Social Media for Creative Curmudgeons – Part 3: What If I Hate People?

Social Media for Creative Curmudgeons - Part 3: What If I Hate People?

I’ve gotten a bit of feedback on the previous two parts in this series. One of the things that’s been brought up is just how much of a “rabbit hole” various social media platforms can be. It’s to unwittingly get sucked down into it. Hours pass while you’re scrolling through posts and you suddenly wonder where all that time went. You’ve got work to do, so you want to avoid letting that happen.

Or, put a more curmudgeonly way, “I hate people. I hate small talk. How do I avoid wasting my time with this trite, cumbersome, and meaningless social media stuff.”

The important thing here, though, is making the best use of your time. Later in this post, I’ll cover that and provide you with some mechanical, procedural things you can do to optimize the time you spend on social media.

But, first, I need to talk about something else…

Let’s get real for a second

I need to address the curmudgeonly among you. Those folks bordering on misanthropy and generally abhor the thought of interacting with other people at a superficial level. You might think that the overwhelming amount of stuff posted on social media is insignificant discourse. Fake interaction. Tiresome insincerity.

On some level, dear curmudgeon, you’re right. In a lot of ways, social media can be a nasty mirror for the way things are in meatspace. Most social interaction, online and off, is small talk and icebreakers. What’s you’re name? What do you do? Wow, you’re pretty. How about that sportsweather? This is a photo of my cat. Look at how important I am. Blah blahbity blah.

Yes, most social interaction is meaningless and excruciatingly tiresome. But you’re not just a curmudgeon. You’re a “creative”. A maker. You’re on the producer side of the producer/consumer equation. If you’re reading this post (and the previous ones in this series), then it stands to reason that you have an interest in selling your work or your skills in your creative medium. If you’re selling something, that means you’re making money. If you’re making money (or planning on it), then that’s a job.

Jobs are work. Like all jobs, there are fun parts and there are less-than-fun parts that you have to do. For you, it just might be that this is the unpleasant part of your job. For me, when I was doing more freelance work, it was always the administrative tasks. They took me away from the fun stuff and I had to make a concerted effort to not avoid those tasks. Otherwise, my freelance business would flounder.

But that’s part of the job. That’s work. Work requires doing things that demand effort. Some of that exertion won’t be fun, but it is important. That said, if your “exertion” at this point is limited to muscling your way through digital small talk, then you’re probably doing alright. The alternative is to not do it at all. People can tell if you don’t like a social media platform and if you’re just going through the motions. And your response rate will reflect that. That’s fine, too. You don’t have to put on your happy face and get the work done. Just know that if you do so, you should be comfortable if you happen to create in obscurity… also keep that day job.

Nuts and bolts

But let’s say you want to do the work. You’re willing to stomach these trite interactions in an effort to increase your appeal to your target audience (that would be the people you hope will give you money). However, you don’t want to be a “social media person”, wasting all of your time in a sinkhole of awkward family photos and cat memes. Hell, even if you like all of that stuff, maybe you’re just more interested in getting some actual work done. In either case, you want to jump on social media, do a few things to build your audience, and get out before you feel like you have the wash the smell off yourself.

This section is for you.

There are a few strategies—some mechanical procedures—that you can follow to try and make the most use of your time without feeling dirty about it all. I’m going to list a few of them here, but know that although I’ve generalized a bit, these approaches aren’t universal. As I’ve mentioned before, every social media platform has its own idiosyncrasies. I’ve tried to include some specific notes for each platform where appropriate, but some of this you’re going to have to ultimate feel out yourself.

So here we go:

Be consistent. OK, so that’s kind of vague. What I mean to say is that people should have a reason, however small, to look forward to seeing your posts. But people can have goldfish memories. They need to be reminded that you exist… but they don’t want to know that they’re being reminded. My recommendation to start: Do some kind of social media activity once a day. “But I don’t have anything to share!” Find something. Do the work. You don’t live in a vacuum. Read articles your audience would read and share an interesting one. Re-share something interesting from someone you follow. Comment on a popular post. Even better, comment on a quiet post and start a real interaction.

Find important people. Interact with them. In social-media-marketing-speak, these people are called “influencers.” It’s a dumb name, sure, but it gets to the point. Alright, so you’re probably going to hate this strategy, because it’s going to feel like currying favor… and on some level, it is. The strategy works like this: find a person who gets a lot of engagement (that’s the catch-all word social media marketers use for replies, likes, reshares, and general interaction) with what they share. Ideally, the people engaging with this person are also in your target audience. Don’t just go chase after some popular celebrity. It needs to be a person your audience considers significant. Now, once you find this person, make it a point to periodically re-share a post of theirs. Or comment on something they’ve shared. Your interaction is public. Even if you get no immediate response for this activity, you’re associating your brand with that of this person. Yes, it’s absolutely an act of coattail-riding and yes, you probably should feel dirty for doing it. But it’s effective… and you can do this without being slimy about it, because you’re not going to be doing it very often. Why? Because this is a two-part strategy. The next part is coming up.

Interact with the followers of influencers. Now, most people take the above strategy and stop there. That’s a bad idea. The obvious problem is that everyone wants the attention and a glint of the limelight that shines on influencers. Unless your engaging with an influencer actually results in them interacting directly with you, those interactions are basically lost in a sea of noise from their audience. But here’s the thing: audiences aren’t mutually exclusive. People like more than one thing, more than one person. If you’ve found the right influencer, then chances are good that the same kind of people who like their work will also like yours. So interact with those people. Look for the people who consistently engage with almost every post from an influencer. These people are fans. They’re the kind of people who find someone they like and make it a point to evangelize that person’s work to everyone they know. Now, follow or otherwise connect to their social media account and engage with their posts. Don’t be a jerk about. You’re still being a genuine person. Reshare and comment on the things they post that are interesting and relevant to you and your audience. These people aren’t in the limelight, so your engagement is less likely to get lost in noise and they’re more likely to interact directly with you. And because they have a track record of engagement and being a fan, they’re a higher-quality connection than just an influencer or any random follower. You’re co-opting a fandom here, but you’re doing it by finding authentic common points of interest.

Bring something across platforms. Here’s another decent approach. If you happen to be on more than one social media platform, you’ll notice that there’s actually very little overlap. Most people will follow you on one platform or another, but not multiple. That’s because most people have only one or two social media platforms that they actually like to use. The rest, they usually ignore. But you’re not there to socialize, you’re there to market yourself. So it makes sense that you’ll eventually be on multiple platforms and that the people who follow you on one won’t be the same as the people who follow you on another. This presents you with an exciting opportunity to share things to an audience who may have not seen them otherwise. You’re a window into another world for them. So if someone posts something interesting on Twitter, share that post with your followers on Facebook. Now, you could share a link to that specific Twitter post, and if the text there is interesting, that might be a good idea. However, if the thing being shared is an off-site link to an image or a blog post out on the web, I would recommend that you share the direct link to that original thing that was shared. Of course, you still want to name your source from Twitter, that’s just good etiquette (e.g. “@monsterjavaguns on Twitter clued me in on this. Totally helpful stuff”… or something along those lines). The link to the original content is a better post for you to make. The companies that run social media platforms look at the other platforms as competitors, so links across platforms tend to be weighted lower than direct links to art or blog posts.

