Number of Page Views This Month

Thursday, 30 October 2014


What's a catfish? Well, I have two in my aquarium - beautifully weird creatures with odd little faces who have trebled in size since they moved in with me about three years ago.

But catfish appear to have taken over a whole new meaning in the days of the internet. It's all to do with creating fake online identities in order to con people - see the definitions in Urban Dictionary and on Digital Trends.

Which leads me on to this Guardian article that's been doing the rounds recently. Am I being catfished? Author publishes book. Gets talking to book blogger and alleges that book blogger has been publicly trashing her book anywhere and everywhere. Author engages with blogger. World explodes very messily online...

But then it all gets sinister, as author apparently thinks that blogger may not be who she is purporting to be. Author - take a deep breath here - finds out where blogger lives and pays her a visit! Yes, really. And then ... well, read the article. You couldn't make it up. Unless she did, of course. That's the thing with the internet isn't it? You never know what is and isn't real in the virtual world of cyberspace.

And we go one step further here with  a public condemnation of the whole event and the Guardian for giving it life...

It's a common-enough experience, responding to book reviews. I remember way back in 2011, the story of indie author Jacqueline Howett and her book review on Big Al's Books and Pals that went viral. Now Big Al says it like it is. I should know - I got a very meh book review from him a while back. Did I say a thing? Good God, no. Opinions are opinions and in any case several people contacted me later to say they'd bought my book after reading the review to see what the fuss was about and they didn't agree with him. But go read all the comments to the review - if ever there was a perfect example of why you should never, ever respond to a book review...

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Rewriting by Nicky Browne

According to John Green ‘All writing is rewriting.’ Yeah, I know and a first draft is only the
beginning of a process. I explain this to my creative writing students and tell them to get anything down on the page because it can all be fixed in edit. I am utterly sincere and a total hypocrite. I hate rewriting. I grew up in the twentieth century (without a type writer) I want to do as little of it as possible.
I vividly remember the first day I realised that editing was a necessity. I must have been about  twenty-seven and working with a real live journalist on a press release for an international oil company. Reader, he changed my words!

I was horrified. I’d said what I wanted to say. It made sense, what was his problem? He peered at the printed text and chewed on his lip. ‘Now, how can we say this better?’ he asked. Reader, with that polite question he changed my world! What? You can change things and make them better? I was a lesson I needed to learn, but years on I remain a reluctant, recalcitrant, heel-dragging, chocolate-consuming, ill tempered procrastinator when it comes to rewrites. 

Over the years I have published nine novels and like most writers  have four, maybe five, completed novels knocking around that need fixing. Periodically I go back to them. I reread them, pleasantly surprised to find that they aren’t that bad, that with a little bit of tweaking they could almost be good. All I need to do is edit them and get them out into the world.  So I try to fix them. One is now 10% fixed - the rewritten section has a moderately engaging first person voice with an  entertaining ghost as a side kick/ conscience and  some commercial potential and the rest of it  hasn’t. I won’t bore you with my inadequate attempts to fix the others. I know what they need. I just balk at doing it. Even short novels are long when all the words in them need changing and all the words need changing  because I know I can make every line  better: I wish I’d never met that journalist.

I will be honest, I have been overwhelmed with the weight of these unfixed words: the switch from distant third to intimate first person, the dream sections to be excised, the new characters to be introduced, the witty apercu I am required to invent, and all that honing and polishing! Frankly it makes housework look interesting.  So, this week, I put the endless rewrites to one side and started something new. 

Oh. My. God. As I would write if I were twenty years younger. I remember now, this is what I do. I take a blank page and make stuff happen. At the beginning of the day there is nothing, at the end, a growing story: characters, conversations, complications, motivations, proliferate like weeds and there isn’t time to prune or tidy because this thing is growing so fast. Who would stop? I don’t care about the uncrossed ‘t’s, the slightly dodgy phrasing, the overuse of ‘ slightly’ and probably ‘dodgy’, this thing is alive and thrusting all over the place.

Yes, proper grown up writing is all about rewriting, but this other thing, this mad tumult of ideas and words, the wild moments of making things up, for me is what writing is all about. It is raw and messy and unexpected and probably a bit rubbish but it is joyful and fun and, if I’m honest, the reason I am a writer at all. So, it will be a little bit longer before my four or five unfixed novels get fixed. Sorry.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Old stories, Typewriters, Decay and Resurrection, by Enid Richemont.

Many, many moons ago, I used to write fiction for women's magazines - in fact, that was how I was first published (books were going to happen quite a long time in the future).

I still have copies of these stories, written on a typewriter (remember those?) and also the published versions - so unbelievably antique now. I stopped writing them, partly because I became pregnant, but also because one of my stories just wouldn't sell because it broke an important taboo. Explicit sex? No, I wouldn't have dared.

