Writer/Blogger? You May Need a Contact Page Intervention

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It may be news to you but for the last year and a half or so, I’ve been doing some freelance social media work for a publishing house, helping promote other authors’ books online. As my goal is essentially to connect readers with books I believe they’ll like, a lot of my time is spent trawling through the magical interweb looking for book blogs. They’re easy enough to find. But it’s not always easy to find what I need when I get there: a way to contact the blogger in private.

It’s a particularly bad day when the coffee machine is still brewing and the contact page of a book blogger who (a) professes to love the exact kind of book I have to offer her and (b) says on her ‘Review Policy’ or ‘About Me’ page that what she loves more than anything else in the world is getting free books says something like if you want to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @thisconversationwillbepublic…

Oh, how the RED RAGE DESCENDS.

I can’t get in contact with her on Twitter, and I won’t. I don’t want everyone to see me offering her a review copy, and sometimes upcoming releases have things tied to them, like promotional activity, for example, that I can tell the blogger but not the world (yet). You might be saying now well, why don’t I just tweet her asking for her e-mail address? Well first of all my Twitter account is for Catherine Ryan Howard, the self-publisher and blogger. Not the occasional publicity assistant. And Twitter is not interchangeable with e-mail or a contact form. It’s a public forum.

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But if I can’t get in contact with a book blogger, the worst thing that happens is that they miss out on a free book and I have to go looking for someone else to take their place.

But what if you’re a self-publisher and the person trying to get in contact with you is another blogger who wants to help you promote your book, or a journalist who wants to feature you in a newspaper or magazine, or a radio show producer who wants to interview you on air, or an agent who’s interesting in representing you or a publisher who’s interested in buying your print rights or an editor in Poland who wants to talk translation rights (delete as appropriate depending on your life’s goals)? Telling them that they can contact you on Twitter is just not acceptable. Telling them they can send you a message through Facebook is laughable. And who knows what kind of opportunities you might miss out on – small, medium and big – because you put too many hoops between your online home and a way to get in touch with you directly that doesn’t come with an audience.

I think you should do one of the following:

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The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write

This morning I am contributing a stop to The Blog Tour: What, Why and How I Write, this on-going blogging and writing thingy where each blogger answers four questions about their writing, tags three victims and runs away screaming, ‘You’re it!’

Normally I avoid such things because they have a tendency to get out of hand quickly (‘I just nominated for you for this award – now all you need to do is make a list of 53 bloggers you love and get each of them to nominate 87 other bloggers…’ etc. etc.) but Jason Arnopp (a) asked me before he tagged me and (b) keeps me mightily entertained with his tweets, so I felt that on this one – ONE – occasion, I’d take part.

jasonWho is Jason Arnopp, you say? Well follow him on Twitter and you’ll quickly find out. Or read this: Jason Arnopp is a British author and scriptwriter.  He wrote the 2011 Lionsgate US feature film Stormhouse, and BBC audiobooks Doctor Who: The Gemini Contagion and The Sarah Jane Adventures: Deadly Download.  More recently, he has written the terrifying Kindle books Beast In The Basement and A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home.  He lives in Brighton with far too many movies on VHS. You can find him at INT. JASON ARNOPP’S MIND – DAY/NIGHT.

Now, onto the four questions…

1. What am I working on?

Argh, stumped at the first question! (Argh: angry, not pirate. Always feel a need to point that out.) I really don’t like putting stuff on the magical interweb about what I’m currently working on, just because I don’t like talking about what I’m working on in general. I don’t like it because you may have what you think is a great idea that you’re all excited about and you can see how it’s going to pan out and you’re excited to write it and then you tell someone about it and they make THE FACE, and THE FACE implies that this is a ridiculous idea and you’d be better off watching an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians since writing this idea down is obviously such a waste of human time.

Let’s just say that my main project is a novel I hope someone else will publish, and that novel is a thriller, and I’m about a third of the way through a polished draft of it. I also have a very organized plot outline that I spent a joyful afternoon creating with mini Post-It notes and Sharpie pens:

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I also have another, much smaller project and I want to say even less about that’s destined for self-publication.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Hollywood, so the story goes, is always looking for ‘the same, but different’ and that’s how I feel about genres.

First of all, let me say that I am absolutely writing in a genre. I don’t like it when writers claim that their work doesn’t fit into any genre, or that they don’t recognize genres, or that they have written in a genre but because they don’t read it their book must be unique and special as they are unfamiliar with the perceived formulae that make titles in that genre tick. All that to me sounds very let-me-tilt-back-my-head-so-I-can-look-down-my-nose-at-you. Genre isn’t a dirty word and as I have been reading my genre – crime/thrillers – since I was far too young to be doing so and got stern looks as I tried to check adult books out on my children’s library card, I know what works and what doesn’t. I know the rules, I  know how to get away with breaking them. I know that these days it takes a very twisty road to keep the truth from the reader.

