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Sunday, 26 October 2014

Tweet Dreams Are Made of This by Ruby Barnes

Social media fads come and go. Step back in time ... remember MySpace? There are kids now who never heard of MySpace. Google+ was going to be the next big thing and the predicted demise of Facebook had people scrabbling for footholds on Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Stumbleupon and goodness knows where else. Now everything is becoming a bit blurred in a whirl of social networks, blogs, photo collections, discussion forums, online chat and update feeds. Isn't this all too much?

So, why bother with Twitter? What is the point of a 140 character message which might not get read by anyone before it sinks into the 500 million daily tweets? On the face of it, unless you are looking for personal interaction or are a microblogging wizard and manage to get your tweet to go viral through retweeting or on TV shows, Twitter doesn't seem to offer much. Unless you are a blogger.

Content is the key to good blogging. Some folk blog about their daily life, others  about a book release / product review / competition. Authors engage in round-robin writing challenges, give updates on their WIP and share writing tips. People tend to follow or bookmark the blog if the content has value for the reader: well written, entertaining and pertinent.

If you write a good blog post it can pull in considerable traffic to your platform and you might even sell the odd book or two (although the jury is out on whether there's any real correlation between blog traffic and book sales). Write a great or controversial blog post and it could go viral, even be the catalyst that catapults your writing from relative obscurity to Amazon top 100 (John Locke, of purchased review infamy, believes his viral blog post about baseball was the tipping point for selling a million).

The killer is this: when you've written a good blog post, it's still there and will pull some traffic through tags, keywords, SEO stuff, but it soon becomes old news, after a week or so. Right? Wrong. How many people viewed that post? A hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand? That's peanuts. Goodreads alone has over 20 million members. The majority of your target audience haven't read your stuff. My Compulsive Communication Syndrome post has had over 17,000 pageviews (mostly by people Googling elephants) but, until I start getting irate emails telling me to shut the hell up about those elephants, I haven't reached saturation with it. That post is still news. 
So how best to leverage all that great content you've slaved over when you should have been writing your latest novel? Send a killer tweet. Use keywords, hashtags and a link to the blog post. Sounds easy, it can be done. Did anyone spot it on Twitter? Any increase in page views? Now it's disappeared again into the 500 million daily tweets.

You need a way to share your best tweets about your best blog posts with people around the globe, in different time zones and on different days. I discovered (yeah, discovered - I'm always the last to know) how to do this while away from home having a Bunfight at the Breaffy House Hotel on the west coast of Ireland. Trawl through your old tweets and find the best one you sent for that post, the one that was retweeted and favorited by others. Do that for all your best blog content and build up a list of tweets in excel, notepad or similar. Make sure you check the tweets don't refer to expired competitions or offers, and click all links through to be sure they still work. Now you need to schedule those tweets using something like Hootsuite. Watch the stats on your blog and see the numbers grow. Try scheduling at different times to catch the Americas, Europe, Australasia and Asia. Look at the audience and work out what's effective for you and your content.

Your blog traffic should have multiplied with this little exercise, but your twitter dementia will be escalating. Try scheduling nothing for a couple of days (if you can bear it) and see your blog traffic drop. You'll soon be back on the scheduling, trying to build the numbers back up and keep your content live. Oh, talking of content, shouldn't you be writing a new blog post? And how's the new novel WIP coming along? Feeling stressed? Don't panic, we have a couple more cards up our sleeve that will exorcise this compulsive communication demon.

Semi-automate your top tweet content, driving traffic to your blog back catalog. Your twitter and blog followers are increasing so use some tool like JustUnfollow to drop unfollowers and follow back new fans, and everything is dandy. Until someone unfollows you, a someone you value as a top tweep influencer. Are they fed up with your play list of repeats? Are you swamping their twitter feed? It could be that they followed you for interaction and aren't getting it from you anymore. Unfollow them and then follow back, in case it was a mistake by them. They'll come back to you if it was. It's always a good idea to keep putting those personal tweets in manually, those run-to-the-computer moments when something great pops into your head. And don't forget to say thank you to folks when they mention you and reply to any valid direct messages.

