Monthly Archives: January 2014

Wittgenstein & Book Marketing

wittgenstein3Ludwig Wittgenstein

My propositions serve as elucidations in this way: he who understands me eventually recognises them as nonsensical, when he has used them – as steps – to climb up over them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must overcome these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Writers, perhaps this should be our writerly goal for 2014: to use our words as if they were hammers, chisels, pitching tools, as well as primary material (clay, wood, marble, etc.), to build temporary verbal edifices that lead our readers to new perspectives, new insights, to a glimpse of the nature, and importance of, silence itself. That, of course, was Wittgenstein’s last injunction, Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Silence. To have your reader end in that state. That would be something.

* * *

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Of course to lead our readers to silence (a stunned silence at that!) we must first find them. And that is no easy feat to do in the social media echo chamber.

At first glance, one would think that the larger one’s following (on Twitter, Facebook, etc.) the better positioned one is to find the elusive reader. The presumption is that someone out there must surely be paying attention to my verbal blitzkreigs and, impressed by my pithy tweets, scintillating quotes, and bargain price (99 cents), buy my book. If only it were so easy.

Dan Blank, founder of  We Grow Media, notes that “…most people, whether it’s a brand or an individual, do very little research to really understand their audience. They like it to be as broad as possible instead of narrowing it down. So I always ask authors, “who’s your audience?” and I get these vague answers back…And it really illustrates to me that they haven’t done the research to find out who specifically their audience is.”

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The problem, of course, is one of intention – more precisely, how can you measure someone’s intention to read a work based solely on their use of language (and a multi-faceted, multi-intended language at that)? Think of the difference between the intention (and reception) of a tweet and  a Facebook post. The former encourages a a carney-like atmosphere where everyone is a literary barker; the latter, on the other hand, discourages overt commercialization, a delicious irony of sorts.

* * *

For those of you unfamiliar with Ludwig Wittgenstein, he was, I believe, the only philosopher who was ever responsible for creating, or at least shaping, two different schools of philosophical thought: the Logical-Positivist and the Language School of Philosophy.

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Wittgenstein’s life is the stuff of legend: born into a rich, turn-of-the-century Vienese family; three brothers committed suicide; one brother, Paul, lost his arm in World War I and went on to become famous for his one-arm compositions for piano; stints at Cambridge where he shocked the English with his genius, his teutonic disposition, and his depression; bisexuality; self-imposed exiles to Norway and Ireland where he pondered epistemological problems while walking the coasts; and early death from prostate cancer. Many novels have been written about Wittgenstein and Derek Jarman has done a film. The novelist Frank Tallis does a fine job of depicting the heady atmosphere of early twentieth-century Vienna, should you want  a fictional account of the time.

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Wittgenstein’s later work, his work on the nature of language, consists of a series of questions, experiments, sorties that often ended up in a linguistic maze — without a thread to rescue him. What, he asked, are the rules of language? How can we mean what we mean? How does someone understand our intended meaning? Is language similar to a game? Are there many “games” within the language game?

* * *

What we find interesting for our purposes, which is to help writers find their readers, is his concept of family resemblances. This is the idea that “things” thought to be connected by one idea (“one essence”) are, rather, connected by similarities and traits, such as one might find in a family (you and your sister have similar noses and chins, but different eyes).

In his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein analyzes games in a number of very famous propositions. Here is a sampling:

And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; we can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

…And the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and criss-crossing: sometimes overall similarities. I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than “family resemblances“; for the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way. – And I shall say: “games” form a family.

And, we might add, books form a family — as do readers. Some are close, like a brother, sister, mother, father; some are distant relatives. Our job is to ferret out the “overlapping” and “criss-crossing” between the language used to describe “a work” and that used by one’s potential readers. This enables us to construct a “proximal-distal” model, one that measures resemblance to a specific work from closest to most distant. In the process, we are able to make some educated guesses about whether someone is “predisposed” or has a higher degree of probability of reading your work.

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This is fundamentally different from what Amazon, for example, does with its recommendation engine. Amazon recommends books based on the buying patterns of its customers. This is a great service, one we use all the time, but what we are interested in doing is finding, not books, but readers — your readers. And the way we are doing it is by looking at the language they use on the social web. Game on!

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At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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What Are We Working On? The User Experience

birds4The User Experience is everything…

Our Challenge: Design a user interface that balances ease-of-use with features that deliver high value very quickly.

