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Rethinking social media, the internet, and email newsletters for creators in 2018

I’m just old enough that email newsletters made my career possible. And I’m starting to think that they’re going to save us indie creators and freelancers all over again in the coming years.

Back in 2002, when I was taking my feature film Robot Stories around to film festivals, I’d pass around a notebook and collect email addresses from every audience I spoke to. By the end of our festival run, we had no real budget for publicity for our theatrical run, but we had a few thousand email addresses. And that was better than gold. I sent out email newsletters every week, asking our amazing supporters to get their friends in whatever city we were visiting next to come see, come see! And they did!

As the years passed, I sent out fewer and fewer newsletters and spent more and more time on social media. Social media was easier, and let’s be honest — it was more fun. At first it seemed like we were all just goofing around on Twitter, telling ourselves it was good publicity but mostly just cracking jokes. But Twitter proved its enormous value when I started doing Kickstarters. Without Twitter, we’d have been hard pressed to drum up the kind of support we did for Code Monkey Save World, The Princess Who Saved Herself, ABC Disgusting, and Kickstarter Secrets.

But with each passing day, the culture and administration of Twitter seems to get more overwhelmed with negativity and harassment. Something’s going to break. And when it does, where does that leave all of the creatives and freelancers who have put so much of their outreach efforts into the site?

And it’s not just Twitter that’s the problem. Just the other week, Patreon rolled out a new fee structure that killed the incentive for backers to make $1 or $2 pledges. Thousands of creators absolutely rely on those low dollar pledges — and some folks lost dozens of backers overnight. Patreon has since apologized for and cancelled the changes. But the episode demonstrates what we should always remember: any or all of the sites that we depend so much on could get ruined overnight.

The situation is made even more stark by the FCC’s determination to destroy net neutrality, which would allow internet service providers to throttle speeds and block access to sites they don’t like. So what happens if your business model as an independent creative depends on Kickstarter and your ISP throttles Kickstarter? It doesn’t even have to be your ISP — if anyone’s ISP throttles the site you depend on, you’re not going to reach potential backers as easily and your project could fail.

So in recent weeks, I’ve been thinking about the need to reach readers and fans without having to rely on the Twitters and Patreons of the world. And I found myself thinking about my good ol’ email newsletter. I’d let it fall into disuse partly because it was administered through my old webhosting company using 2005-era technology. So I started exploring newer email newsletter services like MailChimp and TinyLetter, both of which seem fine. But MailChimp’s formatting tools felt a little too complicated to me. And both MailChimp and TinyLetter seem to automatically create an un-deletable web version of every newsletter. That doesn’t seem wonderful to me — not everything needs to live forever on the web, and I already knew I wanted to give subscribers occasional digital freebies that I didn’t want non-subscribers to be able to find online.

Then the very smart Cheryl Lynn Eaton told me about MailPoet, an email newsletter solution that works as a WordPress plug-in. Since my website’s run on WordPress, it was very easy for me to set up and work with MailPoet, and I had the peace of mind knowing that everything would live on my own server and I could delete whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

I’ve been using MailPoet for almost a week now, and I’m pretty thrilled. I’ve had a few technical issues — today, the MailPoet mail server didn’t want to send out any emails, so I had to switch to my own webhosting company’s SMTP settings. I’m hoping that’s a temporary glitch — we’ll see.

But the big bonus is that I’m building a fresh email list and sending out beautifully formatted newsletters that are pretty darn easy for me to put together through WordPress. So far, my subscriber list is literally 1 percent the size of my Twitter following. But I’ve just been at it a week, and the longer and more consistently I put out newsletters, the more those numbers will grow. Furthermore, my strong suspicion is that someone who subscribes to a newsletter is five to twenty times more likely to actually buy one of my books than someone who’s casually following me on Twitter.