Feed140 was a very useful too for autoscheduling of tweets but has become a victim of its own popularity. The number of users swamped the architecture of this free tool and it’s currently offline pending redesign. An automated schedule of tweets linking to evergreen content (blog posts, book reviews etc) is a real boon for any author who wants to drive traffic through their social media platform. Are you already autoscheduling your tweets? What tool are you using, what’s the cost and would you recommend it?

I’ve blown Triberr’s trumpet several times and I’ll blow it again. Triberr is a great source of expanded coverage for new blog posts. It can be a bit tricky to get yourself set up and connected with the right people but it’s worth the effort in terms of additional traffic. Connect your blog and twitter to your Triberr account (and Facebook and LinkedIn if you wanna go the whole hog). Join a tribe that has members with blogging interests you want to share on your social media platform (this is important - their content should be pertinent for the people in your network). When you post on your blog it will automatically be shared with the tribes you are a member of. They have the option to share your posts with their social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Stumbleupon).

Example: I have 7,988 Twitter followers, I'm a member of 16 tribes on Triberr with 400 tribemates and a reach of over 2 million Twitter followers. When I blog around half of those tribemates will share my content to their networks. Depending upon how well my blog post title works as a tweet (and it can be edited on Triberr to put in a hashtag or extra keyword) I'll get a boost of extra traffic on my new blog post for every day the post remains active on Triberr.

Conversely, in the spirit of give-and-take that is Triberr, I go onto the site once a day and share every post in my tribal stream that has content I consider relevant to my network. I share writing and publishing tips and news, good book reviews, author interviews, tasty-looking recipes, relevant competitions and beautiful / clever writing on any topic. Those posts enrich my tweet stream with something new at a maximum frequency of every half an hour. I read most every post that I share and have benefitted personally from a lot of that content too.

Phew! Sometimes it all just has to come out. It's easy to set the machine running and keep it ticking over. Does it sell more books? The only way to be sure is to switch your platform off for an extended period. Are you going to take that risk? See you on the other side.

Ruby Barnes is the author of Peril, Getting Out of Dodge, The Baptist, Koobi Fora and The New Author, all on Amazon.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Consulting Sprint Education by Susan Price

I've been too busy this month to come up with a blog, so here's
The badge of the RLF
some notes on what I've been up to.

I've mentioned before how I trained with the Royal Literary Fund to become one of their accredited consultants.

Well, I decided that I'd better do something with the accreditation. Long ago, when I first started earning a living as a writer, I made more money by going into schools and talking about what I did, than I did from actually selling my writing.

I've continued to make part of my income from school visits ever since, but gradually the writing income overtook the school income... but since the recession both have fallen off sharply. As, I think, almost everyone posting here has found too.

I decided to do something about this. I needed income but, obviously, it was no longer sufficient to wait for schools to seek me out. I had to go out and grab them by the lapels, even if only metaphorically.

Sprint Education
So I gritted the teeth and paid a hefty sum (£500 plus VAT) to Sprint Education, a marketing company specialising in marketing to schools. I reasoned that I only had to get two bookings to break even, and I reckoned I could manage that.

If you check out the Sprint Ed link, you'll see that they give away, for free, an awful lot of information about the best way to approach schools and get their attention.

Using this advice, I crafted my email, sent it to Sprint Ed - and they advised me on how to improve it before sending it off to 8,400 teachers in the UK. The email goes directly to a teacher, not to an office, and Sprint Ed use coding so that each email is personalised.

The advert went out at 9am on September 11. At 12-10 I had my first phonecall. After that, the emails and phone-calls continued to come.

I broke even by the second day. My bookings now take me well into profit. I'm on course to earn, once again, as much or more from school visits as I do from writing.

