How Twitter Became a Haven For Writers

Everyone knows Twitter, that bastion of toxic bullshit that’s driven people off its platform in droves. We’ve all heard the stories about gangs of roving assholes that attack anything they don’t like and relentlessly gnaw at it like a burlap hood filled with hungry rats. Or how it gave a voice to extremists and white nationalists and idiots of all stripes.

While all of those stories are true to some extent or another, there is another side to the platform that Dorsey and crew would be wise to publicize: It’s become a haven for writers to share snippets of their work and interact in a world that’s not actively spying on them like, say, Facebook. Or, at least if it is, it’s not as overt as the clowns running Facebook.

When the Internet first started gaining ground, there were all sorts of wild rumors floating around about how terrible it was going to be for everyone from children to moral adults and everyone in between. There was porn! There was violence! It was a haven for all kinds of bad behavior and you couldn’t turn it on with getting hit in the face with titties! What people failed to realize was while all those things were there – except for getting hit in the face with titties, that’s hard to do over a monitor – they were things you had to seek out. You didn’t just turn on the Internet (whatever that meant) and see naked chicks doing thing that would make the Marquis DeSade blush.

In the early days, the Internet was a lot of Geocities pages about The Simpsons and pilfered Star Wars scripts. It was cheap ani-gifs, dial-up 14.4kbs access, cybersquatting, and chat rooms. Yes, there was porn and stupid shit, but it didn’t bring down the Republic and turn us all into Satanists. If you didn’t look for it – and searching was a dicey affair back in the late 90s – you wouldn’t find it. It wasn’t like you just opened Netscape Navigator and bam! titties in your face.

Twitter’s a lot like that. What you see is largely dependent on who you follow. Somewhere along the line, artists, writers, and other miscreants started flocking to the platform and creating little communities. This is the kind of thing that needs to be shouted about. Fuck the Nazis, screw the incels, take all those worthless hatemongers and toss ’em in the trash heap of history where they belong; this is our time now.

Sure, there’s a bunch of crap out there, but there’s also an amazingly supportive community of writers and artists and an opportunity to branch out and see what other people are up to. There are daily writing games that let you explore and expand your own skills. There are people you can bounce ideas off of and get honest responses.

If you want to start out, start with Steven Viner. He’s the guy that’s pushing the #writerscommunity. Meet people, follow people, retweet people. Explore and expand. It’s that simple.

From there, start checking out the daily games like #musemon, #martialmonday, #btr2sday, #tuestell, #1linewed, #talesnoir, #thurds, #thurspeak, #fictfri, #satsplat, #slapdashsat, #saidsun, #sunwip, #seducemesunday, and the ever popular #vss365. Don’t expect immediate fame and glory, that’s not what this is about, but it is a great opportunity to meet some cool people from the comfort of your couch.

And now, since I’ve been talking about titties in your face, I’d be remiss if I didn’t put up a pic of a nice pair of tits.

tits

By the way, you can follow me on Twitter here.

Got any other good places or people to follow? Drop ’em in the comments.

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Assholes: Where to Find and How to Deal With

I think by now it’s a given that Twitter has a huge segment of people who fall into the “asshole” category. There are a lot of people who revel in being jerks; it brings them some measure of joy to tear people down to the point that they take their ball and go home. When you have people leaving the platform because they can’t deal with the bullshit, you’ve got a problem. And not just people like me – I could leave and no one would care – but names who make national news when they leave.

Whether or not Twitter will ever address this is up for debate, but my guess says they’ll continue to ignore it and hope it goes away on its own.

Don’t get wrong, not everyone on Twitter is a flaming sack of crap. There are plenty of talented, decent, entertaining folks out there just doing what they do. I’ve found most of the writer communities have been chock full of great people, so maybe it’s just who you follow and what you seek out that determines your joy-joy level.

So far, I’ve been lucky to avoid most of the nonsense. Save one person who tried to start a fight about whether or not a black dragon was Dungeons and Dragons copyright violation (the dragon was black, as in the color, not the Black Dragon from D&D), I’ve been free of bullshit. Even that chick was probably having issues that day and deleted her tweets within a couple of hours.

Then, earlier this week, I stumbled across an odd tweet to me: “Your tongue should be cut out”. Naturally, given the nature of the authors I tend to pal around with, I assumed it might have been someone goofing. The account in question, though, was just some random schmuck from Oklahoma. It turns out he was at least partially serious; some tweet I posted had horribly offended him and rather than doing the rational thing and just blocking me and moving on with his life, he thought offering up some mutilation was a better option.

The tweet in question was, I admit, pretty profanity-laden. But in a world where politicians can spin whatever lies they want without repercussions, I feel saying “fuck” a few times is pretty tame. It was a tweet for one of the writing games I regularly play, #SunWIP. The games give you a theme and let you to write something to that theme or use something from whatever writing project you happen to be working on. In this case, I made something up on the fly for a theme of “regret”.