Funny is always good. There’s a bunch of studies (but I’ve forgotten any specific one and I’m too lazy to look any up right now) that show the incredible lasting emotional impact of humor. Make someone laugh and you’ve cemented a positive foothold in their mind. Of course, humor is hard. We can’t all be funny… and we pity the people who try to be, but aren’t. Fortunately, we’re talking about social media here. You don’t have to be funny. You just have to find something funny that someone else has shared. Then you can share that and be funny by proxy. Of course, if you are actually funny, definitely take advantage of that in the posts, shares, and comments that you make.

Be helpful, but don’t offer unsolicited critique… that’s a jerk move. The idea here is you want to be a valuable resource to people, be it for education or entertainment. You create things. You have experiencing making stuff. Share that experience and help people get better at producing their own things. But you want to make sure you’re doing it in the right environment. This is the kind of thing you do in the confines of something like a Facebook group where it’s a slightly more controlled space and people are expecting this kind of feedback. It’s unwise to publicly jump on someone’s timeline and tell them all the ways they can make their work better when all they really wanted to say was “lookit what I just did!” However, if you can genuinely help a few people who actually ask for it, that’s a quick road to making a fan (and—more importantly—it opens the door to actually having real, non-superficial conversations. Wouldn’t that be nice?)

Share your work. This is obvious content fodder. It’s the whole reason you’re actually on social media to start with. You want people to see your work and ultimately give you money for it. However, as I said in Part 2 of this series, you don’t want to constantly be peddling your wares with every post you make. These posts should be in the minority of the posts you share. Even though these posts are arguably the most important, most of what you share should be everything else. Also, you don’t need to always show completed work. Mix it up a bit. Show works in progress. Show absolute failures that you needed to restart six times. Show goofy warm-up work that was just there to get you going on your real project. You’re a creative maker of things, yes… but you’re also a person. It’s OK to share that.

Share other people’s work. “What? Other people’s work? Those are my competitors! Why would I ever do that?” Hold on there, Captain Excite-o. You’re building your brand. You want to associate your brand—your work—with other work of high quality. Stuff your audience would enjoy. In a way, this is the same move as interacting with an influencer, but without that icky feeling of kissing up to the popular kid. You’re setting yourself up as a resource of quality creative content to your audience. Show them that you have good taste (or that, at the very least, your tastes line up with theirs) and they’re more likely to believe that what you produce is also of fantastic quality. The only thing here is to be absolutely clear that the work your sharing in this posts isn’t yours. Definitely name the artist. If possible, link to that other person’s website or relevant social media account. You’re showing off the work of another great creator. You’re not trying to take credit for that work.

If you need, systematize your social media. I’m listing this one last because it’s my least favorite strategy. Part of the reason I don’t like it is because it’s so blatantly automated and impersonal. This approach coldly treats social media as a pure marketing and brand awareness platform and disregards any potential social value one could get out of it. That said, it can be effective for some people. Basically, it goes something like this… let’s say you’re sticking with the “once a day” interaction thing I suggested above. You could set a schedule for yourself such that Monday is for reshares, Tuesday is for sharing your work, Wednesday is for article shares, and so on. There are absolutely advantages to this approach. If you’re an author, for example, and you know that people are more likely to buy books on Fridays so they have something to read over the weekend, then perhaps that’s when you share your work and get the most effective juice from that post. You can also use third-party tools to batch your social media shares. Spend part of Monday figuring out what you want to post for the rest of the week and schedule those posts for the most optimum time of day to release them. Then you don’t have to worry about social media for the rest of the week unless someone responds to the thing you posted. I don’t like doing that because it feels really impersonal and doesn’t necessarily take advantage of the idiosyncrasies of individual social media platforms. However, I can’t deny that some people have found this approach useful

And there we go, a set of nuts-and-bolts strategies for making the most effective use of your time on social media. With any luck, you can employ a few of these to successfully get yourself started and not feel like you’re wasting your time or getting sucked down a hole. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you’ll find yourself having a few genuine, non-superficial conversations that people that get you to actually enjoy the time that you’re working at your marketing.

Are there any strategies I’ve missed? Want to suggest one that might be worth trying out? Drop a line in the comments and let me know what they might be. I’m always down for experimenting.

Social Media for Creative Curmudgeons – Part 2: Facebook

Social Media for Creative Curmudgeons - Part 2: Facebook

Read Part 1: Set Your Mind

Yup. Facebook is just about ubiquitous now. It almost doesn’t even matter what thing it is that you do. Whether you’re looking to find an audience or build one, if you want to be in front of eyeballs, Facebook is a critically (and, on some level, disappointingly) big piece of that puzzle. Just about everyone and their mother has a Facebook account these days… often to the embarrassment of both those people and their mothers. As a person interested in gaining exposure for your creative work and skills, I’d advise that you be on Facebook, too. It is, after all, where the people are.

That said, almost no one goes on Facebook looking for art. I’d argue that more folks should, but that’s beside the point. Most people are also not on Facebook to be sold to, either. They’re there to socialize. They want to see photos of their friends and family. They want to find out about the cool and interesting things that their friends and family are doing or consuming. They want to share their opinions about things that are happening in the moment.

So it’s important that you “tune” what you share and how you share it in such a way that it matches what people expect to see on Facebook. If you don’t, that’s a quick way to get yourself ignored or—worse—reported.

Fortunately it’s not that hard to meet expectations in this case. Most creative work clearly falls in the realm of “cool and interesting things”… especially if your work is good. The biggest thing to remember is that you really should check any “hard sell” tendencies at the door, even when you eventually start buying ads. This is all about being useful and interesting. People will go to your work because you have a reputation for being awesome, not because you’re reposting the same work over and over again, asking folks to buy it.

But first this: There are no shortcuts

I should have mentioned this in my previous post, because it’s really important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever the latest hot social media platform purports to be. Do not go on these sites with the expectation that you’re going to be an instantaneous success. Yes, it happens. People also get struck by lightning. I wouldn’t advise that you try building a career on that strategy.

Effective social media marketing (that’s what you’re doing, if you haven’t guessed yet) is not a “set it and forget it” thing. It requires work and dedication. Most importantly, it requires time. You’re not generating customers. Your building relationships… with people. Real people. Healthy relationships are built up over time, but trust can be shattered in an instant.

You will not see measurable results immediately. You might not even see much in the way of results over the course of months. Be prepared for that. Most “overnight successes” are the result of long term dedicated perseverance. A cynical person would say that you’re “playing the long con”. Sure, if that somehow helps you feel better, you can say that. But the relationship-building perspective is a much more positive outlook. Let’s try not to be the cynic.

Now… about Facebook.

Get a personal account

The starting point in Facebook is going to be a personal account.

“But I’m running a creative business. Shouldn’t I—” No. Stop that. Just read this and let me explain.

Start with a personal account. There are a few reasons for this. One of your primary goals here is to be an actual person (you’re going to see me say this a lot). Facebook is all about interpersonal interaction. The feed of posts that you see from other people on Facebook isn’t entirely chronological. It’s software-controlled and certain types of posts are weighted as being more valuable or interesting to Facebook users. The posts that the software decides are more valuable and relevant to a specific user get higher priority in their feed. Naturally, posts from individual people are weighted more heavily than posts from organizations or brands. You’ll hear marketing people talk about “the Facebook algorithm”… this is what they’re referring to.