The downside is that I spent over a week doing almost nothing but answer emails, providing quotes, and more details about what I could do in schools. (Susan Price in Schools)

I'm glad of the work and income, but I can't remember the last time I did any of my own writing. I spend my days devising workshops - which is interesting work, and will pay bills. But I have a book to finish.

I'm also trying to get my Ghost World books published as paperbacks in time for Christmas, which means a lot of finicky revisions.

We're never happy, are we? 


Hallowe'en soon - and if you're looking for some suitably ghostly reading...

Overheard In A            Hauntings                 Nightcomers

Friday, 24 October 2014

On Not Being Paid - Jo Carroll

My first degree is in history and politics - and I dreamed of
Authors Electric Jo Carroll
becoming a journalist. That would be me, I thought, rubbing shoulders with the great and the greedy in the House of Commons and sitting in a garret writing about them.

Except I failed the interview. This was in the early 1970s, when there was no training for interviews, and no post mortem, so I've no idea why. I was certainly a bit shaken - there was almost full employment for graduates at the time and it was hard to turn my attention elsewhere. But events took over, as they do, and I drifted into social work and child protection - and am proud of everything I achieved so cannot suggest those years were anything other than satisfying.

But now our local online newspaper has asked me to be a columnist!

Oh what fun it is! All that adolescent enthusiasm is still there. I know, it's the council and not the MPs I'm having a pop at. And I've got a real house and not a garret. But the feelers for stories are out. No longer can I simply whinge over coffee about the infantile behaviour of our town councillors - I can write about them. No more will I grumble about the lack of opportunity for young people in the town (dominated, as it is, by perms and cardigans) - I can write about it. I know it won't change the world, but it might just tweak a corner of it.

Does it feel like turning the clock back? I suppose so, just a little. More than that, it feels like coming full circle. Because now I draw on my determination to make life better for young people, and my research skills - once used for ferreting out the truth about abuse. 

And no, I'm not paid. 

That's where I hear a collective intake of breath. Writing for free - surely that's against our mutual understanding about valuing our writing. We matter. Our writing matters. We should be paid for it.

Before you gang up and beat me with birch twigs, I'll tell you why I've agreed to do it.

Nobody working on the newspaper is paid. Not the editor, not the news reporters, not the sports reporters, not the columnists. It's a community project, undertaken for the benefit of the town. We make money from advertisers, which pays for the upkeep of the site; any that is left over goes into local projects such as the food bank and support for young families. 

I'm retired. I have a pension - enough to live on. And I'm healthy. I am in a position to 'give back.' But I can't face working in a charity shop or helping with meals-on-wheels. I felt I was underpaid for my skills when I was working and am not going to give them away for free now. But this - I can do this; it is my small contribution to the town that has contained me and my family for so long.

So - in my shoes, would you have agreed to write a column, or would you stick to your writerly guns and refused to work for free?

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Lev Butts' Top Ten (Part II)

Last month I started to count down my top ten books or series that have "stayed" with me (whatever that means) throughout my life.

I may have bitten off more than I could reasonably swallow.
It was a bit of an undertaking, and I only got through the first two.

These books aren't going to read themselves, so let's cut the introductory fluff and get right to it then:

8. The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

As far as I'm concerned, these are the best covers ever bound.
As a kid, I loved the Rankin/Bass cartoon version of The Hobbit. I watched it every time it came on television. This was so long before DVD's, mind you, that we didn't even have VHS yet.

This is how we DVR'ed back when the world was young and dinosaurs ruled the earth.
This meant that I could only watch it once a year if I were lucky, so for the weeks before it aired, I was the best behaved kid you ever saw. I'd eat all my vegetables and possibly even liver to avoid running the risk of being restricted or sent to bed early on broadcast night.

I'd sing the songs along with the television. I'd climb over the furniture while the dwarves were in the lonely mountain. I didn't miss a minute of it.

Except for this guy; I hid behind the couch for him.
And this is why I'm arachnophobic to this day.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out there was a book, too!

And a sequel!

Three of'em!

And they all came in one convenient box!
It was the only thing I asked for that Christmas. I finished the entire series in a month.

