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July 21, 2018 in resources by Matthew Brown
Both here and on Author Buzz, one topic I have kept clear of is stock images. Largely because I know next to nothing about stock images other than to check for public domain or creative commons licensing.
That lack of knowledge is why I have not addressed cover art for self-publishing. Even though I am to write about everything you need to know about self-publishing. I simply don’t know enough to even attempt to tackle that area.
Featured to the right there, that’s me trying to understand stock images, copyright law and IP (intellectual property). Not to mention trying to actually apply that to design – something I find harder than highly compressed carbon.
Fortunately, there is a Thanet based creative who knows exactly what they are talking about. An artist named Dean Samed who runs a stock photography business. He has published some solid advice for indie authors on selecting stock images. If anyone should know the business, I would imagine it would be someone who works in that sector.
The first thing I learned today while reading Dean’s excellent write up was that I there was a lot more to consider. For example, some of the sites I trust to serve up public domain and correctly licensed images (for blog posts) might not have an especially rigorous editorial process. That gave me pause. If a provider says “this is good, you can use it”, I need to be able to trust that this is always the case.
I’ve been quite strict about respecting IP and licensing terms for blogs and even throwaway memes for Facebook. Have I been strict enough at sourcing stock images? Maybe or maybe not. Perhaps the images I use really were as public domain as suggested but I might have just been lucky.
I don’t have anything particularly useful to add to the subject of curating or selecting stock images for blogs, book covers, or other art. Which is why I think it merits a big vote of thanks to Dean and Neostock for filling a gap in my knowledge. His post has given me a lot to think about.
If you are thinking about book cover design, I highly suggest you start by reading Dean’s blog post and then stick around to check out what else his site can offer you.
July 17, 2018 in thanet-creative by Matthew Brown
The best way to succeed at anything – but especially writing – is to try things and make mistakes.
However, not all mistakes are equal. New mistakes are better.
When you try something new ask yourself this:
If I try this and it is a mistake will it be a new mistake or only new to me?
If the mistake is new to you, you will learn something. Fail faster. Get to the next mistake like all good messy writers do. But better is to find mistakes no one has made before while avoiding or minimising mistakes you and others have already made.
If you allow yourself to make brand new mistakes, you allow yourself to innovate.
The mistake I am playing with this week is writing shorter, punchier blog posts with just one solid idea in them. It could take or it could allow me to share more ideas faster. I don’t know, but I am making new mistakes. Make some with me.
Remember, failure is not fatal.
July 12, 2018 in opinion by Matthew Brown
Let’s be honest, a lot of local libraries are little more than a money sink for many local authorities. What if there was an alternative that made your library not just a viable project but a community asset too?
Here is my idea for what that would like.
Margate’s library is not quite right
Don’t get me wrong, KCC did a lot right with this library but I feel it misses the point of what a library should be. Letting Thanet District Council (TDC) move into the library definitely paid the bills and afforded them a chance to do a refit but did it really enhance the library or just stop it sucking down money?
What they got right:
- Children’s reading area
- Computer section with internet access
- Rooms where different services can be offered
- Modernised check in and check out system for books
What they got wrong:
- Fewer books – the range is pretty limited
- Integrated council services
- Massive waiting area (previously used for books)
- Feels more like a council office with a library tacked on
- No quite study area
What would I change?
Okay, so I have had my bookish rant about what I like and dislike about Margate Library – how would I fix it?
I would not have started this post without a pretty decent idea about ways things could be done differently. I believe that after you read this, you will agree with me that local libraries can be so much more than they are right now.
Here is my vision of what would make a modern library a successful place that fulfils the purpose of municipal local libraries.
What makes for successful local libraries?
In order for local councils to cover all the requirements of the “Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964”, along with other legal requirements, a local public library service must:
- Serve both adults and children.
- Be available to everyone and meet any special needs required by members of the local community.
- Encourage participation and full use of the service.
- Provide materials in sufficient number, range and quality to meet general and specific requirements of those in the community.
- Provide value for money, working in partnership with other authorities and agencies.
That is all well and good and we could argue all day about if (and to what degree) Margate library and other local libraries meet all five of those requirements. However, I would like to look at a wider definition of what local libraries could and should be.