From a purely psychological perspective, folks like to know that they’re interacting with a real person. Even when they’re dealing with companies, people gravitate to the ones that offer a more personal touch. Be a person. Be honest. Be a little vulnerable. Of course, don’t post anything you’re not comfortable sharing, but you’d be surprised how positive the response can be when you share that you’re frustrated with something you’re working on because the results are just not turning out right for you. You’re real. You have problems, challenges, and successes just like everyone else. It’s a very positive image to put out and one that people are drawn to.

Another reason you want a personal account is market research. With a page or “professional” account, it’s slightly more difficult to engage with people as people. This is also why I might suggest that if part of your creative process involves using an assumed name (pen name, stage name, anonymous handle, etc.), then it may also create a personal account for that assumed name as well.

In any case, in order to gain a fandom, you need to understand what fandom is. Again, people are on Facebook to socialize and discuss the things that they like and don’t like. You’re doing market research here. Find people who you imagine would be fans of your kind of work. Watch what they post. See how they speak and write about those things. Those are the things that you want to share and the language you want to use.

I used to say that in order to gain following, you need to first understand what it means to be a fan. I’m going to revise that slightly. In order to gain a following, you must become a fan of your fans.

But how do you do that? The next section can help.

Be personable, join groups

Hands down, one of the most valuable things in Facebook are Facebook groups. Groups are user-created pocket communities on Facebook, typically dedicated to one topic, or a class of topics. There are groups for everything from high-priced masterminds down to groups for people who flip their pillows to the cold side when they go to sleep. Did you ever wonder where internet user forums went? This is it. Yeah, forums still exist, but not nearly in the same capacity and volume as they did in their heyday. With groups, Facebook provided a lot of the appeal and function of traditional forums, but without the need for setting up your own domain or installing and maintaining forum software.

So if you’re looking for your fans, the best places to find them are in Facebook groups dedicated to material similar to the things you make. That’s the most direct route. But there are also sideways approaches as well. For instance, let’s say you’re a science fiction writer. Sure, it probably makes sense for you to join a group that’s a book club for science fiction fans. But a lot of science fiction fans are also really interested in general technology or space exploration. There are Facebook groups for those interests as well and you should join them.

There are a few benefits to joining these groups. First of all, it allows you to observe your fans in the wild. You see what they like, what they talk about, and how they talk about that stuff. This is immensely useful for when you ultimately start crafting your own posts and messages. It should be reasonably natural to you; chances are good that there’s a high overlap between what you like and what your eventual fans like. So you’re not being deceptive. At most, you’re learning a new language.

Another value of groups is what I suppose you could consider “professional development”, but I prefer to think of it as connecting to your peers. These are the other creative people like you who are producing the kinds of things you like to produce. Of course, connecting with your peers will be a benefit to improving your craft. You’ll get to be a better painter or writer or musician. But just as important, you can discuss the more business-y side of things. Marketing techniques on the internet sometimes change rapidly. By connecting with your peers, you get a better chance of being aware of those changes and adjusting to them as necessary.

And there’s a personal benefit to joining groups. It makes the Facebook experience itself much more tolerable. Remember that the Facebook feed isn’t entirely chronological. It’s weighted by what Facebook’s software thinks you’re most interested in. Groups are one of the best ways to “juice your feed” and train Facebook’s software to show you things that interest you and make you smile. Facebook will understand that you much prefer seeing concept art for giant robots instead of vacation photos of your cousin’s sister-in-law’s kids.

Now, once you’re in a group, it’s OK to lurk for a while, but you’ll get much more out of it if you participate. And for the record, participating does not mean going in every group and posting, “Buy my thing!” It also doesn’t mean sharing the same content across all of the groups you’re in at the same time. Remember, that’s not why most people are on Facebook. Respect that. Post in groups the stuff that you think is relevant to that group. And don’t just make new posts, respond to the things other people post. Human nature has reciprocity built into it. People are more likely to respond to the things you post if you already have shown an interest in discussing the things that they post. Do that. Be a real person.

Get a page, but don’t focus that much on it

Yes. You are a business. So, yes, you will eventually need a “professional” page on Facebook. But as I mentioned before, pages don’t get nearly the same reach and exposure that personal accounts do. The reason for this is pretty simple. Facebook assumes that if you have a professional page, you’re there to sell something. If you’re successful at selling, then of course you’re making money. And you’re not just making money, you’re making money on the back of their infrastructure. That makes their platform have literal value to you. Value that they [rightly] think you should pay for the privilege of using.

So aside from just squatting a placeholder space for your creative business, the reason for getting a page is for when you eventually start buying ads. There’s a pervasive meme online that says, “If you’re not paying for it, then you’re the product.” There’s a lot of truth to that statement. However, by setting up a professional page on Facebook, you’ve essentially announced your intent to be on the flip side of that statement. You’re no longer the product. When you start advertising, you become a buyer.

But advertising is a big topic for another post (probably for another site altogether). For the time being, just set up your page and do the hard work of drawing organic traffic to it. I’ll get more into how exactly you do that in the next bit.

Use your personal account to promote posts from your page

By being a real person and doing real person things like joining groups, posting interesting things, and responding to interesting things other people post, you’re naturally going to grow your number of friends and followers on Facebook. That number is likely to grow way faster than the number of followers for your page. Again, this is built into Facebook’s design. Pages get less play than personal posts unless you pay for advertising.

However, there is a bit of a way around that. Facebook has a built-in facility for sharing the posts of others. That way, you friends and followers have the ability to see the cool thing that was posted by someone else you follow. It’s a great mechanism for sharing cool stuff with more people. The really handy thing about this is that it’s possible to share posts from pages, too. So, by using your personal account to share the stuff that you post on your page, you naturally increase the organic exposure to that stuff. Granted, this assumes you have more connections on your personal account than followers on your page (which is likely), but it does get your stuff in front of a few more eyeballs without paying for ads.

There is some limited value to this tactic, of course. Friends and family (who you’re really not all that interested in marketing to) probably don’t care that much about your work… or they’ve seen enough of it or heard you talking about it privately enough. Fortunately, you can tailor your shares. You don’t just have to share right to your user profile. Instead, you could share your page’s post directly to a group. This gets your work in front of the people who it’s most relevant to… and even some folks who aren’t actually following you or on your friends list. Be careful with this approach, though. Nobody likes a spammy jerk.

I can’t repeat it enough: people are not on Facebook to be sold to. Of course, cynically speaking, just about everyone on Facebook is selling something—could be their next book or the impression that they’re the perfect family—but Facebook wants to maintain the illusion that we’re actually socializing and will penalize you if your posting style tries to shatter that illusion.

Create a group (if it fits)

I’ve already mentioned that groups are a great way to juice your own Facebook to show you the kind of stuff you are most interested in seeing. It can also work in reverse. What I mean by that is the fact that other people have also discovered how joining groups can help them customize their feeds. So they’re joining groups for the same reason. Now here’s the interesting thing: at this moment, group posts aren’t penalized for exposure the same way that pages are. So if something gets posted to a group, it’s far more likely to be seen than something posted to a page. This is why in the last section, I suggested that you share your page posts in a relevant group.

You don’t have to stop there, though. If it fits what you’re doing, why not create a Facebook group of your own? If you already have fans of your work, then perhaps you want to make a group that’s dedicated to the stuff you do. You can build a community around your creations. If you don’t have a fanbase yet, that’s OK, too. You can create a group that’s dedicated to something related to your work. Maybe you produce short films. You can make a group dedicated to watching and reviewing short films that get posted online. Or maybe you use a specific piece of software or paint or coffee while you work. You can make a group dedicated to that and post relevant things there… even share things from your page.

