Summer Reading: 15 under 40

I love to read new and emerging fiction, and I get particularly excited when I read a great story by a peer. Below are the 15 writers under 40 who make me really giddy. I probably could have chosen 20 with some more thought, but 15 came to mind very easily. I included both fiction writers and poets.

Every year, The New Yorker publishes a Summer Fiction Issue. This year, the editors decided to compile a list of the best 20 writers under 40. I don’t necessarily agree with this list so I decided to make my own.

I love to read new and emerging fiction, and I get particularly excited when I read a great story by a peer. Below are the 15 writers under 40 who make me really giddy. I probably could have chosen 20 with some more thought, but 15 came to mind very easily. I included both fiction writers and poets, and my list is arranged alphabetically.

1. Nick Antosca, fiction writer (b. 1983): I first discovered Antosca when I read his story “White Apple“, published online at Spork Press. When I Googled him, I learned that he is only two years older than me but has already published two novels: “Midnight Picnic” (Word Riot Press, 2009) and “Fires” (Impetus Press, 2006). His writing has appeared in Nerve, Hustler, The New York Sun, The Huffington Post, and other publications. You can read his blog and follow him on Twitter!

2. Matt Bell, fiction writer (b. August 29, 1980): About a month ago, Matt Bell did a cool experiment; he wrote and edited a short story live on the Internet. He is the author of “How They Were Found”, a forthcoming collection of short stories published by Keyhole Press. In addition to publishing three chapbooks, Bell has stories in over 70 literary magazines, including American Short Fiction. He also writes book reviews and essays, which have been published by The Los Angeles Times and American Book Review, among others.

3. Kevin Brockmeier, fiction writer (b. December 6, 1972): I first read Brockmeier in grad school, when my professor Merrill Feitell encouraged us to check out “Things That Fall from the Sky”, a story included in a collection of the same name. I will forever remember this story as one of the most heartbreaking (in a good way) things I have ever read. What I like best about Brockmeier is his ability to cross genres; he has published two collections of stories, two children’s novels, and two fantasy novels.

4. Stacie Cassarino, poet (b. February 15, 1975): Cassarino’s poem “Northwest” is one of my favorite poems of all time. She writes: “The mind loves hope. /Dumb heart, come down from the walnut tree. /All the distance is ultimately a lie.” In 2008, New Issues Press published her first collection, “Zero at the Bone”. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, Gulf Coast, Iowa Review, and Georgia Review, among others.

5. John Grochalski, fiction writer and poet (earned B.A. in 1996): Grochalski is identified as more of a poet than a fiction writer, but I really like his short story “Bill Smells“. He is the author of poetry collection “The Noose Doesn’t Get Any Looser After You Punch Out”, published by Six Gallery Press in 2008. His poems have appeared in Avenue, The Lilliput Review, The New Yinzer, and The Blue Collar Review, among many others. His fiction has been published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pequin; one of his stories will be included in “Living Room Handjob”, an anthology.

6. Anya Groner, fiction writer and poet (b. January 26, 1982): I don’t mean to brag or anything, but Groner and I are Facebook friends. She just completed her MFA and lives in Mississippi. Groner’s story “Tenderly Now, Before I Expire” is one that I love dearly. I first read it in Flatmancrooked’s anthology “Not about Vampires”. Her writing has been published by Fiction Weekly, Memphis Magazine, and Bookslut.com.

7. Victor LaValle (b. February 3, 1972): LaValle visited the University of Maryland when I was a student there; he even came to speak and answer questions at one of our creative writing workshops! I tend to confuse him with Junot Diaz, but I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. He is the author of a short story collection, “Slapboxing with Jesus”, and two novels: “The Ecstatic” and “Big Machine”. “The Ecstatic”, my favorite, was a finalist for both the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

8. Sarah Manguso, fiction writer, poet, and essayist (b. 1974): Manguso’s most recent book, “The Two Kinds of Decay”, is a memoir of her struggle with a rare autoimmune disease. Her poetry collections include “Siste Viator” (2006) and “The Captain Lands in Paradise” (2002); the Village Voice named the latter a Favorite Book of the Year. She has won a Pushcart Prize and numerous prestigious fellowships. She currently teaches at Fairfield University.