And that's when Tolkien ripped out my still beating heart and stomped on it.

In short, The Hobbit tells the story of a little guy who goes off with some dwarves to regain their treasure. On the way, the little guy finds a magic ring that makes you invisible. The Lord of the Rings tells about the little guy's nephew who has to go on a journey to destroy the ring in a volcano. Amid all the walking to and from treasure, the little guys learn that they can affect the great events of the world, but even if they win, they will be forever changed and not all for the best.

The Lord of the Rings wasn't the first time I encountered a story with a sad ending (The Empire Strikes Back did that for me), but it was the first time I encountered a story where the heroes win and are so depressed in spite of this victory that they can't live in the world anymore.

Spoiler alert
It may be the first adult life lesson I ever learned:

Sometimes you can get exactly what you want and still be miserable, and there's very little you can do about that.

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My high school English teacher told us there
was a naked woman on this cover in order to
encourage us to read it. When I found it,
I wanted to punch her.
If The Lord of the Rings taught me my first adult life lesson, The Great Gatsby taught me the first immediately applicable one.

Fitzgerald's book is a searing indictment of the roaring '20's and the decadence of the Jazz Age. It is such a successful and scathing critique, in fact, that anyone who reads the book cannot help but want to go back to the 1920's, and sneer at everyone reprovingly while guzzling bathtub gin and seducing flappers.

On top of all of this, it tells the story of a gangster who's in love with an air-headed rich girl who's married to an asshole of a rich guy who's sleeping with a poor idiot who's married to a loser who kills the gangster in a swimming pool.

Spoiler alert
What makes this story better than your average pulp fiction gangster story is that you kinda feel sorry for the gangster, Jay Gatsby, who really turns out to be a sad (and more realistic) version of a Horatio Alger hero: he's a poor kid from the midwest who impresses a rich con-man and eventually rises through the ranks of his benefactor's organization in a vain attempt to make enough money to deserve the rich girl from old money he's in love with. Sure he makes money and rises through his own efforts and hard work, but unlike Alger's boys, he will always fail to fit in because his money is not the right money. It's new. He will always be outdone by the people with old money.

In fact, Daisy (the poor little rich girl) and her jerk of a husband, Tom, both sit idly by and let Gatsby die because at the end of the day, they don't see his death as their problem (even though they are both to varying degrees responsible for the events leading to it).

Which brings us to my favorite quote form the novel, and the most important life lesson I ever learned in high school:
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
After reading that line, I knew with a certainty bordering on the religious, that I did not ever want to be that kind of careless.  I never wanted anyone to think of me the way Nick Carraway, the narrator, thinks of Tom and Daisy. I didn't want to be Nick Carraway either, the poor sod who has to clean up everybody else's mess, and I certainly didn't want to be Gatsby, who is eaten up and spit out by other people's carelessness.

Though, he does manage to look suave and debonair while he's being digested.
I just knew I didn't want to be the kind of guy who left messes for others. I wanted to be the character who isn't in The Great Gatsby: the guy who is responsible enough to clean up his own messes without letting others get hurt in the process.

Though I certainly wouldn't've said no to some swinging jazz, bathtub gin, and a flapper or two.

Next Month: We creep ever nearer the end with numbers 6 &5.

In the meanwhile, I'll be in my bunk.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Everything has its limitations - even e-books? by Ali Bacon

e-book or printed?
During a recent weekend spent with writers old and young, I was in the company of a well-known novelist (no namedropping) and mentioned I was enjoying reading Gone Girl. (I was about half way through at the time).  She said she had like it too and like me had read the e-book. She also happened to say that it was ‘the kind of book that was good for Kindle’. This perplexed me but I let it ride until later in the weekend by which time I had finished the book and  we talked about it again. I wanted to know which novels she considered good for Kindle. I might have misunderstood, but I gathered that she considered the e-format better for quick reads, genre fiction or page-turning thrillers.
I was surprised that she felt this need to differentiate in this way. She has, by the way, been published in both formats and is working now on something that will go straight to e-book, so we are not talking Luddite or literary snob.