Most importantly, I’m building a list that will survive the collapse of any individual social network or internet service. I’m not at all planning to abandon all the other services I use overnight. Any tool that still works is a tool I’m going to use. But there was a point not too long ago when I was concerned with making sure I was pushing people who had subscribed to my email newsletter to follow me on Twitter. Now I’m realizing I got that exactly backward. I’m going to use all of these tools, but I’m going to use them all to grow my email list. Because as long as email endures, this list will endure, and I’ll have a way to reach my readers.

What’s old is new again, huh?

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

In the meantime, natch… subscribe to my newsletter! 😉

The newsletter goes out around one to four times a month and it’s the best place to get the very latest news about my comics, films, and other projects.

Just enter your email in the form below, and then please be sure to check your email and click the confirmation link in the note we’ll send you. Please check your spam folder if you don’t see the email right away — it might have gotten redirected!

Your email will be used only to send you the Greg Pak Newsletter and you can unsubscribe at any time by selecting “unsubscribe” at the bottom of any newsletter you receive.

Thanks so much!

 

 

Mastodon Monday! Some thoughts on the new social network

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 10.11.20 AM

In the wake of multiple reports of Twitter failing to curb harassment, I’ve been hungry to find a decent social network alternative. So last month, like thousands of others, I dove back into the new social network Mastodon to see if it might fit the bill. So how’s it gone so far?

Overall, I dig Mastodon! The default interface is pretty reminiscent of Tweetdeck, which is familiar enough. The community vibe is great — as is often the case with a new social network, folks are cheery and happy to be poking around, willing to be a bit more goofy and earnest than they sometimes are on Twitter. The biggest usability knock against Mastodon right now is its system of servers or “instances,” which takes a little effort to wrap your head around. So let’s get that out of the way first…

Mastodon is actually a set of software tools rather than a centralized social network. So different people can run their own “instance” of Mastodon the same way folks can install and run their own WordPress blogs. You can generally follow anyone on Mastodon regardless of what instance you or they have registered with. But when you join Mastodon, you’re actually joining a single instance of Mastodon, which is administered by the folks who set it up.

You need to put a little thought into choosing your instance. The administers of each instance set their own rules, so if you want a Nazi-free environment, make sure to read the terms of the instance to make sure of its policies. And it’s worth considering the fact that if the administrators of your instance get bored or overwhelmed and abandon the service, that instance might get deleted and your posts and contacts could vanish. (I’ve found tools that let you export your follow/block/mute lists, but not your posts. I’ll update if I discover a way to do this.)

I joined the mastodon.social instance, which is run by Eugen Rochko, aka Gargron, the developer of Mastodon. I figure that instance will probably be around as long as Mastodon itself exists. And mastodon.social has a strong anti-harassment and anti-Nazi policy that seems to be enforced.

If you just want to use Mastodon as a Twitter alternative, now all you need to do is follow a bunch of people and start posting. The posts of people you follow will end up in your “Home” column and their posts and follows to you will show up in your “Notifications” column. But Mastodon also gives you a “Local Timeline,” which shows all the posts of everyone in your instance, even if you’re not following them directly. And it gives you a “Federated Timeline,” which shows you all the posts of everyone that people in your instance follow. In practice, the “Local Timeline” is pretty cool for small instances, like comicspace.masto.host, which only has 257 users right now. But the Federated timeline can be overwhelming, particularly for big instances like mastodon.social, which has 116,000 users.

My advice? If the “Local” and “Federated” timelines confuse or bother you? Ignore ’em! Otherwise, poke into ’em from time to time to find new users to follow or conversations to join.

The next question you’ll probably have is whether you need to join multiple instances. Many of us comics people initially joined mastodon.social — you can find me there at mastodon.social/@gregpak. But then folks started the comicspace.masto.host instance, which is moderated by @ladyvader99 and Ken Lowery. I joined that instance as well and I like popping in there to see what’s going on. But I do most of posting from my mastodon.social account, where I have the most followers. I don’t love the fact that you can’t register a single username with some central Mastodon authority and use it globally across all instances — that would make the whole experience much simpler than having multiple usernames and logins. (This one issue may be what keeps Mastodon from ever getting the kind of mass influx of users that could make it a real Twitter killer. For now, I’m not letting it bother me too much — I’m just using the service in a way that makes sense for me and enjoying it.)