9. Christopher Merkner, fiction writer and poet (earned B.A. in 1996): I saw Merkner read at AWP this year, and I really enjoyed his poems about marriage and children. You can read some of his poems online at Gulf Coast, a journal of literature and fine arts. I’m not familiar with his stories, but he recently had fiction, a story called “The Cook at Swedish Castle”, published in the Black Warrior Review. He teaches creative writing at the University of Colorado Denver.

10. Mary Miller, fiction writer (age 32): I read about Mary Miller in HTML Giant, the “internet literature magazine blog of the future”. Then, I read her story “Go, Fish“, published in Barrelhouse in 2008. Miller writes:

The cherry falls from his cigarette. It lands on the carpet and she thinks, this is how fires start. She steps on it, pretends it’s a spider that refuses to die. When he looks up at her, she says, “Your cherry,” and he says, “Oh.” Then he asks her to sit on the bed with him and she says she’s comfortable where she is because it was an unexpected offer and her first inclination is always to decline.

Miller’s stories have also appeared in Oxford American, Mississippi Review, Black Clock, and Quick Fiction.You can purchase her chapbook, “Big World“, online.

11. Meghan O’Rourke, poet and critic (b. 1976): O’Rourke is best known for her role as contributing writer to Slate, but she is also a talented poet. She is the author of “Halflife“, a collection of poetry published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2008.

12. Marissa Perry, fiction writer: I can’t find very much about Perry, and I’m only assuming that she’s under 40. I know that she lives in New York City, that she also designs websites, and that she has an MFA from the University of Michigan, which awarded her a prize for her thesis in 2006. I loved her story “Trespassing”, which was published in Tin House’s 2008 Summer Issue. I think I e-mailed her once, to ask her some questions about process and craft; however, she was really busy at the time. You can read her blog, Abandon, and her story “The Invisibles” in Zoetrope.

13. Josh Peterson, fiction writer (b. December 7, 1978): I know Peterson’s work the same way I know Groner’s; I discovered one of his stories in “Not about Vampires” (Flatmancrooked). Peterson is pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas and works part-time as a freelance writer. His story “The Nipples of Men” is forthcoming in The Tomfoolery Review, and another story, “An Infinite Amount of Monkeys,” is forthcoming in Defenestration.

14. Selah Saterstrom, fiction writer and poet (b. 1974): Saterstrom’s book “The Meat and Spirit Plan” is one of my favorite books of all time, and I’m pretty sure that every 20-something woman should read it. Like LaValle, Saterstrom spoke at one of my creative writing workshops in grad school. Her earlier work is experimental and can also be classified as poetry. Her work has appeared in Tarpaulin Sky, Monkey Puzzle, 3rd Bed, and in the Seattle Research Institute’s anthology Experimental Theology. Please read her.

15. Emma Straub, fiction writer (age 30): Like Peterson and Groner, Straub is also a Flatmancrooked author. I bought her book, “Fly-Over State” at the Flatmancrooked table at AWP; I even had a chance to meet her! As she promises on her website, everyone who buys her book will receive a personalized love letter. Straub also co-edits Avery: An Anthology of New Fiction and the Read section of the Dossier Journal website. I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter!

Who’s your favorite writer under 40?

(Photo by el7bara)

No One Would Read James Joyce’s Blog

One reason people have so much trouble paying attention to digitized content is because it’s updated so frequently. Writers and content are so numerous that readers don’t become married to any one writer or publication; they don’t develop trust and the confidence that what they will read will change them or help them learn something new.

After years of staring at Ulysses on my bookshelf, I finally decided to start reading the epic 800-something-page novel by James Joyce. Reading this book is an investment, especially since rumor has it that it’s a “difficult” work, one that doesn’t always make sense and is too language obsessed.

However, I really enjoyed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I like a challenge, and I’ve heard that the personal rewards of completing this book are really worth the effort. With that in mind, I pick up the book and say, “I trust you, Mr. Joyce.” And I also trust all the smart, creative people who have loved the book before me.