Honest disclosure: I actually like saying, “Fuckin’ A, bro.”

Most people liked it or at least found it mildly amusing. Do a little deep thought and you’ll find it’s really nothing more than a reinterpretation of “actions speak louder than words”, just with more fucks in it. I have plenty of fucks to give and I’m not shy about sharing them.

So, aside from the cursing, it’s a pretty innocuous tweet. I didn’t call anyone out, I didn’t directly attack anyone or anything, and I didn’t try to spread a bunch of lies to distract from an ongoing investigation into foreign interference in a recent campaign and election. Which made it all the more surprising to have someone tell me my tongue should be cut out, especially since I typed this with my hands, not my tongue.

Now, let me back up a sec and explain something. Cutting out tongues is nothing new; it’s been used for centuries (or longer) as a punishment for everything from blasphemy to just talking about things you shouldn’t be talking about to flat-out punishment for back talk. It’s a brutal thing to do to someone, the kind of torture you really only expect from ISIS extremists who don’t have handy access to a cage and some gasoline. And, let’s be fair here, advocating it is some pretty sick shit.

Still, while my first instinct when I found out this dude was serious was to tell him if he came at me with a knife and a pair of tongs it would be the last thing he ever did, that would have escalated things. And, to be honest, some jackoff sitting in his trailer in Oklahoma isn’t much of a physical threat to me here in New Mexico. So, I tried something different.

Image and name blacked out because reasons.

Amazingly, he backed off. We’ll still never likely see eye-to-eye about language, but at least it didn’t devolve to childish name-calling or empty threats about fucking each other up.

The takeaway from this, at least for me, was that the old adage about it being easier to avoid a fight than to win one rang true. I doubt I changed his viewpoint about anything and he didn’t change mine, but at least the exchange didn’t come to blows over the Internet. Everyone walked away safe. No harm, no foul.

This kind of thing is bound to keep happening, it’s just something you should expect as more and more people learn your name and realize that something you did is the absolute worst thing that’s ever happened. Yes, that tweet is going to bring down Western Democracy and it’s way, way worse that 9/11. Expect that people have no sense of perspective and you’ll be ready for the worst of it.

I love Cyanide and Happiness.

But I did find it interesting that he was going on about the children and what it means to be a man. I really wish people would stop dragging that tired old “won’t someone please thing of the children” crap into every argument about stuff they don’t like. Just say you don’t like it. If something offends you, it’s you that’s offended, not the children. Children dig cursing. Trust me, I was one.

As for what it means to be a man? Well, maybe this is just me, but if your first response to something you don’t like is to advocate mutilating the perpetrator, you might want to take a good, hard look in a mirror and evaluate yourself before you go off on someone else. Maybe the person you’re wicked pissed at is an asshole, but that doesn’t mean you need to be one, too.

That said…

To be fair, I’ve curtailed most of my yelling at other cars.

An Interesting Note About Twitter Writing Tags

When I was learning to program, I didn’t really get coding until I had to do it for a living. It’s all fine and good to understand how variables work or what LINQ does or how to stuff data into a database and get it back out later, but until I was given a task – write a program that will do this thing – I didn’t fully get coding. It was the act of being given a set of requirements and having to figure out how to convince a program to make those requirements work that taught me more than any class ever could.

The same thing happens with martial arts, or digging ditches, or writing blog posts. The theory is one thing, the actuality is something completely different. You can’t learn to dig ditches from a book, you learn to dig ditches by digging ditches. And if you want to get better at digging ditches, dig a lot of ditches.

martialshovels

Ditch digging martial arts. Yes, those are shovels. Trenching shovels have been used as weapons almost as long as they’ve been used as shovels.

It’s a common theme among writers that if you want to get better at writing, write a lot. Practice, after all, makes perfect. As long as the practice isn’t just further encoding bad habits like ending every sentence with “motherfucker”. Unless you’re Samuel L. Jackson, you don’t get to end sentences with “motherfucker” motherfucker.

Writing is supposed to be this free-form exercise of expression – and it is that to a certain extent – but it’s still nice to make some money doing it. To do that, you have to write things that people want to read. There are writers out there that refuse to sacrifice their artistic integrity to make a buck. It’s all fine and good to put on your black turtleneck, grab your ultra lightweight Mac laptop, and sit in a coffee shop all day writing wry observations about things, but if no one will read what you’ve written you’re just wasting time and turtlenecks.

That means writers need to be flexible enough to write things that people want to read, but clever enough to do it their own way. Because unless you’re Sean Penn, your book had better not suck if you want someone to read it. And sometimes that means you need to write something that doesn’t consist of wry observations or an awful lot of anxious alliteration, or , in my case, witty banter and explosions.

