancer/consultant/whatever out there. There are a lot of us, and knowing where they hang out it a step closer to finding people who can become your colleagues and friends.


Online networks are a great place to meet folks in similar situations, get advice from those who have been in the business longer than you, get tips on jobs and warnings about scams. A good place to start is LinkedIn, but there are also forums and other professional groups out there, whatever your field is.

WARNING: Online networking can also be a massive time waster, because it is the Internet and that’s what it does. Schedule your time appropriately. Also, online networks won’t get you out of the house and away from your computer, which you need to do regularly and often.

Professional Associations

If you live in a major centre (and I do) chances are there is a branch of your professional association, and chances are they have regular meetings. Find out:

  • Who they are
  • Where they are
  • What they offer and 
  • How much they cost (because no professional association is free).
 If they look like a good fit for you, find out if they have introductory meetings or seminars so you can see what they have to offer.  It will cost  to join, but it can be worth it to know that you have a direct connection with people in your field.


Many associations have formal mentoring programs, which can be a great deal of help.  To have someone who knows your business and knows the struggles you are going through is a wonderful thing.

You can also ask a senior professional in your field to be your mentor, if you know one. Before you do this, set out guidelines as to what, exactly, that will mean in terms of time commitment, what your expectations are what your mentor should expect of you, as well as how often you should get together.

Type “professional mentoring programs” into Google to get some ideas or to find an existing program that could work for you.

Friends and Family

This gets tricky, because these folks care about you but may not support what you are doing. The key is to figure out which ones will lecture you about your life choices and not use them for support. Arrange to spend more time with those who support you. Go for coffee with your friends. Talk about your lives and your work and all that good stuff. It’s gets you out of the house and hey, coffee!

Building Your Own Network

Chances are not the only work-from home person  in your community, unless you live in one of these towns. So reach out, either through the local paper, local online business associations, or through notices at local businesses that support your work. Find folks in similar situations and set up an association, even if that just means a monthly meeting at the local watering hole.

And that’s it for lucky 13.

Next Week: Why I Hate Writers’ Groups and Why You Might Want to Join One

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Marketing True Magics 11: Time To Build My Facebook Followers or Why Facebook Sucks

It’s that time. I’ve got the twitter piece down to an art, if not a science, and it’s time to turn my attention to Facebook. And here is my confession: I don’t want to do it.

Frippin’ Facebook.

Facebook used to be THE place to be for free social media marketing. Bands, authors, artists and marketing companies built their fortunes on Facebook marketing. Then it all went bad.

Before we go on

This is my Facebook Page. Please like it. And tell your friends because, hey, why shouldn't your friends get to meet me, too?

What Went Wrong With Facebook?

Facebook is notorious for mucking about with it’s display feed, as it searches for the way to display information that will make them the most money.

Instead of seeing your friends who last posted and what they’re up to, for example, now you see a feed based on who’s posts are popular and whose aren’t, even if you set it to show “most recent posts.” It’s like Facebook decided that the high school model of “everyone wants to be like the cool kids” was a good one.  It isn’t. It sucks, especially if you’ve never been one of the cool kids.

No one really like the cool kids anyway, they just suck up to be popular and when high school is over those cool kids will be the losers sitting in their parents’ basements reminiscing about the good old days and wondering why they can’t find work because they were too busy being popular to study…

But I digress. And possibly project.

Pay to Show, Because Money

So the continuous change of the feed was bad enough, but then things got worse, especially for Pages. As of the Facebook going public, if I want more than 4% of my followers to see my Erik Buchanan Writer Page at any given time, I have to pay for the privilege. And the more followers I have, the more it’s going to cost.

Now, I can remind all my followers to hit the “Get Notifications” tab, but not everyone will do that, especially if they happen to see a friend say “hey, this guy is neat, like his page!” Which means that most of the people who are following me to hear my words of wisdom don’t have a clue what it is I am doing.

And even if you have hit the “Get Notifications” tab, it doesn’t mean you’ll see me, especially if you cousin Sadie releases her latest set of pictures of her Pug dressed up a Cersie Lannister in a dozen separate posts and she gets put at the top of your feed because everyone loves her pug pictures and she’s popular despite living in her parents basement and constantly talking about her cheerleader days fifteen year ago.

Sorry, still projecting… and how does she get that dog into that costume anyway?

Back to the Point

The reality for Facebook is that, like all other popular social media, there is a lot of noise. Check out this infographic to see what goes on there (and on other social media) in a day. It’s staggering.  So the problem here is the same problem with Twitter. How do you cut through the noise and get people to notice you.

And more important, is it worth the effort?

It Is

Because reasons, which I’ll talk about next week.

Next Week: Time To Build My Facebook Followers or Why Facebook Rocks

Monday, October 13, 2014

This Writing Life 12: Dealing with Nonbelievers

I make a living at this. Most of my earnings are through Ghostwriting and Communications (which reminds me, I have invoices to send out), but still, I make a living. It’s nice.

Lots of folks don’t make a living at this. For a long time I didn’t make a living. And many times, when I said I was trying to do this for a living, I got pushback:

“You won’t be able to take care of your child.”
“But writing is only a hobby.”
“You can’t make a living at this.”
“But what about insurance/benefits/retirement?”
“You already wrote a book. Why would you right a second one?”

What do you do with people like that?

Help me internet, you’re my only hope…

If you Google “how to deal with unsupportive people” the answers you will find are mostly variations “tell them to f*** off and cut them out of your life.”

Which is fine as far as it goes, unless it’s your family. Especially close family. Just saying.  Not that there’s a rather long story in there or anything.

So what to I do?