But I also know what’s been done to death (ha!), so I’m avoiding that. I have what I think is a new or at least different idea. I’m also writing first person in my own voice, which I think is quite different to the standard crime/thriller narrator. It also annoys me when I read thrillers that start with something big happening in a prologue, and then we skip ahead months or years to see how everyone’s doing after the fact – I want, for once, to be taking through the Something Big Happening, day by day, in the first part of the book. So I’m trying to do that.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Once upon a time I wrote a novel called Results Not Typical, that as some of you know was chick-lit meets corporate satire, Weight Watchers meets The Devil Wears Prada and self-publishing meets un-self-publishing when I decided that I wanted to keep my self-publishing brand to non-fiction only. This novel also got me a meeting with an editor at a major publishing house, where we discussed how I might take what was working about RNT and use it to write something broader that wasn’t quite so kooky, something that may have more commercial appeal. I thought that since all my books were light-hearted and fun – and maybe, once in a while, even funny – that that something should be women’s commercial fiction. I went away and wrote 10,000 words of a New Idea and we had another meeting. It wasn’t really working, so we brainstormed another idea and then I went home and wrote 10,000 words of that. Then we had another meeting, brainstormed another version of this idea and I went home and wrote a 30,000-word chapter by chapter outline of that.

But then two things happened. First of all, The Editor said something to me that changed everything. She said that while what I was writing was competent and funny and all that, it had no emotional heart – and as soon as she said it, I knew why. I didn’t want to write women’s commercial fiction! I don’t know why I even tried because it’s not my favorite thing to read. (Well, I do know. Because I thought it might get me published.) Of course my heart wasn’t in it.

The second thing was that an idea I’d had for a thriller that had been simmering away in my brain for a while came to the boil, and I thought to myself: once I finish with this chapter outline, I’m going to start writing that – for fun.

Um, what now?

Exsqueeze me?

Why was I writing anything that wasn’t fun?

So I ditched all notions of writing anything other than what I loved to read, and got working on my current project: my crime/thriller novel.

4. How does my writing process work?

I don’t think I’ve written enough books to have an actual process, so let me just briefly tell you about how I wrote a few specific ones.

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Mousetrapped. As it was based on real-life events I had an advantage right from the start: I knew what was going to happen. Hooray! While it was actually happening, I used to keep a diary of sorts in a MS Word document on my computer so I had that to refer to. I wrote a proposal and a couple of sample chapters, based on the best advice I’ve ever come across for writing a non-fiction proposal, which is in a (now out of print?) book called How To Get Published and Make a Lot of Money by Susan Page. (Ignore the name; it has brilliant non-fiction proposal advice.) An agent was interested so then I had to write the book itself, starting by sitting on the floor of my apartment in Orlando, cross-legged before a plastic crate that had my laptop perched on top of it with a no foam venti latte within reach. I wrote the first proper draft at home over the summer of 2008 when I’d returned from backpacking, on a laptop borrowed from my best friend because I’d broken my Dad’s and had abandoned my own antique in Florida to save on luggage. Then I wrote another with the copyeditor I hired when I decided to self-publish it. All in all it was quite straightforward: I just started at the beginning and wrote on through.

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Backpacked. This was hilarious because I left it until the very, very VERY last minute to even start on this book – which again, being non-fiction, was about stuff that had already happened so plot wasn’t an issue – and then wrote it in two caffeine-fuelled weeks.

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The Secret Crime/Thriller. The plot of this is a quite twisty and I just don’t understand when I read writers in interviews say that they write thrillers and they don’t know how it’s going to end until they get there. (I’m looking at you, Harlan Coben.) How would that even be possible? Instead I started with the truth: I started with what I knew had really happened, and then I asked myself how could I frame that, how could I introduce these events to the reader in a way that would throw them right off the scent right from the start? Then, as ever, I turned the white cover of my copy of Save the Cat by Blake Snyder yellow, constantly referring to it for plot architecture, eventually ending up with a plot that had three acts and a mid-point. I started writing, but it took a few 20,000 word treks through the beginning to get that right, and then I started writing a ‘discovery draft’ which would be unreadable to any other human but helped me figure out all the stuff that had to happen in between the bits I’d figured out already. Once that was done I locked down my plot in another outline (Sharpie time!) and started writing A Proper Draft, layering in complication as I went.

