Closing the Facebook

5 Jul

This summer I’m working on revising and updating my self-publishing ‘how to': Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Edition #3 is scheduled for release September 5th. When I did the second edition back in 2012, only one year had passed since the first but still, so much had changed. This time around, the entire landscape has changed, and there’s so many new and exciting opportunities for self-publishers to take advantage of. I’ve completely changed my mind about some of my advice, and believe more than ever in the rest of it. One thing hasn’t changed at all though: I still think self-publishing is something every author should be involved in, whether it’s their main career or a sideline, and I still think that with great power comes great responsibility, so you should do it professionally. Over the coming weeks I’ll be writing posts about some issues that need a whole new section in Self-Printed: The 3rd Edition, starting today with the tumbleweeds-blowing-across-a-broken-road-cutting-through-barren-desert ex-social network we call Facebook…

[The Self-Printed 3.0 Splash needs YOU!]

I think I’m done with Facebook.

Once upon a time, I thought Facebook was a really good way to reach readers. If you had a book about a specific topic – say, Disney World – you could reach groups of Disney Word enthusiasts who were already assembled for you. By setting up an author page, you could get real life friends and family to help you build a fan base, as they could share content from your page on their own pages and news of their ‘liking’ you would show in their news feeds. With the help of things like Facebook offers and Rafflecopter, you could hold giveaways and draw attention to events, real world and virtual, like the release of your new book.

Then, it all went to pot.

Facebook has become its own worst enemy. I think in the future social media archeologists will study it for lessons in what not to do with your success. I think it was Steve Jobs who said, ‘People don’t know what they want until you give it to them.’ Mark Zuckerberg seems to be operating on some kind of ‘Take away everything people want’ principle, and it’s failing miserably. By constantly trying to second guess what users would like to see when they log into Facebook, Zuckerberg and friends have consistently moved further and further away from what users want. Privacy settings constantly change. The terms and conditions hide a multitude. In attempt to turn a profit,they’ve made many page owners, effectively, invisible. The kids are all signing up to Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat and other websites this grandma (32 as of today!) probably hasn’t heard of yet, and Facebook is a wasteland of neglected profiles, dusty photo albums and unrequited pokes.

Take, just as a simplistic example, the debacle that is your News Feed. Once upon a time you accepted a friend request, and then whatever that friend posted on Facebook, you saw in your News Feed whenever you logged in. If you didn’t want to see it you could unfriend them or hide them. Simples, right? Worked for everyone. You could see what your friends were up to and keep in contact with them – the point of Facebook – and you could also lurk and, ahem, stalk as well. Then Facebook decided that that was an inefficient method of operating and started hiding things from you. So if there was a “friend”, say, as opposed to a friend, and you never commented on any of her photos or clicked the ‘Like’ button or in fact interacted with her in any way (but you still wanted to see what she was up to, natch) well, forget it. Zuckerberg said no, and hid her from you entirely. He only wanted you to see the activity of people you regularly interacted with which, honestly, shows such a blatant misunderstanding of what people were using Facebook for (let’s be honest) that he doesn’t deserve his paper billions.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.02.02

But the fact that you missed your old frenemy getting a horrendous fake tan job isn’t important. (Let’s hope!) But take Dead Good Books. Run by a team from Penguin Random House, this Facebook page is one of my faves and a must for any crime fiction fan. Even though they’re a corporate page their content is fun, interesting and worthwhile, and I loved checking in to see what giveaways, news, etc. they had on offer. They’ve worked hard to get to nearly 15,000 likes. But a few days ago I realized that I hadn’t seen anything about them in my News Feed for a while. Were they still operating? I wondered. Well, DUH. Of course they were. Facebook had just decided to hide them from me because even though I had clicked the ‘Like’ button and interacted with them in the past, I hadn’t for a while. FACEBOOK FAIL.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.06.26

Take my own Facebook page for Mousetrapped, which – hands up – I have been neglecting. So my neglect might well play a part in what I’m about to share with you, but it’s definitely not the only underlying cause. When you are the admin of a Facebook page, you get to see the ‘reach’ stats for every post. Reach is pretty self-explanatory: it’s the number of people who saw your post, i.e. the number of people it reached.