Onward to bullet points!

WHAT I WANT FROM A SOCIAL NETWORK AND HOW MASTODON STACKS UP

1. Strong, enforced anti-harassment and anti-Nazi policies

The instances I’ve joined at Mastodon have such policies, which is fantastic. But it’s worth noting that each instance is run by private administrators who may or may not have the long-term time or ability to enforce their policies. Harassers can be very effective at dog-piling and overwhelming when they put their mind to it. But at least administrators can declare their policies and have the tools to enforce them. And if a bunch of harassers are coming from a specific instance, administrators can block that entire instance. For what it’s worth, right now the vibe at the instances I’m part of is great.

2. Twitter-like layout with a timeline of many short posts rather than a Facebook-like timeline of longer, blog-like posts.

Mastodon delivers here. The posts can be up to 500 characters, but it doesn’t feel overwhelming at all. Mostly seeing quick, short posts.

3. Strictly chronological timeline — most recent posts appearing first.

Yes! Thank you!

4. Decent interface, usability.

It’s fine, particularly if you’ve ever used Tweetdeck before. If you want a more Twitter-like interface, you can log into halcyon.social with your Mastodon username and you’ll get a very familiar layout. For iOS, I’m using Tootdon, which is fine.

Here's what my mastodon.social account looks like when I log in via halycon.social. Pretty familiar, huh? Some glitches, still -- including the note encouraging me to follow myself. :-) But not bad!

Here’s what my mastodon.social account looks like when I log in via halycon.social. Pretty familiar, huh? Some glitches, still — including the note encouraging me to follow myself. 🙂 But not bad!

5. Privacy and security.

My biggest caveats about Mastodon right now involve privacy, security, and long term viability. Since the instances are run by private individuals/administrators, there’s no global control over privacy and security. Depending on your perspective, you could see this as a bonus. But I’m unclear on whether administrators have the ability to view private messages, for example, so I’m not using that feature at all. (I’ll update this later if I learn more about how private messages work.)

I also can’t find a button to delete my account. Presumably, I could delete all my individual posts. But that could take a loooong time, depending on how much I’ve been using the system. And if I’ve joined multiple instances, I’d have to repeat the process for each instance. [UPDATE: Mastodon user slipstream has notified me that you CAN delete your account — go to Settings > Security and there’s a link at the bottom of the page!]  One good thing — I was worried whether deleting a post in my instance would also delete its retweets or “boosts” in other instances. But I just tested it, and deleting a post seems to delete it across instances, which is great.

6. Tons of people.

Here’s where Mastodon suffers. Lots of people signed up in April when the service got its first big wave of publicity, and a bunch more signed up last month when Twitter made a few big harrassment-related mistakes. But right now my Mastodon timeline feels pretty slow. Come play!

7. Other wing-dings like the ability to display gifs & video.

Mastodon doesn’t currently play gifs automatically, and it doesn’t have a built-in gif selector. Gifs are fun, so that’s unfortunate, but not a dealbreaker. [UPDATE: Eugen contacted me on Mastodon to let me know that gifs CAN autoplay — you just have to enable that in Preferences!]

Mastodon also doesn’t display a preview of pages you link to or playable videos. Again, it makes things a bit less fun and less likely to get clicked on or shared. But not a dealbreaker at the moment.

Mastodon doesn’t allow for quote-tweeting, which is something that I’ve gotten accustomed to using on Twitter. But I just did a quick Q&A on Mastodon and used the good 0ld fashioned manual RT method to show the questions, which is fine for now.

OKAY, SOUNDS COOL. WHO SHOULD I FOLLOW?

Glad you asked! Lots of fun comics people and writers are goofing around on Mastodon right now — here are just a few pretty active folks to get ya started! (I’ll add to this over time.)

