Jim Nettles wears many different hats. He creates glass art, advises authors about using social media and other internet promotion, and has written a book on the business side of writing. As James P. McDonald, he writes two different fantasy series. The Daily Dragon sat down with him to explore these varied areas of interest.
Daily Dragon (DD): Why glass art? What draws you to it, and what do you create?
James Nettles (JN): I love glass, the way it catches light and color, but I do small and medium sized sculptural pieces and jewelry mostly by torch, through glass blowing is fun. There’s something about cranking the music and watching glass flow at a couple thousand degrees to keep your attention and get the creative juices flowing.
DD: Your website says you give programs on game theory. Please tell us briefly what that is and why it interests you.
JN: At its simplest, game theory is taking two wholly rational sides, and predicting behavior from that. Having worked in tech for a long time, and being a writer, we have to assume some people and most characters aren’t rational to some extent. It’s the old adage of people are predictable; a person often isn’t. Understanding the models is really helpful in building business plans, technology solutions, and blowing up plots in books. At the end of the day, it’s a fascinating and useful study to understand why we do what we do.
DD: You often participate in panels about ways authors can use social media to build their careers. What do you think is the most common mistake authors make with social media?
JN: I have a love-hate relationship with social media in general. I spend a lot of time talking about privacy, data, and then have to hop the fence and tell people to do the exact opposite of what I was preaching about from a privacy perspective.
Most authors (and most business people in general), don’t look at social media as a long-game marketing tool. As many creatives are introverts, they are afraid of any visibility, and won’t do the work to create and grow their brand identity. Or they want to get a quick huge following without considering if they are attracting the right followers.
For social media to work as a part of your long-term career and business as an author, or other creator, you have to feed the engine what it wants in terms of content on a consistent basis, and it will reward you with the right people discovering you, and staying with you on your journey for the long term. But these days, plan to give the beast an appetizer of cold hard cash as paid ads.
DD: One of your panels for Dragon Con has an intriguing title: “Too Sexy for Tumblr and other AI Problems.” What are some of those problems?
JN: I think this will be a fun panel, and we’ll be looking at two sides of the social media: the business and consumer side and the content policies, and the implications of the technologies being used to sustain the platforms and those policies.
On the business and consumer side, social media platforms like Tumblr are changing what is acceptable content on their platforms as they seemingly change their audiences. In December of last year, Tumblr alienated many communities by banning many forms of LGBTQ and adult content, and stripping this with little notice to the users. (I’ll skip my rant on how they are leaving a ton of money on the table here, and abandoning the community that built them.) Facebook, while always much tamer, has also further limited the kinds of content they deem acceptable.
On the other side, we’ll look at how Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and most platforms use various forms of Artificial Intelligence to monitor and curate content for acceptability, and then to decide who of their users would most likely want to see and interact with that content. AIs can do a lot, and are learning every day, but are only so capable of understanding images, context, and language. They don’t get subtlety or nuance and are usually designed to catch false positives in lieu of missing something. They can even result in users being temporarily blocked from the platform or even banned. Often this happens when the AI raises the content to human moderators that use their own biases and judgement as to what is acceptable, even if it’s within the platform’s guidelines.
The internet and the platforms using it are moving from being in the terrible twos phase of life into a moody pre-teen. It has no idea what it’s doing, but rolling its eyes all the time, and hoping to catch a glimpse of something naughty, while the parents have a free-for-all pool party happening in the backyard.
When it’s all said and done, I believe we are looking at the conflict of free markets, cross-border government standards, and a small number of people in business and governments making decisions as to what they want the public to see and do.
DD: You’ve done a lot of work on European Union copyright and privacy laws. What are the latest developments in that field?
JN: The EU is actively driving policies to return some sense of privacy and security in personal information, and how it’s used on the internet. Most of these policies are targeting large corporations and bad actors (scammers and spammers), but even a lone author has to comply if they have a reader and fan in Europe, or who is a European citizen.
Of the big changes, the GDPR (General Data Privacy Requirements) went into effect in the EU in May of last year. For most of us, the biggest effects were people purging their email lists and companies enforcing double opt-ins for sign-ups.
In the last few months, the EU Copyright Directive has enacted new policies and laws designed to protect content creators and copyright owners. The challenge is that it now places risk and liability on the platforms that use and share content, which is resulting in a slowdown of news and content dissemination. It has even resulted in events like Google News shutting down their service in some countries and social media platforms questioning the ability to operate. The question is the ability to prove you own, or at least have a right to share, content. For authors, artists, and musicians for example, sharing and re-sharing content in an attempt to “go viral” for exposure may not even be legal anymore without surrendering part or all of your rights to the work, but we always see these kinds of challenges get resolved.
Much like with the GDPR, there’s a lot of confusion about what this will mean for individual creators. I’m expecting this will mean the big platforms (Facebook, YouTube, etc.) are going to set the pace and find the happy medium for everyone. We will have to adapt, but I think we will see this create new opportunities for creators too.
DD: When you give the program “Faith, Ethos, and Technology,” what’s your theme?
JN: I minored in anthropology and have a lifelong interest in cultures, beliefs, and behavior. This often shows up in my writing.
Innovations and new technologies are often seen with fear and suspicion. Often, the roots of this are based in people’s belief systems. I’ve spoken about and explored this topic with technology groups developing new products and tools, in academic settings, and even with faith-based groups. And the approach is different with each, depending on why we’re exploring the topic.