My Mousetrapped Facebook page has 1,126 likes as of writing this post. Let’s take a look at the reach of some the posts I’ve published there lately…

FB.jpg

The post on the left is a link to the last blog post on here, which only reached 34 people. Yes, thirty-four. There were no shares or likes, which makes this a really good indicator of how many eyeballs land on content that’s just posted to your Facebook page without any subsequent interaction. 34 out of 1,126.

But, in fairness, that content is me-related, not Disney-related, and that’s the main attraction – I presume – to fans of this Mousetrapped-specific page. The post on the right is indeed Disney-related: it’s a shot of balloons for sale on Main Street U.S.A. in Magic Kingdom. It had 33 likes and reached 485 people – great, but still a long way off 1,126. Less than half, as a matter of fact.

You’ll notice the handy ‘Boost post’ button, which is an invitation to spend money – because that’s what this is all about. Not reaching enough people? Pay Facebook to lift the invisibility cloak. (Remembering that if enough people organically saw your posts, they wouldn’t be an opportunity to make money this way.) A little over a year ago, I tried this just to see whether or not it was worth it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.08.00

I think we can agree the answer is no, right?

I ran a giveaway and I wanted people to see the actual giveaway post, so I set a budget of €4 and let Facebook go and do this boosting it was always on about. You can see that the paid reach was 1,083 people – fewer people than ‘like’ my page. (Although, in fairness, back then, it was probably slightly more or the same.) Out of them, a whopping 8 – EIGHT! – actually took action on the post, i.e. clicked ‘like’. (We don’t know if they entered the giveaway.) So essentially Facebook charged me €4 to reach the same number of people who had ‘liked’ my page. Stay classy, Facebook.

There was a time, back in the old days, when you could just post something on Facebook and most of the people who had ‘liked’ your page saw it. (Or an amount of people equal to them, anyway.) No money changed hands. Can you imagine such a thing?! This is the last example I could find of it on my page, a post published back in March 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 14.08.27

As you can see, this post won activity: 12 likes, 8 comments and 2 shares. Not exactly viral, but yet it organically reached 713 people. Woo-hoo! In March 2013, this was probably less than 100 people off how many liked the page, so I’d consider it a win. A win, but a win back in March 2013.

Now, let’s slap ourselves across the face with a cold, dead fish called reality. Something that ANNOYS ME NO END when people start harping on about how terrible traditional publishing is because so many books don’t earn back their advance and why self-publishing is a waste of time because so many books don’t sell more than a copy is that no one ever says, ‘Maybe the book failed because no one wanted to read it.’ So maybe I’m crap on Facebook. (I’ve definitely been crap on it recently.) Maybe my contributions to the Facebooksphere are so boring that if you cared any less, you’d pass out. That is entirely possible – it’s entirely possible approaching almost likely.

But let’s go back to Dead Good Books. Nearly 15,000 likes and I’m one of them, yet Facebook has decided not to organically show me their posts anymore. (FYI: I’ve corrected this by going onto their page and randomly liking a few things they posted recently, but should that be necessary? I love to lurk, just like 95% or something of internet users. Let me lurk, Facebook. LET ME LURK!) They are definitely not crap on Facebook. They’re exceptionally good, and nearly 15,000 other people think so. But if it hadn’t occurred to me that I hadn’t seen them in a while, I’d be lost to them forever. Me and who knows how many others. So was all that work – the work that it took them to get to nearly 15,000 likes – worth it? I think the answer is no, and the reason is Facebook.

(There’s also this creepy business, which I won’t go into here. But, ewwww. Creepy McCreepyson.)

However nothing sums up the crapness that is Facebook like the image above. ‘Organic reach is dead’ the accompanying tweet declares and unlike those ‘No, really, THIS time, the novel really is dead. No, really’ articles that come out every six months or so, this could well be true. The image is comparing the response Snickers got when they posted the exact same picture to their Facebook and Twitter pages the night Luis Suarez got hungry for human flesh.