And it works for connecting with your peers, too. I have a small group that I made that’s focused on sharing the daily creative work that people make. Could be finished work, could be works in progress, could even be failures. And in whatever medium. The idea of that group is that we’re trying to make something everyday and sharing our growth and progress. I’ve personally found it great for both building relationships with peers as well as getting feedback on my work so I can improve.

A note on branding and image

I should make a quick note here about personal branding and image. Just about every social media platform that I’m aware of allows you to provide a profile image. There are other blog posts and sites on the web that do a better job of telling you the specifications for these images and what-not, but I do have a few more generalized tips that are specific to being a creative person trying to get people interested in your work:

  • Use your face… or some relatively accurate representation of it. The important word in social media is social. People don’t want to socialize with a logo or a photo of your art or your cat or your dog. They want to socialize with another person. So show that you’re a person. Use your face in your profile image. Of course, I bend this rule a little. I use a cartoon-ish line drawing that I made of myself. However, it does look like me and I keep it up to date when my face changes (haircut, facial hair, etc.) More importantly, I do the next thing…
  • Be consistent. I may bend the rules and use a drawing of my face for my profile image, but I use that drawing as my avatar everywhere. Every social media platform that I’m on uses the same profile image. That way people know that I’m actually me.
  • Be casually professional. What in the world does that mean? I mean that you’re pitching yourself as a creative person. Unless you’ve really worked hard to build a brand image around you looking like you sell real estate, you probably don’t need the suit and tie in your profile image. At the same time, you also probably don’t need to be using that photo from when you ran naked down Main St. Be real, but be classy about it (unless, of course, looking like a crazed half-zombie is part of your personal brand).

Facebook (and most other social media sites) also allow you the ability to add a “Cover Photo” or header image for your profile page. This is the big image that’s at the top. This is the place where you want to show off the stuff that you do. If you’re a writer, show your book covers (or something writerly). If you’re an illustrator, show your art. If you’re a musician, show album cover art or a photo from a live show. Again, there are better sites out there than my blog for getting you the right size for this image, but just know that your cover image is the thing that you can use to show what you do to folks who visit your page. And this, too, is something that you should try to keep consistent across all social media platforms that support it. Cover images are a little harder to keep consistent because the dimensions vary from one site to another, but you’re a creative person. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

What do I share?

And here we get to possibly the most important section of this giant diatribe of mine. What exactly should you be sharing on your Facebook page? and in your groups? and in your personal account? In truth, the specific answers are going to vary from one person to another. However, I have a few guidelines that should hopefully help:

  • Decide ahead of time how much of your personal life you want to share, and stick with it. As I’ve said multiple times in this post, Facebook is a place where people socialize and share their lives. You might not be comfortable sharing everything with everyone. It’s not just about your privacy settings on Facebook. It’s about having discipline in what you post and share… and explaining that to your friends and family. Your friends and family will find you on Facebook. Prepare for that. But if you’re not comfortable sharing your family life with the world, you don’t have to post photos of family gatherings. And if people tag you in photos, you can remove those tags if you’d like. The point is that you want to decide early how much you’re comfortable sharing and then maintain that policy.
  • Regularly re-evaluate your decision on how much of your personal life to share and adjust as necessary. Of course, nothing is forever. When you share a little bit of your personal life—your struggles, your successes, your cats—it humanizes you. It makes you a real person. You may find that your original “tell no one of my personal life” policy is a bit stiff. Or maybe loading your photos with 50 images of your cat is a bit much for folks. It’s not a bad idea to revisit your decision every handful of months and determine if that’s still the best way for you to go. There are no rules against changing your mind.
  • Images and video content are especially good at the moment. Humans (well, most humans) have huge eyes. Visual content tends to be very attractive to us. So it’s no surprise that people are naturally drawn to posts that feature something more than just text. And by extension, it should also be no surprise that the software that controls Facebook users’ feeds adds additional weight to posts that feature images or video. So even if your work isn’t inherently visual (I’m looking at you, writers and musicians), try to include some kind of imagery with your posts where appropriate.
  • Prioritize content native to Facebook. On the subject of images and videos, Facebook, like all websites, doesn’t necessarily want its users to leave. It wants them to stay there. So if you have an image, upload it directly to Facebook rather than linking to it from your website or ArtStation page. Likewise for a video. Facebook prioritizes the content you directly upload over links to YouTube or Vimeo. Other sites and platforms may be better for showing your work, but if you want that work in front of more eyeballs, try to go native and upload directly.
  • Keep light on the sales pitches… very light. It’s a rough rule of thumb, but I’d say that no more than 10% of your posts should be about selling your work. You’re not a car salesman. Well, I don’t know that for sure, you might be. But don’t be a pushy car salesman on Facebook. It reflects badly upon you and will get you exactly the opposite results from what you desire.
  • Most importantly, share things of value… things people are actually interested in and find useful. This one is the key (that’s why it’s last). Be a real person. Post things that other real people are interested in seeing. Give your thoughts and opinions on those things. Provide useful advice and suggestions. Participate in discussions at a deeper level than just saying, “I agree.” Facebook discussions can be as deep or as superficial as you want them to be. You’re welcome to talk about the weather, but try to do it in an engaging way. You are, after all, trying to convince people that you’re creative, right?

So that about covers it for Facebook. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments! Did you find this useful? Let everyone else know by sharing this with them.

Stay tuned, there’s more to come!

Social Media for Creative Curmudgeons – Part 1: Set Your Mind

Social Media for Creative Curmudgeons

You’re doing creative work and you’re interested in actually making a buck or two off of it. It could be that you’re looking to make enough to actually afford a cup of coffee at that little cafe you’re at all the time. Or maybe you’re really ambitious and you’re aiming to make enough to buy a new house. Whatever your goal, the result is going to be zero unless you get your work in front of some eyeballs. This is true whether you’re selling your own original works or just showing off a portfolio so you’ll get hired for commissions. You need to go where the people are.

People are on social media.

In fact, for a lot of folks these days, there’s no longer a differentiation between social media and the internet. For them, social media is the internet. We’ll not be lamenting the sadness of that statement today. This is a pragmatic guide to getting your work in front of people who love it. Fixing how they use the internet is something for another blog post.

This post is the first in a series where I’m going to try and walk you, the curmudgeonly creative, through getting yourself set up on social media so folks will see your work and—hopefully, eventually—give you money for that work. Future posts will be more nuts-and-bolts about specific things to do on each platform, but this one is about getting your mind right before you even start. You may abhor the thought of socializing, digitally or otherwise. Interacting with other people may make you uncomfortable and make your hands sweat. You might despise what these social media platforms stand for. It’s even possible that you’re an outright misanthrope and the very existence of other human beings on this planet raises your ire to an unparalleled degree.

Get over it… or get used to borrowing money for that cup of coffee.

If the first rule of marketing is to go where the people are, then the second rule is this: You are not your audience. The people who like your work are not necessarily like you at all. They certainly don’t think like you. If they did, then they would already be where you are. In fact, they would be the ones who created your work and they’d be the ones reading this post on how to get more people to see it.

Consider the fact that there’s an audience out there who would really love your work. They just haven’t seen it yet. If you can accept that as a truth (and it is true, I’m positive of it), then you must also accept that this audience—these people—aren’t like you. They like social media. They listen to pop music. They’re perfectly content drinking coffee from a gas station convenience store.