This is where breaking out comfort zones is a good thing and one great way to do that is to just do it. Just like with me and programming, sometimes you have to be given a task – write something – and not be able to write what you want about what you feel like writing about. There are writer’s groups out there that emphasize exactly this kind of task. Or you can go a different route and try playing some of the Twitter writing hashtag games. The writer’s group will give you better feedback, but you can play the Twitter games stone drunk in your underwear if you want.

The way all these games work – and you can usually just check Free Writing Events for up-to-date info – is there are daily hashtags that let you write something up and tag it for other people playing the game. Then everyone goes through and checks out the Tweets. Sometimes the themes are tricky to pull off creatively, sometimes they’re just fun. For instance, this morning’s #Thurstale theme was just “Favorite Line”, so Tweet out whatever your favorite line is. This is one of mine from 06/07/18.

#ThruLineThurs, on the other hand, had a distinct theme: Red Herring. There are a lot of ways that could be interpreted, so I decided to have a little fun with it:

Most of the games will have a theme that the Tweet should adhere to. Ideally, you’re supposed to pull a line or two from whatever book you’re working on, but that’s not strictly a requirement. #SlapDashSat is one of the few that’s completely theme-free.

As an added bonus, Twitter writing games are an excellent opportunity to gauge how well a particular line will be received. I’ve had a few lines that I thought were brilliant, but they just laid there like a bored hooker when they hit Twitter. On the other hand, a few throwaway lines like the one about Jennine above, did pretty well and this morose bit of dark humor did great (by my standards, anyway):

The point is, there are very good reasons to play these games. You might not win anything, but the chance to stretch your writing legs and test a few things out is priceless. Do yourself a favor and try ’em out. Let me know and I’ll even retweet you.

Book Review – The BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge by Rachel Thompson

I usually review fiction because that’s what I usually read, but I made a promise to myself to review everything I read and I aim to stick to that promise. Thus, Rachel Thompson’s book on book marketing is getting a gander today.

Now, I’ve been writing for almost five years now and I’m getting decent at it, but my marketing skills are, at best, lacking. Part of this is my natural trend toward laziness, but part of it’s linked directly to a lack of knowledge. Marketing is a Byzantine mass of indistinct corridors, dead ends, and people who would happily gut you for your last penny. Navigating it when you don’t know what you’re doing is almost like wandering aimlessly through big city alleys while yelling about the amount of cash you have in your wallet. It’s only a matter of time before someone offers to turn your lungs into hamburgers for the low, low price of your soul.

So, when I finished Henchmen back in ’13 and released it (far too hastily, as it turns out. It was riddled with errors), I was largely unsure of what to do next. I put up a single post on Facebook and watched my sales skyrocket to pretty much nada. I got various tidbits of advice from friends (set up a Goodreads page!, set up a Facebook Author page!), some of which worked, some of which tanked. In the end, it was Twitter and this blog that helped more than anything else.

The process of figuring that out took valuable time and far more effort than it should have. It was a perfect example of how you can wander around in the wilderness aimlessly until your Zen navigation allows you to stumble into what you need. Don’t get me wrong, my Zen navigation (you might not get where you want to go, but you’ll always wind up where you need to be) didn’t fail me, but a map that led straight to the cabin with all the Scooby Snacks would have been a hell of a lot more efficient.

Which means I picked up Rachel Thompson’s book about five years later than I should have.

And that’s what you’re getting with The BadRedhead Media 30-day Book Marketing Challenge: A map that not only defines the best routes to take, but the pitfalls to avoid. She manages to cover the nuances of Twitter, the importance of blogging, an introduction to SEO (A study unto itself), and all the little ins and outs of a world that is markedly different from writing fiction. And, to make it all better, she writes with a natural, easy-to-follow voice.

This is one of those books that’s best to read on a tablet. There’s a paperback version of it out, but the text is filled with links to cool websites, Twitter accounts, blog posts, and various other things. Reading it in paperback might make you look retro-cool, but reading it on a tablet will let you immediately explore the rich link ecosystem built into the book. And that’s something priceless in and of itself.

So, by the time I stumbled across this book, I was already somewhat aware of social media and how to manipulate it to suit my own twisted needs, but there were glaring holes in my knowledge. I wound up spending a bunch of time saying to myself, “Wait. We can do that?”

Just like martial artists practice the simple punch for decades (trust me, almost twenty years in and I’m still finding subtleties in punching), anyone who’s been marketing their own works for a while can always find something new when they look at it through different eyes. So, even if you’re experienced, drop a few bucks and grab a copy of The BadRedhead Media 30-day Book Marketing Challenge. It’s worth the money and the effort to go through the steps, even if it doesn’t take the full thirty days for you to get through it.