On Facebook, they have approximately 11,000,000 fans. The post got 895 shares and was ‘liked’ by 3,250 users.

On Twitter, they have approximately 50,000 followers. The exact same post was favourited 14,754 times and retweeted 34,994 times.

In the first and second editions of Self-Printed, I encouraged self-published authors to get on Facebook. But do I now? Well…

If you have an active page with a high, consistent level of engagement:

Get YOU! And well done. Somehow, some page-owners have managed to keep up a very high level of engagement (posts getting ‘liked’, commented on, shared, etc.) naturally, which means that you likely have great organic reach. If it’s working for you, hooray! Keep it up. But also keep in mind that as a social network, Facebook’s star is fading. Encourage your Facebook fans to double-up on their liking of you by subscribing to your mailing list, following you on Twitter or adding your blog feed to their Feedly list. Then you won’t have to worry about what shenanigans Facebook might get up to in the future.

If you have a page with lots of ‘likes’ but inconsistent and/or low engagement:

This is me, right now. I’m thinking that just like not eating that cupcake now and ‘saving’ it for later, it’s just not worth it. I think what I might do is apply some jump-leads: really make the effort with FB for a month or so and seeing if stats improve. If they don’t though, I know my time is better spent on other things, like this blog, Twitter and writing more books. It’s time to relegate Facebook to the waste-of-my-time leagues, me thinks.

If you haven’t got around to doing Facebook yet:

Don’t even bother. The ship has sailed. In the current ‘pay to be seen’ climate I’m not even sure how you’d win likes or expose users to content in the first place. Put your time and energy into something else instead.

UPDATE: The very helpful Amy Keely shared this YouTube video in the comments. If you are considering paying Facebook to do anything, you NEED to watch this video first. Shocking stuff.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVfHeWTKjag

In other news, yesterday was America’s birthday and today is mine! (Yes, 21 again, thanks for asking…) To mark the occasion, Backpacked is free to download for Kindle from all Amazon stores today (Saturday 5th July) for 5 days. If you’ve read it already, you might be interested in the Backpacked photo or video galleries. Have a good weekend!

Some Pics From Belfast

25 Jun

Busy writing, packing and – come this weekend – moving (ugh!), so I’m just popping in to share some pics from my afternoon at the LitNetNI event ‘Way With Words’ at Belfast Book Fest on June 14th…

image1

L-R: Alison Baverstock (@alisonbav) sharing the findings of her research into self-publishing and those that indulge in it, and moi and Andrew Moore (@agrmoore) listening intently.

Photo credit: Averill Buchanan (@averillb)

image2

Should we have a caption competition? Note how my top matches my blog. I mean, really….

Photo credit: Averill Buchanan (@averillb)

andrew

Andrew shared a moving story about how connecting with his young readers is infinitely more fulfilling than sales.

Photo credit: Averill Buchanan (@averillb)

And the lovely Karen, who was in the audience, shared these pics on Twitter…

Were you there? Do say hi!

In other news, I am still enthusiastically tweeting my #bookadayUK pics on Twitter. Activity-wise, that’ll have to do until this book is finished…

B is for…

31 May

While I (a) struggle to believe that today is the last day of May, (b) try to drum up the motivation to clean my apartment and (c) prepare for binge-watching 24 with my brother tonight (I’m STILL waiting for someone to say, ‘Send it to my screen!’), I have a few things to tell you…

B is for #BookADay

Starting tomorrow, June 1st, Harper Collins are inviting book-lovers everywhere to participate in #bookaday. The idea is that every day for the month of June, you share a book a day on Twitter.

I’m doing this, and I can tell you: I’m doing this seriously. I’ve already made my picks, photographed them unnecessarily and queued them all up in Buffer. In four short weeks I’ve to leave my beloved apartment and embark on a move to Dublin, and who knows what kind of grim bedsit I could end up in there, so this is kind of like a just-in-case goodbye to my bookshelves, as they may have been banished back to a storage unit by the end of the summer. (Nooooooo!)

