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Cesar is the author of the standalone novel “The 13 Secret Cities” the book series "How to Kill a Superhero" (under the pen name Pablo Grene). He is also the creator and publisher of Solar Six Books.

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Filtering by Category: Social Strategy

Podcast 25: Daniel Stalter, Dreamcrasher and Kickstarter-Funded Comic Books


Daniel is a storyteller and a comic book writer based in Brooklyn, NY. He launched his first series Dream Crasher in 2015 with artist and frequent collaborator Reed Olsen. They have since published 4 of the 12 planned chapters, and have run two successful Kickstarter Campaigns. He joins me today to talk about his writing, why it took 10 years to write Dreamcrasher, and how he funded it via Kickstarter.

Related links

Got a question? Email me at my web site here.

Podcast #19: Your role as art director if you self publish


In today’s episode:

  • I reveal a special suprise about 9 Lords of Night, which you can see with your own eyes here.

  • Your role as an art director if you are a self publisher and entrepreneur.

If you like the show, leave us a review in iTunes here. Thanks. If you want to support this show, visit my Patreon page. Got a comment? Send us an email at our contact page.

I use Snapchat as a reporting tool for journalists


Photo illustration by Cesar Torres, original photograph by  Terri Monahan

Photo illustration by Cesar Torres, original photograph by Terri Monahan

This year at Medill I have been fortunate to lead a group of graduate students in covering news events using Snapchat as a new type of camera. The work they have done has been astounding, and now is the right time for me to talk about what we have discovered so far.

Snapchat is unique, not just because it takes photo and video in an upright vertical format that drives traditional video pros insane with frustration, but because it offers production tools right inside the still image or video footage. You can add text, stickers, make your own stickers, and also verify your location by using Geofilters, among others.

It’s clear that some of these very limited features offer a huge amount of creativity to tell a story digitally.

I have found these production features very freeing, mostly because they are severely limited. For example, controlling fonts and font sizes is not very precise, and as a result, the "snaps" end up with a DIY, handmade look that is unique to the platform. There are no cropping tools, no color correction or image-editing options. What you see is what you get.

What's more, snaps and snap stories vanish. There is no archive, unless the journalist saves the video and re-posts on their site or a YouTube channel, which is probably a good idea to do. At Medill, we save the Snap stories for that day and archive. We sometimes post them as part of stories, like this one.

The more I use Snapchat with news teams, the more it makes me think of a particular technology from the past: The Polaroid camera.

Snapchat is possibly the equivalent of the introduction of a photo format like Polaroids, more than 75 years ago. Although the Polaroid did not get co-opted by newspapers or magazines as a photography tool, many artists favored it and worked with its limitations over the years. The Polaroid was an instant camera with a film exposure that would permit you to scribble on it as it developed. What's more, the print had a small margin at the bottom where a photographer could write an identifier, the date, whatever struck his or her fancy.

As my students experiment further with telling stories on Snapchat, it's clear that some of these very limited features offer a huge amount of creativity to tell a story digitally. We can tell stories in, colorful and animated ways that show a sense of humor, or a stronger sense of motion. We can show a sense of place that a broadcast crew or a more advanced camera can't. We can be spontaneous, and cover breaking news as it happens. At the same time, experienced journalists can uphold the values of the profession by seeking to tell these stories strongly with the who, where, when, and why. That means that introductions to Snap stories need to be strong, well told, well reported and researched. The reporter also remains as the responsible party to move us through a story with clarity, fairness, and objectivity. We need to cite sources, and yes, we can even cite the sources with a sticker or emoji.

I believe that journalists can go to new places with this type of camera than we could before. The camera is built into a smartphone, and as long as the mic is high quality and the sound is good, we can see some really amazing stories emerge. Yes, the bad news is that native mics are really crappy and don't give Snapchat journalism stories the right production values to be taken more seriously. Get yourself a decent mic for your smartphone. I recommend the Giant Squid Omniderectional Mic for entry-level journalists.

I should also note that there is also a learning curve on shooting video and photos in Snapchat, and making a good composition of high quality for journalism purposes also requires teaching, practice, and repetition, in order for it to improve. In other words, not all reporters know how to use this type of camera well, but they can learn.

Is Snapchat nothing more than a fad? Its parent company Snap has high hopes for the platform, asking for lots of money from media companies to run their content inside the platform, but not all analysts are bullish on Snap. The tech startup is slated to launch an IPO, and I personally think it only adds to the tech bubble we are currently experiencing as startups receive valuations that are beyond rich. The video space on social is crowded, and well, no one can actually predict what will happen. In the meantime, I think it's worth it for journalists to keep experimenting and using it. It certainly is more dynamic than a single shot that I could take with a DSLR, and in one single tap on my screen, I can distribute it to friends, or thousands of viewers.