I use a six step process, and for the most part it works.  Sometimes you need variations on it, and sometimes you have to do other things, but for the most part, this works:

1. If you know they’re going to be negative, don’t bring it up.

Seriously. Don’t. I don’t care how well your book is doing, or that you just sold a short story or that Spielberg has optioned your screenplay.  Don’t talk about it.  Talk about puppies.  Everyone loves puppies.

2. If it’s already been brought up, change the subject.

Everyone loves talking about their hobbies, or their kids, or how smart they are. Get them talking about themselves and suddenly, that will no longer care about you.

3. Tell them to change the subject.

Really, some people won’t give up. So tell them to give up.  “You’ve made your point. Thanks. How is your fanaticism with the local sports franchise going?” “Let’s agree to disagree. How is your fanaticism with the local sports franchise going?” “Drop it already, will you, or I’ll talk about that time in high school where you did that hideously embarrassing thing. How is your fanaticism with the local sports franchise going?”

4. Leave.

Remove yourself from the situation. “Sorry, I have to go now.” “Oh, look, is that the time?” “Drat, I forgot to sacrifice to my evil gods, so I’d better go do that before they destroy the world. See ya!”

Or say, “I’m sorry you feel that way, and I hear what you are saying, but if you can’t drop this, I am going to have to leave.”

Note: That last one is an ultimatum. Don’t use it unless you are willing to go through with it, especially with family, because there’s going to be repercussions. Like your mom asking why you walked out of your cousin’s wedding/bar or bat mitzvah/birthday/funeral (don’t do that last one. It lacks class).

Also, never use any of these while trapped in a moving vehicle. If I have to explain why, you need to go do some thinking.

5. Decide what this relationship is worth to you and act accordingly.

You can’t just tell everyone to f*** off.  You may want to, and when I’m depressed, I come close, but the reality is that not everyone can be cut out of your life.

Co-workers must be tolerated, because you need to eat. Don’t talk to them about your dreams if they won’t be supportive. Just work there until you can say, “I got my million dollar advance and I am OUT OF HERE!!!”

Family must be tolerated to various levels because they are family, or because you share connections you can’t cut (like real estate, investments, or children). Maybe see them less often. Maybe develop a more distant, Facebook-based relationship.

In a worse case scenario put up with them because they have to be a part of your life and you don’t have a choice. Learn to tune them out and think about puppies while they talk. Then smile and nod.  It will irritate them, which is fun.

6. Cut them out of your life.

Yes, I have gone there. No, it is not happy-making. No, I didn’t tell them to f*** off, because someday you may need that bridge. Burning it is stupid.

Those are my words of wisdom, such as they are.

Next Week: Finding Supportive People (because we need them)

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Marketing True Magics 10 - Things I need to do on Twitter

At this point I can say that I’ve been pretty successful at generating followers on Twitter (7,042 as we speak). And I think I’ve done a fairly good job generating content that will enable me to keep followers interested, and hopefully turn them into fans who will then buy and help me sell my books.

Pity that’s not all twitter is about, or I’d have it made.

Twitter is about conversations; two-way communication in a public sphere that enables my fans to know me, love me and buy my books.  And doing that requires more than posting amazing pictures and science articles. Here’s my near-future wish list:

Twitter Party!

Because who doesn’t like a party? Especially one where your guests can’t drink all your booze and muddy up your furniture?

(Sorry, introvert tendencies showing).

But to be a marketer for a moment, a Twitter party is a chance to meet fans, make new fans, and build my brand so I can sell more books.

There’s lots of tips out there on how to hold a twitter party (like this one, this one, and this one), so I’m going to read through them and others and for the launch of my new book, True Magics, at the Ad Astra Sci-Fi Convention n Toronto in April 2015, I will also be holding a twitter party!

Here’s hoping it works!

Twitter Q & A

Like a twitter party but more informational. A twitter Q&A session allows my friends and fans to connect with me and to ask questions on a topic or topics. It gives them insight into my life and my process, and creates that human connection that allows me to sell them more books.

Yes, I am mercenary about this. Why do you ask?

Like Twitter parties, there’s lots and lots of articles on holding a Q&A, and they do look like fun, assuming people show up. So I guess I’d better hold one in the near future.

Look for a Q&A with Erik Buchanan coming to Twitter soon…


I like lists: to do lists, places I want to visit lists, grocery lists, book lists. So what’s my issue with twitter lists?

The major one is that I don’t really understand how they work. I know they are useful (according to articles here, here, and here) but every time I see them I think, “What? I have to spend more time managing my social media?”

At the same time, I would love to be able to look at a list of my favourite authors and see what they are tweeting, or one of other writers on twitter and see what they are up to, or one of Fantasy Football fans so I can curse them for using #Fantasy and thus confusing me when I’m looking for fantasy writers (curse you!).

The issue with lists is time and energy. I only have so much of each. And while having lists would make it easier to track the things I want to track, setting them up is going to take time, especially as I have to comb through 7,051 followers to do it.

(Yep, gained 9 followers in the time I wrote this piece).

So yes, I will be doing this but immediately, unless someone wants to be my unpaid, overworked intern who suffers being called “minion”…

Anyone…? Anyone…? Beuller?

So that’s it for this week.  I think I’m all Twitter-talked out for the moment, so…

Next week: Time to Start Building Facebook Followers!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

This Writing Life 11: Mental Health: Because your body is only half the battle.

And I’m back! Great weekend at Can-Con 2014! Good panels, good friends, good fun. Now back to the real word. This week (and only a week late): Mental Health.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional. If you think you suffer from a mental health issue, the Health Information Page on the CAMH website has good information. Read it and visit your doctor.