Steve Lieber – https://comicspace.masto.host/@stevelieber

Trungles – https://mastodon.social/@Trungles

Wendy Xu – https://mastodon.social/@angrygirLcomics

John Scalzi – https://mastodon.social/@scalzi

Chuck Wendig – https://mastodon.social/@chuckwendig

Amy Chu – https://mastodon.social/@AmyChu

 

Most visited blog post of the year – Bill Mantlo wins in a blowout!

By Greg Pak

On a whim, I checked the stats for GregPak.com today to see which posts got the most visits over the past year. The clear winner, by a massive margin:

Love Rocket Raccoon? Please consider donating to Bill Mantlo’s ongoing care!

This post has been visited 89,101 times in the past 365 days — because you guys are awesome and spread the word.

Comics people are the best.

Natalie Kim’s “Kimchi Power” animated short is hilarious

My friend Natalie Kim made a hilarious 30 second short film with animator Tyler Landis that made me laugh and laugh. It’s part of a series and I can’t wait for the next one. Check it out.

Last day to back Dean Trippe’s stunning “Something Terrible” on Kickstarter

Dean Trippe has created an incredibly moving piece of art with his short comic book story “Something Terrible,” an autobiographical work about childhood trauma and the power of superheroes. I broke down and cried while reading it the first time and HIGHLY recommend you back the project on Kickstarter today.

There are just six hours left in the campaign.

Get in on this and grab a hardcover while you can.

Give to Stan Sakai, get free Code Monkey stickers and signed bookplate

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Hey, friends. I recently had bookplate stickers made (thanks to everyone who chimed in with design advice!) and I figured it’s time to start giving some away. So here’s the deal…

Stan Sakai, the brilliant creator of the USAGI YOJIMBO comic book series, has had a heartbreakingly difficult winter, which you can read about here. His family is currently dealing with medical bills for his wife Sharon’s cancer treatment. The Cartoon Art Professional Society is collecting donations via Paypal here.

If you donate to Stan, I will send you a signed bookplate and a sheet of Code Monkey stickers. Here’s a direct link to the Paypal donation form:


After you make your donation, just email me at vm at pakbuzz dot com with your mailing address and I’ll send you the bookplate and stickers. Please note that you can donate ANY AMOUNT and I’ll hook you up with the bookplate and stickers.

We’re working on the honor system here, so be cool, which I know you are.

Thanks so much for considering helping out Stan Sakai, and please feel free to spread the word.

8 year old Dallas boy shot in the face by a stranger could use some help

An eight year old Dallas boy named Donald Maiden, Jr. was shot in the face by a stranger Tuesday night. Family friends are raising money for his medical costs. This story broke my heart and I donated. I hope you’ll consider helping out as well.

Read about the shooting and the fundraiser.

Donate here.

Mrs. Stow’s kids will get their books – you guys are amazing!

I’m honestly a little choked up here. Mrs. Stow, the 4th grade public school teacher from Hereford, Texas, whose book fund I’ve been tweeting and posting about, has made her goal! Here’s what she just posted on her DonorsChoose.org page:

Words can not really express how much this means to me and my students. When we received an email about a donation I would share it with my students. I would hear “YYEESSS” come out of their mouths. They are so excited to have these new books in our class. Many of them have a hard time believing someone who doesn’t know them would donate money so they could have books. I ALWAYS told them..it’s because you are loved and people like to help others.

You guys came through with hundreds of dollars for Mrs. Stow’s kids, and now they’ll have books, which is just about the best gift any kid can get.

Thank you, thank you, and thank you!

Donate to the book fund for Mrs. Stow’s 4th grade class and get “Code Monkey Save World” stickers!

UPDATE: You’ve donated more than $600! Just over $300 left to go!

UPDATE: You guys donated over $200 to Mrs. Stow’s campaign yesterday! I love you. Keep it coming!