This is what the IFLA/UNESCO Public Library Manifesto of 1994 says:
The public library, the local gateway to knowledge, provides a basic condition for lifelong learning, independent decision-making and cultural development of the individual and social groups.
How do we do that for Margate library?
To be honest, I understand why KCC chose TDC as their partner of choice to fund their library. TDC was a safe choice of partner but was it right for a library?
Safe is not always the best choice. “Safe”, the experts are telling us, is often too risky. The problem is councils are designed to always play it safe. What we need is innovation and not maintenance.
A risky but maybe better vision for local libraries
There are two issues that a local authority needs to address for local libraries.
- Footfall – how to get people into the building
- Value for money – how to keep the cost per visitor acceptably low
What KCC did is look at the low footfall and see that the cost per person was too high. Instead of increasing the footfall, they reduced the cost by partnering with the council next door. Safe but risky.
Increase library footfall not funding
If people are not coming to your library then it is almost certainly because it does not meet their needs or they do not know that it could meet their needs. That’s the same of any business too.
You can either shrink to cut costs or adapt to meet needs. Guess which one works out better in the long run?
The second requirement of a library is that is for it to be available to everyone and meet any special needs required by members of the local community. Low footfall means that the library has been failing to meet needs.
To increase footfall, you need to better meet local needs. How do we do that? These next few proposals all cover that question.
Provided lifelong learning
Just up the road, is the KCC adult education centre. I cannot help but feel that this would have been a far better partner for funding the library.
KCC adult education has a mission to provide education for adults – the clue is in the name. You have all those fantastic little rooms which are all too often empty. So why not run classes and drop-in sessions around creative writing, poetry, reading, and language learning? The funding is already in place so it is not even all that risky.
There are local literary and arts charities, Thanet Creative among them. I can only speak for Thanet Creative but we (and I am sure others) would be willing to partner with KCC to provide a learning experience that’s fun and meets needs.
Meet the general and specific requirements of the community
More and more, people are buying rather than borrowing books. Local libraries are the perfect place to discover new books but they are far from ideal as places to buy books.
Margate Library has a large space which is why TDC was interested in using it. Instead of hosting a council function which has nothing to do with books and adds nothing new to meet the general needs of the community (it meets the needs of TDC quite well), how about adding bookshops?
The safe option would be to let a chain bookstore open a branch in the library. You would definitely get the odd book signing event.
A better option would be to segment the retail space into small and affordable – maybe even subsidised – spaces. That way you could host several small independent bookshops.
Used book sellers could buy unwanted books and sell them to people that want them. Libraries which need to change up their stock would have baked in retail partners to sell to. Talk about a perfect fit.
Sellers of new books would meet the need of freshly released titles.
A computer system that allowed all those retailers to maintain an index of available titles would mean that people could find what they are looking for from a single computer. That same system could enable the library to buy in available requested books and have them available for hire within the hour.
Increase the children’s section and enhance it
When I was a child, local libraries were about the most exciting place I could visit. With a little help, I could learn anything I wanted. I could sit and read. I could take books home with me. It was heaven.
What would happen if a library could safely host thirty-five children (or more)? I’ll tell you – a lot of local schools would see the library as a potential classroom environment. A place to take a group of children where the children would learn and enjoy stories.
Right there, KCC – who also run most of the schools – would have additional partner agencies (schools) and increased footfall.
Yes, you would need desks, and more space, and places for the children to sit. And yes, you would have to think about how to structure the space so a few teachers can keep a large class safe. It would be worth it though.
You can be certain of positive educational outcomes from such a service.
Create a performance area
Create an area with a raised platform, some microphones, a mixer and speakers. Right there you have a mixed-use area that is just as good for poetry recitals, open mic, book readings, storytelling, seminars, and small public meetings.
How is that for meeting the specific and general needs of members of the local community? Not to mention the potential educational outcomes of stimulating the local arts and literature community.
If your eye is on funding, you could make it available to publishing houses looking to push new authors. For a small fee, they could rent the space and run an event. It is not like there is a shortage of local arts and literature festivals locally – an idea venue like that would be sure to attract customers.