2017 Readers’ Favorite Silver Award Winner (Non-Fiction)!
5/5 STARS, Readers Favorite!
4/4 STARS, IndieReader!

THE SINGLE BEST TOOL every writer needs NOW to build, boost, and grow their author platform.

Unsure how to market your book or feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of author platform options out there (or not even sure what the term means)? Ever wish someone could break it down for you in simple steps? 

Then this is the book for you! 

Over the course of one month, Rachel provides you daily challenges containing a wealth of information, and easy to follow assignments to help energize your book sales. If you haven’t released your book yet, this book will help you set the stage necessary to build the strongest foundation possible for success. 

Topics include: 
* Twitter secrets 
* Facebook page must-do’s 
* Social media ideas you might not know or haven’t thought of 
* Promotion, giveaways, and other book marketing secrets 
* Website, blogging, and SEO tips designed just for authors 

All writers, bloggers, and small businesses can benefit can benefit from this guide.

“When it comes to social media marketing for authors, no one knows more than Rachel Thompson. She practices what she preaches and has helped dozens of our authors enjoy significant leaps in their social media standing.”

Steve Bennett, Founder & Creative Director, AuthorBytes 

“This book is an amazing compilation of data and resources that only someone with years of experience could pull together. As a book marketing specialist myself, I’m still blown away by the amazing content Rachel provides. If you’re writing or marketing a book, this is a MUST-HAVE. “

Alexa Bigwarfe, Author Coach & Owner of Kat Biggie Press Digital Media Co.

Buy this book right now and get started. Your only regret is that you waited so long!

I’m normally averse to saying I’m wrong about much of anything, but she’s right; I should have gotten this book earlier.

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out Rachel on Twitter and her associated BadRedHead Media Twitter

BadRedHead’s website

Rachel’s blog

BadRedhead Media’s Facebook page

Twittering

Keep going. Keep getting better.

Twitter catches a lot of crap for being the digital version of the Wild Wild West. While that may be partially true in a “not racists, but #1 with racists” kind of way, that doesn’t mean the whole shebang is a shit-show. And, to be fair to Twitter, they’ve nuked a bunch of White Supremacist groups. There are plenty of good reasons to explore Twitter and a lot of good things can be found there, too.

At the very least, you’ve got #caturday, so you can haz cheezburger if you’d like.

I’ve used Twitter for a variety of writing-related reasons, ranging from seeing what’s out there and dropping ads, to playing the writing prompt games.

A couple posts back, I wrote a post about the idea of getting better at things by doing them a lot. Like most of my posts, it was a rambling affair, full of magic and heroism that talked around the issue as much as engaging it. That post was partially a reaction to various people I’ve met who  worry about not being good enough at writing to write a book. To those people, I’ll reiterate: Yeah, you’re probably not, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just write the freaking thing even if you’re not an expert at writing. Do something often enough, look for a feedback loop, and, if you take the feedback into account, you’ll likely get better at it.

Don’t listen to him. Zoidberg hates everyone.

In other words, just start writing. The more you do it, the more natural it will become. Pay attention to criticisms, provided they’re not completely useless, and you’ll improve. Simple as that.

Now here’s something else to add. When I first started programming, I followed the directions in the book and things happened and I was happy. But, I didn’t really learn to program until I had to sit down and write an application that I didn’t get to choose and I didn’t have the book with handy-dandy directions to follow. It was just “write me a service that will listen for GPS data from trains, figure out where they are, and determine how far off schedule they are based on position and time.”

That’s when the rubber hit the road. Or the wheels hit the iron. Whatever.

The point being, I didn’t get good at it until I had to do something where I didn’t get to choose what the program was going to do. There was also a lot of feedback from the customer about what things were working, what weren’t, and how many things needed to be changed. In the end – such as it is – I wrote what they wanted and got a whole whack of new skills in the process.

Or, in my case, it was trying to figure out how to determine time on target when speed is a huge variable.

Which loops us back to Twitter. In the midst of all the cat pictures and ass-random presidential tweets, lies a pretty large group of authors swapping lines back and forth. Do a little digging and you’ll find people tagging tweets with things like #musemon, #2bittues, #1linewed, #thurds, #fictfri, #slapdashsat, and #sunwip. To the unitiated, those may sound like gobbledygook, cockamamie nonsense, or flat-out flumadiddle, but the tags have meaning to the authors that partake in them.

See, Twitter is a vast wasteland and it’s impossible to take in the whole of it, so it’s segmented by hashtags that create little sub-worlds withing the vast miasma of the whole of Twitterdom. Once you learn about those hashtags, you get the keys to the kingdom.