Here are a sneak peek at some of my choices (although, if you’ve been around these parts for a while, none of them will come as a surprise to you):

bookcollage

I think this is going to be so fun, and we all might discover some new books to add to the TBR pile. And bonus: it gives you something to tweet about too.

B is for Belfast

Two weeks from today (Saturday 14th June), I’ll be in Belfast with Alison Baverstock and Andrew Moore, at LitNetNI’s Way with Words: Literature Development Day.

bbf

The afternoon will focus on self-publishing with an inspiring and revealing session fromAlison Baverstock, a hugely experienced publisher, trainer and writer on all aspects of publishing, marketing and reading. She is the author of The Naked Author – a Guide to Self-Publishing. The session will explore the publishing process in an informative, practical way and there will be lots of opportunities for questions. This event will feature Catherine Ryan Howard, writer and blogger from Cork whose self-publishing adventures began with the release of her travel memoir, Mousetrapped, in 2010 and Belfast writer AGR Moore who self-published The Unseen Chronicles of Amelia Black in 2011 and a picturesque fable A Boy Named Hogg in 2012. Find out how they published without the backing of a mainstream publishing house and pick up tips on how to raise your profile, promote, market and sell your book.

Find out more about the event and the Belfast Book Festival here.

B is for… Um… Well…

So okay, there’s no ‘B’ for this, but UK TV fans, I’ve a public service announcement for you: Amber starts on BBC Four this week.

You have been warned.

The Infinite Sadness of Unfinished Work

19 May

Recently I came across the Nicholl Fellowship, an initiative run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (that’s the nice people who give out the Oscars, FYI), which invites amateur screenwriters from anywhere in the world to submit a feature-length screenplay to compete for one of several $35,000 bursaries, the idea being that in their fellowship year they have some financial wiggle room to take a step back from the 9 to 5 and produce a new script. (You also get invited to a very swanky luncheon in L.A…) There is a small fee to enter which pays for the time of the industry experts – and Academy members – who read and critique the entries, and the only entry requirement is that the entrant has earned less than $25,000 from screenwriting.

It’s a prestigious prize and one, I imagine, that’s not easily won. The deadline just closed for this year and last time I checked, they’d received upwards of 7,000 entries. The number increases every year, presumably as more and more people find about it, and more and more people put pen to paper. (Or finger to keyboard while Final Draft is on screen.) There’s been some notable winners: the screenplay for one of my Top 100 Favourite Movies, Arlington Road, was a Nicholl Fellowship winning script, and other notable winners include Jeffery Eugenides (Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex) and Susannah Grant, who’d go onto win an Academy Award for her script Erin Brockovich. Finding Forrester, frequently cited in favourite-movies-about-writing-and-writers lists, was also a Nicholl Fellowship script.

But none of that was what struck me about the fellowship.

Also on their website is a section where you can catch up with past winners, a kind of ‘Where are they now?’ just for Nicholl Fellowship recipients. And yes, while a few of them are winning Pulitzers and winning both themselves and Julia Roberts Oscar statuettes, the vast majority of them are not. The vast majority of them are working on another screenplay.

Now maybe it’s just the way it’s worded, or maybe it’s because the best thing for a one-line bio is the name of the project you’re working on now and not the fifteen scripts you’ve finished that are languishing in a drawer, or maybe I just reading into this too much altogether, but it struck me as sad that all these people were the best, the absolute best, out of thousands of people at doing something, and yet here they are, years later, saying they are still working on their next project or admitting that they’ve moved on completely to something else.

Why haven’t they finished them?

Well… Pot Kettle Black Alert!

Too much of this...

Too much of this…

Now I certainly have not been proven to be the best at anything except consuming caffeine, online shopping and getting through TV show box-sets, but I have had some success. Since dramatically (and, perhaps, foolishly) quitting my job in the summer of 2009, I’ve self-published three full-length books and sold a few of them, done a whole load of speaking engagements, seminars and workshops and started to work on social media projects for a major publishing house. I’ve got to a place where I only need do book and writing-relating things full-time. I have a popular blog with lots of followers. I now know a good group of people in the publishing industry; I have contacts. I have a busy writing CV filled with evidence that I have an established readership and that I’m prepared to get out there and sell my books. And, perhaps because of this, in the past couple of weeks I found out that I’ve been offered a place to study for an English degree in one of the best and oldest English departments in the world, at the country’s most prestigious university.