Keep reading because there are other ways this service could be used by a local library.
Run DIY “fit it” sessions at the library.
That might sound unusual but when you think about it, DIY “fit it” sessions are a perfect fit for local libraries. After all, there should be a solid DIY section to point people towards. So why not bring that knowledge to life with experts that can help guide you in actually fixing this?
There is evidence that this can be a very successful event program for libraries.
Create a “teen space” for after school
The single biggest gripe I hear for youngsters is “there is nothing to do”. Ask a gang of teenagers – if you dare – that are hanging around and being a bit of a nuisance what they are up to and they will tell you “we’re bored”. So fix it.
Not only will you encourage younger adults to socialise responsibly but you will give them a way to learn about themselves and the community. That’s a win-win, right there.
Help with homework
Do you remember when libraries were palces of learning? They could be that again.
Thanet, like other areas, has something of a huge economic divide that shows up in academic performance. A library offering free tutoring, homework help programs, and summer reading programs for kids and teens would help bridge that economic divide.
The cost of hiring a private tutor is well beyond what many library patrons can afford. Local libraries could offer homework help and tutoring online, by phone, in person, and even through social media and homework apps.
This is well within the remit of “Be available to everyone and meet any special needs required by members of the local community”. Not only that, but it is good for the long-term economic future of the area too.
You can bet that the local home education community would make use of this service too. I fail to see a single downside.
One of the problems with local elections is that so few people bother to even show up to them. The same is true of a lot of local issues – no one does anything because they feel there is nothing that can be done. So, change things.
Libraries can help people learn how to become advocates for themselves and their communities. Remember that performance area we talked about – you may just find a whole new set of people keen to make use of it.
Hold events that gather the community and encourages them to talk about issues of freedom, justice, and democracy. Signpost them to the wealth of books and other publications where people can learn how to responsibly act on what they learn.
Partner with MPs and Councillors
One of the problems a lot of people find with politics is that they simply do not know how to access their representatives. What if libraries became the default hub for political clinics?
What if the local political parties were available once a month to listen to what people wanted to tell them?
What if you could meet your MP there? What would happen, come election time, if the public could interview all the candidates?
What if you could ask your local county and district councillors about the issues of your neighbourhood?
Do you think things might get sorted out? I do.
Support local businesses
What if the larger local libraries, like Margate library, supported local businesses? At the very least a library could bring in the kind of books that a business person might need to consult. They could go further, offering not only business resources, but also a state-of-the-art video conference room, full-time business section librarian, and staff-training workshops.
That covers both the footfall problem and the funding issue. Furthermore, it is a far better fit for four of the five requirements of the “Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964” than facilitating a land grab by a council with office space needs.
Bussiness support would be available to everyone. It would meet the special and specific needs of the local community. It would encourage participation and full use of the service. It would be a step towards providing materials in sufficient number, range and quality to meet general and specific requirements of those in the community. Most importantly it would provide value for money by working in partnership with outside agencies.
Not to mention, it could improve the local economy and generate jobs.
Become a hub of social integration
Local libraries should provide immigrants with helpful information about, and opportunities to connect with, their new communities. They should be a place that is welcoming, helpful, and informative. A gateway to community integration.
I mentioned already that Margate Library is just up the road from the Adult Education centre. This is something the library and Adult-Ed can partner up to provide.
This is something KCC is supposed to offer anyway so why not double up on existing resources to deliver that service more effectively?
Encourage content creation
Local libraries could easily use their rooms and computer suit to enable people to express themselves and feel heard. Why not provide spaces and services that meet the needs of people who want to learn how to edit Wikipedia, set up blogs or podcasts, create their own zines, and so much more?
I have already told you that Thanet Creative stands ready to offer workshops and to work with KCC to deliver some of that training.
Local politicians have some good reasons to fear local blogs. Blogs have, in the past, been very vocal critics of local authorities. However, if you do not support the community in learning to express themselves, the only people who do will be those with something they really need to gripe about.
I think it is time libraries helped to round out the conversation on local issues by empowering more people to join the conversation.
Where do we go from here?
