Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Storytelling, Twitter Style - The Results

I've completed my first experiment in "Twitter Storytelling," @NoWedgiesForMe, consisting of forty-one tweets between December 12th and 20th in the voice of Alexander, the protagonist in my book, "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain."

In concept, I find the idea fascinating: telling a story in "real time," through the intimate perspective of a fictional character and the 140-character brevity of a tweet. Minimal description, combined with what is essentially a stream-of-consciousness illusion could create an engaging story.

In practice, I enjoyed the creation of forty one tweets, which told a uniquely "Alexander" story, in which his wildly active imagination led him to the conclusion that he would be the victim of a horrible prank on the last day before school was out for the holidays. His panic builds until the last hours of the last day, when he's not the recipient of a horrible prank, but a mysterious wrapped gift from his supposed enemies, and a request "not to open before Christmas." With that cliffhanger, I concluded the test.

This wasn't a wide test - @NoWedgiesForMe has only seven followers - but putting the concept into practice left with with several questions to consider:

  1. How might this concept best be applied? Is this Twitter account an opportunity to tell an entirely new, ongoing story - or should it reflect the existing (and future) book more directly? 
  2. What is the ultimate objective? Is this simply added-value content?
  3. Should Alexander's story exist across several platforms that cross-promote - Twitter, and a blog, for example? Instagram and other platforms might also be part of Alexander's world - but naturally require a much larger investment in time and resources to create a photo record of Alexander's fictional life.
  4. How can I make sure that people actually see these tweets? While the real time concept is intriguing - a Twitter feed is constantly moving. The "authenticity" of Alexander tweeting in real time probably translates into the fact that most followers would never see his tweets. Most Twitter users don't search back in their timeline too far.  Will anyone really see what Alexander tweets at 7:30 or 10 am? 
Gary Vaynerchuk, one of the most well-respected experts on the use social media (Crush It, among other titles), recently posted a opinion in favor of tweeting the same message multiple times - to make certain that users in different time zones might see the same message (i.e. a 9am tweet on the east coast is likely to be missed by someone on the west coast, so that same tweet might be repeated at 9 am Pacific time).  This would make sense in the case of @NoWedgiesForMe, but a second phase of this experiment would need to explore a new methodology in order to maintain Alexander's voice.  After all, he wouldn't have typically retweeted most of the 41 existing tweets.

I'm considering the lessons of the small, first attempt, and in the new year I'll adjust the concept and try again - stay tuned!

Have you seen a similar concept in practice?  Let me know!

Previous blogs on this topic:
Getting Real: My Protagonist Tweets!
Alexander's Tweets @NoWedgiesForMe (Update)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Alexander's Tweets @NoWedgiesForMe (Update)

Almost a week ago, I began an experiment in, for the lack of a better term, Twitter Storytelling. I've created a Twitter account [@NoWedgiesForMe] for Alexander, the central protagonist in my novel, "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain." I know that there are numerous experiments going on that are along these lines, and I liked the idea of creating a supplementary "reality" for the universe by the book and it's upcoming follow-up. 

The big question - will people actually see these tweets? I don't usually search back on your earlier tweets - I'll read what you tweet now. Do I need to make Alexander a habitual repeat tweeter, so that people will actually see these?  Or, do I simply use the Twitter account as a basis to create updates elsewhere (here, or on the Facebook page, for example).  If a reader is more interested, then they can follow on Twitter directly.  What do you think?

The Story So Far:
As winter vacation looms, Alexander gets nervous that bullies might plan something on the last school day before the holidays...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Getting Real: My Protagonist Tweets!

One of the greatest challenges I have as an independent author is continuing to build word of mouth for my book.  For the first few months, the book is new and that, in itself, can be considered newsworthy.  As of this writing, it’s been nine months since the book first appeared in ebook form, and seven months since it was available in paperback. I’m currently writing a follow-up volume to “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain,” but that won’t be ready for several months.

As we approach the end of the year, I’ll be initiating several new efforts to keep the book alive in the minds of readers - and, perhaps, reach new readers in the process.

The first step in that effort begins today, with the launch of a new Twitter account, @NoWedgiesForMe - tweeting in the voice of Alexander, the central character in the “Food Chain” books.  He’ll tweet about his day-to-day life, as many people do, but followers will also be able to follow an entirely new story as it unfolds day to day in “real time.” If followers choose, they can also interact with Alexander, and he’ll respond.  Alexander’s quirky personality and skewed observations of the world around him are a central highlight of the novel, and I believe he’s nicely suited for a life on Twitter. While related to the world portrayed in the novel, Alexander’s experiences on that platform will be original and independent of the original and upcoming novels.

I’m excited about experimenting with this new form of storytelling, and, like the entire process of writing and releasing a self-published book, I’ll be curious about how this approach might engage readers, and, perhaps, help build an audience.

I invite and hope for your involvement - follow Alexander @NoWedgiesForMe

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who's the Puppet NOW?

Currently, I'm working on the follow-up to "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" (which I'm calling Book Two at the moment).  The new volume will continue the story of Alexander and his friends from about where the first book left off. Like any thirteen year old, Alexander is a work in progress, and I've been interested in exploring just where his life and his quirky personality will lead him.

I wrote a fairly detailed outline of almost the entire book. I had an idea of how Alexander would react to the events in the first book, and aspects of his friendships and his relationship with his parents that I wanted to explore. I've also been reading and listening to readers, and I'm taking into account those characters and situations in which they've shown particular interest.

I had it all planned out...

Then came Alexander.

The moment i sat down and began to work on the first chapter, all of my initial plans dissolved.  In the original book I was creating a cast of characters.  In this book, they already were established.  They have likes, dislikes, good and bad habits and histories (some of which I haven't yet revealed).  I couldn't adjust character traits to suit the story; I had to discover the story through their established personalities.

Alexander is a tricky character. He's at once sympathetic and annoying. He can be both compassionate and selfish. At his heart, though, he's a good kid nearly overwhelmed with the challenges of growing up, and is struggling, like most kids, to figure out the world around him.

The great challenge in telling Alexander's story is to keep that precarious balance. He tends to over-react to events in his life, but with a motivation and intimate logic that makes perfect sense - to him. What seemed to work in the outline seemed completely implausible the moment I tried to translate outline into story.

It’s almost as if Alexander is peering over my shoulder, watching my every word and making darn sure I don’t disrespect him.

Don't let anyone tell you that characters in a story are the author's puppets.

It's the other way around.

(Currently I'm about almost a third of the way through the first draft; if Alexander doesn't interfere, Book Two might be ready by spring!)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Finding Creative Energy

When I was in fourth grade and about ten years old, I wrote a short, Star Trek-inspired play called "The Crash" ("It was the year 1999 and ship 666 was on it's way to Saturn."). With the encouragement of my teacher, Mrs. Hahn, my friends and I performed it for our class. We then went "on tour" to many of the lower grades.  We had simple props (paper masks for the aliens, and command badges for the crew members, and toy ray guns) and adjusted our simple staging for each classroom.

"The Crash" was my first experience in leadership and creating for an audience. Though I didn't understand it at the time, it was also an early lesson in the power of Creative Energy - setting an idea in motion and watching it take on a life of its own.  What once was just a concept in my head became an adventure shared by my friends.

In the following few years, I'd create other projects. Some would become super-8 films, and others short screenplays.  In Elementary and Junior High School, I would conceive television series ideas, and my friends would join in with episode outlines, set designs and character backgrounds.  We rarely put any of these concepts on film, but it didn’t really matter  - it was all about the the adventure of thinking and creating together. 

Creative expression - and interacting with other creative kids - proved to me that
Creative Energy - and interacting with other creative kids - was a motivating factor throughout my childhood.

If you reach only a few people - then through those people, you reach the world.

For a child, what concept could be more powerful?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kirkus Book Review Sneak Peak: "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain"

Kirkus, one of the oldest and most trusted book review sources (for over eighty years) recently reviewed "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" (Here it is on the official Kirkus site):

In Samuels’ droll debut YA novel, a 13-year-old obsessed with bullies becomes entangled in compromising situations.

Alexander, a shorter-than-average middle school student, has never been pantsed, wedgied or swirlied by bullies. He credits this achievement to his prodigious strategic planning and research, which he’s synthesized in his magnum opus: a smartphone app called BullyTrack. Its motto, which has also become Alexander’s credo, is “Stay Invisible. Stay Safe.” The app maximizes bully avoidance by informing users of specific bullies’ locations and habits and providing essential information about bullies in general. “Timing is everything,” the app advises, and that’s why it’s critical to reach the school gates at specific times, move swiftly from class to class, and never enter a locker room alone. Alexander also recommends eating lunch away from the cafeteria so that bullies can’t take empty seats and commandeer control of the table. One should also always bring one’s own lunch, free of messy, drippy items that might end up dumped on one’s head. “Condiments are not your friends,” Alexander says. He has three close friends who are bemused by his obsession with bullies and loyal to him—up to a point. But when a classroom discussion of a Franklin D. Roosevelt line (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”) unleashes Alexander’s paranoid delusions and results in his complete humiliation, it tests his friends’ willingness to excuse him. One of the less believable aspects of this otherwise entertaining novel is the idea that Alexander has any friends at all, but the book will ring true for many middle schoolers. The author does an exemplary job of detailing the ways that the powerful prey on the weak; however, he risks making Alexander unsympathetic by pushing his behavior from that of a risible obsessive to that of an outright psychotic. Readers might also have benefited from more insight into Alexander’s strange relationship with his parents and his frequent
neurological lapses or “trances.”

A witty, if uneven, YA novel, and a valuable addition to topical literature about bullying.

What do you think?  I'm pretty happy with the review, although I don't tend to think of Alexander as psychotic!  Or is he....

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rich and the Niche: Marketing My Book

One of my ongoing beliefs about social media and internet commerce in general is that it should be possible, theoretically at least, to reach your perfect niche audience.  Whether you’re a musician, filmmaker, writer, or simple have the ideal invention, you have access to that special group that would like exactly what you have to offer.

My Appearance on "Connie Martinson Talks Books"

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the task of reaching that niche is a simple one.

“My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain” has given me a tangible product - something that I can offer to the world at large. It’s not a proposed project, a partially completed project, or a concept.  It’s a book that available now through the tradtional channels.  Nearly anyone in the world can read my book in ebook or paperback formats, thanks to online retail sites.

The challenge, as a first time author, has been to generate awareness, and I’ve had some moderate success in that area since I released the book earlier this year.

As of this writing, I’ve enjoyed six reviews on Amazon, and five on Goodreads - along with a total of eleven ratings on Goodreads, as well.  I’d like to see more.  I also enjoyed a couple of good YouTube reviews, too.

I was interviewed on “Connie Martinson Talks Books,” a longtime book review and interview program that is available both on cable and on YouTube.  The opportunity to appear on a program that has also featured some of the most noted writers of the last thirty years is a great morale-booster.  

I’ve generated online press releases related to the book, which primarily has served to generate an increased web presence.  I haven’t actually detected many new stories that have evolved from these releases, however.

Sales have been steady, though nothing close to potential. 

What do I need to do?

I haven’t, by any means, exhausted all of the various tools and avenues that indie authors follow; as a first time author, I’m learning these skills as I forge ahead.  I’m only now exploring certain concepts, such as the “blog tour,” which allows authors to appear as “guests” on other blogs (either as writer or interviewee).  I’d like to explore the possibility of taking part in a reading of my book.

I’m looking for tie-in possibilities.   Though the book is a comedy, it’s offers a fresh take on the very current topic of bullying.  Alexander’s fear of bullying almost leads him to become a bully himself.  I’m looking for opportunities to build on that concept.  Some mental illness professionals and teachers have also indicated interest in the book’s message of tolerance.

Finally I need to keep writing. Establishing a presence as an author, and building interest in what I do, requires that I forge ahead.  Unbiased reaction to “Food Chain” has been good, and I’’m encouraged.  I’m already at work at the second book in this series, and have another, separate concept in the works after that.  This is a life-long ambition, and I remain excited to see how far I can carry it.

Your suggestions, as always, are appreciated.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Climbing Up From the Bottom of the Food Chain

[Update:  Within ninety minutes of posting this blog, I received a response from an inquiry I had made a couple of months back.  In September, I'll be interviewed on the most high profile book review program here in Los Angeles - this is an incredible opportunity.  Here's the interview as it appeared a month later]

In April, the e-book of “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain” (my official website here)  became available on the major sites.  In June, the paperback edition was released, and is now available on most on-line sites.  How has the “roll-out” of my book progressed so far?

A few facts:

1               I have had six five-star reviews so far on  Some were offered by those who received review copies, others from individuals I don’t know personally.
2               On, a social site for those who enjoy reading, I have had eleven ratings and five reviews, with an average of 4.18 stars out of five. Most of those reviews were offered by those who received the book as winners of a giveaway of ten copies of the paperback.
3               I have received two YouTube reviews of my book (from KeeperoftheMountain and ToadenK). KeeperoftheMountain also recorded a second video reading from my book.

A number of readers have shared photos of themselves with the book, and, and as fun way of keeping in contact with my readers, I have shared photographs of my book in locations as varied as Morro Bay, California and London, England.

My greatest challenge remains getting the word out.  All of the public reviews and ratings are helping to build a good base for the book moving forward, providing some legitimacy as people search for the title…


People have to search for it first. 

I need to generate publicity.  I need to build on the themes addressed in the book.  Reviews have been enormously helpful in developing a wider idea of just how people perceive the story and Alexander, the main character – and how this book contributes to wider discussions.  One on Goodreads, for example, indicated that the book “could potentially show kids how to be a good friend to someone who isn't exactly easy to be friends with.”

I need to encourage more reviews across various platforms – blogs, book sites, YouTube, podcasts.  These all those up in title searches, and help build awareness.  At this early stage, when the volume of readers isn’t very high, that can sometimes be a tough challenge.  Most people (including myself) don’t regularly write reviews – even if they like a book or product.   For an independent author like myself, however, those reviews are golden.  I’d also like to identify and encourage young YouTubers (as well other content creators) who might be interested in creating reviews or other videos.  (Contact me via this page if any of this interests you)

I’m also hoping to for feature stories and interviews related to the story behind the story – and the issues the book addresses.  Without an agent to handle publicity, it’s a bit tricky to conceptualize and promote press opportunities for myself, but it’s critical to my goal of connecting the book to as wide an audience as I believe it can reach.  

One of the most positive messages I’m getting from reviews and other reactions is the fact that most readers express their personal feelings about Alexander.  He’s generated a wide range of emotions, from understanding to frustration to anger. Some have expressed a fondness for Alexander, while others have said that he was so frustrating, “I’d love to slap him.”  These all feel like authentic feelings and responses to a person, rather than a character.   Generating an emotional response is a great reward.

I need to write more on the themes discussed in the book, on blogs and other sites, to further develop my credentials and awareness moving forward.  My intention has always been to move forward with my writing pursuits.  “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain” was never attended to be a “one-off,” speaking both of the characters and of my writing pursuits.

There are hundreds of thousands of authors pushing their wares across the internet. I recognize that I’m just one of many and I have my work cut out for me.  I’m fascinated with the challenge, and I see it as an ongoing part of a process I’ve been pursing of embracing the challenge of creating and marketing online media. 

I’ve written blogs, created hundreds of YouTube videos and experimented with social media – only to find myself, as a direct result of the experience, embracing my earliest ambition.

Your feedback and suggestions are always welcome!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Raw Nerves: The Two Most Common Questions About My Book

The two most common questionsRaw when I tell people about "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" are:

"Is it the story of your career?"  (nice guess, but no).


"Do you have kids?"

Do I have kids?  

It's a common precept that writers "write about what they know," but I'm almost always surprised when an individual assumes that I must have kids to have written about them.    
I suppose that relates to the perception that a writer often writes what he knows, but the idea that I would have to have kids to write about them is a curious concept to me.  I think it suggests selective memory some people have about their own childhood.  In particular, many don't like to recall the time in their lives represented by the main characters in "Food Chain."  In may or many not be a dramatic time in everyone's life, but being thirteen is almost always confusing and anxiety-filled. 

Many who have enjoyed the book mention the connection they feel with Alexander and his friends.  One friend, though, says he enjoyed the book, but hated Alexander for reasons directly related to a less-than-pleasant middle school experience of his own (it would be a spoiler if I was more specific, but it wasn't one of Alexander's proudest moments!).  The book touched a raw nerve.
Would you like a supply of my
new bookmark? Email

"Food Chain" may not be autobiographical, but it relates directly to my own junior high/middle school anxieties - particularly the fear of what might happen.  It also reflects my experience as a teen with friendship and observations I've made with a number of kids I've interacted with over the years. Most importantly, it reflects the common fears and desires most people have in common.  

When I wrote "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," my hope was to create a novel to which individuals of all ages might relate.  A good novel doesn't succeed simply because of plot or setting.  It succeeds because the reader understands the characters.   Whether a character is young, old or alien, we relate because, ultimately, he or she says something about the human condition that we all share. 

From Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" to the works of William Shakespeare to John Green, the hottest young adult writer ("The Fault in our Stars") at the moment (and a prominent YouTuber, by the way), classic and/or successful writers and novels last because they hit a nerve - raw or otherwise.  That's my ambition as a writer.

While I understand why someone might ask, "Do you have kids?", I wonder what someone would have asked had I written a novel about a serial killer....

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What's Happening So Far? Launching My Book!

June 1, 2013 - announcing the official
book launch on 
I've just passed the halfway point in what I've been calling my "official launch month" for "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," marking the full availability of my book in both e-book and paperback.  Since the e-book began appearing in various ebook stores (Kindle, Apple iBooks, Nook and much more of which I hadn't been aware), it took two full months for the "full" rollout.  Until the paperback began to become available in mid-May, I didn't want to start the process of promoting the book.  Despite the digital world we live in, a book that actually appears as a paperback - even a self-published one - is still perceived as a more substantial effort.  With the book in hand, I was able to start promoting the book in earnest.  I ordered a supply of promotional copies, and began distributing copies to friends and some family.

While a couple of reviews appeared early from ebook readers,  the promotional copies are generating reviews of their own.  As of this writing, I have five 5-Star reviews on, and two 5-Star Reviews on Goodreads.  Aside from my own videos, three videos have shown up on YouTube - two reviews and a follow-up (which included a reading).  These initial review reflect those across the United States (and one in the UK) who know me or have received promotional copies for one reason or another.  Nevertheless, these readers created well-written, insightful reviews that are helping to generate interest in the book (check out some great quotes from reviews  at
My book at Pismo Beach

I began "official launch month" as a guest on my friend Mike Lidskin's Sacramento-based internet radio program, The Twirl, at [Here's a YouTube Excerpt]  While appearing on a program about rock music might seem unusual, I like to say that it gave my book a bit of a "cool vibe."  Mike interviewed me on the program, I did a reading of a couple of pages from the book, and gave away a couple of copies to Twirl listeners.  it was great fun.

I also began a giveaway through, a social site to readers and writers alike.  At the end of June, Goodreads will send me a list of ten randomly selected readers out of the hundreds who will have entered the giveaway by then (about 250 have entered so far).  In the process of conducting the giveaway, hundreds - even thousands - have become newly aware of the book.  Some of these potential readers will eventually post reviews and so help spread the word about the book even more.

Social media efforts began right away.  Some readers have sent photos of themselves with the book, and I've some photos of my book in making random appearances around California (spurring even more photos from readers).  Naturally, the book will also travel with me to London on an upcoming trip.

This is just the beginning.  I'm learning and taking advice from friends and associates who share my belief in the book's potential - I'll share some of those insights soon.

So far, so good!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Even Authors Have Tech Specs

On YouTube and elsewhere, techies often share their gear specs - computers, accessories, specific software, cameras, audio equipment - everything.  I thought I would jump in on the game and share with you the tech specs related to the task of writing "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain."

1 - Hardware: 64gb iPad 2 (With some completion work on 32 gb 3.4 Ghz iMac 27")
2 - Apple Bluetooth Keyboard
3 - Arkon Portable Fold-Up Stand for iPad
4 - Software: Apple Pages (both iPad and Mac versions, synced via icloud), and some finishing work on Microsoft Word (so that I could work predictably with my copy editor)
5 - Primary Location: Starbucks, Valencia, California.  Secondary locations included Metrolink Train traveling from Valencia to Downtown Los Angeles, and my home in Valencia
6 - Primary Drink: Coffee (Pike Place Roast)

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Adventure Begins: My Book in the Real World

With the arrival of a box of promo copies of my book, this long journey is about to reach a climactic moment - not THE climactic moment, but the end of one stage and the beginning of the most exciting stage in the life of "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain."  I'm busily sending out copies to all of those promised, after which we'll selectively begin offering copies for review.  
The ebook is in full release, and the paperback is about to become available across the Amazon universe (actually, once I approved the final proof a week ago, it immediately appeared on Amazon sites in the UK and Europe, but the Amazonian powers-that-be are taking their time to make it live across the pond).  The discussion groups seem to indicate the book will show up in four to six working days - so I'm expecting a surprise any day now...

Comments and reviews are beginning to appear, and I'm - dare I say it? - overjoyed at the response (and no, they're not all from family!).  It's a promising beginning, but now the greatest challenge awaits: helping it find an audience.

For an indie author like myself, word of mouth - grass-roots support - is going to be critical - and I'm hoping that readers will be inspired enough to help spread the word.  Reviews on Amazon and elsewhere are incredibly important to someone without a publishing conglomerate behind him.  As I hope for reviews to begin appearing (three five star reviews are on Amazon as of this writing), I realize that I rarely - if ever - leave reviews on Amazon myself.  I don't think most people do.  One thing is certain - I have a stronger appreciation of their worth!  Check out some quotes on my author side,

I'm also hoping that readers witll use social media to promote the book - not only retweeting my book news and giveaways - but perhaps writing reviews or creating YouTube videos reviews (Zac Ward created this one for his "Keeper of the Mountain" YouTube channel).

Finally, while this book, it seems, is turning out to have cross-over appeal to adults as well, I'm hoping that kids and teens who like that book will share with their friends and through social media (and tell me about it). 

My friend Lynette Privatsky told me that I should think of the process of building an audience as a "slow burn," as I and my readers slowly spread awareness.  Whatever happens, the most exciting part of this adventure just may lie straight ahead!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ebook vs. Paperback: "Yeah, But It's Not A Real Book"

In creating a book aimed (or at least intended for) middle school aged readers, I've been curious as to whether my book will be read more in ebook or paperback.    While tablets are used more and more, they're still not as ubiquitous as they my own life.  In face, as the paperback version of "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" moves closer to publication, I've discovered anticipation and general interest has actually been greater than when I launched the ebook a couple of weeks ago.  When this all shakes out and I can see actual stats, I'll be very interested in seeing how readers are enjoying the book.

Coincidentally, recently shared with me this infogrpahic showing just how quickly technology is now being embraced in the classroom.  It combines data from a series of surveys and reports from a variety of news and media organizations to show that technology, finally is beginning to be embraced by teachers and (not unexpectedly) by students, after some uncertainty and suspicion just a few short years ago.

Though outside the scope of this graphic, I'd be interested in exploring if the "digital divide" between poor and wealthier schools has narrowed in recent years - or do these trends, as important as they are, still reflect schools that have the resources to embrace technology?

In relation to my book, I suspect that my target group, at least at this point in time, will largely read my book in paperback.  After all, when I told my eight year old nephew that I had an ebook, he was unimpressed, and said, "Well, yeah, but it's not a real book."

What do we Know Infographic

Monday, April 15, 2013

First YouTube Review of "Food Chain"

One of my strategies in getting my book out to the world at large is to encourage as many "grass-roots" reviews as possible - on YouTube, in blogs, podcasts - anywhere that spreads the word.  This video by YouTuber Zac Ward is what I hope is the first of many (if you have any suggestions on how I might get the word out, or know any of the above, please share your ideas!)

Ideally, I'd like to see reviewers of all ages - kids, parents - anyone who appreciates what they read in the pages of "Food Chain."  With it's somewhat unique title, most mentions of my book title, especially combined with my name, show up within the first two or three Google search pages.  It seems that an unusually long title is working to my advantage!

I'm also checking regularly to see if any reviews pop up on the Amazon, iBooks, or any of the other sites.  Nothing yet...but it's only been a week...

Enjoy Zac's "Redneck Book Review," also featuring a bit of autobiographical info about the author!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What It Took To Get Here: Why I Finally Wrote a Book

As of this writing, "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" has officially been launched in ebook form across most of the major (and even some not so major) outlets.  The paperback is still in process, but should be available in about a month or so.  In many ways, this is the culmination of so many aspects of my life stretching back to when I was nine years old, and wrote my first short story.

It's been about a year since I starting writing the book - and about nine years since the original screenplay upon which it was inspired first began to take shape.

While the story reflects some of my own junior high experiences, it also incorporates friendships and experiences stretching back to my earliest memories to my college years.

I actually finished writing the book (or so I thought) at the end of 2012 - but then spent nearly two and a half months working on polishing the manuscript with my editor/proofreader.

Going back even further, my nephew and I started discussing the original screenplay in 2004.

The very beginning of the first handwritten draft
of "Food Chain," which I then called "Targets"
Before the screenplay, I had actually started creating (and never finished) a fairly basic graphic novel based on the general idea (I'm still looking for those original drawings - I'd like to share them eventually).

The graphic novel idea evolved from a single image of Alexander (the main character in "Food Chain") and his friends that I randomly doodled.  The idea (I'll be a little vague, since the situation featured in that drawing may be a part of a future volume in the series) struck me as funny, and started the story process.

Go back even further, and the evolution of the novel descends from three separate branches.

I've been writing short stories since I was nine years old.  That first story, an school assignment in which we were to find a picture and write a story to go along with it, was titled, "The Lost Puppy." I've written hundreds of stories, short and long - shared some of them, and wrote most of them simply because I enjoyed the process.

I've played around with cartooning since I was in grade school - not with any serious intent, but simply to amuse myself and my friends.  In college, it became somewhat of a "thing" I did for and with my friends, and was great fun for a couple of years.

It wasn't until my nephew came along and was growing up in the late nineties and discovered my old cartoons that I was inspired to create new ones, usually to entertain us on our yearly camping trips.

I've been writing screenplays since fifth or sixth grade, following the form I learned from the screenplays my father would bring home from his work at 20th Century-Fox.   At first, they were short Star Trek knock-offs, but eventually they evolved into more original work.  I produced a couple as short films, and wrote (or attempted to write) a few feature-length screenplays - sometimes on my own, and sometimes with collaborators.  Before "Food Chain," two of those screenplays won a few awards here and there, and began to build my confidence in my craft.

"My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," then, is the evolution of all of my creative "adventures."

Whether readers will like it or not, time will tell.  I had great fun getting here, though!

Saturday, March 16, 2013


I've been taking a break from updating my various social media channels  - here, YouTube, Twitter and even (to a considerably lesser extent) Facebook.   My "time out" wasn't really anything planned or intentional.  I didn't wake up or come to a realization that I needed a break from social media.  My informal vacation had to do with several l things.

First, I've simply been too busy.  Work has picked up considerably this year.   As I write this, I'm juggling several productions for several different clients, each with individual deadlines, levels of client involvement, and particular challenges of their own.  I also have several other projects on the horizon that will be equally as time consuming (recalling the old worn adage, "when it rains it pours").  I actually find that having to work on multiple projects at once to be a fun challenge - meeting all the deadlines, creating a quality project that the clients like, and finding inspiration simply from making the overwhelming manageable.

Having said that, my personal creative projects have been very much on my mind.  My novel, "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," is finally nearing publication, fulfilling what I'm finally admitting to myself has been my single greatest ambition.  Everything I do - producing, directing, editing - circles back to my first love - writing.  I've always thought of myself to be a writer above all else - but I've never written a novel.  Like screenplay writing, I've simply never had the patience to commit myself to a project that would then require a several-year attempt to win acceptance from a publisher or producer, who might be willing to try to bring the project into the sunlight and in front of an audience.

While I would love to have a formal publisher, the world has changed for emerging writers.  I can now bring my work - my writing - directly to my audience.  I can make both ebooks and paperbacks available and accessible by major online retailers.  I no longer have an excuse.  If I write it, it can be delivered.  If I write it well, and work with a qualified editor, that audience will respond and grow.

Response so far by my early readers has been positive, I'm focusing a lot of my energy and time on working to bring it out to a wide audience.  I've shared some of those efforts on the Facebook page for the novel,  but have been more selective on what I share across other media.

My creative horizons- and how I pursue them - are evolving, and with them, my social media personality.  Between this blog, my YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter, I hope to share that evolution.

To support "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," please check out the Facebook page:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Announcement Vlog!

My somewhat anxious vlog...announcing my book!  It took me forever to sit down and do this - Somehow, it's now more real....I guess I better get it published!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Social Media Guillotine

The problem with sticking your neck out is that you can never be sure your head won't get cut off.

Though I've been involved in aspects of social media for quite a number of years (I started my first blog in 2005), I really didn't seriously “launch” myself into the universe until 2010.  I ramped up a new blog to record my impressions, started a YouTube channel to experiment in that world, began using Twitter to pull it all together, and pondered what this new world of accessible media would mean to my future.

My current projects: one, an "evolution" of documentary filmmaking, and the other a genre novel offered in both e-book and tradtional editions (click on the image for the respective Facebook pages)

I've worked in aspects of visual media all of my life - I make my living as a creator of documentary, promotional and educational media. I sometimes work as an editor as well. I've won recognition, including three Emmy awards, and I sometimes have taught filmmaking workshops as well.

Creatively, though, I'm not where I want to be. 

Since I began to explore social media and watching the masters at work (people like Gary Vaynerchuk and even the icons of YouTube, I've developed several hunches about "what this all means"  to me:

  1. Social Media technology is an entrepreneur's playground.  More importantly, it allows more people in more places around the world the chance to become entrepreneurs than ever before, and reach a worldwide audience
  2. Creative entrepreneurs - content creators from YouTubers to writers of ebooks - have an opportunity to achieve their individual goals - as long as their individual goals aren't simply tied to just one social media platform.  

The key, I've come to believe, is to establish personal creative goals, and then perceive the entirety of social media as an opportunity to achieve those goals.

I also believe that many content creators don't appreciate that their talents are bigger than the platforms they use.  Many talented YouTubers see success on that site at their only option - instead of just part of a bigger picture. 

My beliefs, though, have been largely theories.  Beginning last year, I began my own “grand” experiment to put those theories to work.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Vlogger Interviews: CountyofSDDAS - Animals Rule!

There's no question anymore about the power of social media and online video.  Revolutions have been born, causes have been promoted, products have been sold, stars have been created and dreams have been fulfilled as a direct result of social technology.  

Just how to create an effective online video, however, is a an art that's largely elusive to many businesses and organizations.

The County of San Diego Department of Animal Services, however, is discovering that it's worth the time and effort to create fun, entertaining online videos - distinctly different from the typically schmaltzy tug-at-your-heartstrings videos that have so far dominated similar efforts by animal organizations.  

Tiffany Shields, Supervising Animal Care Attendant with the County, teamed up with a video savvy volunteer, Greg Baldwin (who happens to be my nephew), and together they've created over twenty videos promoting not only adoptable animals, but the people and ethics of their department - and always with a broad sense of humor that makes the videos fun to watch - even if you're not intending to adopt an animal.

In this interview, I talk with Tiffany and Greg about the evolution of these videos, their impact on the community and on the department itself.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Taking the Leap: Publishing My First Book

A short time ago, I launched the Facebook page for "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," a novel I've been working on since early last year.  It's the story of thirteen year-old Alexander and his outrageous fears of daily life in middle school.  His fears of what might happen spiral out of control, until he feels compelled to confront a boy he perceives to be his arch-enemy.  It's a fun little novel that's had an eight year evolution that began with a few casual comic drawings and an award-winning (but unproduced) screenplay.  It's also my first novel, and so fulfills a life-long ambition.  With the help of my editor / proofreader (in the guise of my niece, who does that sort of thing for a living), I'm almost ready to send Alexander out into the world.