Otherwise, would I read this book? Even consider reading this book? Probably not.

On Tuesday, I published a post (“Attention Spam“) in which I claimed that writers, not the Internet, are the reason that readers have trouble focusing on digital content. After I committed to reading Ulysses, I realized how very true this is.

When Ulysses was first published in the United States, censorship issues caused quite a stir. The 1933 court case, “United States v. One Book Called Ulysses” drew a lot of attention to the book and the issue of free expression. Ulysses was not to be published in the US for more than a decade, but that only sparked readers’ interest. Travelers were smuggling copies of the book from France.

This was exciting. This made people want to read Ulysses. Would Joyce’s writing be tolerated if someone published it for the first time today? Published online? In blog format?

Joyce, at that point a controversial, lauded, and respected writer, had the luxury of not needing to cater too much to the reader. He could be an artist and experiment with language and form. Joyce knew that his audience trusted he would take them somewhere new, even if that destination was not initially clear to them. I’m sure the length and difficult level of his novels were the last things on readers’ minds.

One reason people have so much trouble paying attention to digitized content is because it’s updated so frequently. Writers and content are so numerous that readers don’t become married to any one writer or publication; they don’t develop trust and the confidence that what they will read will change them or help them learn something new. They don’t push themselves to a challenge that might be rewarding. Sadly, there may be no room for “challenging” or experimental writing on the Internet.

Nicholas Carr’s new book, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains“, is receiving a lot of attention and acclaim. Personally, I think Nicholas Carr’s writing is difficult and bore-inducing. How can Carr convince us, in an unfocused book, that we have no attention span?

Reviewer Darcy writes: “This incohesive book must have been written for the attention deficit victims of web browsing that Carr continuously talks about, because its limited information content should have taken the more appropriate form as two or three succinct blog posts.”

As long as we use the Internet as a publishing platform, writers need to recognize that they need to be as concise, specific, and reader-catering as possible. More writers are writing – and that can be a good thing! But writers shouldn’t expect to be worshiped like a Joyce or find patience among readers wanting the clearest, most concise writing possible.

(Photo by maxf)

Attention Spam

My attention span is perfectly capable, but you’re spamming it. The Internet is not responsible for the lack of attention span. The Internet is responsible for rewarding navel-gazing and self-absorbed prose which no one can read or pay attention to. The writers are not doing a good job charming the audience.

My attention span is perfectly capable, but you’re spamming it.

A lot of people (Nicholas Carr and Bill Wasik, among others) blame the Internet for my shortened attention span. I can’t seem to focus on longer-form articles and novels. My mind wanders, hungry for small bites of information.

But not always.

In fact, recently I was very much charmed by a few longer-form articles, which I read on a computer screen; “Hive of Nerves” is one that was able to hold attention. What gives?

A few days ago, I was reading a book about puppies. A dog owner shouldn’t yell at a puppy that chews shoes or makes a mess because a puppy’s mischief is the owner’s fault. Puppy doesn’t know any better.

Readers are puppies. The writer can’t blame them.

Columbia Journalism Review is a bi-monthly publication of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In the May/June issue, the cover story claims is one writer’s search for journalism in the “age of branding”.

As I was reading this lengthy story, I kept wondering why I was having so much trouble paying attention and following along. I wanted to be interested in what promised to be a compelling story, but I couldn’t focus. I skipped whole paragraphs and jumped around, trying to get to the meaty stuff.

When I got to the end, I asked myself many of the same questions I do during a break-up: Was it me? Was it you? Could I have done something differently to make it work? Did we simply not understand each other? Why won’t you just stop talking already?

Why does a piece about personal branding in journalism need to begin with an essay about the writer’s life story? I seriously wanted to rip my hair out by the time I got to the end of this article, and I know for a fact that the writer has a good story to tell, but she was so caught up in navel-gazing that she couldn’t flesh out her story for the reader. Maureen Tkacik just seemed to want an opportunity to spit on everyone that helped her build her career.

Says fiction writer George Saunders, “The reader is a person you need to charm. You better bring your good shit.”