And all of that is OK. You don’t have to like those things. You and your audience don’t have to like the same things. However, although they would love your work, they’re not looking for you. You’re going to have to be the one to make the effort of going where they are and letting them know that your work exists.

It’s not going to be comfortable or necessarily easy. I’ve been in the exact same place you are. Had the same hang-ups and concerns. I got dragged, kicking and screaming, into social media pretty early on. A much more socially adept friend of mine set up a MySpace account (yes, way back then) for my small business at the time and foisted the login credentials upon me. After a lot of bellyaching, I ultimately had to admit that she was right (not to her face, obviously). Social media platforms are important. They’re where the eyeballs are. Although it’s still important to have your own website (you do have one, right?), that’s no longer enough. Being active on social media is worthwhile and necessary to build your brand… and you absolutely have a brand. Since the day of that underhanded move by my friend (thanks, Angela!), I’ve made it a point to make myself familiar with popular social media platforms. I’d like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at understanding them. I daresay I might even occasionally enjoy myself when I’m on them. With any luck, I can impart some of that to you.

Still with me? Good! Let’s get started with a few base concepts.

Social media is not for friendships

There are two reasons you want to be on social media. You want to get in front of the eyes and ears of your audience. Secondarily, you might want to connect with a community of your peers. That’s it. Contrary to the terminology used on some social media platforms, it’s not a place to make friends. Social media is for friendships the same way high school is… which is to say, it isn’t.

Sure, you’ll make friends. That happens. People do that quite naturally, whatever the setting. But you don’t go to social media with the goal of making friends. I’m not saying to disparage social media or diminish the value of relationships that start and continue online. Some of my longest friendships are ones that started and continue to be fostered on the web. But you do want to temper your expectations. Most of your interactions with other people will be superficial (just like in meatspace) and you’ve got to keep your primary goal in mind: selling yourself and your work.

Of course, no one wants to interact with someone whose only goal is to sell them something. So I’m not saying to be a spammy shill. You need to be a genuine person who is worth other people’s time. But you want to control your messaging. For instance, I personally try to avoid getting involved in political or religious debates and I don’t post very many photos of my family. However, I will absolutely post passionate diatribes about other things that I’m passionate about, like open source software, animation, and doughnuts. Those things become a part of my personal brand.

And, yes, you’re developing a brand for yourself. If you don’t, someone else will. So may as well be the one in the driver’s seat. You need to decide what parts of your personality that you want people to associate with you. That’s your image, your brand. The things you post are part of the message that delivers that image to your audience.

And here I want to make one point clear: do not lie about who you are. I say this as a person who has posted over 2000 lies online (none of them are about who I am). You are not fabricating a person and passing that person off as yourself. That’s not cool and people can sniff that garbage out miles away. You are presenting a version of your true self that will resonate with your audience. You’re still you. You’re just dressed for the occasion. You’re not wearing a tuxedo to a house show for your favorite metal band.

Of course there are exceptions. Maybe your brand is being that ironic nonconformist. Then in that case, slap that tux on and hop into the pit. What I’m saying here is a guide and recommendations, not doctrine. Just use your judgment and think before you post or reply. Every time.

A note on communities

I mentioned in the previous section that the other reason to be on social media is to join a community of your creative peers (and, of course, interact with them). A large chunk of creative work is done in isolation. Even if you’re doing animation—arguably the most collaborative visual art form—you spend giant swaths of time starring at your board or your computer all by yourself. And if you happen to be geographically located in a place where there aren’t a lot of people who do what you do, it’s very easy to imagine that you’re alone in the world.

The good news is that you’re not alone. The internet (and social media) has afforded creative people with a fantastic means of getting in touch with others who do similar work. You definitely want to get in touch with these people in your field. Trade notes. Learn new tricks and techniques. Talk shop and complain about the same problems that only people in your field understand. You definitely want to take advantage of social media to do these things.


You need to decide whether that’s your primary goal for being on a social media platform or if that’s secondary. It can vary from one platform to another. As an example, maker and craft communities are really active on Instagram, but folks who buy that kind of thing tend to hang out on Pinterest. In the writer community, there’s a common mistake of only following and friending other writers… and then trying to use that platform to sell your work.

Just like you are not your audience, your creative peers are also not your audience. So don’t try to sell to them. In the best case, you’ll get ignored. In the worst, you risk annoying your peers to the point that they won’t be there when you actually do need help. Bottom line: know why you’re on a particular social media platform and keep that goal in mind. If you’re there to connect with your creative community, then the bulk of your follows should be other people who do what you do.

However, if your primary goal is to promote your work and sell it, then that’s not who you want to follow and interact with. Instead, find the people who do work like you and follow their followers… especially the ones who post a lot. Join fan groups dedicated to your medium and your genre within your medium. This is the way to start building a community of your own, around the work that you do. You’ll hear marketers refer to this a “building your tribe.” I’m not overly fond of the term, but the sentiment is still valid. To build a community of fans around your work, you need to be in those places where that audience is already milling about.

Social media is not a broadcast media

And here we come to another core concept. It’s changed a little bit, depending on the social media platform, but for the most part it still holds true. People are on social media to—big surprise—socialize. That’s what you’re going to have to do.

To be clear (and referring to the previous section), there’s a difference between socializing and making friends. You’re purpose is not to make friends. But it is to socialize. You share things and engage in discussions that fit your brand. You do not constantly talk about your work and try to sell it to folks. That behavior is annoying to people and it’s a quick path to getting blocked, ignored, or flagged for spam.

The key here is interaction. Too many people treat social media as if it were a broadcast medium, like television or radio. It’s not. Those media involve a small number of folks with the purpose of telling you what they think… and since it’s not interactive, the implication is that those are the things you should think. The internet—and by extension social media—is driven by interaction. It’s the difference between what marketers will call impressions (broadcast) and engagement (interaction). And as a creative person, you know the value of making the most effective use of the medium you’re working in. If you’re trying to make a song, then trying to do it in paint isn’t going to be as easy as using a musical instrument.

So how about a few bullet points? We like bullet points…

  • Don’t only post about your work or the stuff you’re trying to sell. Yes, a percentage of your posts should be on that, but a small percentage. Less than 50%.
  • Don’t do “drive-by” posting or “link bombs.” If you post something, say something about it. Don’t just drop a link without context. The idea here is that you want to encourage people to talk about what you’ve posted… to you as well as each other. That means you’ve got to monitor things a bit. If someone replies to your post, you need to respond to that. Interaction, remember?
  • Do comment on other people’s posts. You’re not in a lecture hall, and even if you were, you’re not up front, behind a podium. Decentralized discussion is the name of the game. You are not there to megaphone out to the crowd. So if someone else posts something that relates to your brand, respond to them.
  • Don’t chase the numbers for your friend/follower count. Unless you have an unusually small number of followers, like less than 10, no one really cares how many followers you have. While there is a such thing a “social proof” (no one wants to follow someone with zero followers), the important thing is that you’re posting things that are interesting and valuable. The internet has allowed the proliferation of niche communities. So the quality of your social media following is way more important than the quantity.

Advertising on social media has changed this a little bit. A lot of old-school television and radio marketers are trying to apply their skills on social media. They’re not ineffective… but they’re also not as effective as they could be and it’s resulted in a lot of loud “broadcast noise”. People have gotten used to tuning a lot of that out. That’s why people who choose a more interactive approach tend to get far better results.

So no shouting into the wind. Sit down with someone and have a talk about interesting things over coffee.