(More on that another time. Right now it’s overshadowed by the fact that I have to move to another city this summer. STRESSFEST.)

But I still haven’t finished my novel.

I mean… I can’t even believe I am still in a position to write that sentence.

I still haven’t finished my novel.

What the fudge HAVE I been doing? Because all that stuff up there, in the paragraph above? That’s, like, maybe one year out of the last five, if you added up all the time it took. I put the first edition of Self-Printed together in a month. Backpacked‘s first draft took two weeks. I don’t blog or tweet or use Facebook anywhere near as much as I used to. And I don’t have a spouse, kids or a full-time job to worry about. My time is my own, more or less.

So what the hell have I been doing with it?

Publishing, however you’re doing it, can be an extremely frustrating endeavor. If you’re chasing a deal or an agent, you’re dependent on someone else’s ‘yes’. If you’re self-publishing, your success will depend on the reading tastes of the world at large, as well as things like timing, price, luck, etc. There’s little about the outcome, on either side, that you can really control, in the sense that you can say ‘Well, if I do x, y and z, I’ll definitely end up selling a trillion copies…’ But there’s one thing you can control, and none of the other stuff will happen if you don’t do it: finish your book.

... and not enough of this.

… and not enough of this.

Catherine’s Stressfest Summer 2014 officially begins on July 1st. I have until then to finish my novel, which is entirely feasible. I have to do it, because after that I’ll be moving, and after that I’ll be in school. I have no choice this time. It has to happen. It will happen.

Because for all the frustration, all the uncertainty, all the rejection, rewards and success — none of it, none of it, can happen if you don’t finish your book.

Let’s do this.

Are you haunting by unfinished work? What prevents you, do you think, from finishing it? Do you agree that you’d find the time if you truly wanted to? Let me know in the comments below…

11 Inspiring Quotes from the World’s Best Writers

5 May

The last time we had a guest post from Laura Pepper Wu (11 Signs You’re Meant To Be A Writer), things went a bit nuts, with her post getting nearly 100 comments and being shared nearly 200 and over 400 times on Twitter and Facebook respectively. Today she’s back to share news of her new app, Write On! Daily Kick-Ass Writing Inspiration: 365 Tips & Quotes from the World’s Best Writers, and 11 of her favorite such quotes for those self-doubt-filled, motivation-lacking, no-amount-of-coffee-can-get-this-going bad writing days. Welcome back, Laura!

‘Having a bad writing day? Read (and bookmark!) these 11 quotes.

We all have ‘em once in while – awful, dragging, low writing-motivation days. The last thing you want to do is open up that folder on your computer, the one marked ‘WIP’.

You're a writer

Sometimes it helps to know you’re not alone (you’re definitely not), and that this too shall pass (especially with a glass of wine or two). For me, it always helps to read words of wisdom from an admirable writer too. Here’s a collection of my favorites taken from the new app Write On! Daily Kick-Ass Writing Inspiration 365 Tips & Quotes from the World’s Best Writers.

1. “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult

Take the pressure off yourself by focusing on simply getting some words onto the page and not worrying whether the result is good or bad. The refining and shaping can come later.

2. “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” – Author Unknown

Know that writing is not meant to be all butterflies and rainbows, and that sometimes the crappy days are what make you a stronger writer!

screenshot

A screenshot from Laura’s new app

3. “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

Choose to go pro, and know that a big part of that is not allowing yourself to give up.

4. “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway

If things are really bad, aim to write just one good sentence. Not only is it better than a hundred bad sentences, it might also give you the encouragement to write more.

5. “Asking “Why?” can lead to understanding. Asking “Why not?” can lead to breakthroughs.” – Daniel Pink

If you feel stuck with a chapter, section, or storyline, think about the problem in another way. Turn the question upside down and you might just have the breakthrough you need!