Last week, I wrote a post called “Stop Trying to Pick Lint from Your Bellybutton” because I’m really sick of navel-gazing content. Using big words, inserting complicated examples, and waxing nostalgic about your not-so-remarkable life does not mean you’re bringing your good shit. The Internet has become a public diary, and not just in the obvious I-have-a-blog-and-I-like-to-overshare way.

When you were a pre-teen, did you have a diary where you chronicled your daily thoughts and actions? Did you lock it? I bet the worst thing you could have imagined was someone reading your diary. We have forgotten the meaning of a lock.

Though Tkacik seems like she COULD be a good writer, most of her essay includes a lot of tidbits she should have kept in her diary. She has not created enough distance between herself and the experiences she has chronicled to be able to write about them in a way that makes sense to the reader. They don’t even make sense to her, and it shows.

(Photo by ntoper)

Stop Trying to Pick Lint from Your Bellybutton

Write to learn about yourself and other things, not because you want to thought-vomit all over your blog. Listen: we all do it! Of course, we’re all navel-gazers to a certain degree because we’re all our own best reference points. The world DOES indeed revolve around us. But the center of gravity shouldn’t show in your published blog post.

I can’t even tell you how many times a day I roll my eyes at the Internet. Wouldn’t a livestream of my eye-rolling be oh-so-adorable? No.

Because no one cares how many times I roll my eyes at bloggers who write rambling, unedited posts about completely unremarkable things. “Navel-gazers”, or self-absorbed twits, is the term we commonly use to describe them.

Don’t be an attention-begging Internet fame-whore. The Internet has enough of those.

Write to learn about yourself and other things, not because you want to thought-vomit all over your blog.

Listen: we all do it! Of course, we’re all navel-gazers to a certain degree because we’re all our own best reference points.

How can we judge the world without judging ourselves first? The world DOES indeed revolve around us. But the center of gravity shouldn’t show in your published blog post.

You have to learn how to be your own best editor. Be tough with yourself! When you write blog posts, tell yourself, “Nobody is going to care about this. That sentence is going to make someone roll her eyes.”

Have a total inferiority complex, border on the insecure, and only share what you think people will really want to read. Don’t act like your parents gave you a little too much encouragement as a child. No one likes those kids.

Here’s an example: in the blog post I wrote yesterday, “Commitment Is Calling the Landline“, I deleted rambling paragraphs about how some dude broke up with me, how I judge people based on Facebook pictures, and how one person’s Facebook status scared the crap out of me.

If I had left those things in my post, you probably wouldn’t take me seriously.

I needed to write those things to understand what I wanted to Write. But I needed to delete them before giving you something to read.

Offering a personal experience as a solid example is one thing. Telling a personal anecdote that drives your blog post off course is a pointless bonanza.

You CAN be self-referential without being self-flagellating.

Any time you catch yourself writing a sentence that starts with “This one time…” or “I used to…”, just reread that part a few times and truly ask yourself if it’s necessary.

Maybe it is! Maybe you do have something important to share, but make sure you stay exactly on course. Perhaps that one personal anecdote IS the focus, meaning everything ELSE needs to go.

Deleting chunks of something you’ve written may seem scary, but it’s actually liberating – no longer will you remain stuck inside of yourself like that piece of lint in your…NO, DON’T LOOK!

(Photo by meddygarnet)

Make Sure the Concrete Is Dry

A lot of companies use metaphors to describe their products and/or services. They have grand philosophies about their methodologies, the ways they interact with customers, and their commitment to quality and excellence. Blah, blah, blah. Let’s get to the point.

A lot of companies use metaphors to describe their products and/or services. They have grand philosophies about their methodologies, the ways they interact with customers, and their commitment to quality and excellence. Blah, blah, blah.

Sometimes, companies get so caught up in selling philosophical mumbo-jumbo that customers can no longer understand what the company is selling. Unclear company messages are especially apparent online (corporate websites, social networking channels, etc.), where written marketing messages need to be communicated as efficiently and clearly as possible.

Readers will only tolerate so much text on a screen, and you have to make the most of whatever time and/or attention when they give you. That doesn’t mean you need to substitute text for video and/or pictures, though they do help. You CAN explain your business in a compelling, concise way.

