Twitter authors, what gets on your nerves?

Paul Dorset (@jcx27), one of the most popular and prolific authors on Twitter, tweets from time to time about a habit that annoys him. It’s about folk who use the TrueTwit validation service, which makes you solve a captcha before they graciously agree to let you follow them.

I must say I’m on Paul’s side. Okay, there are loads of spammers out there, so I can see why the TrueTwits feel the way they do. But at least 10% of the follow requests I make result in TrueTwit interventions, which is pretty irritating. I’m still building my list of followers, so I grit my teeth and complete the infuriating captchas, but the day will come when I’ll give any new TrueTwits a miss and move on.

This mini-tirade makes me think about the few other gripes I have about Twitter authors. As I’ve said before on this blog, they’re a great bunch, very friendly and supportive. My only whines relate to some of their bios. For example, why do hundreds, maybe thousands, proclaim that they love Jesus or that Christ rules their lives? I don’t need or want to know that, though I’m a Christian. I don’t see any Arab, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist authors trumpeting their faith in their bios.

And so to my last two bio gripes. The first is those folk who insist on telling us they are “geeks” or “nerds”. Why do we need to know that? Is it a boast or a lament? My final whine is about all the authors who tell us what their pet tipple is – cappuccino, latte, Earl Grey tea or whatever. Is that the best use they can make of their precious bio words?

Am I letting off too much steam? Please tell me what you think. I’d also love to hear of any gripes you have with fellow tweeters.

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Writing in the First Person

I recently read a post by a Twitter user who bemoaned the fact that it was hard work to change the narration of her novel from first person to third person. Hard work? It must have been pure hell. Imagine the agony of laboriously amending thousands of personal pronouns and verb endings.

She didn’t say why she had made this huge decision. Maybe she had been advised to use the third person by an editor or a well-meaning friend. If so, I wonder why. I know there is sometimes debate in literary circles about whether novel X should have been written in the first or third person but it’s a debate that goes over my head.

I’ve written my first novel, The Girl with the Haunting Smile, in the first person because, frankly, it didn’t occur to me to do anything else. My main character, Greg, has a problem which affects how others view him and how he relates to them. My aim in using the first person is to portray this poignant situation through Greg’s eyes so that the reader can empathise with him more directly.

In my second (nearly completed) novel, Spring Chicken, I’ve employed the same technique. It’s about an over-70 guy who, on his wife’s death, is urged to put his feet up until the grim reaper calls. He refuses, injects new buzz into his life (including a search for a second wife) and sets out to enrol the stagnating older folk in his community in his get-a-life campaign. I would like readers to feel close to this guy and to understand what makes him tick, so a first person narration seems a no-brainer to me.

Is I versus he/she ever an issue for you?

Going to market – is Christmas good or bad?

The helpful responses to my last blog show that there are kind writers out there, folk who are always ready to share their experience. Okay, they’re not all so generous – I’ve met some who take all the retweets I give them and offer zilch in return. Maybe I should name and shame them on a new hashtag like #SelfishMiserableSods.

Still, they’re a small minority and I know where they live, so I’ll deny them any more RTs and move on. Never one to spurn good advice, I’m shamelessly on the lookout for more of the same. Christmas is only three months away and Xmas puddings are already on the shelves of my next-door Sainsbury’s (and, probably, your local supermarket). How good an idea is it to launch an ebook in, say, November or early December?

On one hand, it could be swamped by the millions of festive offerings, so maybe it’s better to delay it till the brouhaha dies down. On the other hand, Amazon vouchers are highly popular Xmas gifts and countless folk will use theirs to buy ebooks, so there will be a big one-off boost to sales.

All in all, my inclination is to go for it as soon as I’m ready and ignore the time of year. Any thoughts will be very welcome.

Marketing? Is there any time left for living?

Twitter, bless its tweeting heart, is awash with authors who generously share with you their tips on how to market your novel. Now that I’m ready to publish The Girl with the Haunting Smile whenever I wish, I’m working on a marketing plan. The problem is in deciding which tips to follow. Adopting them all would consign me to the cuckoo’s nest.

Here’s a quick digest of the main tips I’ve had. Build your presence on Twitter. Build your presence on Facebook. Build your presence on LinkedIn. Build your presence on Pinterest. Set up a blogsite. Join in on the Goodreads, Kindleboards, Nookboards, Amazon Kindle and World Literary Cafe forums and the Facebook Indie Author group. On Twitter, use multiple hashtags to connect with authors and readers and get industry information. On some or all of these platforms, start a chat thread about any theme from your novel e.g. football, flower arranging. Nearer to publication time, create a personal website. Go in search of professional book reviews, promos and interviews. Arrange blog tours, contests, Q & A sessions and book giveaways. Write and distribute a press release. Pay for short promos on sites like The Kindle Book Review.