If you are in crisis, if feel you want to kill or hurt yourself or someone else, please call 911, or your local emergency number. 

I like you and want you to stick around. Get help.

Meanwhile, for me...

Mental Health Issues don’t always go into the clinical spectrum. Many people feel depressed, sad, lonely and stuck in their lives that are not actually mentally ill. I’m regularly one of them. These feelings can crop up even when things are going relatively well.

My Big Issue: Isolation

I spend a lot of time by myself by choice so I can work. Sometimes, it becomes too much of a good thing. Too much time alone can lead to strange behaviors, like nose-picking and thunder-belching (… I’ve heard) and unhealthy habits like not cleaning the house or showering or shaving regularly (… yeah, that happens).

It can also mess with your head.

For me, isolation, leads to loneliness, leads to ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation and excitement) and usually results in procrastination, exhaustion and the inability to focus when I am working.  It’s annoying as all get out (see how I managed not to swear there?). Fortunately, it can be fought:

Solutions (round 1): Exercise, sleep and sunshine

What helps your body also helps your mind:
  • Exercise: creates endorphins that make your body feel good. It also improves your muscles and breathing and posture, which also make you feel better about yourself.
  • Sleep: You need sleep. Sleep rebuilds your willpower and your sense of wellbeing. The more tired you are, the easier it is to slip into negative thinking which can lead to the problems above.
  • Sunshine: Sunshine on my shoulders makes you happy (two points for the musical reference).  Seriously. Vitamin D.  Getting outside, especially among nature and trees, helps restore your strength and clear your mind.

The Solutions (round 2): Get out of the house

Staring at the same 4 walls all the time can drive a person around the twist.  So take yourself out, preferably with company. Even if you are an introvert, you need to spend some time with other human beings.
  • Have coffee with a friend: Get outside, walk to the nearest coffee shop, and meet someone there.  Talking to a friend will help recharge your batteries and make you feel better, even if you’re a massive introvert. 
  • Have some fun: See a movie, shoot pool, swim in a pool, go for a hike, go for a bike ride, go for high tea, go visit your best friend, go play with a friend’s dogs. Whatever you think is fun, go do it.
  • Change your workplace: Take yourself to your local coffee shop and work there if you usually work at home. Studies show the background noise level at a coffee shop is actually conducive to creative work, so take advantage of it and be creative.
Remember a mind is a terrible thing to waste (and so is a mime, so be nice to them. Miming is hard!), and if you are using yours for a living, you need to keep it in good shape.

And now, back to work.

Next Week: Non-Believers And What To Do With Them

Friday, October 03, 2014

Off to Can-Con!

Hi folks!

The post about the things I don't know how to do on Twitter will be coming soon, but first, I'm off to Ottawa!

Why Ottawa, you ask?

CAN-CON 2014!

If you are in Ottawa, near Ottawa, or have ever wanted to visit Ottawa, come on out! The folks at Can-Con put on a good convention and it should be a lot of fun. I'll be on panels! IAnd I'll be doing a sneak preview reading from True Magics, the final book in my Magics Trilogy!

Here's my panel schedule:

Saturday 2 p.m.: The Engaging Author Reading – Techniques of the Stage for Writers: Hayden Trenholm, Marie Bilodeau, Erik Buchanan

Saturday, 4 p.m.: Advice on the Craft to Aspiring Writers: Jay Odjick, Julie Czerneda (m), Erik Buchanan, Mike Rimar

Saturday: 5 p.m.: Fantastic Weather Slapdown: Mark Robinson, Erik Buchanan, Julie Czerneda, David Nickle, Marie Bilodeau (m)

Sunday: 11 a.m.: Reading: Erik Buchanan, True Magics

Monday, September 29, 2014

This Writer's Life 10: Staying Healthy, Because Working Sick Sucks

I’ve been passing out in the afternoons. Not getting tired, passing out. I can’t focus, can’t keep my eyes open, and have to lie down for 20 minutes to restart my brain. Add that to days where I can’t work to save my life and lie on a couch in a malaise, and I thought that doing a post about staying healthy might be a wise thing.

I also went to my doctor and had a bunch of tests because passing out. Duh.

When you’re freelancing, you don’t have a company insurance plan, you sometimes can’t afford your own insurance, and when you get sick, you have no sick leave. I live in Canada where we have universal health care paid for through taxes, so that helps. If you live somewhere where you don’t have universal health care, you need to be doubly careful.

So how do you stay physically healthy? Four basic things:


Without sleep you can’t function properly.  I wrote Cold Magics on 5 hours of sleep a night for about 8 months, because the only time I had to write was between 10 p.m. and midnight. I gained weight, felt like crap and got sick a lot.

Humans need between at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Get sleep.


Junk food is one of my favourite things but it isn’t what your body needs to function well and stay healthy. Humans need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat and a whole bunch of trace elements to survive and thrive. Learn what they are, and learn how to cook food with them in it. It’s cheaper and healthier than restaurants. Also, yummy!

Note: Don't starve yourself. Your body needs approximately 2000 calories per day for women, 2200 a day for men. Anyone who tells you to eat 1200 calories a day is either misinformed or wants you to give them money for their diet plan.


Did you know the 8 glasses of water a day thing is a myth? Some marketing executive for a water bottling company pulled it out of thin air (or some other place) to get you to drink more bottled water.

That being said, you need to stay hydrated.  Dehydration leads to headaches, exhaustion, grumpiness and drinking all your kid’s apple juice and having to make up lies about what happened.

… I’ve heard.

Drink when you’re thirsty. If you’re worried about whether you’re hydrated or not, here’s a handy guide.