So how do you translate corporate speak to an audience that may or may not understand the industry? What if customers need your product and/or service but doesn’t necessarily know anything about the thing they need to purchase? How can you gain trust quickly and easily?

Offer them solid footing. Think of a stretch of sidewalk in your town. If the concrete is not yet dry, a person walking in it will sink, mess up their shoes, and probably not be happy about the experience. They may even complain and cause a commotion.

Before you let anyone walk on your sidewalk, make sure the concrete is dry. Be tangible, have texture, and use CONCRETE information to support your claims. Don’t write about the idea of walking. Instead, write about what it feels like to walk on your dry, solid concrete.

Start with very specific examples. Use case studies. Pick things your company has done successfully. Write very specifically about an event or instance. If you want to generalize anecdotal information for the sake of a general company introduction or a Twitter bio, take the piece of writing and strip away the specifics, leaving the stand-out points, the action words. This will ensure that your claims are grounded in reality and still make sense to the customer.

Of course, you are passionate about your company and want to share as much as possible. However, imagine that you have only 30 seconds to tell a potential customer why he or she needs to buy your product/service. The person doesn’t understand English very well so you have to communicate with basic words and concepts. Your life depends on this sale. What would you say?

Keep theoretical or idea words to a minimum. Idea words are good for internal use, excellent for motivating employees, and perfect ideals for executives trying to achieve company goals. The customer doesn’t care about what’s happening “behind the curtain”.

Speak in tangible nouns and verbs, things you can touch rather than things you think or imagine. You want current and potential customers to walk on firm ground, to feel like every step makes so much sense that they’re not even thinking about the ground beneath them.

(Photo by kelp)

When You Can’t Please Everyone, Please Yourself

The Internet can make you believe that you have a potentially limitless readership, but that concept is simply a false lure that can mess with your ability to produce quality work. Some people succumb to greed, others to lust; don’t be the one who breaks under the weight of wanting to be an Internet celebrity.

Two months ago, marketing expert Seth Godin blogged about a “culture of clickers”, people who are constantly seeking the next best thing online. He argues that content creators should try to appeal to a small, appreciative audience rather than a mass audience. Godin writes:

Culture has been getting faster and shallower for hundreds of years, and I’m not the first crusty pundit to decry the demise of thoughtful inquiry and deep experiences. The interesting question here, though, is not how fast is too fast, but what works? What works to change mindsets, to spread important ideas and to create an audience for work that matters? What’s worth your effort and investment as a marketer or creator?

When you blog, do you care about building a loyal, interested readership, or are you simply seeking attention?

The Internet can make you believe that you have a potentially limitless readership, but that concept is simply a false lure that can mess with your ability to produce quality work. Some people succumb to greed, others to lust; don’t be the one who breaks under the weight of wanting to be an Internet celebrity.

How can you write thoughtful blog posts? Here are some tips for writing insightful, interesting posts that will help you earn the loyal following you deserve.

1. Don’t think twice about writing something. If you really want to write something, don’t doubt yourself for more than one second. The people who appreciate what you write are the people you want as readers. Even if your readers disagree with you, at least you got them to think! Consider that in itself a success.

2. Respond directly or share something that truly moved you/made you think. One of the best ways to connect with the readers you want to attract is to share what delights and repulses you. By sharing articles, music, videos, quotes, etc., you are revealing aspects of your personality and allowing your readers to bond with you on a more intimate level. Your interests paint your personality.

3. Consider writing in a way that mimics your everyday, casual speech. Forget writing for school or work; your blog is your place to write however you want to write! I highly encourage experimenting with different voices until you find one that works for you. Most readers perusing blogs expect a casual, friendly tone so leave the formal writing in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to curse, use slang, make up your own words, or express yourself in other languages.

4. Imagine your audience. Who would you like your ideal audience to be? If you could read your blog posts out loud to a room full of people, who would be in attendance? Do you want to read to a group of female bodybuilders? Do you want to read to eight-year-old boys? You have the power to attract the people you want to attract.

