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

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