Sunday, 9 February 2014

Seven Painful Truths About Social Media

Best foot forward.

A Public Service Announcement


If you write books, you need to reach an audience. Preferably, one with a voracious reading habit and plenty of spare cash. After you've exhausted your relatives and friends (literally, in some cases), the internet seems to glimmer like a golden gateway to prosperity, success and authorial fulfilment. Hold that thought. Why don't you sit down? There are some things you need to know.

1. People will follow you on Twitter, so, naturally, you follow them back. And then...in the dead of the night...they unfollow you. It's like the kid at school who got you to share your sweets and then the next day they scoffed all of theirs without telling you. Sneaky.

However, there are online tools you can use, such as Tweepi, to decouple yourself from those finaglers (love that word!). Also, don't follow someone back without first checking what they're about. If you're trying to promote your writing, hot dates in your local area or I can get you 5000 followers for $15 probably doesn't reflect well on your creativity.

2. Many people may follow your blog (hurrah), and post comments (hurrah deux), just to lay a trail of breadcrumbs back to their own blog. This needn't be a bad thing if their blog interests you and / or you can add insightful or interesting comments on their blogs in return. However, that doesn't mean you have to accept every comment. Naturally, you've tweaked your settings to ensure you approve each comment before it's posted?

3. Facebook likes mean nothing. Okay, you might get a brief and warm tingly feeling, but if you're plugging a book - preferably on its own Facebook page, by the way - what you really want people to do is share your post and preface it with a comment of their own. 

You could use a tool like Networked blogs, although, in the interests of balance, not everyone agrees.

4. You can't be everywhere at once, all the time. Or, indeed, at any time. Experiment with social media, see what works and what's fun (which may not be the same thing), and keep in mind why you're using social media in the first place.

5. Once you have a prominent and active social media profile - one which hopefully brings your books to a wider and appreciative audience - your relationship with your audience will change. 

Ideally, any questions you're asked about your work will form the basis of further posts, allowing you to engage with your readers and supporters in, if not real time, then something fairly close to it. Just as, by definition, you can't have a dozen BFFs, you should not expect - or lead others to expect - an intimate connection with too many of your readers.

6. There are so many social media platforms and tools that it's scary. If you think I'm exaggerating, here's a handy list. A little discernment goes a long way.

7. Social media can cloud your judgement and waste your time. You can easily spend valuable writing time chasing popularity, joining other platforms because A N Other invited you and you don't want to disappoint them, and repeating everything you've already said on another platform just because the new platform is hip. (People still say 'hip', right?) 

If you're a writer, your first loyalty is to your work, so keep that in mind when you choose to do anything else on your computer. Your time and focus are finite. Meantime, social media is a 24 days a day, 365 and a quarter days a year phenomenon. It's a carousel and only you can decide when it's right for you to get on and when you need to take a break from it all.


In conclusion, using social media can be a smexi move if you want to tap into a global market. It can also be a frustrating and disappointing experience if you dont ask yourself some important questions before you start:
a) Which platforms might be right for me?
b) How much time do I have - or want - to spend on social media.
c) Am I clear about what I want to say?
d) Who is my target audience? 

I've been Derek Thompson, freelance writer, and you've been a lovely audience. Now, about my books...

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Bonfire of my vanity

This may sting a bit...

Last year ended on a bit of a writing high for me. I felt as though my freelance business was extending its roots (granted, December was a slower month than the previous four, but hey, Christmas was coming), I was making headway with my work-in-progress, The Caretaker, and January was looking peachy. 

However, I've since discovered that January isn't the season for native soft fruit, although things have proved to be interesting.

One of my fellow authors at Musa Publishing discovered that pretty much all of Musa's books were being pirated - i.e. offered for free, without permission. That's a slap in the face, but the next kapow was learning that only one copy of one of my books had been downloaded. I know, I should be happy that my interests are not unduly compromised. I am, but viewed from another, albeit distorted perspective, this suggests that I literally can't give my books away. Now that I think about it, I also offered ten review ebooks of Covenant in January and only had one taker.

It would less than honest if I didn't also refer to my recent email tennis with a television producer who wanted comedy sketch samples, but who was less than forthcoming about rates and rights and whether, in fact, this was less of a golden opportunity and more of a rusty nail.

Add to the pile my most recent novel rejection, which concluded that they specialise in commercial fiction and have to be confident of significant sales - subtext: don't give up your day job, or, if you're writing full-time, get yourself a day job - and I find myself on the plateau of broken dreams and eating crisps. Let's face it, there are snacks for all occasions.

Now, I could - like the crisps - get eaten up by all the above and start to ponder whether the Universe has abandoned me and widdled on the fires of my literary dreams*. I might question whether my recent blog post about what a hell for writers would be like was just tempting fate. I could even question whether there is any such thing as fate (although I may be fated to do that, of course). Or I could just keep writing. 

It's tempting to see ourselves as the centre of our own universes, and that's necessary, to a degree, as part of the creative process. However, while writing is my life, it's an inner life and not indicative of anything going on around me. Creativity is, in part, a filtering process, and we can easily start to filter out the good stuff from our perception just because we're not getting the funfair ride we wanted. Other rides are available.

So, those metaphorical crisps taste a little of humble pie and vinegar at the moment. I could tell myself that 'not now doesn't mean not ever'. I could also remind myself - via an excellent and very funny essay by Johnny B Truant - that no one is forcing me to write, or indeed needs me to write. And, having reflected on what it is that drives me to write, I could get back to the stories still to be told and shared. 

Maybe I'll self-publish that novel further down the line. My friend, Sinclair Macleod, has successfully ploughed his own furrow. Maybe I'll find an agent or indie publisher somewhere out there, like Susie, Kath and Chloe have done. Heck, maybe I'll find a radio or film producer to bring it to life in some other way. (To any would-be dealmakers, Thursdays is my best day to get in touch.) 

My point is that even the experiences we'd rather avoid can be useful, to a writer. We are forced to regroup and ask ourselves the awkward but important questions. 

Does my view of myself as a writer change if I self-publish my work? 
(Actually, I'm bringing out some humour ebooks under my own banner, later this year, so that question only applies to my novels.)

Do I need to be any particular kind of writer to feel like a writer?

Will it stop me writing?


When you strip it all back, it's just you and the pen and the page. It's good to remember that, every once in a while.

* No dreams or ambitions were harmed in the making of this blog post.