I went off to think about my own Kindle reading and consider if in any instance the e-format had detracted from my enjoyment or understanding. With my hand on my heart I can say that my answer is a resounding ‘no’. I have read all kinds of things on Kindle and with the exception of some practical handbooks (which I was just too mean to buy in print!) I had no problem with any of them, including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which is a whopper of a book, and an illustrated non-fiction monograph which I intended to buy in print but ordered on Kindle by mistake and to my own surprise did not regret it.

The whole idea of e-books being somehow less worthy comes up in research suggesting that e-reading impacts less deeply on our understanding and emotions than reading a print book, i.e. you would not e-read a book that you want to stay with you or that demands particular concentration. Well it’s hard to say if this applies to me, but what I can say is that I don’t retain the detail of books for as long as I would like or expect to but that this applies equally to all books whether in print or on an e-reader. And tell it to my fellow students on the Bath Spa MA who look very attached to their e-readers and presumably hope to retain their reading for quite some time.

When the conversation with the novelist moved into a wider circle there were the usual comments about the difficulties of ‘flicking back’ in an e-book. To some extent I agree with this, but then I’m not much of a flicker-backer. If I can’t understand what’s going on as it happens on the page, I’m likely to get frustrated and give up anyway. Nor do I like a book that assumes I’m going to refer regularly to a family tree, a map or whatever. But actually, a decent e-book (publishers please note!) should have a hyperlinked contents page and is always searchable, so I would have thought that the process of looking stuff up, although different, is perfectly possible. And in non-fiction, dealing with footnotes is actually much slicker in an e-book where they are hyperlinked. (No flicking or marking of pages required!)

Every format has advantage and disadvantages. I never buy fiction in hardback but I prefer hardback cookery books. I love the portability of e-books but will occasionally buy a hard copy of a book I particularly love simply to be able to hold it in my hand. A printed book, as someone has observed, is a souvenir of itself. So the last thing I’m suggesting is that e-books should take over the world. But it’s about choice. The e-format has extended that choice and brought more books to more people and has very little to prove. There are some minor snags, but for me they have been less significant than I expected and are far outweighed by the flexibility and portability of the medium. I don’t see any reason for e-books to be the second class citizens of the literary world. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Pauline Chandler asks "Who Needs Stories?"

It still amazes me that many adults don’t read fiction. I used to take it for granted that everyone did, until a chance comment from a friend, an artist, shocked me to the core.  ‘No, I don’t read stories’, she said, ‘in fact I don't read much at all. I don't have time'. She might as well have said ‘I don’t breathe.’

Sadly, I’ve since discovered that ‘not reading stories’ is quite common, even among teachers. Perhaps it’s all that paperwork. No time to read anything other than the latest advice about improving their performance and meeting the agreed ‘learning outcomes'. Pah.

Fiction didn’t feature much on the curriculum in my own school days, during the 50s and 60s, and there was certainly no discussion about what we read in our spare time. We were allowed to read a book, carefully censored, at playtime, as aimless running about was frowned on. In class we read the Greek Myths, Arthur Grimble’s ‘A Pattern of Islands’ (non-fiction) and CS Forester’s ‘The Ship’, which I can’t now recall. Then, because I took Latin, I was not able to take English Literature for O Level, so it was something of an eye-opener when I came to study fiction for A Level. Suddenly, there was a world of commentary on the human condition, from such authors as CS Lewis, Iris Murdoch, George Eliot, Conrad, Lawrence, Hemingway and the ‘moderns’, contemporary writers, Alan Sillitoe, Shelagh Delaney,Alan Paton, Arnold Wesker, James Baldwin, all wonderful authors who spoke about relationships, love, sex, race and  gender, without prejudice. And my cramped wings spread as I started to understand important lessons, under the gentle persuasion of their stories. 
Someone once said to me, ’You can’t learn about life from books, you know’. Pah. You can, you know. 