What put editors off was the supernatural - my female protagonist was a second wife who became convinced that the vengeful spirit of the previous one was embodied in the family cat. It was, in fact, a very short psychological thriller, and it did have a happy ending. When I wrote it, I thought it was good. Whether I would think so now, I don't know, because the manuscript has long since vanished, but the experience put me off  writing for quite a long time.

Re-reading these things now, the required stereotypes were glaring. Career women had to be portrayed as hard, superficial and glamorous, selfish, too, rejecting, as they did, of course, the joys of love, marriage, babies, plus the kitchen sink. Contrast this with anthology in which I published a story a few years ago, called: Don't Kiss the Frog, full of dismal princes, disappointed knights and very undesirable frogs. We have come a long way since then.

Two of those early stories, though, are relevant today. My first published one featured a model who always dressed and made up exquisitely for her lover until one day, things went pear-shaped, and hey! it didn't matter, because it was her inner self he loved (sorry, that does sound naff, but it's still expressing something important). 

The second is very much more serious, and was published, unexpectedly, years later in a magazine called 'She'. It's a Romeo and Juliet story set in a grim but well-meaning 50s residential care unit for children with learning problems, and one day I plan to re-write it as a screen play.

Re-cycling work is like any other kind of re-cycling - old stuff goes in and new stuff comes out. Here's one I did earlier. As a book, it did very well when it was first published, but eventually it went out print, so a naggy friend who loved the story bullied me into re-writing it as a screenplay (we never turned it into an e-book). Writing a screenplay is very challenging for someone like me, used to writing straight narrative, but a wonderful excercise for the mind. Not long ago, I submitted it to the BBC. It didn't make it, but did attract the attention of a small film producer. Whether anything comes of it remains to be seen.

So good work needn't ever be wasted. The raw material is waiting there to be re-worked and transformed, and then who knows what might happen? I'm very much into re-cycling at present, because I've been working on a picture book text based on transformation through decay and resurrection (oh, you can play with very sophisticated ideas in picture books, and no, it's not religion-based, although this stuff permeates through most major religions). My agent doesn't think it will go, so I'm submitting solo, and offering it as a 'rubbish book'.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Writers as Human Hoovers - Andrew Crofts

“You’re like a human Hoover,” my wife complained as we drove home from the dinner party. “That poor woman…”

“What poor woman?” I truly didn’t know what she was talking about. I had been basking in the afterglow of what I thought had been a pleasant evening out.

“The one you were cross examining about her love life.”

“I wasn’t cross examining her,” I protested, “I just pressed the button and everything poured out. She was a human Nespresso machine.”

“You do it all the time. You’re like the Spanish Inquisition. Some people like to preserve a little privacy, you know.”

She was right, of course,  I do it all the time, but in my experience most people love talking about themselves, and those who don’t pretty quickly clam up or tell me to mind my own business. It was a secret I learned at the age of seventeen when I was heading for London in search of streets paved with gold with virtually no social skills at all.

How, I wondered as I watched those around me socialising with apparent ease, did people find things to talk about to strangers at parties? How did you find things to say to young women on first dates? (Bearing in mind that my early romantic education had come from the regency novels of my mother’s Georgette Heyer collection, since when I had been incarcerated in single sex boarding schools). The adult world seemed a daunting, if exciting, place and I was desperate to discover the secret of all the grown-ups who seemed so self-confident in every social situation.

In my search for a magic formula I came across “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. The book had been written in 1936, so was already more than thirty years old and more than forty years later I can still remember the key message. Mr Carnegie explained that virtually everyone loves to talk about themselves and about their pet subjects. If you keep asking them questions they will keep answering them and the more they talk the more material you have for follow-up questions. The vast majority of people will come away from the conversation thinking you are the most charming and interesting person in the world, even if they have not asked you a single question about yourself, (and it is my experience that a shocking number of people will fall silent the moment you stop asking the questions, even at private dinner tables where you would assume they wanted to be polite).

For a self-conscious teenager setting out to enter the adult world this one piece of advice was priceless, for someone wanting to make a living as an author and ghostwriter it has proved invaluable.

Over the years it has become such an ingrained habit that there is more than a little truth in my wife’s fear that the technique can be intimidating for those who might be unused to talking about themselves. Of course it should be applied with some sensitivity, but at the same time there are so many questions which are so fascinating they are irresistible, even if they are considered impertinent: How much do you earn? Why did you divorce your husband? Are you having an affair with that man over there? Why do you suppose your children hate you? …. It’s amazing how many people reward straight questions with extremely full and revealing answers. 

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?