Yes, you need it.  Muscle exercises help you keep your posture when you’re sitting in your chair and help you lift those cartons of books. Cardiovascular exercises give you the breath to throw elevator pitches at fast-moving editors, and to run from your legions of screaming fans.

If you have a physical disability or disabilities, you will need to work within those limitations, of course, but still, get some exercise. Bike, run, walk, wheelchair race, lift heavy objects, go hiking, go swimming, do pushups, do something!

Having a healthy body also helps you have a healthier mind, which makes it easier to write more.


All writer-as-vampire jokes aside, get out into the sun every day if you can. Even 15-20 minutes outside does you a world of good.

Sunlight is good for you (vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin!) and more important, getting outside and staring at something other than the keyboard or notebook regenerates your mind and spirit, and you will better for it.

Bonus Tip: Wash Your Hands

I spend years doing corporate communications for a hospital. And one of the biggest messages that we sent out to people coming in was WASH YOUR HANDS!

Why you ask?

Right now, your nose is itching because unknown to you, you have Abyssinian Nose-Fall-Off plague (pre symptomatic but contagious). You’re going to scratch it. The germs will go on your hands. Your hand touches the bannister on your way down to the subway, or the counter at the coffee shop. Someone else’s hand touches the same spot. Then at some point, they touch their face.

One week later, everybody’s nose is falling off, and if you’d washed your hands after scratching your nose, the world wouldn’t be in this mess.

Here’s when and how.


Next week: Mental Health: Because your body is only half the battle.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Marketing True Magics 9: Twitter Ad Copy

Marketing True Magics 9: Twitter Ad Copy

So, last week was all about my “please be my follower” strategy on twitter (and if you aren’t my follower, I’m @erik_buchanan, and don’t you want to be my friend?). This week is all about getting folks to buy my book from twitter, and that means it's all about ad copy.

Ad copy is HARD.

It needs to be clean, concise, interesting and not irritating.  Remember the big three of marketing: think, feel, do? It all needs to be in there:

Good copy has:
1. Something to get your attention (Think: This sounds really interesting!)
2. Something to make you want the book (Feel: I want to know what happens!)
3. A way for you to buy the book (Do: I’m buying this book!)
And because this is Twitter, it has to be done in 140 characters. Ideally in 100 characters so other people can comment and re-tweet.

(Joke: Why isn’t George R.R. Martin on Twitter anymore?  He killed all 140 characters. HA!)

So how do we do it?

1. Getting your attention

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, so putting in the book cover is good (I have good covers). Also, pictures are more likely to get re-tweets. So I should either use my book covers or find cool photos related to the books and use them to get your attention.

2. Making you want more

I find my elevator pitches very useful here. The purpose of an elevator pitch is to make the person listening to it want to hear more. Observe:

Small Magics: A young man discovers magic in a world where no one believes in it anymore, except one person who is willing to kill to possess it all.

Cold Magics: A young magician must find a way to end a war before the church finds an excuse to hang him for witchcraft.

(Don’t you just want to go buy them both now?  You really should. The link is in the book titles)

Just like your elevator pitch, your ad copy should make folks interested enough to click through to decide if they want to buy the book.

The next step is to take my elevator pitches and shrink them to less than 100 characters. They have to be less than 100 characters because I also need:

3. A Way for You to Buy the Book

I need to link to to my publisher’s website or to Amazon, and since my publisher’s website is under construction right now, it’s going to be Amazon.

Remember: most book purchases are impulse buys. If the person reading my ad has the impulse to buy, I don’t want to make them wait.

How Often Should I Tweet?

Some authors send out twenty tweets a day about their books, most of them the same. I tend to tune them out and suspect you do, too. So how many tweets should I send out to get maximum effect with minimum irritation?

I had the good fortune to talk with Tee Morris [link] recently. He knows a great deal more about social media than I do, so I asked him what, in his opinion, was the maximum number of times a day one should advertise so as not to annoy one’s followers?

His answer? Three times a day. Enough to get attention and reach people at different times of the day, not so much as will drive them away.

That said, people don’t like seeing the same ad day in and day out. It becomes boring, so in addition to creating the ad above, I should probably create at least 4 others.

For each book.

And I should put them in a rotating schedule so my followers aren’t being bombarded by the same ads at the same time of day every time.

So Where Are They?

I’m working on it!

Really, I am!

Stop looking at me like that…

I am developing 10 twitter ads which will run in staggered rotation through the day and week so as not to bore or drive away followers. You’ll be seeing them soon and, if I do it right, the copy will be spread far and wide across the twitterverse, and all of you will buy my book and my publisher will do little happy dances in the street.

…Here’s hoping.

Next Week: Things I still need to learn about Twitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

This Writing Life 9: More Editing and Editors, or More Than Just Copy vs Substantive

(Sorry this one is a late. I was sick. I'll be blogging about health next week.)

Last week we talked about why you need an editor. And you do. Sometimes a publisher supplies the editor, sometimes you want a piece edited before it goes to the publisher, or to the agent you are trying to get.  If you are self-publishing you definitely need an editor. And if you don’t think you do, don’t self-publish, ever.  Seriously.

That said, different editors have different skillsets, and in order to know which editor is best for you, it’s best to know which skills editors offer.

The Editing Editors Do When They Edit

When writers think of editors, we tend to think about two types, Copyeditors and Substantive Editors. Some quick definitions, from of the Editors Association of Canada (EAC):
  • Copyediting: Editing for grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; checking for consistency of mechanics and internal consistency of facts; marking head levels and approximate placement of art; notifying designer of any unusual production requirements. May include Canadianizing; metrication; providing or changing system of citations; writing or editing captions and/or credit lines; writing running heads; listing permissions needed and/or obtaining them; providing or editing prelims, back matter, cover copy and/or CIP data. May also include negotiating changes with author.
  • Substantive Editing: Clarifying and/or reorganizing a manuscript for content and structure. Changes may be suggested to or drafted for the author. May include negotiating changes with author.
Now, that’s a fair amount of work, but there are a lot of other things that editors do knowing them will make it easier for you, the writer, when you go looking for an editor.