All the stories we share with our children teach them the real stuff they need to live well. About friends and kindness, respect for the earth and living things, about war and peace, famine and plenty, justice and injustice. About families and how to make things right after a falling out, about serious illness and disability and what life is like when you lose someone you love, about heroism and sacrifice and survival. How to judge what’s worth aiming for, and what’s not, what will stand through time, and what will fade away like mist.  

This magic doesn’t stop when you grow up. The stories just get better, richer, more challenging.

Do you know anyone who doesn't read stories? I wonder what would make them start. Is it too late when you're grown up? 

Pauline Chandler

Coming soon! A new edition of 'Warrior Girl'.
A story set in the time of Joan of Arc.    

Published by Cybermouse Books.       

Monday, 20 October 2014

Nine years on by Sandra Horn

You know those LinkedIn messages telling you to congratulate someone on their job anniversary? 'Ten years at Blithering and Snodgrass'? I usually ignore them because I never know whether the person targetted wakes up every morning with a song in her/his heart and can't wait to rush off to work, or has to mutter 'mortgage, mortgage, utility bills, shoes,' in order to get out of the house at all. Yesterday, I had one: a 'congrats' message, that is. A delightful ex-student congratulated me on nine years at Clucket Press. Really? Nine years since we launched The Mud Maid into the world with but the single thought: we know what we can afford to lose without ending up on the streets, so here goes? Cor, strike me pink. It worked out rather better than we could have dreamed, so we went on to produce The Giant and The Furzey Oak. We've also brought some OOP books back into publication and ventured into e-books and most lately an audiobook. We didn't anticipate any of this - the plan was one book, finish. The very least-anticipated venture was publishing books for other people, but this too has been good. More than good. We make nothing in terms of money, but seeing friends' books through to life has been amazing. We've done it for two members of the writing group, on a they-pay-printing-costs-we-produce-the-book-for-love basis. The latest two are ready to go: a paperback to be launched on Wednesday and an e-book when the cover has been approved. The e-book is the second volume of Vera Forster's autobiography. The first, A Daughter of Her Century, tells of her early years in Hungary and the persecution (Vera was Jewish) of the Nazi years, followed by the false dawn of the Stalinist regime. It concludes with her escape across the border into Austria after the Hungarian revolution. It's a wonderful, witty, compassionate book. Unusually, and  the oft-repeated reason for its rejection by conventional publishers, the factual writing is interspersed with short stories which further illuminate those dark times. That's how she wanted to write it, and the fact that it didn't then quite fit one genre or another was irrelevant.

She died before she could complete volume two, The Free West, and it is this book that we've just put together. It is, as the first one, a mixture of autobiography and stories, but in this case we've put the stories together at the end of the factual writing. Vera arrived here in 1957, speaking not a word of English. A trained  psychotherapist, she could only work as a domestic servant at first because that was the terms of her visa. It is, among other things, a funny take on the English and their incomprehensible ways, and her own struggles to establish herself here. It also contains echoes of the dark past, so again it is impossible to categorise - but so what? That's not a particularly intelligent way to think about a book, to my mind. I've just finished The Cat Who Came in off the Roof - hugely enjoyable, very funny, and (apparently) a children's book. Huh.
After Vera's first book, we went on to publish Jayne Woodhouse's story 'The Stephensons' Rocket'. It's about a retired greyhound and the troubled family who take him in. It is narrated by Anna, a grumpy pre-teenage girl and again, although it could be called a children's book, we know from feedback that people of all ages read and enjoy it. It was followed by 'And Rocky Too, and then the one we are about to launch, 'Rocky's Home Run'. They are the most satisfying and engaging account of a family's ups and downs and Anna's sometimes painful stages of development. They touch on family breakdown, bullying, friendship, mental illness, but with a light, skillful hand.

What next? Who knows? We didn't intend to produce nine of our own books, let alone other people's. so I'm not going to try to predict anything. Let's see what comes along.