I can appreciate that KCC has almost certainly signed a long-term lease with TDC for use of our library. There is no changing that now. However, there is nothing stopping the library from pressing forward with a good number of these projects even with half the library taken up with non-library business.
Our libraries have the space, so why not make full use of it?
I challenge our local politicians and activists to take up this idea and reform our local libraries into powerhouses of positive change and local growth. The only question remains which councillors and MPs are brave enough to take this and run with it? Whoever you are, Thanet Creative stands ready to back you up.
July 10, 2018 in author-platform by Matthew Brown
If your author platform is spread out across many social media platforms, how can you stop it eating up all of your time and expand it?
Your author platform is, as many readers will be aware, the sum total of all the people who want to hear from you and are able to do so. For most of us, that means our blog and social media audience. The problem is, each social media platform is a new drain on your time as you try to craft content for it. Your platform can feel less like a cohesive whole and more like a disparate array of self-contained bubbles.
Put things into context
Like most of what we do as writers, we must start by putting things into context. Our platforms are no different.
At the centre of your platform needs to be a hub that you control. While it might be tempting to use say, Tumblr, Twitter, or Facebook, these are all things you have no final say over. Anyone of those could shut you down tomorrow and that would be the end of that.
Which is why I always recommend that your blog or website should be your hub. This is where you should point people back to.
Some people go a step further and maintain an email list which acts as their marketing hub. Their blog or website exists only to feed people into the list. There is a good deal of wisdom in that approach.
For now, however, let’s look at how you can make your blog the hub of your author platform.
Your blog is your hub
In many ways, treating your blog as your hub is as much about how you think of your blog as it is anything more technical.
Your blog is where you publish fresh content. When you have news to share, it should be the first place you go to publish an announcement.
With something like WordPress (which Author Buzz UK is powered by) you can connect your social media accounts and update them each time you publish a post. That one action can make sure there is at least something appearing on each of your social media outposts.
You should try, over time, to load your site up with as much high-quality content as you can. Your site should be the best place to go for information about you. For books, for links, for the community. We will talk about that last one – the community – a little further into this article.
Your hub is the resource you can use to run the other parts of your author platform.
Are you ready to gather it all together?
Curating content with your hub
When you have focused on developing your library of interesting content on your hub, you will find there are a number of ways you can keep reusing it.
Timeless blog posts on your theme’s central topics are something you can share not just when you publish (although do that too) but later on as well.
Each social media outpost has its own optimal times to post and best number of posts to make each day. For example, Tumblr works best with between three and five posts a day while Facebook is one to two posts and Twitter is somewhere in-between (or sky-high, depending on the tastes of your audience).
This difference means that some social media sites are a lot hungrier for content than others. Fortunately, you can set them up to feed each other.
Image-based social media
There are no two ways about it, image-based social media like Flickr, Imgur, Pinterest, and so forth will require you to generate images. A camera, even the one on your phone, is going to be a huge help. I am a big fan of image macros – photos with text – usually a quote – on them. These images can be used as a resource for future blogging so hold on to them after you share them.
Some folks propose using image-based social media as a content delivery host for your images. That can save you bandwidth and works fine as long as the social media site has dependable and stable uptime.
If you create images that compliment your blogging output, then you can use those images to promote individual blog posts. Which gives you not one but two or more ways to share the blog post elsewhere.
Many of these sites allow you to connect your Twitter and/or Facebook account and will post to them for you. Which, again, means relevant content going out on these other channels. If you only blog a few times a week, you can use this to make sure that your social media has something new each day. What’s more, you can cross-pollinate your audiences and grow each section faster.
Using Tumblr’s queue system
Tumblr is a bit of a special case. It is by far the most content hungry social media outpost and the easiest to curate content for. Tumblr thrives on sharing (reblogging) other people’s content. This is seen as the friendly thing to do.
Tumblr also has a queue system which you should definitely make the most of. It allows you to pre-load your Tumblr blog with links (your image-based social media and posts hub site’s archives) as well as shares (reblogs) from relevant followers and potential readers. Just make sure the queue is nice an mixed up and Tumblr will take care of the scheduling for you.