6. “Alternating the thoughtful task of writing with the mindless work of laundry or dish washing will give you the breaks you need for new ideas and insights to occur. If you don’t know what comes next in the story… clean your toilet. Change the bed sheets. For Christ sakes, dust the computer. A better idea will come.” – Chuck Palahniuk

I’ve found this over and over again; doing something mindless (but somewhat productive), allows me to tap into a different part of the brain that comes up with ideas. Now I’m no neuroscientist, so I can’t tell you why, but I do know that this works. Exercise, especially stretching, seems to have the same effect. Try it!

App-Icon-300x300

7. “I find it hard to start writing in the morning; but the dejection lasts only 30 minutes, and once I start I forget all about it. – Virginia Woolf

If you don’t feel like getting started, commit to just 30 minutes (or 15, or even 3), and more than likely you’ll keep going past that mark. The hardest part is often just getting started, but once you’ve started you’ll find that you might as well just keep going!

8. “To feed your muse… you must still take long walks around your city or town, or walks in the country by day. And long walks, at any time, through bookstores and libraries.” – Ray Bradbury

Take a hike! I have my best ideas while walking the dog, and frequently have to hurry home to get them onto paper. There’s something about being out in nature, or being inspired by people and objects around us that can trigger new ideas and motivation. Plus, the act of moving forwards can extend onto the page. When in doubt, take a walk and you’ll get back to your desk refreshed.

9. “It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writers block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think.” – J.K. Rowling

Get thee to a cafe! (Catherine will no doubt agree with this suggestion to go get caffeinated…)

10. “Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! – William Faulkner

Feed yourself a diet of books, and you’ll probably see that it helps improve your writing. If the writing isn’t happening, I never feel guilty for opening up a book and reading a chapter or two. After all we’ve got to remember why we’re doing this in the first place!

11. “The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.”- Jules Renard

Take the pressure off yourself by imagining that you’re simply a conduit, conducting your story from the air and onto the page. Somehow telling myself this takes the pressure off, and I get out of my own way and let the words fall onto the page. Interestingly, the Grammy-award winning artist Pharrell believes that all his work is created this way, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s definitely good enough for me!

Over to you… Have a favorite quote that helps you get through the bad writing days? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear it!’

LauraPW-Headshot-CroppedLaura Pepper Wu is the founder and editor of The Write Life Magazine and 30 Day Books. Write On! is her newest app. Each day you’ll get an inspirational or instructional quote from one of the world’s best writers. It’s available for $0.99 (for a limited time) in the Apple App Store here.

When Story Goes Wrong: My Amber-Induced Rage

30 Apr

Roll up, roll up. It’s rant o’clock!

As you may or may not know, I love TV. Good TV that is. I have no time for people who are happy to stick their nose in a book but only look down their nose at television. I love stories and I love writers, and that’s what’s on and who’s behind TV. Yes, there’s bad TV, but there’s bad books too. If your argument is that TV-watching is too passive an activity, turn on your TV’s captioning service. There. Sorted.

ecard1

A few months ago, the final episode of a four-part drama series called Amber aired here on the state broadcaster’s channel RTE, and as our TV screens faded to black we took to Twitter and raged. Then we called into radio shows and raged. When we next saw our friends and family we said, ‘Were you watching Amber?’ and if the answer was yes then we raged some more.

In the first episode four nights before, a teenage girl — Amber — disappeared. She got her father to drop her to a friend’s house, waited until he’d driven away and then scurried off somewhere. We’d all stayed tuned for more than an hour each evening since to follow the investigation and the search, while flashbacks teased us about Amber’s final (?) hours. What happened to Amber? both we and the characters on the show wondered aloud. Where is she? Where did she go? The acting was mostly great, the production was sleek and the opening titles even had a touch of Top of the Lake about them. Many of us had spent numerous Saturday nights glued to subtitled Scandinavian drama on BBC4 (e.g. The Killing and The Bridge) and sat through Christmas impatient for new Sherlock, so it was a treat to have a slick crime drama of our own to watch featuring An Garda Siochana (the Irish police force) and Irish actors.