(Assuming you are a writer. Because if you’re not, why are you reading this?  Are you stalking me?  Are you analyzing me?  Are one of the alien monsters coming to take over this planet by entering the minds of its intelligentsia?!!!!)

(See what happens when you don’t use an editor?)

Here’s a list from the EAC of the different services editors can provide. I’m not going to give you the descriptions of each, because you can find them all right here.
  • Developmental / Project Editing
  • Substantive or Structural Editing
  • Stylistic Editing
  • Rewriting
  • Copy Editing
  • Picture Research
  • Fact Checking / Reference Checking
  • Indexing
  • Mark-Up / Coding
  • Proofreading
  • Mock-Up (Rough Paste-Up)
  • Production Editing
Now, obviously, not every job is in need of all of these skillsets.  But chances are you’re going to need at least some of those skills beyond copy and substantive

My next series is historical horror instead of fantasy. I need someone who can also do fact checking (did that major historical event really happen then?). Because it is aimed at a YA market, I also need someone who can do stylistic editing to make sure I’m writing at the corret reading level.

If you are a self-publishing something (which I may be doing in the near future…) you’re going to need more than that. Just looking at the list, I’m thinking someone who can do mark-up/coding, production editing, mock-up, proofreading…

It’s a lot, but by knowing what you need, you can budget for it and know what to look for in an editor.

But Can’t I Do It Myself?

Short stories? Yes. Novels? No, unless you want it to be bad. Self-published novel? Definitely not. Ever. Unless you want it to suck.

Every author edits their own work, but at for larger projects, you shouldn’t be the only one to do it, because you will miss something.

Case in point: One of my editors, Gabrielle Harbowy, is also a writer. Gabrielle is a professional. She knows her stuff. From her website:
“Gabrielle is an Affiliate member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She edits for publishers including Pyr Books, and is a staff proofreader for Lambda Literary. In addition to her independent editing work, she is also Managing Editor at Dragon Moon Press, where she oversees the submissions and editing processes. She has edited for aspiring and first-time authors, New York Times Bestsellers, and Hugo Award winners. Books she has acquired and/or edited have gone on to be finalists and winners of Bram Stoker awards, Parsecs, and ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year awards.”
Now for the $24,000 question (and if you get the reference, congratulations! You’re old!): Does Gabrielle do all her own editing?


Like any good writer, Gabrielle does edit her own work – substantive and copy and everything else. But, before Gabrielle’s also sends her major works to another editor (either her publisher's editor, or an editor she knows for work that doesn't yet have a publisher). This is because Gabrielle knows that, like every other writer, she is too close to see everything that needs changing.

From those one or two copy-edits that you missed the first time and now can’t see for the life of you to that bit where the guy you killed in the first part of the book is giving a speech in the second, you need someone an outside eye. You NEED an editor.

So How Do I Find an Editor?

Word of mouth is your best best for finding a good editor. Talk to other writers (preferably successful ones) and see if they have an editor they use outside their publisher, and if so, do they take other clients.  Then go research that editor (because Google is here for a reason) and find out if they have the skillset that you need.

How much will it cost me?


Yes, I know, I’m stunningly unhelpful sometimes.

Different editors charge different fees depending on their skillset, experience, and the level of work that’s involved in making your manuscript go from great (which I am sure it is now) to the THAT’S AMAZING!!!

And you want to be amazing, don’t you?

Next Week: Staying Healthy, Because Working Sick Sucks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Marketing True Magics 8: Wait a minute! What about Promoting Your Books on Twitter?

All right, you caught me. I haven’t been doing much marketing of my books on Twitter yet. Which begs the question: Why not?

The Marketing Process: Think, Feel, Do

Marketing has three steps: I need to get you thinking about my book, which will lead to you feeling something about my book, which will lead you to doing something (buying my book).

Example: my Twitter feed. (are you following @erik_buchanan? You should. I’m fascinating).  I follow people to try to get them to follow me back. Here’s what happens, how it goes right, and how it can go wrong:

Step 1. I follow a person. The person:

StepRight Result Wrong Result
Thinks Who is this guy? Who is this guy?
Feels I’m Curious. I’m Disturbed
DoesLook at my twitter feed/profile Blocks me

Step 2. On reading my profile, the person:

StepRight Result Wrong Result
Thinks He does a bunch of neat stuff He does stuff I don’t care about
Feels I’d like to learn more Bored
DoesFollows me Not follow me

Step 3. On receiving my direct message:

StepRight Result Wrong Result
Thinks Now I know the stuff he talks about Now I know the stuff he talks about
Feels That’s cool! Boring!
DoesReads my posts Unfollows

At the end of the process I have a new follower who is likely to read my posts. Three different steps just to do that much. And now I want to advertise to them?

Better make the ads good, hadn’t I?

Next Week: Writing Twitter Ad Copy

Monday, September 08, 2014

This Writing Life 8: Editing and Editors or Just Because It’s Done Doesn’t Mean It’s Done

(Note from Erik: My blog posts have been too long. Since I’m talking about editing this week, it seems like a good time to start shortening them)

Last week I talked about writers as Explorers or Engineers. I said that no matter which a writer was, when that writer finished their book, they were confident that what they have written was the best it could be. I also said they were wrong. Here’s why:

First drafts are never the best they can be.  Ever.