Our Focus: The design team is developing a user interface to support the beta system functionality coming this spring.  The beta system will locate potential audience members based on a few simple inputs by FindMyAudience users.

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In our design work, we are striving for ease-of-use throughout, offering intelligent suggestions during the book profile process and allowing multiple visualizations of the audience using dynamic filters and sorting tools.  We are big fans of iterative design, and even bigger fans of simple interfaces, and we have found that the more times we cycle through a set of design concepts we inevitably find more things we can leave out or de-emphasize, at least for the first version of the tool.  (As writers ourselves, we apparently can’t seem to forget the old saw about “killing our darlings” — advice from Faulkner, of course, with due credit to Arthur Quiller-Couch, who originally expressed the sentiment using the term “murder your darlings.”)  In any case, our designers are hard at work, guided by a spirit of economy and simplicity that we trust will result in an immediately rewarding user experience.

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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Need A Writing Coach? Our Choice Is Lauren Sapala

Lauren 1Lauren Sapala

You’ve been coaching writers for years but made this a full-time business about 8 months ago. How has it been going?
It’s been really fantastic so far. I was a bit nervous because I have traditionally coached people in person, and I was worried that I might lose something of that personal connection if I worked with writers via email or Skype. But that actually hasn’t been the case at all. In fact, I’ve noticed that writers who are more on the introverted side have been seeking me out and I think it’s precisely because the option is now open to them to do things over email. I’m an introvert myself (although because I have very strong people skills I’m often mistaken for an extrovert) so it’s been really wonderful taking on more introverted clients.

Writers seem to be like athletes – they come to you in different shapes and with different talents. How do you customize your coaching based on that?
My first rule for coaching writers is: You are where you are right now, and that is exactly where you are supposed to be. Almost every writer who comes to me is focused on the future. They want to finish their novels, get published, gain more confidence, etc. That sort of drive is excellent when it comes to goal-setting, but it’s essential to accept yourself as an artist in this moment. Maybe you haven’t finished your novel yet, but you’ve shown the stamina to get those few rough chapters down. Maybe you haven’t even started your story, but you’ve got the creative brain churning out ideas. By constantly bringing the artist’s awareness back to the present and the positive as touchstones, I can help writers train themselves in resilience and solid self-esteem.

How do you conduct your writing groups? Do you set goals for the groups?
The writing groups I lead meet and write silently together for one hour. I don’t set concrete goals at the beginning of that hour because it’s not about meeting a certain word count or hitting manuscript milestones. However, I do conduct my groups with an emotional intention. My goal is to trust the writers who show up to write. I trust them to be present and do the work. I also put trust in their hopes for themselves and their dreams of a successful writing life. And the writers who show up respond to that trust almost immediately. Struggling writers are usually struggling with whether or not they have “the right” to call themselves a writer. My function is to really see their creative essence, and to recognize them as writers, along with giving them a time and place where they will be welcomed and encouraged to continue creating.

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You have a great blog. It’s chock full of wonderful advice! How do you determine what you write – do you map out where you want your reader to go, or is it more spontaneous?
It’s totally spontaneous. I either write about about something that I’m currently challenged on, or an idea I’ve come across in something I’m reading that sparks my creative flame. I read a lot of fiction, and also a lot of material on human consciousness, psychology and personalities, and seekers throughout history. I don’t map out where I want my reader to go, but I do craft the emotional tone of each post on my blog to open up the heart. When the heart is open it’s much easier for writers to come away from my blog feeling like they can express themselves with true honesty, which is really the key to brilliant writing.

Dostoevsky has had a great impact on your work. Who do you see as the modern Dostoevsky?
Roberto Bolano is my modern Dostoyevsky. I read his 2666 this past year and it changed the way I thought about my own writing, and what is possible in writing. I really don’t even have the words to describe what an incredible writer he was.

What was the most notable book you’ve read this year?
Prisoner of Love by Jean Genet was a book that completely blew me away this year. It’s a memoir of sorts, about Genet’s time spent in the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan in the 1970s and his time spent with the Black Panthers in the States. It’s a phenomenal recording of the instability of time and the unreliability of memory.

Do you write fiction every day?
I don’t. I actually write once a week. I’ve tried to push myself harder in the past and it just doesn’t work. I’m a very slow writer, in fact. I think of myself as this big sponge walking around, collecting all sorts of stuff and soaking up the world, and then once a week I wring myself out on the page and see what floats to the surface.