I'll report again on how things are going with this experiment in a few months.

You can follow the work my students are doing at Medill on Snapchat at medillreports, and you can follow me at killsuperhero, or use the snapcode below.

Why Authors Should Be Snapchatting


The age of Snapchatting has arrived, friends. Snapchat is fun, fast, and offers two of my favorite features: brevity and stickers. I hear a lot of my peers complain about how it makes no sense, and how silly it can seem to use this social platform originally favored by millennials.

I disagree. There’s some really smart ways to engage with my readers on Snapchat, which is currently my favorite social media tool for engagement.

I post my wordcounts on Snapchat at user killsuperhero

I post my wordcounts on Snapchat at user killsuperhero

Nieman Lab pointed out in a post last year that relevance and visibility is tough for publishers because of so many platforms on which they need to exist. “This is a winning combination; a distinguishable brand across multiple platforms that speaks directly to a desirable, niche audience will create meaningful exposure to new audiences as well as a pathway for more engaged and loyal readers.”

Now, before you begin your complaint about exhaustion, let me put a finger to your lips. Chill. I have stressed to many authors before that their individual brand relevance determines the number of social platforms they will need to maintain. In other words, you don’t have to be on every single platform. If you have taken the time to understand your audience, and quantify that audience using analytics of some kind, you will logically toss away a few social platforms in order to focus on where your readers thrive. Work smarter, not harder.

For example, if you write paranormal romance novels, and your readership is made of female readers between the ages of 25-45, you can already start deciding on some platforms, such as Pinterest and Instagram, over others. Better yet, if you have ever surveyed your readers, asked them questions about what sites they use or investigated some of their habits causally, you can make that list of sites even more specific. In some cases, that data may lead you to Snapchat.

Snapchat matters right now because people (especially users older than the original Millennial first adopters) are starting to adopt it. Statista published projections of Snapchat user penetration for the US from 2012 to 2020, and it’s clear to see that it’s likely to stay very relevant.

So, if you have determined that your readers are using Snapchat, then it’s time to use it. In my case, I have a lot of anecdotal data to show that many of my readers who connect with me on Twitter and Facebook are also on Snapchat. I have also learned that part of my following includes males who are early adopters of technology; during the years I was social editor at Ars Technica, I think a few of those readers came along for the ride with my novels.

A Wonderful Case Study

A great example is wonderbruno. He’s one of my most engaged readers. We met during his trip to NYC in 2014. He lives in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and he’s an avid reader of gay romance, paranormal, sci fi and fantasy. He’s also very funny on camera, and he has an amazing collection of Wonder Woman paraphernalia. Bruno is exactly the kind of reader that I need to engage in Snapchat.

Bruno often sends DMs on my Snaps to interact back with me, and I have learned more about his reading tastes through his Snaps than his Instagram. He has given me valuable feedback about my books in DM, as well, and that kind of interaction is gold for any author. I also get a very honest window into Bruno's life in Sao Paolo. He's one of many readers who really connect in a deeper way with me thanks to this platform.

Putting it all together

Here’s my strategy in using Snapchat with my readers:

  • Leverage the levity and ephemeral nature of the medium: Quick snapshot of city scenes, interesting graffiti and people watching lets my readers know that I don’t sit at home all day and that my gaze catches many odd things in the street.

  • I publish posts about progress in my books, such as word counts. This keeps me accountable, and you would be surprised how many readers love seeing the daily word counts whenever I post them.

  • I Snapchat at live events, particularly book readings and lit events. I use the geofilters and also post to the story for my city to also make contributions to local Snapchats.

  • I post snaps of my sketches for landscapes and creatures from my books. Because the images vanish so quickly, they provide some intrigue for my readers, and it’s precisely these sketches that spark the most interactions for me.

  • Run promotions for free books, discount codes and Snapchat exclusives. This is a great tactic, but please be sure you have enough of a following on Snapchat if you will invest the time in this. And by enough, I don’t mean thousands of followers. Just make sure that the readers who follow you on Snapchat are likely to engage with promotions, sales and coupons. Nothing worse than people feeling like they are being spammed.

Like with any new platform, you should feel free to experiment, and please, please, write down you results and milestones. Don’t just Snapchat without rhyme or reason. Keep your Snaps relevant and also honest, and you’ll have a lot of fun. Be sure to view your analytics for your posts (you can tap your snap history to see who’s viewed your snaps). And if by adopting Snapchat you have to retire another social platform to protect your valuable time, be ready to do so.

Got questions? Leave a comment or send me a tweet at @13Secretcities.

You can follow me on Snapchat at the user name killsuperhero. See you on the other side.