I was inspired and moved by the amazing Kevin Church’s recent campaign to raise money for a teacher’s DonorsChoose.org effort to buy books for a class of Navajo school kids. So I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon and give it a shot!

Please consider donating to Mrs. Stow’s DonorsChoose.org campaign to get books for her 4th grade students in her Title I public school in Hereford, Texas.

If you donate $10 or more, email vm at pakbuzz dot com with your mailing address and I’ll send you some “Code Monkey Save World” stickers as a thank you.

Here’s an excerpt from Mrs. Stow’s appeal:

I have a group of fourth graders. They are fun, crazy, and love to be at school. I teach in a Title I school where my kiddos are from VERY unstable and low socio-economic homes. Our classroom is the only place they see books and we are in need or more books.

I’m not sure if any of you grew up in a home where you did not have a book. NOT ONE SINGLE BOOK! Please help us get these book collections for our classroom. These kids need them and they will always remember having fun books to read.

We’re all book people here, right? Few things are more important indicators of a child’s eventual success at school than having access to books. And this looks like a tremendous way to put dollars directly into a teacher’s hands so she can give her kids the books they need.

Please consider giving.

Thanks so much!

Love Rocket Raccoon? Please consider donating to writer Bill Mantlo’s ongoing care!

rocket-raccoon

UPDATE: Mike Mantlo, Bill’s brother, sent along his thanks and this beautiful photo of Bill and Mike’s wife Liz. Your donations absolutely help improve Bill’s quality of life — please read on and keep ’em coming!

Bill Mantlo and his sister-in-law Liz, August 10, 2013. Courtesy of Bill's brother Mike Mantlo.

Bill Mantlo and his sister-in-law Liz, August 10, 2013. Courtesy of Bill’s brother Mike Mantlo.

If you love Rocket Raccoon — or Rom or the Hulk or the Micronauts or Cloak and Dagger or any of the incredible characters Bill Mantlo wrote during his prolific career — please consider clicking the button below to send your donation to Bill’s brother Mike for Bill’s ongoing care.

 

UPDATE: In a February Bleeding Cool article, Bill’s brother Mike said, “Bill was treated in an exceptionally fair manner by Marvel/Disney” and that Marvel “has made incredibly generous gestures,” which is fantastic. But the cost of Bill’s care remains enormous and any donations you care make will be greatly appreciated by the family.

Bill Mantlo has had a huge influence on me as a writer and reader. His “Micronauts” stories blew my mind as a kid and his “Incredible Hulk” run laid the groundwork for the themes I explored my five-and-a-half year run with the character. In the afterward to “Incredible Hulk” #635, I dedicated my run to Mantlo, and a while back devoted my Newsarama column to singing his praises and letting folks know how to donate to his ongoing care.

Thank you so much, Bill Coffin and LifeHealthPro, for shining a light on someone who brought so much joy to so many people.

And here’s a note from Bill’s brother Mike, reprinted from that Newsarama column:

First off, I send out a big THANK YOU to everyone that has helped support Bill over these past 19 years (!). Every donation, no matter how big or small, and every card or letter is greatly appreciated. Bill’s condition remains the same (he suffers severe cognitive impairments, anger, and depression), and these factors keep him very much isolated from “the outside world.” Aside from my visits, and the kindness of my beautiful wife and some of the attendants at the nursing home/rehabilitation facility he resides in, his contact with other human beings is virtually non-existent. But the support and encouragement of fans, and industry professionals like yourself, helps to bring a little ray of sunlight into his dark and dreary days. When I (or my wife) engage Bill in conversation, his spirit emerges and is as strong and pure as it ever was! So, once again, I can’t thank ALL of you enough!! I strongly believe in the power of practicing random acts of kindness, and with that belief I hope that ALL of your kindnesses will be returned to you many, many times over!

Cards, letters or donations to Bill Mantlo can be sent to:
Mike Mantlo
26364 East Pintail Road
Long Neck, DE 19966
Please make out any checks to “Michael Mantlo” — Bill’s legal guardian.

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