Most of these hashtags have rules. They’re not simple “write whatever you feel like and toss a tag on it” games. Each week, the person responsible for the tag determines a theme for the week. It could be thankful or half-full or angry or whatever. All except #slapdashsat, that’s always theme-free. So, each person that tweets and tags that tweet is expected to follow the theme. In a pure world, you’d find a line from whatever you’re writing that fits and use that. Sometimes, that line doesn’t exist, though, and that’s when the rubber hits the road.

Just like with programming, you can learn a lot from writing according to a spec, even if it is a one-word spec. So, whenever I don’t have a line that will fit, I write one that fits the tag and the book I’m working on. In case you’re wondering, most of those tweets will wind up in the book in some form or another.

This is what I’m working on, by the way.

Now, part of my morning ritual is going over the tweets from the one or two tag games per day I follow and putting up my own tweets. It’s been a great way to see if I can work a word or phrase into whatever I’m working on or sharing something I’d already used in a story. There’s something about being put on the spot that’s helped me craft a few zingers here and there and the process has improved my writing by making me think beyond just what I feel like doing.

Besides, remember that feedback loop that’s so important to getting better at a thing? In the Twitterverse, that feedback comes from likes, retweets, and the odd comment. Hashtag games have become a great way to test lines in front of a group of people I’ve never met and see what works and what doesn’t.

Feel like trying it out? Dig up the hashtag games for the day and post a few tweets. Who knows, maybe you’ll strike gold.

Leap Day Adapalooza – Twitter Ads

A couple months ago I put up a post on designing Twitter ads for writers. Hopefully a few people got something useful out of it, even if it was just a few ideas about things you can do. To celebrate Leap Day – which isn’t even a National Holiday, go figure – I figured I’d show off some of the ads I’ve come up with over the past couple months. If anyone’s interested in getting some ads done, please feel free to contact me.

For the most part the ads I’ve done have been created with open source software and licensed images. Always make sure to use licensed images; they’re not that expensive and, if you get good ones, can be reused in a variety of ways.

Software:

  • Inkscape (Free vector image editor. I use it for text work and layout)
  • GIMP (Free bitmap editor. I use it for editing and resizing images.
  • Canva (Free online ad creator. It’s a good piece of software, but I’m old school and stick to the flexibility of Inkscape and GIMP).
  • Photoshop and Illustrator are quite excellent programs, they’re just out of my price range.

Images

  • Dreamstime (Great selection, buy the five images for $40 pack and get the biggest images you can)
  • VectorStock (Excellent supply of vector images. $25 will get you around 25 images)
  • Free Stock Images (You’ll have to do some digging but there are some absolute gems in here)

You can scream about your book on Twitter all day long and may or may not get anyone to pay attention. One thing that has been proven time and again, though, is tweets with images get noticed and retweeted far more often than just plain text tweets. Text tweets disappear in the chaos of Twitter, but a good image can help draw the eye. Once you got the eye, it’s up to the ad itself to keep the person looking – and hopefully clicking on the link to buy your book. Therefore, the ad has to be eye-catching, but there also has to be something in the ad that makes the reader want to learn more. That thing can be the ad itself, bits of snippets from the book in question, or any number of things. I trend toward using snippets and quotes from the actual book, but not all the time. Sometimes a straightforward image and simple copy can accomplish miraculous things.

There’s a bit of an art (that I admittedly am not spectacular at) to picking the quotes to stick in an ad. You’ve got limited space: 1024 x 512 pixels and the text has to be big enough to see easily. Ideally, ad text should be quick and easy to digest. Twitter is like drinking from a fire hose and unless the image is grabby enough no one will take a second note of it. Once they do, you’ve got mere seconds to get your point across, so the quotes can’t be complicated and need to divulge enough information to warrant a second look. If you can get a click out of it, you’re doing pretty good.

Some people prefer to stick to the same ad images and content, and that’s okay. I prefer to shake it up so the content doesn’t get stale. In advertising terms I’m probably not making the best of my “brand”, but in Twitter terms I know if I see the same thing over and over again, I’ll just scroll by it on subsequent viewings. They become just more noise.

So, here are some of the ads I’ve pulled together over the past couple months along with some notes about where the images came from and what I was trying to do with them. As an added bonus, there’s some extra content about the books here, too. Think of it as the director’s cut. At the very least, hopefully someone will get some ideas out these.

AriseAd1

One of the most recent Arise ads, and still one of my favorites. The image was vertical and had to be faded into the blue on the left using a masking layer in GIMP. The base image is from Dreamstime.

AriseAgentAd1

A simple Arise ad. Image from Dreamstime. Not one of my favorites, but I do like the boldness of it. I should probably redo this one.

AriseComicAd1

One of the newest (as of this posting) Arise ads. I spent some time digging around Vectorstock and found some amazing vectors by Sababa66. A lot of those have been incorporated into the recent Henchmen and Arise ads.