It’s fascinating to take a look at historical events such as the Galileo affair and his imprisonment due to his ideas on heliocentricity, and then compare it to people who fear vaccines and self-driving cars. In truth, all knowledge comes with risk and responsibility. Any new idea or technology comes with a cost. At some point, a self-driving car will need to know if its directive is to protect its owner and passengers at all costs, or whether it should crash to save the kid that ran into the street to fetch an errant soccer ball. Medications have side effects.
The internet gives people access to anything they want to know. And anything they don’t want to know. Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true or accurate. I think we are seeing a generation learning discernment, and how to become their best selves. I believe in facilitating healthy discussions to guide people to informed decisions, including recognizing their blinders and biases. We live in an age that exemplifies “a rising tide lifts all ships.” You just have to be ready to throw your boat in the water.
DD: What inspired your book Business Essentials for Writers?
I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, and have always straddled the line between business and creativity. I write a lot in the business and tech spaces, and when friends in the writer and creative communities asked questions, after a while it was easier to develop the answers as blog posts and articles. Somehow or another, when I couldn’t find something I thought gave a good fundamental basis, I decided to write it. With the support of a lot of friends in the community, I hammered it down to this final version released this spring, and I’m getting a lot of great feedback thus far.
DD: You write two different fantasy series, The Longbow Initiative and The Home Summoning. What are they about?
The Home Summonings series has been called a young Harry Dresden thrown into the world of American Gods. It’s urban fantasy that sometimes crosses over into the other lands of myth and legend. Grey Forrester, my hapless wizard, is trying to get from underneath a Sword of Damocles firmly on his neck while old gods are looking to make a power play that will let them return to our world.
The Longbow Initiative is a spinoff series of novellas where an ineffectual law enforcement agency tries to keep things that hide in the closet away from people, and the other things that go bump in the night. My best seller in this series so far is Gnomebody’s Business, a murder mystery where someone is killing gnomes and turning them into garden statues.
DD: What is the Hold Onto the Light campaign, and why did you decide to participate in it?
#HoldOnToTheLight (https://holdontothelight.com) is well over a hundred science fiction and fantasy authors, creators and fans tackling mental health, often from their personal experiences including depression, burnout, PTSD, and suicide. I feel honored to have written a couple of posts for it so far, but the implications of how we have put a stigma on mental health for generations, combined with the speed of information and society and a culture of division and conflict, has exploded into an epidemic that can no longer be ignored.
I think everyone who has contributed, including myself, has found support and catharsis in what we have written and shared. If that can help one person find what they need to pull themselves out of the dark corners we all find ourselves in at times, the reward is immeasurable.
DD: What’s next for you?
In October, I’ve got a holiday comedy-horror story coming out, The Krampus Klause. This is kicking off a new series.
I’m recording the audiobook version and video workshops to go along with the Business Essentials for Writers book, and I’m working on two more in the series. Also, at Author Essentials, we are rolling out new products, services, and workshops for creatives and are working to grow the community. The videocast and podcast Office Hours will be launching in September.
The next Longbow novella, Gnomebody’s Home should be out by the end of the year, and next year I should be releasing book 4 of Home Summonings and the new technothriller series.
I’ll be back in Atlanta for Multiverse in October and at Atomacon in Charleston, SC, in November. A couple more events are in the works between now and the end of the year.
And we will be recording more episodes of our monthly author readings, Books and Beer (https://www.facebook.com/booksnbeer/), and will finally launch the website too.
From a consulting standpoint, we’re working with several exciting projects in startup and a couple more in growth phases. I’ll be making announcements on social media and my websites as we can. If you have questions for your projects, reach out!
And sleep. I’ve got a nap scheduled the last week of December.
DD: What do you enjoy about writing your internet and social media work?
I’ve grown up with the internet, starting with BBS’ in the early ‘80s, and have worked in the industry in some form most of my career. Part of me loves technology, watching all of the innovation, and looking at how it can be used in what I believe will be humanity’s amazing future on this and other worlds. At the same time, I’ve spent a lot of my career looking at how a few bad actors perpetrate frauds and manipulate people. When we look at all the gifts social media can offer in creating and maintaining connections, I also believe people should understand what these technologies mean in a changing society and how we individually define ourselves. We are in an age where the ability and tools to be creative and successful was available to anyone willing to put in the work. At the same time, I work to educate people that these platforms may not be charging you to use them, but they are far from “free.”
I have a lot of fun with the phrase “caveat emptor.” And there’s a lot of fun in watching people open their eyes and see the possibilities of the bigger world.
DD: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Write. Then write more. Find the people that can support you, give constructive criticism, and challenge you. Find your tribe; you can’t do it alone. Never be afraid to learn, or to teach. Give more than you receive. Learn to love rejection.
Then write more, even if it sucks. You can’t fix a blank page.
DD: You can find more information about James Nettles at the following locations:
Short stories and more can be found at: https://www.jim-mcdonald.net/
Non-fiction and appearances can be found at: https://www.jamespnettles.com/
Founding partner for Author Essentials (https://www.authoressentials.net and https://www.authoressentialsworkshops.com), with resources and workshops dedicated to the business of being an author.
Email: (email@example.com) jim (at) jim-mcdonald (dot) net
(firstname.lastname@example.org) jimn (at) authoressentials (dot) net