All these ideas are highly sensible but life is short and I plan to keep the cuckoo at bay, so I’ll cut corners. I haven’t yet got off the ground on Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest, so they will be sacrificed. I’m not convinced the time spent on forums like Kindleboards and Nookboards would repay itself, so that may not happen either. Nor do I see myself getting round to blog tours, Q & A sessions or contests, though I don’t doubt their value. I’m prepared to have a real go at the rest and hope that will do the trick.

Okay, many writers will no doubt disagree with me (the harder you try, the more you deserve to succeed etc). But that’s a risk I’m ready to take in the interests of sanity and life-extension.

That’s my thinking, anyway. What’s yours?

Genre? What’s the Big Deal?

I can understand why folk get worked up about genre. If I were a Western fan, I wouldn’t want my novels to cross over into, say, Fantasy or Gay & Lesbian territory.

But I reckon you can get too fixated with purity of genre. Take A Tale of Two Cities, for example. In terms of Amazon’s fiction categories, it could justifiably be classed under Adventure & Action, Historical, Horror, Political, Psychological, Romance, Thrillers and War, not to mention Classical and Literary Fiction. Considering what a mongrel it is, it has done not too badly.

Anyhow, are Amazon’s genres relevant or up-to-date? On Twitter, countless folk say they’re writing Paranormal or Young Adult, yet Amazon doesn’t count these as genres (sub-genres, at best). And why are Women Writers a separate category? Didn’t that go out with the ark?

The reason why this is on my mind is that I’ve made big changes to my novel, The Girl with the Haunting Smile, so that I can list it under Romance. Okay, it has a powerful love interest that runs through the whole book but it isn’t by any means a conventional romance and its lead character is anything but conventional. It’s also told from a male POV, which isn’t exactly standard.

What I’m confessing is that, while I think genre can be rated too highly, I’ve got down from my soapbox and given in to market reality. Romance sells consistently well, so that’s the place for me. If you want to make your mark on Amazon, you have to play by its rules.

Do I feel bad about what I’ve done? Not really. Quite the opposite, in fact. The sobering truth I’ve now discovered is that, by homing in more consistently on the love interest and ensuring it is never out of the reader’s mind, I’ve given the novel a much stronger, more compelling focus.

Maybe genre isn’t so bad after all.

Writer or Marketing Guru?

Here’s the dilemma. My novel, The Girl with the Haunting Smile, is ready to enter the ebook market. When should I launch it?

It’s my decision. My epublisher is waiting for me to set him loose but I don’t feel ready. I’ve set up this blog and acquired 3.800 Twitter followers and 1,000 Goodreads friends in a fairly short space of time but that’s not all it takes.

I now need to engage more fully with them. They’re a friendly lot, quick to respond and offer helpful advice. I’ve tried to be equally responsive but it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the tweets that come flooding into my inbox. I haven’t managed to answer every tweet I should have, so I may have unwittingly upset some good folk along the way.

Am I worrying too much about social media? In a recent survey of ebook sales, 12% were traced back to Twitter, 50% to word of mouth tips. 12% isn’t a lot when you think how much time aspiring authors spend trying to claw their way up the giant literary ant hill of Twitter. What’s more, you’ve no idea if your followers will retweet details of your novel or, if they do, how many of their followers will have any interest in buying it.

To dilute this reliance on social media, what I’d ideally like is an influential sponsor (a guy can dream!). Not one who’d inject funds, just one who’d say nice things about my book. That would do more for it than Twitter. My top choices would be David Beckham and Tim Howard, the Everton and US goalkeeper, as they’re both pretty relevant to my novel. Tell me how to get in touch with either of them and you’ll be my friend for life.

A Good Editor is Priceless

As a new novelist, I should leave provocative statements about the art of writing to the experts. But I’m not made that way, so here goes. I reckon the editing is even more important than the writing.

What makes the quality of editing so crucial is that the writer has so many issues to grapple with. Here are just a few. What is the central conflict and is it convincingly resolved? Do the sub-plots work well with the main plot? Do the scenes follow logically and propel the action forward? How much variety is there in the pacing? Is the writing spare or verbose? Is the dialogue natural? Are the characters multi-dimensional or flat? Do they tell or show what they think? Are their backstories and “wants” clearly brought out?

With so many key questions to resolve, the editing process can benefit hugely from an external input. When I wrote the first draft of what is now The Girl with the Haunting Smile, it was a very different animal. The writing was too exuberant and one-paced and lacked focus.  Happily, I had the good sense to harness the talents of Gillian Stern, a superb London-based editor who works for Bloomsbury and other publishing houses. Gillian reined me in, weeded out my self-indulgences, made me re-assess the shape of my novel and taught me to focus firmly on fundamental issues like those above.