AriseJessicaAd2Final

The text works, but just barely. I do like the intense stare she’s got, though. I always thought of Jessica as an intense young woman, capable of incredible highs and lows. The image was from Dreamstime and, once again, required some masking layers in GIMP to get it to fit the horizontal template.

AriseJessicaComicAd1

Again with Jessica. She really came into her own with Arise. This comes from one of my favorite exchanges in Arise: Jessica’s hand touches my shoulder and she says, “If someone comes up, drop and I’ll open with Painless here.” “Painless?” “Yeah, that’s what Jesse Ventura named his gun in Predator.” “You named your gun?” I ask. “Sure, you guys name your dicks all the time, why can’t a girl name her gun?” “Mighty Thor and I take offense at that statement,” I respond. Painless, of course, is was Jesse Ventura called his minigun in Predator.

AriseJessicaRed

Not one of my favorites. I grabbed the image from Dreamstime for some damned reason or another and it doesn’t entirely fit, but I do like the red.

AriseJessicasBarAd1

What can I say? I love the fact that she had a bar in Mexico. I also like the Dia de los Muertos image. I’m not sure about the background color, though. The image is from Vectorstock and I’ll probably redesign something else with it.

ClockManCocoTwitter

The text is from Duérmete Niño, one of the stories in The Clock Man. The title comes from a classic bedtime song that tells kids to go to sleep or else Coco (the bogeyman of northern New Mexico) will come eat them. Working with the various stories in The Clock Man gave me a lot of room to draw on different designs for the various stories. The image is Francisco Goya’s Que Viene el Coco. I love the text and the conversation, but the image doesn’t work quite as well as it could.

ClockManDevilGirl

For some reason I really liked the idea that Jack (a character from Zona Peligrosa in The Clock Man) would fall in love with a literal devil girl. In case you’re wondering, she’s the SallyAnne from my story Loophole in the Holes anthology. At some point I need to work out a longer story with those two. This is one of those where I’m hoping the image is grabby enough to get someone to take a couple seconds reading the text. I played around with the fonts a lot in this one, going back and forth between Jack’s bombastic style and Zapp’s plain typewriter text, as well as highlighting “sexy” and “devil” with different fonts and colors.

ClockManDragonAd

The Clock Man (the story not the whole collection) started as a simple short story and ballooned rapidly as I explored Aluna. Felix Crow is a dick, but he’s got his heart in kind of the right place. Traditionally, dragons are wise creatures or holy terrors, but I was exploring the idea that the dragons of Aluna were very alien things; most of the people on Aluna know of them, but very few have met one. The dragon section was a fun little bit to write. I’m still plotting out a full-length novel of Aluna with Chan, Kevin, and Felix. Of course, the dragon will be there, too.

ClockManEveAd2

I’ve had at least a few people ask about what Eve is and what her back story was. It’s covered in Eve, one of the Clock Man stories. Some people have said it wasn’t as exciting as they were expecting, but from tiny misdeeds mighty Valkyries grow. It was a fun story to write. I had to do a lot of research on Norse mythology in general and Valkyries in particular. Plus, Eve gets to stab Odin, so it has that going for it. The text very much sums up why Eve does what she does. The story goes on to further explain how this one Valkyrie wound up on her own long before the events of Henchmen.

CLockManHeartAd1

The Clock Man story was a kind of stylized neo-wuxia, detective noir story with magic and horror thrown in. I love martial arts and exploring how the Clock Man would fight was interesting. I spent a huge amount of time on that story just looking up the Chinese I used in the text. I tried to go with a kind of Steampunk style. even though the story really isn’t Steampunk, it’s the closest analog to Aluna’s magic-powered world and the Clock Man himself is definitely a grotesque variation on Steampunk.

ClockManHorrorsAd

The horror aspects of The Clock Man show up pretty near the end. I wanted to explore what would happen to someone who goes completely off the rails and starts throwing his humanity to the breeze. What would a guy like that do? Probably nothing good. This particular ad has gotten noticed a couple times and a few people have even mentioned they stopped to read it. That alone makes it a win. Even as cluttered as the text is, the narrow font and simple use of color make it pretty easy on the eyes.

ClockManHuizhongAd

Huizhong was a part antagonist, part love interest, part unwitting pawn in a game that was much larger than she thought. She’s one of the characters I want to bring back in an Aluna novel. I like the image, it captures her pretty well even if I do need to work on her hair (it’s gray with a pink wash in the story), but the text design needs some more work.

ClockManHuntAd

Wilford Saxton was originally intended to be a disposable character in Henchmen, but I found he was more interesting than I had expected. As soon as he got the gun at the end of Arise it changed his dynamic entirely. The first story in his spin-off series is The Hunt from The Clock Man, it’ll be followed up a few weeks with Saxton: Uneasy Allies. The text is from a conversation between Wil and his gun. The image is a reference to the bruja in the story.