Advertising (i.e. “Paid Traffic”) is almost a requirement… almost

While the bulk of social media traffic is generated by normal people sharing their lives, the routing and delivery of that traffic is typically controlled by software. A block of code decides which post gets priority in an individual person’s feed. And, of course, people (like you) can pay to have their posts prioritized on those feeds. In a lot of cases, the only way that you’re going to be seen on a social media platform is by paying for that exposure.

There’s good news though. If you’re just starting out, advertising probably won’t help you at all, so you don’t have to worry about it just yet. There’s no sense in advertising if you’ve got nothing to share yet… and no one to share it with. Remember, social media isn’t broadcast. You need to build up at least a small organic following of people who like your work and are willing to share it with others. This is that “social proof” thing. The least effective marketing is the marketing that no one talks about. But when people see that others are liking, sharing, and discussing something, human nature takes over. They want “in”.

But eventually, you will have to pay for some advertising if you want to grow that audience and get your work in front of more of the kind of people who would like it. Expect to spend money. Expect to feel like you’re wasting money while you’re figuring things out. There is no “one size fits all” plan for marketing your work. Everyone’s work is different, so it stands to reason that the methods to market that work would vary just as much.

This means you’ll need to do “split testing” to figure out what kind of ads work best for your audience. You’ll need to know what ROI is (it’s short for “return on investment”), so you know whether the money you spend on ads is worth it. You’ll probably want to actually take a course on social media advertising just to get yourself up to speed on the process. This section alone could be its own series of blog posts (or a book… many have been written).

Broadcast advertising worked in the past because there were only a limited number of outlets. An advertiser would blast their message out there and since there were only three channels (on television), everyone would see it. They would count on a small percentage of those people being in their target audience, but since the overall audience size was so large, even a 1% hit rate would produce justifiable results. Sounds a lot like modern spam, doesn’t it? This isn’t a coincidence.

Fortunately, modern marketing is a lot more efficient. There are way more than just three channels now, so the general audience size is way smaller. But, we also live in the age of the proliferation of niche communities. Audiences are already self-selecting, building their own little silos of interaction. This is the infamous “echo chamber” effect that you hear about when it comes to social media platforms. The software behind these platforms have gotten really good at showing people only the things that they’re interested in… and hiding everything else. Whether this is an overall good or bad for society is a discussion for another time. As someone interested in finding the people who like your work, this self-selecting behavior is a beneficial thing for you. Your audience has gathered itself. Those people are waiting for you to tell them about your work. And you don’t have to waste your time showing it to a large general audience where 99% of people don’t care about your stuff at all.

The biggest thing, though: Have a goal. You need to know what the desired result of your ads should be. Do you just want more followers on a specific social media platform? Do you want people to actually buy that thing you just made? Would you like people to visit your website and hire you for commission work? Whatever it is, have a goal and know what it is. That way you can definitively say whether or not your advertising effort (and expense) has been worth it.

The second biggest thing: Be ethical. Social media advertising tools can (and will) provide you with a terrifying assortment of information about people. The analytics and metrics tools that these platforms have are extremely sophisticated. You will have information on people and their habits and even though it’s kind of “baked in” with the sharing models of each social media platform, those people may not be aware of how much private information is out there on them… and how unscrupulous advertisers can take advantage of that information. Don’t be that kind of marketer. It’s not cool.

Know where your ethical boundaries are… and never compromise on them. Make honesty and integrity an integral part of your brand… and mean it. Not only will you be able to sleep at night, but people like dealing with folks they can trust. Never do anything that would risk that trust.

All social media is not the same

Depending on your audience, it’s more important to be on some platforms than on others. Visual artists are likely to have more success on Instagram. Writers may have more traction on Facebook and Twitter. You get the idea.

And as I mentioned before, some platforms are better for connecting with your peers while others are more nicely suited for finding fans of your work. Do a bit of homework. Figure out where your audience and your peers hang out. Act accordingly. But don’t join all the social media platforms and try figuring them all out at the same time. That’s a recipe for disappointment and frustration. Pick one to start with. The specific platform that you pick will depend on what your goals are. If you’re primarily interested in trying to build your audience quickly, you’ll want to target the social media platform with the largest surface area to that audience (it will probably be Facebook). However, if you’re more interested in just getting comfortable with how social media works, maybe starting with a smaller, more cozy platform (like Mastodon) is better for you.

Whichever strategy you choose, you’ll eventually find yourself on more than one social media site. When you do, make sure you use what you’ve learned about each platform. Every social media site is a little bit different. Audiences on each have different expectations and tolerances. As an example, take hashtags. Instagram people are totally used to seeing walls of hashtags tacked on every post. Anywhere from ten to twenty tags are an absolutely common occurrence. Twitter users may tolerate one or two before you’re accused of hashtag abuse. You’ll hardly see any hashtags at all on Facebook.

The point here is that you need to tailor your posting style to fit each platform. It’s unwise to use the exact same posting style—or even the exact same content—on every social media site. Twitter users are generally comfortable seeing the same thing reposted a couple times throughout the day. That mess won’t fly on other sites.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t cross-post. Often, you’ll definitely want to share the same thing to your audiences in each place. But every post should not be cross-posted. Furthermore, even when you do share the same content in each place, you’ll want to deliver it natively (that is, upload images and write posts directly through each platform’s interface. Don’t just link to your Instagram post from Twitter. And use a language and style that fits for each one.

Creative work is, at its core, a form of communicating. You are a communicator. Use your talents and skills in communication to use each social media network in its most effective way. Don’t try to make music with paint.

More to come

If you’ve made it this far, you might’ve noticed that I have a lot to say on this topic. Stick around. I think this is going to become a series of blog posts. In the next post, we’ll get a bit more nuts-and-bolts about things. I’ll cover getting started Facebook, along with a few tips and tricks for finding and connecting with your audience there. In the meantime, hit me up in the comments for this post (or, you know, whichever social media site you saw me share this on). I’d love to discuss this at length with you.

See you around!

Analog Art: Wooden Rings

Wood Rings - ebony, paldao, red oak, zebrawood

Left: ebony | Center upright: paldao | Center flat: read oak | Right: zebrawood

So I’ve found myself another fun and interesting distraction. Bent wood rings. But first, allow me the courtesy of providing a little bit of backstory. See, when my wife and I got married, we didn’t want to have conventional gold or silver wedding bands. We wanted something a little bit more interesting. Ultimately, we opted for some that were made out of tungsten. They were dark, sturdy, inexpensive, and looked pretty badass.

That doesn’t mean that they were perfect, though. Tungsten is an interesting metal. It’s hard without being brittle. It’s so hard, in fact, that if the ring was stuck, but it was critical that it be removed (like a medical emergency), it couldn’t be cut through without harming the finger it’s on. Likely, the finger would need to be removed. I used to joke about it by saying, “That’s commitment.”

The other difficulty with tungsten as a ring is that it’s heavy. Much heavier than your typical wedding band. I used to joke about that, too. I’d say that the weight was there to remind me that I’m married. I didn’t really need the reminder, but I always got at least a courtesy laugh when I said that.

But after six years of wearing it, the weight is really what caused a problem for Heather. She actually had to stop wearing her ring regularly because it hurt her hand to keep it on for extended periods of time. Of course, we still weren’t about to dip into the realm of common conventional ring materials. So we looked around. What other things could rings be made of that would be light to wear and have at least a little bit of any interesting look?

