Promisses No. 12: My Two Weeks Away and Sharknado

You shouldn’t apologize or explain when you’ve been away from a blog for awhile, I’m told, because nobody really cares, it’s just a blog, and there’s no reason to draw attention to it.

So…

Sorry I’ve been away! What happened was this: I bought a “spaceship” on craigslist, but the lady totally screwed me over and I actually ended up spending my fifty bucks on a damn time machine, and she ran away before I’d figured it out and had left a fake name, so I figured what the hell, lemons => lemonade and all that, right, and I went back in time to 1593 England, and because I had modern clothes and a keychain flashlight they all thought I was like a wizard or something, so I got to meet Queen Elizabeth, and I basically just spent two full weeks hanging with the Virgin Queen (sooo not a virgin, bee-tee-dubs; I know what you’re thinking and no we didn’t but we’re like totes BFFs now and *pantomimes lip-zipping*), and we rode horses and she taught me how to shoot a bow, and we watched the premiere of Shakespeare’s Richard III (meh, bit long), and I taught her how to play a couple offline games on my iPad (Lizzy loves Temple Run 2) and she made me secretly assassinate Christopher Marlowe and it turns out that the only problem is that this timeline keeps moving, and you can’t just go back to like a second after you left the way they do in the movies sometimes or you’ll run into some alternate-reality version of yourself so I came back and two weeks had passed. But Liz gave me this neck ruffle thing as a memento, so all in all I think it was a success.

Anyway. So I couldn’t blog. Again: sorry!

A bunch of people watched something called “Sharknado” last night. I couldn’t do it — something about intentionally awful movies just doesn’t do it for me the way a good earnestly awful movie might, especially one with the MST3K guys in front of it — but following along on Twitter was amazing, so funny. One fun game, I found (and I wasn’t as good at it as some others, but it’s my blog so you get my tweets anyway), is coming up with alternate animal-disaster-combination titles for SyFy to try next.

This week’s Promiss follows: Continue reading

Promisses No. 5: Life is Short

I almost forgot to do this today. But I didn’t!

I’m still thinking about Jason Collins and Cookie Monster Pants, and how important it is to really take charge of our lives and be ourselves, and, relatedly, to stop wasting time on things that don’t matter, that aren’t authentic, that aren’t us. Y’know, man?

Today’s Promisses message probably takes that idea too far.

CMP Promiss

Have a great Friday! It’s snowing here. On May 3. Next week’s Promiss may be “Move to Costa Rica.”

Promisses No. 4: This Isn’t Going to Be What Does It

Yes, he’s still doing these, every Friday. I don’t know that more than three people in the world are entertained by them, but they happen to be three of my favorite people (myself, especially), so the rest of you are just going to have to deal with (read: ignore) it.

An aspect of Dove Promises that hasn’t been explored much yet in this space (other than in the originating post) is this: Dove makes chocolate, and at bottom, in some way, the Promises’ goal is to get you to keep buying and eating more delicious Dove chocolate. Sometimes they’re pretty explicit about this; this list (which I know from my own research is incomplete) has nine different messages that use the word “chocolate,” like: “A special moment deserves a special chocolate,” and “Chocolate therapy is oh, so good.”

This week’s Promisses message takes that just one small step further. Promisses knows you’ve been a bit down on yourself, maybe eating a lot, maybe concerned about your weight, and just wants you to know that, I mean, it’s not like one more tiny piece of chocolate is going to be the thing that pushes you over the edge. You know? You’re not Mr. Creosote or something. So go ahead, unwrap one more. You know you want to.

Fatty fat fat

Twitter for Writers (a Sort-of-Outsider’s Perspective) and Promisses No. 3: What to Do with Your Body Parts

Twitter_Logo_by_MegachixSo I started this blog as a way to get thoughts out of my head that weren’t strictly about baseball. It’s been slow going, largely because I have this whole life and everything, but I’m determined to get into it eventually.

The great thing, though, is that I have a very good friend who was already pretty well entrenched in this community of writers, which has allowed me to quickly meet some great folks. I look forward to reading Emmie Mears and Amber West‘s and Jenny Hansen‘s blogs as often as they’re updated, to name a few, and they’re each great people to interact with on Facebook and Twitter besides.