ClockManLegendaryFelixCrow

Felix spends a lot of time getting pushed around in The Clock Man. The colors are great and I like the text for Alyssa’s quote, but something isn’t working for me. I think the font is just too fussy to be read clearly and the excerpt doesn’t convey enough information about the story. The image is from Dreamstime, by the way.

ClockManLingerieAd

I think this one freaked a few people out. It’s a reference to a section in Zona Peligrosa where the Guardian tries to seduce Zapp. The whole feel of the house in the nowhere was influenced by some of the events in Exceeds Expectations, and the Guardian (Alunan, naturally) was intended to trip up intruders by appealing to their baser instincts. There are a couple sections in the story that prove the tactic has worked in the past.

ClockManMonsterHuntAd

This is a subtle reference to the way Wil Saxton isn’t as innocent as he likes to think he is. The Saxton series will explore his motivations and his changing perspective on what makes a monster. The ad itself was intended to be a simple, bold shot, but the Clock Man logo doesn’t work well with it. This was later repurposed for the Saxton series.

CLockManSkull

Trying to pull up the horror aspects of The Clock Man. Image from Vectorstock. I’m actually thinking about redoing the cover with this image. This one is in the rework bin right now. I like the basics of it, but it doesn’t pop, damn it. It just lays there like a bored hooker.

ClockManSPTwitter

A later image and logo design for The Clock Man. I’ve also toyed with using this for the cover. This one is a straight up ad and was done before I started using bits of dialog in the ad pieces. In some ways it works pretty well, but in others not so much. I think the Chinese text on the left needs to be faded, and The Clock Man logo needs to be pop out more.

ClockManZappShoot

The background image was from a free stock image site that escapes me right now. It fit with some of the retro aspects of Zona Peligrosa (like Jack’s 1936 Cord 812 or the old Indian motorcyle). The statue also reminds me of one of the tchotchkes you could always find in the old gas stations along Route 66 (now Interstate 40).

ClockManZonaIndian

I think I only used this once. It’s not my favorite. In some ways the image is perfect for Zona Peligrosa, but there’s simply too much going on for anything to stand out. It’s a perfect example an ad that’s too busy to be of any use. Learn from mistakes, my young padawan.

HenchmenComicAd1

The first Henchmen ad with Sababa66’s graphics. The book has a comic-book feel (super villain and all) and the artwork was perfect. I ultimately redid the covers for both Henchmen and Arise (the text work, too), with the new graphics.

HenchmenComicAd2

Her eyes were blue in the original artwork, but I changed them to gray to reflect Eve’s eyes. It doesn’t say much about the book, but it is eye-catching. Unfortunately, the image took up too much of the usable space to add a snippet from the book.

HenchmenDoTheWrongThing

I still like this one. It’s got an action movie feel going for it. Again, it doesn’t say much about the story, but hopefully it caught someone’s eye. At some point in the future, I’d like to see this or something like it hanging with the rest of the coming soon posters at the theater.

HenchmenGroupAd2

One of the last ads done with photos from Dreamstime (for now, anyway). I’m still not happy with the text. The image is great, but the rest just doesn’t work as well as I’d like. I may need to experiment with the text.

HenchmenJacobTwitter

I like the Henchmen logo on this one and the picture kind of reminds me of my dad.

HenchmenJessicaComicAd1

No text from the book, but “in your face entertainment” sums up Henchmen pretty well.

HenchmenJessicaTwitterAd

I really like how this turned out and I’ve used it quite a bit. I’ve always seen Jessica as kind of crazy and the image captures her pretty well. This one has gotten noticed and even commented on a time or two; that makes it a win.

HenchmenRain

Another one I really liked. Even though I never mention rain in Henchmen, the image fits really well. The simple text pops nicely, too. This has been noticed a time or two on Twitter. I think it’s the simplicity of it all and the bold text that make it stand out.

HenchmenTwitterAd1

As you can gather, I’ve been trying to get something good out of this picture but it keeps eluding me. Sigh.

Saxton1

First promo piece for the Saxton series. Yes, I used the same image earlier. See what I mean about good artwork?

Twitterizimization, Twitterizing Adimification. Twitter Ads.

Back in the day I aspired to be a graphic designer. I’m not overly great at it, but I always wanted to do it. I suspect being a designer is much like everything else – better on paper than in the real world. So I became a programmer instead and now I spend my days parasailing with movie stars and lounging on beaches. It’s a rough life, let me tell you.

hackgibson

Programming is exactly as awesome as this, only I’m usually surrounded by supermodels.

But there’s always that itch, that strange desire to create something visual that claws at the back of my head. It’s a feeling that simply writing doesn’t quiet so I create random things like book covers and twitter ads. P.S., if you need a cover designed drop me a line; I work cheap.