Some people say first drafts are always terrible. They are wrong. Some first drafts are terrible, some are OK, some are good, and some are great. All of them can still be improved.

And here’s the big secret: You can’t make your book the best it can be all by yourself.

You can improve it. You can fix typos and grammar and spelling. You can fix characters, change plot, remove inconsistencies, and correct timelines. But you still need set of outside eyes to look at it.

Too Close To Notice

When we write a novel, we are too close to see all the flaws. Maybe because it’s all in our heads, and therefore we see things on the paper that aren’t there. Or maybe we’ve looked at the work so many times we’ve stopped really seeing it.

Here’s some of my favourite mistakes:
Saying the same thing over again.
“You know how Sir Robert says [X] on page 243?” “Yes?” “He died on page 31.”
Writing the same word different ways, like Mill pond, Mill-pond and Millpond.
Saying the same thing over again.

And one that I didn’t do, but which is my personal favourite:
“Remember how you said, “Make every person count”?”
“You left out the “O”.”
 (Yes, it really happened)

When to Hire a Professional Editor

If your book has a publisher already (congratulations!) your publisher will supply you with an editor.  Otherwise, you should hire an editor when:

  • You’re getting ready to send it to an agent
  • You’re getting ready to send it to a publisher
  • When you are self-publishing (please, please, please!)
  • When you are stuck – you know the book could be better, but can’t figure out how, and neither can your first or beta readers. 

An Important Note

If your novel has been accepted for publication, the publisher should bring in an editor to work with you. If they do not, run screaming. Seriously.

If your publisher does not bring in an editor, it does not mean you are a perfect writer. It means that that publisher publishes unedited manuscripts, i.e.: crap.

What Stage in the Writing Process?

Everyone has his or her own process, so the answer is, “it depends.”

The amazing Tanya Huff, for example, is able to edit as she writes. By the time her first draft is done, it’s ready for her publisher to give it to their editors.

My books don’t go out to my publisher/editor until the fourth draft. Here’s the breakdown:

  • First draft: Yay! I’ve written it! Pour the whiskey! NO ONE SEES THE FIRST DRAFT!
  • Second draft: Fixes the messes I made and puts in all the things I left out of the first. This goes to my first reader (thanks, Katrina!)
  • Third draft: fixes the things I missed on the second draft and those that my first reader says are inconsistent/stupid/don’t work (this involves lots of fun arguing). This goes to my beta readers.
  • Fourth draft: Add in input from my beta readers, do another scan for typos, etc., and fixed anything that still bugs me. Off to my publisher/editor.

Next Week: More Editing and Editors, or More Than Just Copy vs Substantive

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Marketing True Magics 7: Twittering To The Masses, My Journey So Far

The delay on True Magics, final book in my Magics Trilogy, has given me extra time to build my social media presence and following, and take my time in planning out the rest of my marketing campaign. So far, my main focus has been on Twitter.

(Buy Small Magics and Cold Magics so you'll be ready when True Magics comes out and yes, I am getting the sales pitch out of the way early)

Why Twitter?

It’s the easiest to use and the fastest to build a following on. Twitter has lots of writers, readers, fantasy fans, horror fans, historical fiction fans, YA fans, etc., etc., etc.

And most important of all, it is very, very easy to be found and followed.

I’m still learning Twitter. There’s a lot about it I don’t know, and there’s a steep learning curve ahead as I work on turning my followers into my fans, but here’s what I’ve got so far.

Getting More Followers

I’ve gone from approximately 150 followers to 4,761 at the time of typing this. I expect to break 5,000 by the end of the week. And it’s all because I am, in fact, stunningly interesting.



Little love here, folks…

All right. It’s not because I’m stunningly interesting (though I do try). The truth is that if you’re not already famous (or notorious), rich or stunningly good looking, you aren’t going to be building followers at any great speed just by being present and tweeting regularly.

So I’m doing it differently.

After some research I decided to gain new followers as described in this article by C.S. Larkin. The gist of it is this: I follow people who are interested in the same things I am, and the ones that follow me back, I keep. The ones that don’t follow back, I unfollow, usually in 24 to 48 hours.

It sounds fairly heartless, doesn’t it?

I think of it like cold calling in sales. I follow someone. They look over my tweets and decide if they want me to follow back. When they do I send them a direct message. Once they read that, they decide if they want to keep me. If they don't, I unfollow them to make room for those who will.

A Word About that Direct Message

There is debate over direct messages in Twitter. They’re used for advertising and for spam, they’re impersonal (if you write them badly) and they can annoy people.

That said, a properly written direct message is a polite way to tell a new follower that you are glad to have them. Here’s mine:

Welcome! I tweet about writing, books, TV, movies, web series, science, stage combat, and stuff that’s just neat. Thanks for following!

No sales pitch. No requests for friends on Facebook. No requests to visit my website. No demand for retweets.

Of the 4500 followers I have gained in the last few months, I have had exactly one complaint. So I’d say it’s working just fine.

So How Do I Find Followers?

I use JustUnfollow to find people to follow because it allows me to search by hashtag or keyword (such as #amwriting #amreading #fantasy #scifi #horror #YA). It also allows me to find people who write similar things and follow their followers. That’s the one that works best for me so far.

But are they “good” followers?

Right now, my followers are made up of:
  • fans
  • people who think I’m interesting
  • people who think I might be interesting
  • people who automatically follow back anyone who follows them
  • The odd spam-bot (I'm working on wiping those out).  
Now, “good” followers (according to the social media gurus) will read what I tweet, ask me questions, retweet, and buy my books.