Or so we thought.

ecard2

I can’t write the rest of this without revealing the details of Amber, but since it already aired, most of you don’t live in Ireland and I feel compelled to warn those of you who live in the UK not to waste four nights of your life watching it like we did when it airs on BBC4 later this year, I think we’ll be alright.

But just to be fair:

***CRAPPY TV SHOW SPOILER ALERT***

So why the rage as the screen faded to black? Well, because the last shot was of Amber walking down a country road. Alive. The show ended without the viewer knowing what happened to Amber. Four episodes of a drama series about a girl going missing that in the end revealed… Well, nothing much of anything at all, it turned out.

That was bad enough.

That was annoying.

But what BROUGHT ON THE RED RAGE was the response of the team behind the show to our disappointment over this.

They said,* “It’s like real life, and in real life you don’t always find out what happened to the person who went missing.”

They said, “If you were really paying attention, there were plenty of clues.”

(Implying that you hadn’t paid attention at all and were too stoopid to put it altogether. You dumbarse!)

ecard3

And to pour acid into the wound they’d already poured salt into, they said, “She’s just gone and no, no character you met along the way had anything at all to do with it.”

?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

OH HOW MY BLOOD BOILS WITH SUPERFLUOUS CAPITAL LETTERS.

When a reader sits down with a book or a viewer settles onto the sofa, they’re expecting a story. Stories have beginnings, middles and ends and the end of a story is also the resolution of it. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is tied up nicely in a bow and every mystery carefully explained away, but it does mean that the reader or viewer is left feeling satisfied. They feel there is a point to the story, a good reason for its existence.

That’s why the whole “but that’s what it’s like in real life” line doesn’t wash, because this wasn’t real life. It was a TV show. And TV shows get resolved.

(And also, if I wanted real life, I would’ve watched a documentary. Or looked out the window.)

I heard they also said that it wasn’t so much about the crime itself, but the effect the crime had on the family, neighborhood, etc. See Broadchurch for an excellent example of this. But what happened at the end of Broadchurch? Oh yeah, WE FOUND OUT WHAT HAPPENED AND WHO DID IT.

But that’s just the manslaughter charge in this crime against story. The murder one is the revelation that no one the viewer was introduced to in the fictional universe was responsible for the murder and/or disappearance of Amber.

Or to put it another way: cheating.

If the writer of a story that involves a crime (or other mystery) decides from the outset that they’re not going to reveal or explain to the reader/viewer what happened by its end, they are doing the writing equivalent of dictating to an assistant as they sunbathe on a beach in Bahamas while the rest of us live in a dark stone cell and scratch our story onto the walls with a pen knife.

By candlelight.

In a draught.

With no reveal/explanation, there are no rules. If there’s no rules, you don’t have to play by them. You don’t have to induce a migraine tying your plot up in knots and drawing graphs and using six different colors of Post-It notes to map out every last twist and turn. You can do whatever you like because it doesn’t all have to make sense at the end. You can fill your story with intense moments of mystery and end every chapter with a crazy cliffhanger and it all doesn’t matter because — woo-hoo! — you’re free to make this crap up as you go along.  You can do whatever you like because you haven’t committed to doing anything in particular except stringing us all along. Let’s throw in a unicorn and a ghostly apparition and a car chase and then – POOF! – deus ex machina, THE END.

I should’ve known that Amber had a plot problem because of the shambles that was Episode 2.

Amber had a non-linear narrative that kept jumping around in time as it followed different people through her disappearance and the subsequent search for her. In episode 1, we were shown Amber coming out of the city centre on the Luas (tram) carrying a shopping bag. Got that? Right. In episode 2, we focused on a very shady character who was already in prison for another crime and, in flashbacks, we saw him looking very suspicious as he sat in a parked car and watched Amber walk by on the day she went missing. But anyone with two brain cells would’ve instantly been able to deduce that Mr Suspicious had nothing to do with Amber’s disappearance, because when she walked past his car she wasn’t carrying a shopping bag. Therefore she hadn’t been into the city yet. And since we knew from Episode 1 that she stayed alive long enough to get back on the tram and come out of the city with her shopping bag, we knew this guy didn’t kill or take her.

