Wired Words festival jumps on social media bandwagon

OK, it’s pretty hard nowadays NOT to be on the wagon. But for those that are just getting hitched, the Federation of BC Writers hosted the first annual Wired Words symposium on the earlier this month at the historic Maritime Museum of British Columbia in downtown Victoria.

To be honest, I didn’t know specifically what was going to be covered at the festival beyond what was said on the website: “to help writers keep abreast of technological changes.” Sounded good to me.

I had never been to the maritime museum before, but it’s a really well kept facility that used to be a courthouse, complete with a fully-functional birdcage elevator (oldest in Canada? I think that’s what the attendant said). After a slow but memorable ride to the third floor, I walked into the restored courtroom where the speakers were presenting.

There were five speakers in total, with one (Mandy Leith) giving two presentations. Coverage focused a lot on helping authors use technology like the Internet to self-promote and publish. That’s probably why a large demographic in attendance were published novelists and poets, with a businessman and a couple journalists thrown in the mix. I’m going touch on some of the more important topics discussed below.

Lorne Daniel: writer

Are e-books better or worse for writers? Is it an excuse to pay writers even less? Daniel said everything changed last Christmas when everyone got e-readers as presents. Writers need to re-examine their relationship with their readers, because technology and social media have broken down the barriers of communication allowing a direct connection and immediate two-way interaction.

His 3 guesses of the future:

  • reading won’t disappear
  • paper books won’t disappear (we still have radio)
  • writers won’t disappear

Authors are also have more direct control over the entire publishing process — it’s no longer just typing up a manuscript and dropping it off on someone’s desk to take care of the rest. Some are even designing their own book covers, but there are now some things that cannot be controlled like how text might look on an electronic device due to varying screen sizes or user-controlled display settings. Daniel said PDFs are one possible solution, since they essentially look the same no matter where they are viewed.

Melody Poirier: manager at Island Blue Print/Printorium

Porier talked about the importance of writers promoting their own work in an electronic space be it via Twitter, a blog, etc.

“If you’re not excited about your own work, will others?” asked Poirier.

Other things that writers should be mindful before handing off their work to be printed:

  • Get your work professionally edited first! And not by your nephew who says he’s good at copy editing.
  • It’s all about re-writing. Don’t skip this step.
  • Have your cover professionally designed unless you know what you’re doing.
  • Consider having a pro lay out your work.
  • People will notice “home-made” characteristics like using a default font (i.e. Times New Roman), or kerning that causes uneven gaps between letters.
  • Printing a proof of your book is not when you should be doing proofreading. The process is costly and all errors should have alerady been caught.

Mandy Leith: film and social media storybuilder

Leith had one of the most dynamic presentations of the day. With a background in filmmaking, she has fully embraced social media as a new way to tell stories. She stressed that the myriad online tools available nowadays from Twitter to Flickr are the fastest and easiest way for writers to being building an audience an hone their craft.

She compared old methods with new ones. Legacy media is passive consumption, that is it is a one way push or mass marketing from the source: traditional advertisements, newspapers, etc. This was the main type of media up until five years ago.

Social media means engaged contribution. It pulls rather than pushes, encouraging two-way conversations with the source and its consumers.

She used the common phrase “fish where they swim” when trying to build a following of like-minded individuals. What tools are they using? Using Twitter as an example:

Listen: don’t start talking without listening first. What are other writers talking about? What conversations are they having?

Engage: be authentic. Use an informal, conversational style. Have a focus and do one thing well. Be curious, experimental and above all be social!

Twitter tips:

  • Comment on other people’s tweets
  • Share other’s contributions 90 per cent of the time, sell your own 10 per cent
  • Build trust
  • It’s a gift economy — what can you give away for free? People gobble up top ten lists

For further coverage of Wired Words, check out blogs by Kim Goldberg and Craig Spence.

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