Another word for them is “fans.” And turning followers into fans is my job. If they aren't interested, they'll leave.


I try to live tweet at least tree times a day. I also use every week to gather together articles I like (see the list in my Direct Message) and Hootsuite to send out scheduled tweets with them. This way the account is always active.

The daily tweets are the hard ones because if I’m not careful they become a variation on “Sitting at #desk. #Amwriting.” Most of the articles I send out get at least 2 retweets. Some get many more, including some of these blog posts. Thanks, folks.

Retweeting and Favoriting

I do as much of this as I can, when I can. I favorite and retweet causes I support and statements I agree with, as well as articles, pictures or tweets that fall into the parameter of my welcome message, or that I find funny or interesting.

If you are advertising your book/play/web series/comic/event with exciting copy and I read it, I will probably re-tweet it (Put “#Retweet” “#RT” or best of all, “Please #Retweet” in your tweets to improve your retweet numbers). If you have boring or nonsensical copy, I will not. My follower’s time (and mine) is valuable. I’m not going to waste it.

I don’t retweet anything political or religious because my twitter feed is for selling books, not debating beliefs. I don’t retweet anything off-colour because of the demographics of my target audiences.

Final Note: Don't Be Creepy

This article went way longer than I expected, both in time to write and length, but I need to say one more thing.

Don’t be creepy.

One of the problems with JustUnfollow is that, if you follow as many as I do, you tend not to look at whom you follow. This can lead to political or religious connections you don’t want, people you don’t like, and some times, it can make you look creepy.

Case in point: My next series is a YA horror series aimed at young adults, with a possible middle grade audience as well. I thought about following Rick Riordan’s followers, figuring they would like what I write. Fortunately I looked them over first.

As would be expected for someone who writes middle-grade fiction, most of Rick Riordan's followers are minors.

I did not follow them.

As a rule, I try not to follow anyone under 18 years old. Because having a guy in his 40s following you when you’re a minor is creepy.

Don’t be creepy.

Next week: Wait a minute! What about Promoting Your Books on Twitter?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

This Writing Life 7: Outliners vs. Pantsers or The Many Ways to Write Stuff

There is big debate over which way is the best way to write a novel. This debate divides the writing community into two main camps: “Outliners” and “Seat of the Pantsers.” Outliners outline their books before they write them and Seat of the Pantsers don’t.

And I’m pretty sure the Outliners named the groups.

And if one of your big questions as a writer is, “should I outline or not?” read through to the end because that’s where I put my opinion on the matter. Before that, thought, I’m going to explain each type.

I’m also going to rename the two types Explorers and Engineers. Because, really, who wants to be a “pantser”?

Explorers and Engineers

Both the Explorer (Panster) and the Engineer (Outliner) have the same job. There is a mountain (the novel) in front of them and they need to make a path to the top (the end of the novel).  Nice metaphor, eh? And so original…

The Explorer’s Journey
Explorers will say, “Right, I have to go that way,” and start walking. They may find themselves with false starts, they may find themselves backtracking and they may find themselves wandering into completely different territory, but at the end, they will discover what is, for them, the best path up the mountain.

For the Explorer, writing is a very organic process. They most likely know the beginning middle and end (some don’t), but how they will get there is completely open to possibilities. They explore and learn about their characters as they write. They find the situations and scenes and moments as they go.  And while they may have false starts and false directions, the Explorer feels that, by the time they get to the top, they have found the best possible path up the mountain.

(They are wrong of course, but that’s the subject of next week’s blog.)

Some explorers: Stephen King, Meg Cabot (who wrote a great article about why) and Erik Buchanan.

The Engineer’s Journey

The Engineers will say, “Right, I have to go that way,” and start planning. They’ll survey the mountain, measure out the best distance and create blueprints, and then build a road that takes them to the top of the mountain.

For the Engineer, a lot of the creative process happens before they write the book. They figure out who the characters are, from their birthday to their favourite colour in some cases. They know what the story is going to be about, and they decide what actions, tensions, conflicts and resolutions will best serve the story.  Then they sit down and write.  They have fewer false starts because they already know where they are going.  They’re less likely to hit dead ends. And when they are finished, they are confident that they have built the best possible road to get up the mountain.

(They are wrong of course, but that’s the subject of next week’s blog.)

Some Engineers: John, Grisham, J.K. Rowling, and Erik Buchanan.

Wait. You’re In Both Lists

Oh, you noticed.

So Which Are You, an Explorer or an Engineer?

Both, of course.

I started out as pure explorer. I love the flow of the writing, and love the journey of discovering the book.  In the last few years, however, I have incorporated more and more of the Engineer’s path.

Why I went from Explorer to Engineer

Remember the only rule of writing: You Must Finish.  As an explorer, I was finishing, but I was hitting some pretty big dead ends in the process. For Small Magics, I had to re-write 200 pages of the book to fix it.  With Cold Magics, it was 250. Both dead ends took up a lot more time than I wanted, and when I moved to writing professionally, I realized it was time I didn’t have. Add to that, most Ghostwriting clients ask for an outline, and you see why I made the change.

So Which One’s Better?

Remember the First Rule of Writing: You Must Finish.

The one that is better is the one that allows you to most effectively follow the First Rule of Writing. Some people can’t outline because they feel it destroys their creativity and makes the story go away.  Some people feel they must outline because it guides their creativity and brings the story together.

For me, changing from Explorer to Engineer made sense. It allows me to work faster, which means writing more books.  Does it make my writing better? I don’t know. I think so, and when I figure out why I think so, I’ll write a blog post about it.

What I do know is that both ways work. Look at the names beside mine in each group. These writers write good books and make a good living doing it. So pick the method that works for you and do that.