Through a series of events that involved a snowstorm and a visit to an emergency veterinary clinic*, we stumbled across an interesting material: wood. That got us investigating. As Heather scrolled through a few websites with photos of bent wood rings, I said it.

Wood Rings - cherry and rose quartz

Cherry with rose quartz inlay

“I could make that.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Sure. Bet I could even do that inlay thing in wood or stone.”

“Then do it.”


So since she called me on it, I’ve been working on making wooden ring experiments in my free time for the last month or so. I’ve got about 20 finished ones in nearly as many types of woods. I’ve gotten pretty good at it. And I discovered something. I actually like making these wooden rings.

Wood Rings - walnut and hematite

Walnut with a hematite inlay

I mean, I regularly do all sorts of analog traditional art in addition to my digital work and writing. However, as someone who typically doesn’t wear any jewelry, I’ve never tried making some with any seriousness. I mean, in the past I’ve done wearable craftwork projects long ago—in leather and beadwork mostly—but those were mostly one-off things intended as gifts or to see if I could make them at all.

These wooden rings have started out that way, but now when I make them, I get genuine creative satisfaction I get as when I draw or paint. It’s an amazing somewhat disheartening realization. Amazing because, well, I’ve already explained that. Disheartening because I now have another exciting creative outlet that could potentially distract me from other projects. Balance and time management are going to continue to be a struggle.

But you know what? I think it’s worth it. It certainly beats the alternative of having no creative outlets at all.

So yeah. Now I have a new gallery on the Visual Stuff section of this site. I’ve included a few choice pieces for this post, but have a look there if you’re interested in seeing more. I’ll update the gallery as I make more, but you can also see them as I make them if you’re on my Daily Creative Facebook group, or if you follow me on Instagram.

Wood Rings - zebrawood and purpleheart

Upright: zebrawood, turquoise, stainless steel | Flat: purpleheart

Oh, and as a bit of an epilogue to this, Heather has picked one as her new wedding band. It’s zebrawood with a stainless steel inner and an inlay of turquoise. Of course, I’ve discovered that her selection choice is fluid… often she lays claim to whatever my latest experiment is. Of course, I plan on making more of these, so she’ll have per pick as I keep going. 🙂

*It’s less interesting than it sounds. Our 13-year-old Labrador/Akita mix had a stroke and we found him laying outside, unable to get up from the ice (Georgia doesn’t get snow… not really),  The emergency veterinary doctor had a ring that looked like it was made of wood with some kind of stone inlay.

The Podcast Returneth [soon]!

You may have noticed that there have not been any new episodes of the Open Source Creative Podcast in the last handful of months. It’s true. I haven’t posted any new episodes since May (May? Yes, May. Wow.) Truth be told, my plate has been pretty full with conferences, the Creative TriMonthAlon thing (which was a bunch of fun, by the way), and other assorted things. However, that’s no excuse. I want this podcast to continue… and apparently so do a number of you fine folks as well.

So, I’m proud to announce that the Open Source Creative Podcast will be returning for a triumphant second season! Wheeeeee!

But after the holidays. No one listens to podcasts on the holidays, right?

Creative TriMonthAlon: Sculptember Week 1

I mentioned a couple posts ago that, starting in September, I was going to embark on a “Creative TriMonthAlon”, wherein I would complete three months of daily creative output. The first month would be (and is) Sculptember. We’re a week into it and as far as I can tell, we’re having a great time. I know I am. Here’s a look at what I did in the last 7 days:

(That last one might look at bit unimpressive, but it was a challenge I set for myself when I realized I was having troubles sculpting anything at a right angle.)

The coolest thing, though, is that it’s not just me. There’s a small group of us doing this (or at least one leg of the full trimonthalon) and it’s been incredible to be taking part in this with other people. It’s not too late for you to pile in, either! Just join in our Facebook group, Google+ community, or use the #sculptember and #trimonthalon hash tags on any other social media platform. It’s good times! I’m looking forward to what the rest of the month(s) brings.

JungleBook: Simple Kindle Ebook Cover Analysis

Top 50 Kindle Ebook Covers by Category

I got myself good and distracted from my regular project work and ended up writing the start of a little script that I’m calling JungleBook. It’s makes images that are pretty and interesting… and might just provide a little bit analytical benefit.

Story time

Anyone else familiar with Pat David? Well, you should be. He’s a super-cool guy that who runs PIXLS.US, a site dedicated to photography with free and open source tools. However, that’s not why I bring him up. A few years back, he was playing around with using ImageMagick to generate an average blending of images. He’d pull in magazine covers, all the frames in different films and music videos, and portraits of U.S. presidents. However, what really got my attention was a piece he did wherein he averaged the top 50 suggestions that Netflix made to him, by genre.

He did all of that a few years ago, but I only recently stumbled across that work… and it got me thinking (dangerous, I know).

See, as I’ve been involving myself more with writing and designing books, I’ve noticed a few common suggestions keep popping up. One of those pertains to book covers. There’s a [valid] recommendation that if you want your book to sell in a particular genre, go look at the bestselling covers in that genre and recreate their look for your book. The logic behind this suggestion is that people, as purchasers of media, aren’t particularly interested in things that are new and wildly different, regardless of what they say. This is especially true of genre readers. They may appreciate original perspectives after purchase, but before they buy, their goal is to re-experience what they’re already comfortable with. You want to design a cover to meet that expectation.

So when I saw Pat’s Netflix piece, it got me curious. What if I used that process of averaging images on ebook covers in categories within the Kindle store? What would it tell me about color choice and composition for various genres? I had to find out.

However, there’s a problem. I’m lazy.

Going through each genre on Amazon and manually downloading the top 50 book covers in each one would be a lot of work. Boring, tedious work. So I did what any lazy person does… I reached for technology and wrote a little Python code. Amazon, being a technology company, has developed a nice, convenient API (application programming interface) for their store… a way for code to talk to it. The idea is to make it easy for advertisers and sellers to use Amazon’s data on their websites for easy purchasing. So with a little light research on the API, I was able to cobble together a handful of lines of code that would suck down the top 50 ebook covers in whichever genres I wanted. Then I’d just need to use Pat’s basic technique and make those averages (also scriptable). Sweeeeet.

The results

The results (as shown in the top image of this post) might just appear to be an interesting mess (as a friend of mine said, “doesn’t it just mean that all book covers look alike?”). However, if you look closely, there’s a lot of cool things that can be learned. We can start with the obvious stuff. For instance, titles and author names are typically at the top or bottom of covers in most genres. You can tell that by the large horizontal blocks of vertical lines that are focused at the top and bottom of most of those images. Nonfiction and Humor covers tend to use brighter colors overall. Westerns use mostly brown and orange hues (sand and the dusty plains… go figure). Stephen King shows up in the Horror genre so much and his titles are placed with enough consistency that it very easy to see a giant KING at the top of that genre’s composite.

King is big in horror

But there are some unexpected and interesting things learned from this exercise, too. Take a look back at the combined image for Westerns. See that dark, strong horizontal bar across the bottom? How much do you want to bet that a lot of Western genre book covers feature a wide landscape or sunset/sunrise shot? And it’s easy to see that most comics and graphic novels put their titles at the top of the cover, but who would’ve guessed that yellow would be in so much use in that category? It’s even more striking when compared against the other categories.