But the referenced great friend (whose name has been mentioned altogether too often around here as it is–not this time, dammit!) put up a post yesterday that got me thinking. The post itself is a collection of tips for authors on managing their social media lives along with their work and the like.

The post is very good. What it got me thinking about was certain trends I’d noticed in how people within that circle — we’ll call them “indie authors” (or “IAs”), which I think is the closest thing to an identifying characteristic they have — tend to use Twitter.

The typical IA’s Twitter experience appears to me to be like so (this doesn’t apply to any of the wonderful people named or not-quite-named above, and certainly isn’t true of everyone else by any stretch): he or she has something between 600 and 6,000 followers, and follows almost exactly that many. The vast, vast majority of IA’s tweets are scheduled auto-tweets and append a link to one of three categories of things: (1) to IA’s own most recent blog post; (2) to IA’s book; or (3) to the blog posts or books of people IA knows and is hoping will return the favor. The content of those tweets is the title of the book or article, a related hashtag or two, and the link — there’s nothing to suggest why IA recommends that you click on that particular link (or even that it’s actually recommended, when you think about it) — title, link, maybe hashtags, boom.  And most of the rest of IA’s tweets are curt thank-yous sent out to the other IAs who have recently promoted IA’s blog or book.

This is really weird to me. My 3.5 years of tweeting (I’m here) has mostly been in the tiny and insular world of baseball geeks, where we’re (those of us who write, which is most of us) pretty interested in promoting ourselves too. And there are probably some people who act more or less as the IA described above, but there’s a real conversation there, too, and one feels like these are real people typing things, not scheduled advertisements.

A few disclaimers. First, self-promotion (for authors, and for at least half or so of all other people on Twitter) is a pretty important thing, and promoting others can be a pretty important part of that; I’m not out to knock any of that. And I know a lot of IAs have thought a lot about their social media strategies and whatnot, and I’m sure there are things they’re doing that are very effective.

Which leads into the second disclaimer: I’m not actually that good at Twitter, and I’d never try to tell you there’s a right or wrong way to use it. I haven’t built up a huge number of followers, really. Most people who follow me are baseball fans, and yet I don’t actually tweet about baseball that often, which can’t be advisable. I sometimes get in silly angry fights on Twitter, which are probably literally the most useless things two or more humans can possibly do with themselves.

So I’m not an expert. I don’t think there’s a right way to do it, and if there is one, I certainly don’t know or abide by it. (If that’s what you’re interested in, Chuck Wendig, who is better at it than I am, wrote what I think is a really brilliant list of things to know.)

But I sure do have a lot of fun on Twitter, most of the time. And to my eyes, the typical IA’s way of doing things just doesn’t seem any fun or particularly effective. My sense is that most writers don’t really want to be on Twitter, but look at it as a thing they have to do. And it shows.

So with that in mind, and without wanting to tell anybody the right way do anything, here are some things I think are kind of screwy about the IA tweeting paradigm:

  1. You’re shouting into the void. You follow everyone who follows you, and (for the most part) only those who will follow you back. That means you’re all of you out for the same one thing: exposure. You tend to post much more than you read. So what are the odds that any of the people you follow, who are presumably doing the same things for the same reasons, are reading what you say?
  2. Relatedly: if you follow everyone, you’re following no one. It feels like the nice thing to do, following anyone who follows you, and the surest way to collect a respectable-looking number of followers. And there might be some people who can follow 4000 and still kind of keep up with some of them. I just can’t get my head around it. I’m currently following close to 600, and that’s just about my limit. I try to follow most people who have interesting things to say and seem interested in what I have to say (but certainly haven’t succeeded in getting them all), aiming for a sizable community without overcrowding the field.
    If I get a new follower with like 6000 followers who is also following about 6000, that’s almost a bit of a letdown, because it’s so unlikely that that person will ever see anything I have to say, it’s hard to imagine what the point is. I don’t mean to suggest that I don’t appreciate those people, just that I regret not being able to interact with them. And I don’t mean to say that one’s follower/followee ratio is important; I do think having a number of “followees” that you can plausibly, y’know, follow probably is.
  3. No one reads links unless you tell them why they should. That’s not literally true, of course. But linking your blog post with the title alone, unless it’s a great title, isn’t likely to do a ton for you, and linking others’ blog posts (and them linking yours) in a similarly impersonal way does even less. All else equal, I’d much rather have five people who have really read my stuff promoting it and telling people why the person thinks they should read it than have twenty people post a “[Title] [link] by @Bill_TPA [hashtags!]” type of tweet. That reads like spam to me, especially if you’re doing loads of them a day.
  4. Relatedly: personality is a good thing. Whatever else it might be for, finding people you like and who like to talk about things you like to talk about, and then actually talking to them, is probably the greatest, coolest thing anyone can do with Twitter. Drawing followers to you that really enjoy you — the personality you show rather than your potential as a marketing or sales tool for them — can only help them be more likely or engaging readers, customers, promoters and so forth.
  5. The utility of hashtags is pretty limited. They seem like a great idea, # signs in front of the important words to allow people who are interested in those words to go searching and find you. They can be very useful; most pertinent to the IA group, it seems that Kristen Lamb has had quite a lot of success starting conversations with her #MyWANA thing (though it’s sometimes overrun by opportunistic self-serving links, which is what tends to happen, and is part of why the next sentence is true). That’s an exception to the rule, and the rule is that hashtags kind of suck.
    Relatively few people will click on or run searches for, say, “#flowers” or “#mystery” or “#romance,” and most of the people who do probably aren’t going to be looking for tweets like yours. Those terms can all mean many different things in different contexts, so your hypothetical hashtag surfer would have to sort through a lot of crap to get to the specific type of item she’s looking for (which probably isn’t whatever your tweet was about anyway). Twitter isn’t a great place to fish for strangers who are looking for certain terms — and they can always search for those terms without the #, regardless. It seems to me that it’s much more effective to develop an audience that knows you, likes you and is eager to introduce you to an even wider audience…and that #peppering each #tweet with #jarring #hashtags is probably not likely to #encourage #that #kind #of #devotion among them. #hashtags

That’s it, those are my thoughts. I don’t know anything about anything, but I think a few things.

This is already too long (maybe some established IA can write a post on blogging for outsiders with a “Don’t write such dense rambling nonsense!” item), but I’ll leave you with my weekly Promisses image, which has no particular deep thought behind it this week but is really only a slightly creepy-old-uncle-ier version of the real thing:

Promisses No. 3

Promisses No. 2: On Priorities

I meant to get a lot of things done this week. Mostly writing. I was going to write a longer, less ridiculous post here, and one on my baseball blog, and some other stuff. I did none of that. I don’t mind too much — for the most part, the things I did instead were either fun or important or both. But the point is that a whole week went by, and I didn’t make any progress on a number of things on which I wanted to make progress. That’s always a bit sad.

Accordingly, this week’s Promisses (does it look better as Pro-misses?) Friday reminds you that our time on this earth is fleeting, and that when you get to the pearly gates or the Great Beyond or the light at the end of the tunnel or the eternity of darkness or whatever, you’re going to want to be sure that you’ve spent the time you had focused on the Really Important Things:

Saved by the Bell Promisses

Happy Friday!

Promisses No. 1: How to Live Life

I had a lot of fun with my post on Dove Promises the other day, on the wisdom and compassion and condescension and creepiness and thinly veiled sexism of the little messages they print on the inside of the delicious little chocolates’ wrappers.

Writing about it, though, really made me want to start coming up with my own little platinum nuggets of indispensable-yet-almost-mandatorily-disposable wisdom. And through the magic of computers, help from some friends, and the fair use doctrine, I can! Every Friday from now until I no longer have the energy for it will be Promisses Friday (not a typo, just a really corny pun).

I expect that in future offerings I’ll try to make them timely in some way, maybe follow some themes and so on. For now, I just wanted to remind you all that — it being Friday and all — it’s a great time to really take today by the balls, drop-kick it around the room a bit, and just really live. You know? Yeah, you know.

Live today...

Have a great weekend!