5. Use a recurring phrase, image, or idea. Do you have a friend who wears a certain accessory all the time? Is your friend known for a special necklace or a specific pair of shoes? Your blog is a place for you to wear your custom-made Nikes or nameplate necklace. Find an image or phrase that works for you and work it.

(Photo by Anosmia)

The Grammar Police Need to Get a Life

Now, with more people communicating and sharing through cell phones and iPads, it’s even easier to make typing mistakes (smaller screens, smaller keyboards, malfunctions, etc.). I admit it: I try my very best to write correctly, but sometimes I just miss errors. I’m tired, distracted, etc. I don’t pretend to have an editor or a staff.

Last week, the New York Times ran an article about Twitter’s self-proclaimed grammar/spelling/stupidity police, who troll the social networking site with handles like Grammar_fail and GrammarHero. In “The Self-Appointed Twitter Scolds“, John Metcalfe writes:

A small but vocal subculture has emerged on Twitter of grammar and taste vigilantes who spend their time policing other people’s tweets — celebrities and nobodies alike. These are people who build their own algorithms to sniff out Twitter messages that are distasteful to them — tweets with typos or flawed grammar, or written in ALLCAPS — and then send scolding notes to the offenders. They see themselves as the guardians of an emerging behavior code: Twetiquette.

Now, with more people communicating and sharing through cell phones and iPads, it’s even easier to make typing mistakes (smaller screens, smaller keyboards, malfunctions, etc.).

I admit it: I try my very best to write correctly, but sometimes I just miss errors. I’m tired, distracted, etc. I don’t pretend to have an editor or a staff. I do the best that I can, and I put myself out there as much as I can.

Fire the editors at newspapers and magazines, and I can promise you that you’ll start seeing a lot of errors. Even the most talented, most experienced writers make mistakes, especially in longer-form articles.

Does that mean everyone who can’t afford or has the luxury of an editor should stop writing? Sure, bloggers/tweeters should be careful and take into consideration the rules of grammar and proper spelling, but that doesn’t mean they will always be able to catch their own mistakes.

I do catch a lot of mistakes I make, usually after the fact. As a natural-born perfectionist, I struggle with the need to delete or change things I think are incorrect. However, for the most part, my errors are not fatal; they aren’t hurting anyone or obscuring the meaning of my writing. They are just nitpicky things that the grammar police would notice.

I’ve learned how to leave these errors be. I have enough confidence in myself as a writer to believe that these small errors, if caught, won’t cause anyone to judge me or think I’m a poor writer.

I put myself and my work on the line a lot, and I think it’s more important to keep producing the best content I can without obsessing too much about it. Sharing my ideas is more important to me than perfecting the hell out of them. And the more I write, the better I get at catching and preventing my own mistakes.

One thing’s for sure: if you’re sitting around policing other people, you’re not saying anything original. You’re just being negative. Taking risks and taking them often means you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. In the end, the risk-takers win. The people criticizing the risk-takers don’t move forward; they end up exactly where they started.

Theis anecdote about William Safire is a great example: “Fans of the late journalist and linguist William Safire may recall his ‘Gotcha! Gang,’ readers who liked to point fingers at the occasional lapse in Mr. Safire’s weekly language column for The New York Times Magazine.”

At the end of the day, Mr. Safire will always be known as a beloved language expert. The “Gotcha! Gang” is currently enjoying obscurity.

(Photo by didbygraham)

Laryssa Wirstiuk is a social media marketing and online image consultant. Learn more about how she can help you and your business gain friends and customers by visiting Comma ‘n Sentence Consulting.

Content Is Fine, but a Platform Is Divine

How does a media company, especially an emerging media company, earn a solid enough reputation to entice readers to pay? The New York Times can flirt with the prospect of offering premium online content because they are The New York Times. I have thought about this question as it relates to Too Shy to Stop.

A few weeks ago, in a post called “Twitter Is the New Flea Market“, I explored possible answers to my question: is the Internet simply one large flea market?

I wrote:

When I think about all the people trying to sell their services/products on Twitter, I think about a large, bustling flea market on a Saturday afternoon.