Aside from the not-inconsequential task of actually writing the novel, it's become relatively easy to self-publish these days. Amazon, Barnes and Noble's Nook and Apple's iBook are becoming more and more widespread, and the pathway to preparing a book for publication is relatively straightforward - even more so when using one of several low-cost services that specialize in physically preparing works for those devices.  Createspace, service that currently offers my documentary Bollywood Steps both as a physical DVD and on-demand video, also provides a similar service for paperback books.  Amazon manufactures books on demand as consumers order them.  My costs, depending upon the services I chose, can range from nothing to several hundred dollars. For a minor expense, my work is available to the world.

In recent years, self-publishing is less seen as so-called "vanity publishing" as a legitimate pathway to a potential audience.  It still takes quality work, word of mouth, and a bit of creative marketing  - but it no longer requires the approval of  a "gatekeeper."

Don't get me wrong.  I wouldn't mind someday achieving the still valuable legitimacy of being distributed by a mainstream publisher.  At the same time, I'm not willing to shop around a manuscript for untold years when I can reach my intended audience directly.  

I don’t care how old or how young you are - life is too short not to take a leap of faith.  We’re living in the age of the entrepreneur - nothing is stopping us from at least giving it a try.

Naturally, I'm a bit anxious to see how this will all unfold - and if I can, in fact, reach the young audience I believe would most enjoy the book.  Will ten people read it?  One Hundred?  One Thousand?  Have I done my job as a writer? As a marketer?  It's a great, exciting challenge.

"Food Chain" is part of a broader effort I’ve undertaken to discover how I might better employ social media to achieve my personal and professional goals.  I'll assess how that effort is moving along in my next blog.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Latest Vlog on "Life Online!"

Contribute at

We're slowly putting together a new strategy to make the film a reality.  More news soon!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Thirteen Point Six: "Life Online" and My First Try at Crowd-Funding

The Indiegogo Funding campaign for my new documentary, "Life Online," ended on New Year's Eve.  We raised a total of $750, or 13.6% of the $5,500 goal.  We had a total of 17 donations, ranging from $2 to $150, from donors in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. .   Of course, I would have liked to have gotten closer to our stated goal, but this is only the first step in a wider effort to get the film made.  Am I disappointed?  Sure, but the experience proved to be invaluable, nevertheless.

When I began the campaign, I hadn't realized to what extent events in the world at large would play in my efforts.  I felt obligated to hold back on social media efforts for hours or even days at a time.  During the period of this campaign, there were major efforts on Indiegogo and elsewhere to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  The Presidential election occurred a week into the campaign.  I didn't tweet or post content related to the campaign in the days following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School - that simply felt unethical and disrespectful.  My campaign also occurred over the Holiday season, extending from Thanksgiving to New Year's Eve.  

This campaign provided an opportunity to re-connect with many of my documentary colleagues, and presented opportunities to help the further development of this project (i.e. a feature film), once this short film is done.   I also spoke with a couple of college production classes about the project and social media in general, confirming my belief that the time is right for "Life Online."  Finally, wrote this feature story on my project and social media philosophy.  That, in itself, is incredibly valuable.

As part of this effort, I've been posting blogs related to my thoughts and ideas related to this production: inspiring films, my approaches to production, and my perspective on social media.  This hyper-focused content has increased my social media network (especially my blog readership,  but Twitter followers and YouTube channel subscribers are also trending upward). 

Why didn't the campaign reach it's full potential? There are numerous reasons, of course, ranging from topic to campaign management, but it really comes back down to the "crowd" in crowd-funding.  Final stats showed that I had only 303 visitors to the campaign page - but with a total of 1,031 views (meaning some of the same people visited several times). The page was liked on Facebook 104 times, and tweeted a total of 146 times.  For this to have been effective, those numbers should have been much higher.  Once again, this sort of campaign only works if the campaigner can actually attract a "crowd."  I'll leave the question of how I would do things differently for another blog.

Was it worth it? Definitely.  The campaign was useful in launching the project and creating some early "buzz," which will in turn prove helpful as we move forward and explore other avenues to help make this a reality It also continued my ongoing effort to build a creative "eco-system" to support my creative work across traditional and nontraditional platforms (more on that soon).  

Finally, it's important to mention that I had the choice to either create a funding arrangement that paid only if the goal was reached, or create an arrangement that paid out regardless of the final result.  I chose to the second option.   Part of my reason is motivational:  Friends and strangers have donated time and money to this effort.   Those who have chosen to contribute to the project, or help promote it in other ways, have expressed trust and belief in my abilities to follow through.  

Crowd-funding is a fantastic tool - even if it provides just 13.6 percent of the funding.
My social media efforts focus on exploring ways of using social technology as a tool to accomplish my creative goals.  It's not, however, the only tool available.  While I would have liked to have fully funded this project with this one method, many productions come together through multiple channels of funding and support - I'll continue to pursue those other channels. 

The experience of creating and running this campaign has enhanced my understanding of the mechanics of creating effective and useful social media.  Experience trumps theory every time.

And yes, I would do it again.