Next Week: Editing and Editors or Just Because It’s Done, Doesn’t Mean It’s Done

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Marketing True Magics 6: Reaching Your Target Audience (without being creepy)

Last week we defined Target Audiences. That was the easy part.  In case you forget:

A writer’s target audience is the group of people most likely to buy that writer’s books.

This week we’re talking about the hard part: reachin your target audience. Because unlike the old days when I was that kid getting shouted at instead of the one shouting “get off my lawn!” there are lots and lots and lots of ways to reach an audience. Most of them are electronic, but not all, and not the most successful ones.

Social Media

Yay, Social Media!  I can reach people there because that’s not cluttered at all, right?

God, there are a lot of us.

But that’s why I chose the five social media that I chose: Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, Pinterest and Youtube in that order.  Each one of these allows people who are interested in you to follow you and see what it is you have to say.

So how do you get people to notice you? More important, how do you get the right people to notice you?

There are two answers. First, be engaging. Second, seek them out. To be engaging:

Have a full profile on any social media that you are on. Explain who you are and what you do in the most engaging way possible.  Put whatever you want them to be interested in first.  If you are a writer (like me), it should be the first thing people on your profile.  The rest of your profile should show what an interesting and well-rounded person you are, and make the people to whom you want to sell your books, want to follow you after they’ve read it.

Share stuff that is interesting to you. Talk about interesting subjects, post interesting pictures, put up interesting videos, share interesting articles. People who share your interests will follow you and those people are likely to become your target audience.  Talk about yourself in an interesting way, and in what you are selling in an interesting way, but not so often as to make them lose interest through repetition.

Share the things your followers find interesting. Repost the things your followers post, if you find them interesting. People who like what you like are good people; the sort of people who will buy your books.

(Speaking of which, have you bought Small Magics and Cold Magics yet? Because it isn’t a blog post without a sales pitch…).

Yes, all this a lot of work. Yes, it’s a time-suck. Yes, it takes away time you could be writing.  It also gives you a better chance of selling your writing, which is the point of this whole exercise.

I mentioned that the second way to get people to notice you is to seek them out. The way to do this requires far more space then I have here. So in the weeks ahead, I promise a separate blog post for each of the social media platforms I’m using, explaining my strategy to seek out followers for each one and how well it’s working so far. Meanwhile…


Good reviews help you reach your target audience. A review itself may not be enough to make a person buy your book on the spot, but the review puts the idea of your book in a person’s mind, and the more often that happens, the more likely they are to buy your book when they see it, whether that’s on Amazon, a book shelf, or a table at a convention (which I’ll talk about in a moment).

The issue is that most reviewers want a paper copy of your book, and that costs money. My publisher is a small press, and they can only afford to send out so many ARCs (Advance Reading Copies). I can also buy some and have the publisher send them out on my behalf, but that costs money too. So how do I pick which reviewers to send to?

Target professional/semi-professional reviewers who reach your target audience. If you write fantasy (like I do), target fantasy reviewers. If you write romance, target romance reviewers. If you write non-fiction about the erotic life of Kierkegaard as displayed through his philosophic essays… well, good luck.

Target reviewers who like the style of story that you write. There are few things more annoying to book sales than bad reviews, so try to avoid getting them when you can.  Look over a reviewers reviews of books similar to your before you send them a copy. If they don't like them, don't waste your money.

Target the reviewers above in order of the number of people who read their reviews. If you’re going to spend money, you want to reach the maximum number of people, so make sure the reviewers who are getting printed ARCs have enough readers that there’s a good chance to make up for the cost of the ARC in your sales.

Target reviewers who reach your target audience and are willing to take an electronic ARC. After you set it up, electronic copy is essentially free. Send as many as you can to as many reviewers as you think will be interested and will take it. Because these are essentially free, you can give them to reviewers with smaller audience bases.

Remember, the point of a review is to get the attention of people who might buy your book – your target audience.


You didn’t think you could sit at home the whole time, did you? Unless you’re writing stories for your kid(s) and family alone (which I have done), your target audience is not just sitting in your living room.

For me, the places are sci-fi conventions, book fairs, and book stores. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but there are a lot around and they are all over the place.

The question is, is it worth the money?

The answer is yes. And no.

Events aren’t going to be the places you build up huge audience. You won’t get massive sales there. If you’re lucky, you’ll break even.

What events will give you are fans. Real fans. Not just people who like you on twitter, but people who have met you, talked to you, listened to you, and actively liked you. These people are worth a dozen facebook followers and a hundred twitter followers because they’re the ones that are going to say to their friends, “I met him/her. He/she is a really nice person and writes such wonderful books.  You should definitely buy his/her book so that he/she can afford to write more!”

Fans are worth their weight in gold and need to be properly cultivated.  And the more of them you have, the more of them you’re going to get as they tell their friends, “hey, have you read this?”

One Last Thing: Don’t be Creepy

I’ll get into this more when I talk about each social media feed (especially Twitter), but I want to mention it here:

Don’t be creepy.

Don’t get in people’s faces, don’t ask personal questions, and don’t send out material that is racist, sexist or hate-filled.  This makes you a jerk, and very few people like following a jerk.

If part of your demographic is teenagers (and part of mine is) or children (not my demographic, but might be yours) NEVER send out material with explicit sexuality or explicitly violent images. Don’t make sexual jokes or sexual innuendoes, on line or in person, and always be on your best behavior at conventions and events.

As a writer, you are the chief spokesperson for your product.  Be the sort of person that even people who aren’t in your target audience will say, “They seem like good people.”

That’s it for this week.

Next week: Twittering To The Masses, My Journey So Far.

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