If you allow your posts to be shared through to your Twitter account (you can choose per post), in no time your Twitter account is almost running itself.
Add in a few quotes from authors that your readers probably already like. Tumblr has a special format for sharing quotes and they seem to do quite well in terms of notes (loves and reblogs). You could also seed in a few bite-sized posts (Tumblr is big on shorter content) and you Tumblr followers will have a steady stream of platform-specific content tailored to their tastes.
Pop by every few weeks to top up the queue and answer any “asks” and Tumblr will take care of itself.
Your author platform seems to be gathering in nicely, now.
Keeping an eye on Facebook
If you are posting fresh blog posts regularly then your Facebook page should remain fairly busy. If you also have Tumblr and your choice of image-based social media feeding the odd item through to your page too, then there should be few days when your page lacks content. Those days are good for things like polls and announcements or sharing something from your archives if you are drawing a blank.
Remember to share things to your personal wall each day and your Facebook page is taken care of. It will appear to have it’s own media-specific content to keep the interest of fans from multiple sites. What’s more, it should be driving traffic back to your blog and on to other social media satellites.
Facebook can be a powerhouse of traffic but it likes to keep that traffic to itself so be sure to take every opportunity to draw your fans out to other locations. That way you can stay in touch with them and stop them dropping off the radar of your author platform.
For a solid author platform, build a community
Nothing pulls a group together like a sense of community. If your author platform is more than just a list but a vibrant community, people are much more likely to stay engaged and stick around.
Things like Author Buzz UK groups can help with that but really it is down to you. Here, your author platform hub can really help. Especially, if you encourage lively discussion in your comments section. Active comments are a positive sign that your community is engaging with what you are putting out. that’s not to say blogs without comments are not engaging just that comments are a sure sign of people taking an interest.
Never be afraid to promote your best on-blog content on your blog. Links in posts (when relevant) or attractive links in your sidebar can draw visitors further in and encourage them to explore your archives.
Think about ways you can make visitors from each social media outpost feel welcome on your blog. After all, you want them to go away with a good feeling about you and a desire to come back again next time.
Conclusions about your author platform
Try to think of your author platform as a friendly web of interconnected spaces with your blog at the centre. While each space will need a little personal attention from time to time, each space feeds another. Which should mean that as your platform grows (in friends and social media outposts) the workload does not grow with it.
I have only given you the broadest possible view today. Each social media site has its own quirks and needs which you should try to learn. With a little experimentation, you can discover exactly what works best for each one.
On a side note, I did once link my Facebook, Twitter, and few (now departed) social media sites together just a little too well. A single blog post started a storm of reposting over and over before I stopped it. Cross-link social media with care.
June 29, 2018 in motivation by Matthew Brown
One thing that we messy writers need to learn is this – failure is not fatal.
The key thing, as a writer, is to tell interesting stories. It does not matter if you write a story and most people don’t like it or everyone hates it. If someone loves it, then it is a winner. If your story touches one person, then you did something right. Maybe your next story will have wider appeal.
Even if no one likes your story and not a single person understands the theme you were trying to convey, that’s not fatal. What you learned this time is that what does not work. If you take that learning and apply it to your next story, it will be a better story.
Trying and failing will not kill you. Not trying and, therefore, never having a chance to fail, means you will never succeed. Not trying is fatal to your future as a writer.
It does not matter if you write a story and what you have written is an incoherent mess. You can improve a bad story but a blank page will always be empty.
If you write a story and every one you show it to tears it to shreds – that can feel pretty devastating. Harsh criticism is not fatal. It might feel like landing on Park Lane when someone put a hotel on it but you can play the game again tomorrow.
A story that looks like a failure shows you what people don’t like. You can either give up and never be a writer or you can learn from that and write another story. And another story after that one.
If you don’t give up, eventually you are going to figure out how to write a story everyone raves about. But you can never get there unless you risk sharing stories no one likes first.
Failure is not fatal. Give yourself permission to try and fail so that one day you can try and succeed.
As we enter week 2 of our (February) awesome blogger awards we’ve seen some interesting discussion themes starting. Now, let us look forward to the second week.
Facts about February
Here is a list of the “best” […]