The combination of programming and some design background has given me access to a bunch of tools and the understanding that images have certain sizes that are expected from the applications that display them. Facebook cover photos are supposed to be 851 x 315 px. Shared FB posts render out at 504 x a variable number and the recommended strategy is to upload a 1200×1200 px pic. Twitter banners should be 1500 x 500 px. WordPress header images are variant depending on the theme you’re using. Tumblr banners have some size recommendations, too.

So when I set up my Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and WordPress sites, I followed the instructions and used images that would fit where they were supposed to go. I’m a little less rigid with my Facebook posts because they’re usually just random things or text string and everything works like it should. When I started putting up Twitter posts about my books I followed the same philosophy and wound up with things like this.

It looks okay here, but it’s cut off in a feed so you only see a portion of the whole image.

shocked

The problem was I stopped thinking like a programmer or a designer and started thinking like a lunatic. A little thinking and a little research and I actually managed to make a few Tweeted images that didn’t look like ass. Things like this, which look much better and can easily be viewed directly from a feed.

The trick was to get the sizes right. Shared images in Twitter (think things like your book covers and ads and stuff) are rendered at 590×295. That’s a 2:1 ratio. Twitter has an algorithm that decides how to handle images that are above that scale. That algorithm examines portions of the image and attempts to determine the important parts and scales the total width based on the important parts it finds. While this is an impressive bit of coding it’s not always going to render things the way you want them rendered. The solution: understand the image size limitations and work within the confines. Rather than pushing up an image that 1563×2500 (Amazon’s recommended book cover size), I pushed up an image that was 181×290. Small, to be sure, but good enough for Jazz and government work.

Book covers are only a part of the equation, though. An ad for a book gives you a bit more flexibility than just a simple 140 characters and some hashtags. They allow you to spend more time on things like dialog or extra explanations. This comes in really handy on a book like … well, anything I’ve written. For instance, look at The Clock Man images above and they don’t tell you an awful lot about the stories. They give a basic indication of the primary story, but there’s a lot more going on in the back ground and the cover doesn’t really describe the text. That’s why I came up with this guy:

I like to think the dragon itself (himself) is eye-catching and the text (pulled straight from the story) gives a hint of what lies inside.

That ad was done in my best friend, Inkscape. The dragon image came from Dreamstime and the text came from The Clock Man. The image was resized in GIMP and the whole piece was all assembled in Inkscape, then fed back into GIMP for some cleanups like getting the sizing right. The sizing was the key. Twitter images are rendered out at 590×295, so I designed the image at 1024×512 and then let Twitter’s algorithm shrink it all down to size. The result worked.

WOOO!

WOOO!

But let’s say you don’t have all the time in the world, don’t want to learn GIMP and Inkscape, and generally just need to knock a few things out quickly. Well, that’s where a little place called Canva comes in. It’s a free site that has pre-built templates for most social media and enough flexibility that you can make something that looks pretty good without killing yourself figuring out GIMP and Inkscape. Canva isn’t quite as flexible as GIMP and Inkscape, but it cane make some pretty slick looking ads with a minimal amount of effort.

As an example: here’s an ad I was working on today for The Clock Man. Aside from the very obvious fact that sex sells, the image actually does have a purpose, but you’ll have to read Zona Peligrosa to figure out what it is. Just to experiment, I first created the ad in my usual combination of Inkscape and GIMP and then tried to recreate it in Canva. The results are below:

ClockManLingerieAd

Created in Inkscape. Main image from Dreamstime: ID 22789426 © Alenavlad

 

ClockManCanvaBlackLingerie

The Canva version

The two images look pretty similar which means you can get a lot of quality design out of Canva for not a lot of effort. I like that. There are a couple caveats, though: the smoke rings and Clock Man logo were done in Inkscape and uploaded to Canva, so some of the image elements were pre-created. Canva has a ton of prebuilt images you can use, but if you want something special you’re going to have to create it yourself. Personally, I prefer the text work I can do in Inkscape; Canva doesn’t seem to have the ability to modify leading, kerning, and tracking. This isn’t surprising and isn’t really a show stopper. You can can get leading effects easily in Canva by using multiple body text elements and scrunching them around.

So which one did I go with? The Inkscape one, but that’s just because I had a specific font I wanted to work with and I had already done the layout in Inkscape.

But you’ve got to admit, Canva’s a hell of an awesome chunk of code. It’s fast, friendly, and easy-to-use. It has pre-built template sizes that are a breeze to work with and a very minimal learning curve. The kicker, though, no matter which program you use is to get the sizes right. If the ad comes out at a non-standard resolution it’s going to look wonky in the feed.

So, here’s the ad posted to Twitter.

If you want to learn more about the various image sizes, you can’t go wrong with a little research. Fortunately, someone’s already done the heavy lifting for you. Social Media Design Cheat Sheet