This, in my eyes, is what makes good editing so special. I’m surprised when I see folk tweet on #amediting or other threads that they’ve cracked it after an edit of a few hours. The only editing you can do in that time is to shave words or sentences and make the writing tighter. You can’t alter the structure of your novel or its pace. You can’t make your scenes flow more naturally. You can’t fill out your characters.

To me, the pruning and polishing is the easiest part of editing. It is far harder to stand back, take a dispassionate look at your beloved baby and spot any flaws in structure, pace and story or character development. That’s why skilled editors like Gillian are so priceless and so hard to find.

The Law is an Ass

I won’t, after all, be calling my first novel The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile. That’s a shame. I felt it was the best and most evocative title I had come up with.

But it had to happen, I suppose. That’s what you get when you ask a lawyer. Here’s the general drift: It would be 99% safe, or thereabouts, to use Julia’s name but, in view of the residual 1%, my legal friend could not in all conscience advise me to proceed. Litigation on matters like this is far more common in the US than the UK and Julia, if she took me to court, would have marginally more funds at her disposal than yours truly etc. etc. In addition, she has, it seems, been known to sue unwanted intruders like me. She is, in other words. not always as sweet as in Notting Hill. More like Erin Brockovich, by the sound of it.

I can’t argue with this. My adviser, one of the UK’s foremost media lawyers, regularly deals with issues like this and he helpfully set out the background to his advice in intricate detail, quoting specific cases. While admitting that, for example, the old song Bette Davis Eyes never led to successful prosecutions, he still felt that, on balance. it would be unwise for me to go ahead.

I accept his advice, of course. If you ask a top expert for guidance, you’re crazy not to follow it. Julia wasn’t central to my novel, anyway – the Julia Roberts smile was only mentioned twice (very briefly) in the body of the MS. So, out goes Julia and on goes the old thinking cap as the search for a title resumes. My second last effort was The Girl with the Haunting Smile. Maybe that’s where it will end up.

It gives rise to an interesting debate, though. It’ is accepted practice, even in an unauthorised biography, to use a real person’s name in the title and throughout the text. Why, then, can’t you safely use a real person’s name in the title of a novel, especially if (as was the case with mine) any reference to that person is highly complimentary?

What makes a good Twitter profile?

Make your Twitter profile catchy, the experts tell me. Okay, let’s look at my current one: ‘Ex-TV scriptwriter, now journalist moving into novels, first due out soon.’

Catchy? Hmm, not exactly. Maybe I should redo it thus: ‘Ex-creator of racy TV dramas, now adrenaline-fuelled hack about to take world of ebooks by storm.’

Better? Hmm, maybe not. The thing is, now that I’ve got more into Twitter (I reached 2,000 followers yesterday), I’m not sure some of the so-called catchy profiles really work. They don’t with me, anyhow.

I don’t want to know if you’re addicted to  Chinese tea or black coffee. I don’t want to know if you love your wife or your husband. I don’t want to know if you see yourself as a nerd or a geek. I don’t want to know if you’re a useless cook or a hopeless mother. I don’t want to know if junk foods are your staple diet.

What amazes me most is how many Twitter authors use their profiles to tell the world they love God. They do it in droves! I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s their way of saying it’s their religion that inspires them to write. Or maybe they’re just saying they don’t want to be followed by erotica freaks or hardcore junkies. Whatever the reason, it makes very little impact on me. I decide to follow them – or not to follow them – for other reasons like their reading tastes.

For the moment, I’ll leave my profile as it is. It isn’t catchy but at least it tells how I got here. In a few weeks, I’ll change it as the date of publication of The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile draws nearer and my focus turns more to marketing. That’s when I’ll need the black coffee and the junk foods.

The Cover Pic

How do you go about finding a good cover pic for your ebook? I’ve spent many hours trawling through photos and vectors on the so-called royalty-free websites. I’d rather have spent the time editing or tweeting or blogging.

To complicate it further, royalty-free isn’t the same as free. On most of these websites, you still have to buy your preferred pic and agree to observe fairly stringent terms of licence. I eventually found a few websites that allow you to use their photos free, even for commercial use, but you have to seek the written approval of the photographer and give him/her a credit in your ebook.

Now that I’ve settled on one that’s right for The Girl with the Julia Roberts Smile – you guessed right, it’s classy but not cheesy (in the shrewd words of my daughter, who helped me pick it) and doesn’t look too like Julia – the next problem is that I can’t get a reply from the photographer and the website makes it clear that I’m on my own.

Ah, if only I could draw!