(I’m not even going to talk about the episode where Amber’s father SAVED AMERICAN BACKPACKERS FROM HUMAN TRAFFICKERS IN EASTERN EUROPE BY WATCHING PORN AND HAVING A PROSTITUTE OVER FOR DINNER. No, really. That was actually the “plot” of the final episode.)

ecard4

If convicted for this first degree murder of what a story is supposed to be, the prosecution should seek the death penalty in this case because while leaving us hanging is bad enough, the creators admitted that (a) they know what happened (um yeah, oh-kay…) and that (b) NO ONE WE MET IN THE SHOW WAS RESPONSIBLE.

(Remembering that they told us the show was filled with clues, had we bothered to pay attention.)

Are you [BLEEP] kidding me with this?

That breaks the cardinal rule of crime and thrillers, and breaking this rule shows such a blatant disrespect for the reader/viewer that I’d need to start taking blood pressure medication if I thought about it too much. It’s just not playing fair if you don’t give the reader/viewer a chance to figure it out for themselves. Now I read crime novels and thrillers all the time, and I never figure it out. I like it that way. (I was once friends with a girl who would start every book by turning to the last chapter to appraise the ending. Only if she liked it would she go back to the start and read the book. We’re not friends anymore. Coincidence?) But when what really happened is revealed, I go ‘Oh, right! I see it now.’ I realize the clues were there all along. Readers who are cleverer than me may go ‘I KNEW it!’, but despite our different reactions we’re both feeling satisfied, we’re both feeling like the time we sunk into the book or show wasn’t wasted.

But if the person who killed/disappeared Amber WASN’T EVEN IN THE BLOODY SHOW, well, we don’t have much of a chance of figuring it out, now do we?

And of course, it also means that no one involved in writing the show had to figure it out either. Again: cheating.

It’s not that stories that aren’t neatly tied up can’t be satisfying. See Tana French’s In The Woods or series 2 of The Bridge for more on this. But they worked because even though not every plot strand was tied up in a bow, something was. And that something made sense. It also involved CHARACTERS WE’D ACTUALLY BEEN INTRODUCED TO.

I was venting my rage on Twitter the night of finale when someone suggested we send the writers a copy of Robert McKee’s Story. I suggested that that might be a bit advanced for them. Perhaps an episode of Murder She Wrote instead?

ecard5

You know something? I realize now that this blog post may not have a point. I just really needed to vent about how stoopid that bloody show was. But you know what? Maybe it’s not supposed to have a point, because that’s, like, real life. Things don’t get all neatly tied up in real life, dontcha know.

[UNICORNS DESCEND]

[A T-REX BURSTS OUT OF THE BUSHES]

[THE POWER GOES OUT]

The End.

Now, how was that for you?

Amber is apparently going to air on BBC Four sometime this year and after that it’ll infect Netflix. It’s too late for me but run, save yourselves!

UPDATE: BBC *did* show it and my blog visits have been boosted by people searching for ‘amber crap ending’ and the like. For more Amber rage, see this great piece by Daragh Keany writing for the Sunday World. Now, go watch some GOOD TV. 

What show or book had an ending that gave you the RED RAGE? Why was it so rage-inducing? Did you watch Amber? Do you think we can have some of our TV license fee back from RTE? Let me know in the comments below…

*I’m paraphrasing.

Attention Women Writers: Meet the #WoMentoring Project!

15 Apr

Today I’m honored to help introduce something very exciting, timely and worthwhile: The WoMentoring Project! 

The Wo-what now?

The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors.

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project.

WoMen3

But wo-why?

Like many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given.

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

WoMentoringIllo2Web

Sign me up!

In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible so instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time.

Why our mentors are getting involved

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.

–Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work.

–Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard.

–Jo Unwin of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency

WoMentoringIllo3Web

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner.

–Clare Archibald

I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process.

–Suzy Norman

So there you have it.

Want to know more? Visit www.womentoringproject.co.uk and follow @WoMentoringP on Twitter, or search for the hashtag #WoMentoring.

%d bloggers like this: