So You Decided to Join Mastodon-Now What?

The future of Twitter is uncertain, leaving many to wonder where to take their social media addiction next. An alternative that has seen a massive upswing in registered users in the days following the announcement of Twitter’s new direction is Mastodon. While this service offers a similar platform for networking and sharing thoughts, it is not a drop-in replacement and does require a bit to get used to it. However, if you don’t mind doing a little homework, it can be an option for those who value connection over viral engagement.

As someone who has decided to start fresh with a new social network, here are some tips I found for making the process smoother:

find your club

Picture the stereotypical opening of any American film set at a college or university. In almost every movie, the main characters walk around a series of tables for the school’s clubs, fraternities, or sororities.

The students manning these tables are typically striking in their differences. You might see a group of pale darkly-dressed “goths” at one and a group of boisterous student-athletes at another. Both tables clearly have different aesthetics, rules for entry, communication preferences, and likely vastly different interests, and yet are both bound, at least at a high-level by their school charter.

This is how Mastodon’s servers work. Each server “instance” is like a club with an independent admin who sets the rules for who gets to join, how many people they want to support, and what they will allow people in the instance to post about. At the risk of taking my metaphor a little too far here, some admins are like Ravenclaw—they only want the academics, while others are Hufflepuff and will take anyone. However, both groups ultimately call Hogwarts home.

The list of available instances has been growing almost as fast as the number of new people on the platform. Luckily, there is a wizard to help you narrow down your options.

One word of caution—there is no such thing as a popularity club on Mastodon. If you are all about the quantity of followers and not the quality, this is not the platform for you.

Preview Posts

When you think you have identified the instance that best fits what you want to read, and post about most, give it a test drive by typing in the name of the instance into your search bar with “/public” at the end. For example, one of the many instances the wizard suggested I consider joining is wandering.shop based on my interest in science fiction and fantasy. By typing “wandering.shop/public” into my browser bar, I can see what sort of posts belong there and make a more informed opinion.

There are also groups for those with a passion for politics, programmers, scientists, and musicians. There are also generalist groups for those, like myself, who enjoy variety. Don’t worry too much about making a bad decision, you can always change what instance you join later if you find out that it isn’t the group for you after all.

Review the Rules

Remember how I said that each admin gets to set the rules? What you can and can’t post varies based on the instance you join. Some allow you to re-blog/boosts from other instances or share posts from your other social media platforms. Others don’t. Make sure you understand what is permitted and what will get you booted before you join.

Request Admission

Some instances let you join with just the click of a button. Others will require you to go on a “waiting list.” It’s up to the admin. While this might frustrate some people used to instant gratification, it’s not all that different of a process than what many Facebook group admins ask you to do to ensure that those who already belong in the instance won’t suddenly get spammed by self-promotion or riled up by angry trolls.

Also, if you consider yourself to be an influencer already, and likely to bring thousands if not millions of followers with you when you join, consider emailing the admin directly before requesting to join. Mastodon is run off of independent servers, which can crash if traffic suddenly skyrockets.

Create Your Profile

Creating a profile is much the same on Mastodon as it is on Twitter. You can add an avatar and header image and link your account to your website. (Fun fact, if your website plan allows it, Mastodon will give you a bit of code that will “verify” you are the site’s owner—no blue checkmark required). I’ve read that it is considered “cringe” by original Mastodon users to use one’s actual name and face as an avatar, but I did so out to help people moving from other platforms recognize me. (I also have a teenager now and am well used to being cringe).

set your preferences

Mastodon lets you set a number of preferences that aren’t options on other platforms. You can add filters, which will automatically hide posts that mention triggering words behind a content warning block, or you can open your feed up to hide absolutely nothing. You can set it to only show posts written in a single language or make your experience as multi-lingual as you are. You can even set time limits on how long the server should host your old posts.

Introduce Yourself

When you are all set to make your grand debut, write up a summary of your interests in a post using #Introduction. Feel free to pin this post to the top of your profile. Or don’t. Completely up to you. You can then build more connections by following others and sharing their content using the reblog/boost feature.

Screenshot of my initial introduction post which reads:

Hi all,

When not writing, I love to talk about #books, #movies, and #television. I am particularly fond of #scifi  #fantasy, #dystopia, and #mystery, but I enjoy most any #fiction. I'm fascinated by #space and #technology and thoroughly enjoy a good pun or dad joke.

#introduction

I will admit that joining yet another platform was not exactly high on my wish list, and I hate that I may have lost connection with some of my Twitter friends, but I’d like to think that our paths may yet cross again. In the meantime, I am enjoying the opportunity to make new connections, learn more tricks, and in some ways reinvent myself. If you happen to do the same, feel free to reach out and say hi. @alliepotts

Box Sets Vs Omnibus Books: What’s the Difference?

Box sets are what we in the publishing world refer to as a collection of multiple books packaged together. However, while they are sold as a single sellable item, the end consumer is able to remove an individual book from the set at their reading pleasure. An omnibus edition, on the other hand, combines multiple books into a single bound volume that can’t be separated unless you were to slice through the book’s spine (the horror!).

Both options allow publishers a way to offer a complete series, or at least a larger portion of a series, to readers at a lower price than the cost of purchasing individual books. The terms can also be used to describe ebook collections. However, while the term box set is the trendier way to describe consolidated works, it is worth noting that Amazon, and other ebook distributors, frown on publishers describing ebook collections as box sets as there is no physical box around the set.

That said, while a publisher should not describe their ebook collection as a box set in its retail listing, a publisher can still use a 3D image of a box set on most sites. Apple’s ibook store is the notable exception here. The same cannot be said about listings for physical copies. Publishers must use an image that matches what a print consumer will physically receive once they place their order.

For example, this is how I am displaying my upcoming publication: Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series (which is available for pre-order now in ebook format and will be available in both paperback and ebook format after November 16, 2021).

3D rendering of multiple books titled Project Gene Assist: The Complete Series featuring a woman's face on the cover and a DNA strand on the back. There is also a tablet featuring a box containing three books.

Of course, with anything, box sets and omnibus editions have their pros and cons:

Box sets vs Omnibus Books: Pros & Cons

Box SetsOmnibus Editions
ProsMake great giftsMake great gifts
Save readers moneySave readers money
Allow you to take a break from reading a series without the guilt of leaving a bookmark in the middle of a volumeTake up less room on your bookshelf, allowing you to fill that space with more books
ConsForce you to take even extra care of individual book’s bindings in order to keep the book from warping or swelling and thus being unable to fit back into its boxy sleeveThe sheer size of these volumes can intimidate the casual reader
Take up more room on your bookshelf than individual books unless you throw away that beautiful box sleeveLess travel-friendly. The weight alone could force you to pay the oversized baggage fee at the airport.
Cost more than omnibus editions to produce and so are typically more expensive than their omnibus cousinsHave I mentioned how big these are? Seriously, I worry it is bullying the other novels on my shelf when I am asleep

Does a series have to be complete To Be Combined?

Does a series have to be complete to be offered as either a box set or omnibus edition? The answer is no, but it helps from a marketing perspective. This is because readers are more likely to buy a book (or a set) if they know they aren’t going to have to wait an age to learn how the series ends. Additionally, because a publisher does not have to include every book in the combined edition, sets can also serve as a convenient launching pad for later books in longer series.

Image of 4 books: the Bad Guys 1-3 and the fourth, fifth, and sixth book in the series

For instance, my youngest son, LT, is a huge fan of sharks and humor books, so I got him the omnibus edition of The Bad Guys Books 1-3 by Aaron Blabey, which features a shark (among other characters) who decides he’s tired of being stereotyped as a bad guy and goes on missions to save the world along with other often maligned characters.

I felt confident he would like the series based on the premise, so buying a single volume that offered 3 books in one just made sense to me. It then turned out the series is much, much longer. I immediately had to go out and buy additional books in the series one by one. In this case, I guess you could say that the omnibus acted as a gateway drug. (Absolutely worth it though to hear LT laugh with each page)

The same thing happened when LT and I read the Wayside School 3-Book Collection by Louis Sachar. The only difference was instead of being an all in one volume, the 3 books were offered together packaged in a cardboard sleeve. We then had to run out and get the fourth book in the series.

Picture of the box set of the Wayside School Complete Collection in front of the hardback edition of Wayside School and the Cloud of Doom

So which is better? A box set or an omnibus edition? The answer, of course, comes down to the preference of the individual reader, but I am happy to say I’m making the move to give readers like you this option.

Image of books in the Project Gene Assist series, which includes The Fair and Foul, The Watch and Wand, Lies and Legacy, and the Complete Series omnibus edition stacked upright together.

How I’m Reigniting My Creative Spark During the Time of COVID

What has it been like to launch a post-apocalyptic book that takes place following a period of economic collapse and mysterious pandemic during an actual economic downward tailspin, series of stay at home orders, and side of civil unrest to boot? Well, let me be the first to tell you it’s been as rewarding as you would expect it to be.

In short, my book launch flopped.

Don’t worry. I’m not asking for you to send me a slew of sympathy notes. It’s okay. If you are reading these words, I already assume you are an empathetic soul who appreciates the arts or at least a supportive friend. Also, this wasn’t a surprise. I expected this outcome. I made my peace with it before I hit the publish button.

Lies and LegacyI could have waited for market conditions to improve. That’s what a number of traditional publishers have done. I didn’t, though, because who knows when that time will be and the series had already gone on long enough between volumes. I decided, if nothing else, I owed the readers who’d kindly given me a chance, closure. I owed myself closure too.

However, what I didn’t expect was the absolute loss of my creative spark following this decision. I’d written before that Lies & Legacy was the book that almost broke me. In the weeks following its publication, I found myself wondering if perhaps there was no ‘almost’ about it.

I’ve been seriously considering giving up the dream of achieving literary success to free up my time to focus more on my commercial non-fiction writing. It would be the sensible thing to do. Not only does my non-fiction efforts pay more reliably (and better), but it is also exponentially less stressful to produce. There is no lying awake dwelling on a one-star review or agonizing over how to address a stubborn plot hole. However, between you and me, it is not nearly as satisfying.

I found I couldn’t do it.

Still, it is one thing to say you eventually want to return to writing novels. You have to have the overwhelming determination and desire to create in you too, and mine was gone—just gone—and there was no telling when it might come back. And so, instead of writing, I spent the first half of the year doing what so many other people have done during this time. I baked (I now make a great soft pretzel). I gardened (I recently harvested my first potato). I pretended I was okay with everything when I was in front of my kids. I randomly burst into tears at the slightest provocation when I wasn’t. I did what I thought I had to do.

However, I realized one day, if I didn’t force myself back into the chair, then I might as well admit giving up the dream was no longer my choice to make. I could no longer wait for inspiration to strike—it was clearly practicing safe social distancing. Instead, if I wanted to return to fiction, I had to reignite my creative spark myself.

I returned to the basics. I cracked open one of the first craft books I’d ever purchased: the 90-day Novel (affiliate link) and followed instructions. I wrote for five minutes that first day. Five minutes was enough. I did it again the second day and the day after that. I was on a roll. Until I wasn’t. Days went by. However, a funny thing happened during this time. I wasn’t writing, but I’d planted a seed and it seemed the smallest fragment of a story had taken root in my brain.

I tried again—much to my other half’s chagrin as he’d rather enjoyed me not waking up with the sun for a pre-dawn writing sprint. Before I knew it, I had 1000 words on the page. Then 2000.

I now have over 20,000 words on the page of my latest WIP, and the start of a brand new series, which, one day in a not too distant and brighter future, I hope to share with you. It’s far from a steady blaze, but my creative spark is once again breaking up the night, and for the first time, in a long time, the dream doesn’t seem nearly as far away.

How am I reigniting my creative spark?

Simple—one word at a time.

Lies and Legacy is go for launch

I’ve hummed the refrain from It’s My Party by Lesley Gore more than once over the last few days. You see, I had every reason to celebrate this week. After seven years of work and over a quarter-million words, I’d finally added the phrase ‘The End,’ to my science fiction trilogy, Project Gene Assist.

Unfortunately, the universe has a funny sense of humor. My series, which, I repeat, germinated in my brain seven years ago, set before and after a perfect storm of abusive technology, economic collapse, and a mysterious illness. The first book is the events leading up to the panic and societal upheaval, the second and third take place in the aftermath.

It was supposed to be thought-provoking, cautionary, and/or escapism.

It was supposed to be set in the future.

Most importantly, it was supposed to be fiction.

My book’s launch was supposed to include a number of things like:

Lies and Legacy

  • Signed paperback copies: sadly, orders of non-essential products that weren’t currently on the shelves have been delayed by major retail outlets. By all means, please order a paperback if interested—just understand it just might not reach you for a few weeks.
  • Light hors d’oeuvres & finger foods: bread and flour are in short supply around here, but that’s not the worst of all. According to my co-workers, there’s even been a run on dinosaur-shaped frozen chicken nuggets in some places.
  • A full house of close friends: if groups weren’t already limited, my current paper product inventory would have required me to ask guests to bring their own roll of toilet paper as an entrance fee.
  • More than one glass of wine: okay, this is still part of the plan—it’s just now happens to be a major part of the plan and the reason hosting a Facebook live event is unlikely to be the best idea for me this week.

So, yeah, the timing stinks. However, while it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to (but I’ll try not to because there are a lot of people out there suffering more than me), I’m going to launch this book and celebrate its release anyway. In fact, I’m making an even more conscious effort during these times to celebrate all my daily wins—big and small. For example, on Mar 22, 2020 I made soft pretzels that actually tasted like soft pretzels.

Other notable wins:

  • Maybe it’s the quarantine/social-distance enforced cooking or maybe it’s the six months of dedicated meal tracking & step counting using the Noom app (affiliate link) but I’ve officially lost all the weight I put on bringing my non-book babies to life.
  • The local paper interviewed me about life as a reluctant homeschool mom & remote full-time worker (my advice to other parents: let things go—like housework or expectations that your kids will quietly sit in the background looking charming and well-behaved while your world is being filmed for strangers to see) – https://www.newsobserver.com/news/coronavirus/article241329721.html
  • I KNOW what my kids did all day at school instead of just hearing a grunt or ‘I forget,’ when asked, and have been enjoying a lively discussion of Roald Dahl’s The Twits (affiliate link) with my 8yo.
  • My kids actually WANT to go back to school (though tell me they are glad I’ve been home with them).
  • I’ve gotten most of my garden planted

Speaking of gardening, the leaves on the trees are budding, which reminds me that just like winter gives way to spring, this time too will someday become a distant memory. While that day can’t get here soon enough, at least I can take some small comfort knowing I controlled what I could. I did my best. I released a book.

You can order Lies & Legacy or start at the beginning with The Fair & Foul

Empty Chairs

artem-maltsev-aSscHG6lvko-unsplash
Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

There will be two empty chairs at our table this year.

One, left just as the party was really getting underway. While the other wouldn’t have surprised me had he stayed well past closing time.

Someone new will have to carve the turkey this year. Another to be among the first to nurse a glass of holiday wine.

No one will worry this year if I take too long in the shower. No one will judge if I go back for another slice of pie.

Two empty chairs, once filled by two very different people.

We’ll be raising our glasses in remembrance this year. However, I’ll try not to dwell on all the reasons to be sad.

In between courses, I’ll gaze out the window. I’ll see the waves on the lake ebb and flow. And like those waters, I know other guests will join us as the years go by. My family will continue to grow.

I am thankful there is room still at our table.

Even if today, it also means there are two empty chairs.