How do you set the stage for your writing practice (by editing, pacing, chewing fingernails, etc.)?
I treat it the same way as balancing my checkbook. I just sit down and make myself do it. There’s nothing romantic about it for me, it’s pure work. Work that I’m very grateful for and that I love after the fact, but work all the same. It’s like doing sit-ups. I’m not having so much fun when I’m in the middle of it, but I’m willing to put in the time to get the results.

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You are based in San Francisco. How does “place” affect your writing practice?
When I moved here ten years ago I felt like I had finally come home. San Francisco is filled with eccentrics, artists, weirdos and people who just want to walk around in the streets naked. It’s also filled with ambition, innovation, and business mavericks. I love all of these things. I had been searching for a mix of exactly these things all of my life. Every picture I use on my blog is a picture I took just walking around the city, looking at stuff. I walk around San Francisco a lot and I can never get enough of it.

Do you have any writing goals for this year?
My goal is to finish the novel I’m currently working on and start another. That’s my goal every year and I do usually hit it.

How do people get in touch with you? What are your fees? Do you just work with novelists, or also with screenwriters, non-fiction writers, poets, etc.?
People usually contact me through my website, although I am also extremely active on Twitter. I work with all types of writers, but if I don’t think it’s going to be great fit, I usually know someone I can recommend for what they’re looking for. Fees vary widely. It really depends on what the writer needs and wants. Some writers are only looking for help editing a finished manuscript, while others really want to dig in and work on themselves as part of the process. I do a free consultation to determine what would be most helpful and the scope of the work.

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At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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By |January 4th, 2014|Interviews|0 Comments

The Writer’s DashBoard: Perfecting The Algorithm

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Great software is powered by intelligent algorithms…

Our Challenge:  Perfect the algorithm that locates a writer’s potential audience.

Our Focus:  When we refer to our “algorithm” we are really talking about a set of rules that determines relevance between existing social content and the creative works that writers are hoping to build awareness around.  We’ve been working on this set of rules for quite a while and we’ll continue to improve it over time.   We have learned a few important lessons so far.  Not surprisingly, defining strong family resemblances between a new work and existing works will be key in qualifying a potential audience.

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But that’s not enough…

We will need to supplement those reference points with intelligent inferences about the intentionality and interests being expressed by users of social networks, as well as the context in which those conversations are occurring.  The great diversity of the social web presents something of a challenge in this regard.  A tweet is very different from a Facebook page which is different from a threaded conversation on a book club site which is different from a book reviewer’s blog posts.   We are refining the ways that we are looking at those very different social spaces and learning how to zero in on the conversations that will matter to our users.

 

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In the end, we’ll end up with a set of rules that subtly balances many factors — resemblance, semantic similarity, context, geography, timeliness, and more.  The algorithm will be doing some heavy lifting, figuratively speaking, which directly translates to savings in time and effort for writers.

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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The Writer’s DashBoard: What We Are Working On Today

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Our “problem” of the day has to do with Social Network Interfaces

The Challenge:  Find the most effective entry-points into the social web for our purposes.

Our Focus: We continue to investigate various means to interact with social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, “the blogosphere,” and other social channels.

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Programmatic interfaces (known as APIs) provide visibility into the public content available on many of these networks and several third-party systems aggregate feeds across multiple channels.  Our engineers have been weighing the pros of cons of various approaches.  Many of the third party tools do an excellent job of normalizing information coming from different sources and supplementing the raw content with their own analytic overlays.  Alternately, building our own adapters into the social networks puts us in more direct control of the data flow, which may yield benefits down the line when we start applying our relevance algorithms.

Within the broader tech community, there’s a tremendous amount of activity going on in this area, much of it by companies focused on social media monitoring tools for businesses.  While we are not squarely in that space, the rapid advance of tools to support business intelligence applications around social data is working to our advantage, providing us with many viable options to tap into the social web and, ultimately, to help our users distinguish the signal within the noise.

It’s an exciting arena to be working in right now!

At Find My Audience, we understand that not all authors are marketers. That being said, growing your social audience can expand your readership and book sales. You don’t have to be a book marketer to find new readers online. We are here to simplify this process for you. Sign up today and connect with potential readers across the globe.

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