Twitter is a big empty field where all the vendors set up their tents and tables, peddling their wares. Most of these goods are the same, but the vendors do their best to sell you, taunting you with their tempting deals and charming outbursts.

Cultivating an online presence is definitely an important aspect of any business’s marketing campaign. But that doesn’t mean social media marketing is the be-all, end-all strategy for attracting new customers and creating a solid brand.

Innovation means pushing the boundaries both on and offline.

Reviewing my initial ideas, I realized that these same observations can be applied to the numerous online magazines/newspapers and print publications trying to cultivate their online presence. So many people keep asking: how can a website that only offers content make any money? How can content be a commodity?

Sadly, I don’t think content in itself can be a commodity, at least not in the digital marketplace. Readers are so spoiled by free digital content that they will skip pay-to-read content for the (usually) poorly-researched, poorly-written version.

How does a media company, especially an emerging media company, earn a solid enough reputation to entice readers to pay? The New York Times can flirt with the prospect of offering premium online content because they are The New York Times.

I have thought about this question as it relates to Too Shy to Stop, the online arts and culture magazine that I founded in 2008. Sure, offering great content on a regular basis is an admirable endeavor, but doing simply that is a dead end.

Without the Internet and WordPress, Too Shy to Stop and this blog would not exist. Who knows? Maybe, in an Internet-less world, I would spend my nights cutting and binding pages to make a zine that I mail out to my loyal subscribers. It doesn’t matter.

My reality includes plans for a private Too Shy to Stop companion website (it existed once on a basic level) that satisfies very specific ideas and needs I have related to the site and potential advertisers. I will need to create a platform that doesn’t yet exist.

I stumbled upon this blog post by Valeria Maltoni, who built one of the first online communities associated with Fast Company magazine.

She writes:

What if Twitter goes away one day soon in the way many publications and media channels have in the last couple of years? What if Facebook decides to charge you a steep fee to even develop a fan page, create a group or build a community there?

What happens to your content? Where are the connections going? How will you reestablish that influence?

Yep, all those social networking gurus, online marketers, make-money-online specialists, etc. will lose their greatest (free) tool. They all desperately depend on tools like Twitter, and their inability to innovate and create a proprietary medium will eventually be their downfall.

You know that Destiny’s Child song “Independent Woman“? They sing, “’cause I depend on me”. To be a media company, you have to CREATE a new platform that is wholly your own.

Online publications will not make money by simply offering content, no matter how good the content. They will make money by leveraging new and innovative technologies and personalizing these technologies to fit their needs, audience, and image.

(Photo by goodrob13)

Laryssa Wirstiuk is a social media marketing and online image consultant. Learn more about how she can help you and your business gain friends and customers by visiting Comma ‘n Sentence Consulting.

Tweeting from the 2010 AWP Conference

I am in Denver, CO, attending the annual conference and bookfair for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. When I attended last year’s conference in Chicago, I could hardly believe how many people still support and believe in print as a medium, despite all the hype about print’s impending death.

From Thursday to Sunday, I will be in Denver, CO, attending the annual conference and bookfair for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

When I attended last year’s conference in Chicago, I could hardly believe how many people still support and believe in print as a medium, despite all the hype about print’s impending death.

In my blog entry about last year’s conference, I wrote:

If you have ever worried about the death of print, you should have attended the bookfair, which was a smorgasbord of literary journals and publishing houses dedicated to literary fiction and poetry. The exhibition rooms smelled of glossy covers and freshly printed ink on paper.

This year, I’m curious to see how many publishing houses and literary magazines have recently adopted social media marketing strategies, and I’m also eager to learn about new or interesting ideas regarding publishing and new media.

Will attendees be carrying their iPads? Will exhibitors talk about printing and reading alternatives?

As I observed last year, the literary magazines and publishers that attend this conference cater to writers hungry to be published, win writing contests, and gain exposures. Most writers dream of seeing their names in print, right?

I hope to attend panels about writing for and seeking publishing opportunities in new media, and I’m curious to observe attitudes regarding new alternatives.

I have noticed that writers within academia (major sponsors of this conference include universities and non-profit arts foundations) tend to be slow to adapt technological advances.