Notes on horror and comic covers

Here’s a fun one: check out the mix from the books in the Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense category. There are a four very distinct horizontals almost evenly spaced along that image. Books in that genre don’t stick to keeping their titles at just the top and bottom. Oftentimes, those covers are very sparse on imagery and consist of just the typography over the whole cover. Nonfiction covers are similar, but the titles tend to be less bold, so you don’t end up with those four distinct regions.

Typography on Mysteries, Thrillers, and Suspense books

My favorite composition thing to note comes from the three fantasy-based categories: Science Fiction and Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, and Dark Fantasy. These three have a very noticeable compositional triangle on their faces. Romance, Westerns, and Horror have similar focusing, but the shape is more oblong than triangular.

Shapes reveal in compositions

What’s next for the JungleBook script?

So this little chunk of code’s got me some pretty cool results… and pretty quickly (laziness FTW!). I’ve gotta say I’m pretty happy. Once I clean it up a bit, I’ll probably push Junglebook to my GitHub account and share it around. At the very least, that’ll make sure it doesn’t get lost on my hard drive. In the best case, perhaps a better programmer than me can find a cleaner, more elegant way to generate images like this… or even more interesting images that reveal more design hints and tips.

Of course, now my mind is spinning with all kinds of other cools things to look into. For instance, Amazon updates the bestsellers list on an hourly basis. What if I tracked the number one book in each of these genres for a month and averaged those together? What might that tell us? Or consider the fact that I’ve only looked at a pretty small representation of all the different categories in the Kindle store. What if I set up a website that would generate a top 50 averaged images for any category on the fly per user request? Or what if I did these averages every day for a month and then animated them to see how the average changes throughout the year? If I did it for multiple years, we could see if there are seasonal shifts and trends.

There are so many different possibilities here that I’m not entirely sure where would be the best place to start. So guess this is where I drop in the question(s): What would you like to see? What would be most useful? What do you think I should do next?

A Busy Little Ape

OK, OK… I know that I haven’t posted anything new here since May. However, it only looks like I’ve been on a summer vacation. In reality, this has been a surprisingly busy summer for me. And the approaching last quarter of this year doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Not one little bit. So what have I been up to? Let’s scurry through the the list.

Cover Art

Definitely True: Year OneI never explicitly mentioned the fact that I did the cover art for Definitely True: Year One, my first book of lies under the name M. J. Guns. Well… I did. I also wrote an in-depth guest post on RenderStreet’s blog that covers the whole design and production process I used. And of course, that was all done using free and open source software. I really like that cover and definitely had a lot fun making it. Just for fun, I submitted the cover to the monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards for June over at It didn’t win anything—I didn’t expect it to—but at least the one-liner of feedback he gave was positive (hey… I take what I can get). I’m already sketching out ideas for Definitely True: Year Two.

The SteadfastOn the subject of book cover art, I was approached to create the cover art for another book, and this time not by one of my other personalitiespen-names. This cover was for a book called The Steadfast, by Jack Faber. It’s a survival story that features a barrage of midwest tornadoes and a westward escape on a solar-powered commuter bus. Tons of fun. Both the book and the cover. Not only did it mean I was able to make a 3D model of a commuter bus (and texture it!), but I also got to play a bit with smoke and particle simulation to generate a tornado. Only downside… Blender doesn’t have a nice way to add motion blur to smoke simulations, so I had to add some blur in post. Still, though, I’m a big fan of the result and I had a blast making it.

And continuing the subject of cover art and design stuff, a new podcast was recently launched called the Open EdTech Podcast. It’s a show dedicated to the topic of using free and open source software in education and education technology. I know the host of the show, Thaj, through some other podcasty things I do (more on that in a bit). He asked if I would put together a cover art image for this show of his. So… I did. And it was a lot of fun. For this one, I decide to try to see what I could do without breaking out the 3D graphics. So this whole thing was produced just using Inkscape. I’m pretty pleased with the result.

Open EdTech Podcast


Speaking of podcasting, you may have noticed that there haven’t been any new episodes of the Open Source Creative Podcast for quite some time. Sorry about that. I do maintain, however, that it is not podfaded. It’s just been on a summer break. In fact, I have a new episode recorded already. I just need to edit and post it. With any luck, I’ll have that done within the next week or so. So stay tuned (which… incidentally, makes a lot less sense absent any real broadcast signal. But hey, colloquialisms. What can ya do?)

That said, I have actually been participating in another podcasty thing. The first and third Friday of each month, a group of folks gather together to record the LinuxLUGcast. It’s basically an online Linux Users Group (LUG) that records its meetings (held via Mumble) and posts them as podcast episodes. It’s a lot of fun and I always learn something each time I participate. And, being a LUG, it’s open to anyone to participate. The next show is on the 4th of September (2015). Come on by and join in!



I also attended the SouthEast LinuxFest (SELF) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Even gave a little talk there on open source creative tools. That was actually the first time I’ve ever attended a conference with a specific focus on Linux and free software. I had a great time, met a lot of cool people. Played Cards Against Humanity with a dozen people in the middle of the hotel bar… hopefully we didn’t scar the sensibilities of any innocent bystanders. Not too much at least.


And I’ve been writing, too! Not just that guest post on RenderStreet, either. Of course, I’ve been keeping up with M. J. Guns’ daily lies on, but there’s more than that. I’ve recently become a moderator over at, which includes a monthly Open Art column that I’ve been writing. The column focuses on topics that are [hopefully] important to people who use free and open source software to produce creative work.

And while that has been using up a substantial chunk of my writing time, I’m still making forward progress on a fiction serial, which I’ll be releasing under yet another pen name. So that’s a giant barrel of fun, too!

And more stuff!

There’s more to come. Be on the lookout for a little coding project I put together (currently codenamed “Junglebook”). I’m stupidly excited about it, so there’ll be a blog post on it in the next day or so. In addition to that, I’ve decided to challenge myself with what I’m calling a Creative TriMonthAlon, three months of daily creative output. It starts next month with Sculptember, then Inktober, and finally wraps up the whole thing with NaNoWriMo in November. I want to see how many people I can get to take on at least part of the full challenge, so if you’re interested in playing with us, come join in the fun. I’ve made a Facebook group (it’s the first link in this paragraph) as the primary home base for the thing, but I might add an additional group on Google+ for those allergic to the FB.

And there’s more conferencing stuff in my future. I’ll be at the All Things Open conference in Raleigh, North Carolina during mid-October and (with any luck), I’ll also be attending the Blender Conference in Amsterdam again. Both should be giant buckets of fun… so if you’re going to be at either of those confs, definitely track me down and say hi.

Whew… so yeah. That’s my update. How’d you spend your summer?

My lies! They have moved!

Definitely True

With the launch of my first foray into fiction, Definitely True: Year One (it’s a book), under my pen name, M. J. Guns, I’ve made a decision. It’s high time that my lies have a home of their own. They need a place to live and propagate (or fester and incubate, if you prefer). So… I’m going to continue my lying ways, under the name M. J. Guns. Any lies I’ve made on this site will remain here. But any new lies, starting with #2000, will be coming from their new site, Go there, subscribe… and follow M. J. Guns on social media. I hear it freaks him out.


Blender For Dummies, 3rd edition… Released!

Blender For Dummies

So in the midst of my indie writing shenanigans, the 3rd edition of Blender For Dummies is officially out and in the wild as of today! Wheee!

As a result, I’ve relaunched as the official website of Blender For Dummies. Content there is pretty sparse at the moment, but stay tuned! I’ll be posting a new article, tutorial, or neat thing there each day for the next handful of days.