Thanks to my good buddy August McLaughlin for the name (and much of the idea, really), and to the beautiful and talented Ben Collin for photoshop help.

What Dove Promises Promise Us

ImageI’ve been aware of Dove Promises chocolates for a really long time; I’m almost positive my mom used to pack them in my school lunches. Dove makes really good chocolate, as affordable chocolate goes, and they come in convenient little pieces so that you can exercise portion control eat about a hundred of something delicious without actually dying.

Now my office has them, constantly restocked in a big jar in a kitchen that’s otherwise filled with mostly healthy things. And I’m obsessed. Not with the chocolate (though that’s still great) so much as with the promises. The promises!! Man. The promises.

Each individually-wrapped piece of chocolate has a little message inside the wrapper — a “promise,” presumably — ranging from utterly meaningless (“Enjoy your life today,” to make one up) to bizarrely specific (“Build a snowman and breathe deeply the childlike wonder of winter,” to — not totally without basis — invent another). They all have a few things in common, though: they’re condescending, jaw-droppingly vapid and, if you assume (as I do from the tone) that the product is marketed mainly toward (a certain stereotyped subset of) American women, they’re at least a little bit sexist. Basically: they’re the worst and kind of also the best things in the world. They’re hilarious.

Lots of products are packaged with little messages not related to the product in any way — Snapple has trivia (does Snapple still have trivia? Is there still Snapple?), other on-mainstream soft drinks have quotes, Alaska Airlines used to have Bible cards. Promises strike me as unique, though, in that the name of the product itself leads you to believe that the point is the little three- to nine-word inspirational message printed on the inside of a terribly fragile foil wrapper, and OH JUST BY THE WAY you get a little delicious chocolate, too. The only comp I can think of is fortune cookies; nobody would eat those awful things if not for the message inside. You can get chocolate anywhere: the promise inside is how Dove pays the bills.

Or so suggests the name; it doesn’t seem to work that way. The description on Dove’s official site concludes with “Each piece is wrapped with a special PROMISES® message for a truly unique moment,” but it’s pretty clear it’s the “exceptional, silky smooth chocolate experience” that’s intended to hook you. Dove’s official Facebook page is full of references to Promises, the product, but I can’t find any references to promises, the messages. It turns out that the promises — product name and all — are an archaic figurehead that is best ignored and forgotten; they’re the British royal family to the chocolate’s Parliament.

We can’t have that. Someone writes these things, sits there and thinks about the kinds of things he (I’m just assuming it’s a he) thinks your stereotypical working mom might really want to hear while she’s enjoying her daily chocolate (ACK!!). Someone, or rather a group of someones, makes it possible for them to be printed on the inside of each wrapper. Someone designed the oh-so-sincere “Love, Dove” signature that accompanies each and every one. These contributions cannot simply be cast aside like so many, well, foil chocolate wrappers!

I have in my possession 22 Dove Promises wrappers, containing 14 distinct messages. Some I have collected over several days at work. Some — too many — I consumed the contents of today even though work also had fresh peanut butter cookies and even though I ate one of those too. (This is what I believe is called Dedication to the Craft.)

“Promises”  seems something of a misnomer. The majority of the messages come in the form of little life suggestions, or commands. Of the 14 messages, there are two that could arguably be called “promises,” and even those end up sounding a lot more like advice than actual promises. It’s possible that they started out as literal promises, years ago, but that over time they have evolved (as great art will) into a thing all their own.

I would definitely read a Vanity Fair oral history of Dove Promises.

At any rate, it turns out that Promises* is quite concerned about you — the probably female, probably middle-aged, possibly un- or underemployed, probably nonetheless overworked, probably lonely, probably overeating consumer — and has a lot of advice to offer. Some of it is contradictory, but you know, we’re complex beings, and what we need to hear from our chocolate at one time may conflict with things we need to hear from our chocolate at other times. Some of it is extremely cryptic, but what matters here is what it means to you. Promises works in mysterious ways. Promises does not apologize for the extremely varied- and generally low-quality photographs below, but I do (mousing over the images below will show you the text of the depicted promise).

* Just so we’re clear: from here on out, “Promises” is a singular, self-aware entity who is very concerned with your well-being. Continue reading