I plan to take a lot of notes, and I’ll be tweeting about everything I observe. For your convenience and my own sanity, I’ll be tagging my tweets with #AWP10, the official conference hashtag. If you want general conference updates, follow @awpwriter.

I will report my observations on Monday! I’m also taking requests for souvenirs – leave suggestions in the comments below!

(Photo by janetmck)

5 Ways Social Media Has Made Me a Better Writer

Social networking tools have definitely helped me improve my writing. If you truly want to improve your writing for all media, you will use every opportunity to improve your craft. To provide clear and clever content, you should shake what your momma gave ya (whether that be 140 characters, infinite space of a blog post, or a sexy booty).

More than once, I’ve heard the argument that Twitter can help people improve their writing. When your medium has a 140-character limit, you tweak your message until it’s crystal clear.

However, I’ve seen some very poorly-written tweets from people on a consistent basis, without any signs of improvement. I also know some writers who can tweet but who, when given the opportunity, mentally masturbate all over a page.

If you truly want to improve your writing for all media, you will use every opportunity to improve your craft. To provide clear and clever content, you should shake what your momma gave ya (whether that be 140 characters, infinite space of a blog post, or a sexy booty).

Social media probably won’t help you if you have no interest in craft, but social networking tools have definitely helped me improve my writing in the following ways:

1. Dialogue – I used to be terrified of writing dialogue, and I have great respect and admiration for screenwriters and playwrights. Dialogue is so difficult to write because it can easily sound contrived. We don’t usually think too much before we speak, but we think a lot on the page.

Watching dialogue unfold online has definitely helped me feel more confident using it in fiction. Gchat conversations are a great way to practice safe textual banter. Twitter @ replies are another way to hone dialogue. Even a Facebook status and its subsequent comments mimic a conversation.

If you read my Twitter stream, you probably notice my “OH” (overheard) tweets. You probably think I’m just being silly by posting these bits of conversation, but I actually like paying attention to dialogue and thinking about what makes it work.

2. Precision – Without the benefit of facial expressions and hand gestures, I must be very precise when writing for social media. Generally, I don’t have a lot of space to convey my message.

When I write fiction, I can take my sweet time getting to the point, and I can use fancy tools like figurative language. However, most readers don’t have the patience for these things. Social media allows me to practice on a contemporary audience.

3. Discipline – Blogging and sharing little bits of creative writing with my social media audience has provided me with discipline. I become accustomed to updating my blog and offering new content on a consistent basis.

Because I blog every night, adding creative writing to the blogging mix just makes me feel more obligated to tend to it. Anyway, it’s a treat after writing professionally all day.

4. Confidence – Sharing writing of any type can be a very daunting task. By now, I am pretty much used to it (harsh but helpful criticism in grad school workshops toughened me up), but I still get nervous when sharing new work. Most of the stuff I write for this blog does not require a lot of my emotion. But creative writing (…wait for the drama…) drains my soul.

Posting short story revisions on LaryssaWrites.com has slowly boosted my confidence and helped me realize that I don’t have to be afraid. The more I share my stories, the more I realize that people can relate to them. I should share what feels emotionally genuine to me.

I’ve also learned to shake off some of my perfectionist tendencies. When my priority is airing out a new piece of writing and letting it see the light, I have to accept that the piece might not be perfect. Trusting the process is the key to confidence.

5. Inspiration and Creative Stimulation – Being active on social networks means that I am constantly in conversation with people. Before Facebook and Twitter, I was mostly inspired by real-life conversations, but the inspiring and profound moments in daily mundane conversation are rare. Online, I have thousands of different perspectives and voices buzzing around me at all times. Any second could be a chance for a new idea.

I love pushing people further, asking questions, picking brains, and getting other people to challenge me. I sometimes like to pose incendiary questions or make daring statements just to see if anyone can shake me. For a creative person, social networks are a great high-energy environment. Pretend you’re playing a game of double-dutch: jump in when you seek inspiration and jump out when you need introspection.

How has social media helped you improve your craft?

(Photo by Glamour Schatz)