The Writer Who's Using Longform to Take Instagram to the Next Level (re-post)

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Two months ago, when GQ contributing writer Jeff Sharlet (@jeffsharlet) downloaded the world's most popular photo app, he posted on Twitter: "New to Instagram. I like the family & friends function, sure. But who are the real photographers to follow?" He was navigating an unfamiliar territory of selfies, food pics, and humble brags. While those images fascinated him in their own way, he wondered: how could he contribute? (Duck-lipped pouts in the bathroom mirror: out of the question.)
Sharlet went shoe leather. He began interviewing strangers, taking their snapshots, and composing beautifully wrought essays to accompany the images. (The app's character limit on descriptions, it turns out, is 2,200 characters, or around 400 words.) On September 25th, he posted on Twitter: "It's so simple. Hang out someplace. Ask people if you can take their picture. Phone, point, shoot. Talk to them. Voila! A true story." And then, yesterday on Facebook: "These Instagram essays aren't distractions from my work. They're becoming my work."
He also digs up phone pics from stories reported months ago, reviewing notes and writing new essays to expand on and deepen the stories that were originally published. His last four posts—embedded below—are from the trip he took to St. Petersburg and Moscow to report for us on the gay resistance in Russia. Read these, revisit that piece, and start following Jeff.

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How Can I Get Comments on My Blog? (Re-Post from Bad Redhead Media)


In my continuing series where I answer questions asked by YOU (in this case, this question comes from writer MJ Kelley), staff writer Naomi Blackburn takes on ‘How can blog posts incite reader comments?’ Thanks MJ for a fab question! Here you go….
When I first started writing guest posts, I was often disappointed if I didn’t get any comments on what I wrote. Though I was told by my hosts that they were, in fact, being read, I considered giving up altogether because no one seemed to be involved enough to comment—but I’m so glad I didn’t.
Instead, I reached out to other writers to get their opinions about why readers weren’t commenting on my posts. I learned that quality, interaction, and networking are tools that, when used effectively, can lead to inciting comments.
Quality is key! In order to be taken seriously by readers, ask yourself:
  • Is my blog both professional and inviting to readers?
  • Are my posts clear, concise, and error-free? (Not only do my blog posts go to my editor before I publish them, I also send them to beta readers to ensure I have included all relevant information.)
  • Is my blog interesting, or am I only screaming “BUY MY BOOK!”?
  • Is my blog unique? Do I contribute something new to the topic I’m writing about, or am I just repeating what others are writing about?
By ensuring your blog is high quality, you encourage readers to visit, read, comment, and return. If they trust and like your material, they’ll be inspired to interact.
What do you do when you do get comments? In order to get comments, you have to give them as well.
  • Develop a relationship with your readers.
  • Respond when someone leaves a comment and create two-way dialog. Publishing a blog doesn’t mean you’re done. This is where the fun begins! If a reader takes the time to comment or ask a question, respond and engage!
  • Be helpful to others. Visit and comment on other people’s blogs. Bloggers and readers are likely to reciprocate and visit yours, too.
  • Use social media effectively. Retweet other people’s tweets about their blogs. Interact with bloggers on social media and show your support. They are likely to do the same. (If you’re not already, use the hashtag #MondayBlogs to gain—and give—exposure. This hashtag promotes bloggers and is a very supportive community. Plus #MondayBlogs has a giveaway to help increase your blog’s reach.)
  • Ask questions. Doing so opens up the floor for comments, rather than just leaving the door open but not inviting people to walk in.

By actively engaging and interacting with both other readers and bloggers, you show that you’re willing to be a part of networks.


Cym Lowell is on a Literary Crusade to make sure our Veterans have the Quality of Life they Deserve

Dear Friends, Family & Fans,

One man is on a literary crusade to make sure our veterans have the quality of life they deserve.

Cym Lowell, international tax attorney, and the author of Jaspar's War, has teamed up with the nonprofit (501c3) Soldiers’ Angels to provide voice-controlled/adaptive laptop computers and other necessary technology to support wounded warriors who, due to war, are blind, have low vision, suffer from cognitive impairments (memory loss, problems with orientation, distractibility), have communications disabilities (speech, hearing, stuttering), are deaf, hard of hearing, or who suffer from dexterity conditions.

Through his initiative OPERATION: NEXT CHAPTER, Cym Lowell has pledged 100 percent of the proceeds from his book to go toward supporting these wounded warriors.

“We all have dreams,” says Lowell, “and we all need them to be real and achievable. When dreams end, so does life. My goal is to make sure every soldier, Marine, airman and sailor on this waiting list receives a laptop. As an attorney and author, I know how essential it is to have a computer. With our support we can provide a bridge to healing for those who have put their lives on the line for the freedoms we all enjoy.”
In recognition of Veteran’s Day, Cym Lowell is hosting a Tweet-a-Thon, a week-long event where Twitter account holders write at least one Tweet per day about Jaspar’s War and its mission to help our wounded veterans.
“I have learned that helping others, whether it is through communication equipment or life inspiration, is a joyous blessing,” says Lowell. “It is inconceivable to me how blessed I have been. That blessing has taken me to another level of understanding of life, friendship, love, community, respect and simple joy.”
Please join us in this Tweet-a-Thon that will take place the entire week (Nov.4-11) leading up to Veteran’s Day. Below are some sample Tweets for you to use, or, you can create your own. Please include #OperationNextChapter and the website:

Sample Tweets:

#OperationNextChapter provides laptops to wounded #veterans with proceeds from @CymLowell’s book JASPAR’S WAR.

A political thriller with a bigger mission, @CymLowell’s JASPAR’S WAR supports #veterans thru #OperationNextChapter

When a peace treaty is signed, the war isn’t over for #veterans #OperationNextChapter supports our wounded warriors

Please follow Cym on Twitter here.

Carole Claps & Cym Lowell
Senior Publicist
Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. | 155 Post Road East, Suite 8 | Westport, CT | 06880
P: 203-226-0199   F: 203-226-0256


From YouTube Stars, Literary Lions (WSJ)


Publishers seeking the next hit author have a new hunting ground: YouTube.
A wave of titles written by YouTube personalities is hitting the shelves this month as book publishers bet on the power of online media. They made a similar bet several years ago on books by popular food bloggers, such as Ree Drummond and Julie Powell.
“The Pointless Book,” an activity workbook by charming, goofy U.K. video blogger Alfie Deyes is coming soon. So, too, is a book by comedian and YouTube star Grace Helbig on how to pretend to be grown up. Two titles based on popular YouTube series for teens also are planned.
Michelle Phan, who has more than seven million subscribers for her YouTube channel offering makeup and style tips, is coming out with “Make Up.” The book will be published Oct. 21 by Penguin Random House’s Harmony imprint. Bertelsmann SE owns a majority of Penguin Random House.
Keep reading here.



13 Ultra-Creepy Books To Avoid Before Bedtime

Author, 'A Different Bed Every Time'

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz
Let's kick off this list with the trilogy of books I've revisited most in my life, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Sadly, these books have been re-released without the original illustrations by Stephen Gammell, but enough copies of this edition existed that you can still regularly find them in used book shops, and don't compromise: it's those illustrations that make these stories come alive. These books kept me up when I was eight years old, and still do now,. The best tale by far, "Maybe You Will Remember," is featured in the third volume. Based on the reportedly true story of a hotel covering up an outbreak of the plague by hiding a body and lying to the deceased's relative, I was especially enamored of the endnotes which explained the "facts" behind the story and made the whole volume seem verifiable and plausible. I like an element of truth to my horror.

The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
This book is an onslaught of vivid imagery and ambivalent, yearning horror. I lose the details of plot rather easily, but remember the way a book made me feel. The Orange Eats Creeps haunts me with a manic, trapped feeling, crushed and frantic. Like a hawk stuck in a canary cage. My mind still fixes on the image of a young woman sleeping on the floor of a convenience store, enough so that I can't rediscover her in a nightmare, but am instead stuck awake and dreaming of her.

Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl
Let's take a moment to acknowledge what a sick lunatic Roald Dahl was. Let's put aside, for a moment, the fact that he was a horribly mean person: insulting and bullying those nearest and dearest to him. Forget even the children's books despite their genius ability to pull out that wicked streak and imbue it with delight and moral import. Instead, let's imagine that Dahl had been delivered his due as a master of the macabre in adult literature. I dare you to pick up this collection and begin reading, "Man from the South," and dream of putting the book down before finishing it.

Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz
Say you decide to bike across the country one summer with your college roommate and, one night, while camping, a pick-up truck levels your tent (with you in it), and then the driver gets out and attacks you and your roommate with an axe. Miraculously, you both survive, but no one is ever arrested or tried for this horrific crime. You go on with your life and fifteen years later you decide to look for an answer. When you return to the scene of the crime, everyone in the small town knows who it is that did it, and the fear of this criminal is only trumped by the terror at everyone who stood by and allowed it to happen.

Hell by Kathryn Davis
Holy god, this masterpiece needs more people talking about it. Three homes exist in the same house simultaneously, each one haunting the other two equally. The dog of a 1950s house barks in the ears of the figures in a dollhouse. A young anorexic girl wonders why the community is blaming the stand-off-ish neighbor for the murder of her friend, while, in another era, an expert on domesticity tried to forget her daughter wasting away in the next room. This book pushes the limits of narrative layering to such an extreme it can be hard to parse which story a sentence or even clause is adding to, but it's this compounding that makes the story such an eerie amalgam.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I know. You were forced to read it twelve times between high school and college, and that's a shame because you analyzed it to death, but take a break and revisit it, perhaps especially after you've had a crisis where you wonder how much of your misery is of your own making and how much is the world working against you. Then, return to that attic room and take a peek behind the wallpaper again.

The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Somerville
I'm including this book mostly for the final novella in this collection, "The Machine of Understanding Other People." It is both my sincerest hope and greatest fear that I might truly understand others consistently and well, and this story serves up a helmet that allows the person wearing it to do just that. It's a story with an immense amount of heart and warmth, but also a paralyzing sadness that pulls me back to consider its implications regularly.

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Please don't bother with the movies -- Swedish or English. Read the book. It is so much fuller and smarter and more vividly told. You're allowed more fear and imagination and beauty and grief. I can be less keen on stories centering around solidly fantastic beings and creatures, like zombies or vampires or mummies, but the humanity is so plain and affecting here, even skeptics will get invested.

Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
Link's story "Stone Animals" is one of the scariest I've ever read ever. Ever. Someone make a movie of "Stone Animals." Do it, and do it right, please. In a gentle and evenly paced way, show how every detail of one's wildest dreams can come true and then fossilize before your very eyes. Take all the Technicolor away, and show the world in its greyed out mourning.

Nylund the Sarcographer by Joyelle McSweeney
Is there anything better than a detective haunted by his own demons as he investigates a case? McSweeney dresses up this story to the nines with language thicker than poetry and philosophy that cuts much deeper than the surfaces the protagonist is focused on in this exquisite noir: "The Grandson walks a beat before, and as he passes under the brainpan of each streetlamp his silver hair lights like a fuse or like a pyramid of powder like a roomful of gas going up. They work down the long street: whump, whump, whump."  

The Museum of Dr. Moses by Joyce Carol Oates
Are you the type that was floored by "Where are you Going, Where Have you Been?" a long while ago and you've been looking for that perfect balance of muted horror from her ever since? You're in luck, there's a collection just of her most mysterious and suspenseful stories. Who knew a random stranger saying hello could be so terrifying? Or that it would be so hard to prove your morals when trying to navigate the mind games of your junky son? I haven't read much Oates, but this book made me think I may be making a big mistake.

Something in the Potato Room by Heather Cousins
A poetry book that keeps you awake: now that's something! But what is the "something" in the potato room? You'll find out, but that won't be the end of it. The book thrums, like a steady pulse, a shadow behind every heartbeat.  

One D.O.A. One on the Way By Mary Robison
If I were putting together one of those invite-any-five-living-people-to-dinner parties, I wouldn't invite Mary Robison because she most certainly would be sharper and wittier and prettier than me, and I'd end up in the kitchen, shedding tears into the dishwater while I listened to the other guests lose it with laughter. I love all of Robison's work, but this one has the sinister feel of staring at the writing on the wall and living with the threat of that impending doom. Can we all agree that anticipating a catastrophe is far worse than the catastrophe itself? Try going to sleep while waiting for that other shoe to drop.

Keep reading here.