As for the logistics, since the beginning of this year I have (mostly) got into the habit of writing every day, aiming for 2,000 new words in a session. I write in the mornings so I can enjoy the rest of my day guilt-free and I’ve bought a coffee machine with a timer that I can pre-set before I go to bed and that, my friends, has made all the difference.

So, that’s that. The three victims—ah, writers, I’ve invited to take part in The Blog Tour next Monday (24th March) are:

5c2ff6ec2b280a22d17a2d.L._V352340503_SX200_Keris Stainton

Keris Stainton is the author of three UKYA novels – Della Says OMG!, Jessie Hearts NYC, Emma Hearts LA – and two NA novellas (under the pen name Esme Taylor). The first book in her Reel Friends series, Starring Kitty, is due out in June. She’s addicted to American TV, Twitter, and tea. She blogs here.

Pat_Photo_OriginalPat Fitzpatrick

Pat Fitzpatrick lives in Cork, Ireland. After 19 years working in the I.T. industry he decided to jump ship in 2008 and head for the lucrative world of writing. So don’t hire him as a life coach, investment advisor or anything to do with your career. His Sunday Independent newspaper columns plus TV and radio appearances have been entertaining Irish people through some tough times. He is now busy writing a series of novels about the weird place that was Ireland in the last 15 years. He blogs at How To Kidnap a Pop Star.

photo-1Jean Grainger

Jean Grainger is author of ‘The Tour’ and ‘So Much Owed’. She is a teacher and a former university lecturer. She lives in Cork, Ireland with her husband and four children. She loves writing historical fiction and correcting homework. (She’s joking about the homework). She blogs at JeanGrainger.com.

Stop by their blogs next week to read their answers. In the meantime:

To Do: A Social Media Spring Clean

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Once upon a time I was at a writing-related event when Someone Very Important (To Me) who works for A Very Important Company (To Me) introduced herself and then said, ‘We were just reading one of your blog posts in the office the other day!’

I should’ve been elated. I should’ve been delighted that anyone, anywhere who I didn’t have direct contact with should take the time to turn their eyeballs towards this URL, let alone someone who I knew for a fact worked at a desk surrounded by piles of unsolicited manuscript submissions (who were all eyeing the piles of purchased manuscripts she was already working on with jealousy and suspicion). This woman didn’t have the time to read a Post-It note, yet she had devoted time to my little blog.

But instead, my stomach dropped. My palms began to sweat, and I drifted out of the conversation as my mind raced with anxious thoughts. What post? Was it one I read over before I published it? Did it have typos? What does my ‘About’ page currently say? Have I updated the ‘News’ page lately? Are the links working? WHAT DID THEY SEE?!?!?!?

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I’ve decided the theme of the images in this post will be ‘pictures I took of my computer showing my blog in various places.’ This one was the hot desk I rented for a while…

On a related note, it’s pretty annoying to get an e-mail from someone that reads ‘I was just on your website and the link to [insert something] doesn’t go anywhere. You might want to update that.’ Or ‘On your Amazon bio, it says that [insert something] will be out in October 2013. But on your blog, it says November. You might want to update that. Or, ‘In the back of [one of your books] it says that you have [insert something] but I’ve looked everywhere and you don’t. YOU MIGHT WANT TO UPDATE THAT.’

It annoys me on two levels. First: that someone has taken the time to alert me to what is obviously a tiny oversight, and that they think I have the time to be worrying about such things. Second: that I’ve overlooked it, and that I haven’t taken the time to make sure my entire online existence is as up to date as the trendiest of irony-loving Brooklyn hipsters.

It’s so easy to let online things slide. Mostly because you’re hardly looking at them. How often, for example, do you look at your own Amazon Author Profile? I almost NEVER do. (Listings? Yes. For new reviews, obviously, lest my soul needs some sand-papering. But not my Author Profile.) And the times I check or update my ‘About’ page are negligible, even though I’m on my blog and publishing new posts quite regularly.

But shouldn’t I always be ready for anyone to visit any part of my online existence? 

Obviously, yes. I should.

Except that, of course, I am not doing that. My online existence is a cobwebbed, outdated, messy… um, mess. My bios are different on every site. Some of them talk about plans that never happened, while others leave out the most important stuff that’s happened since. There’s no cohesiveness.

So this week I’m going to a major spring clean, and I invite you to join me and spring clean your social media existence too.

I’ve done a couple of items on the Spring Social Media Clean already:

#1: Scrubbed My Website

Take a look around: things are all new and shiny! Taking into account that I want my website to be simple (read: easily updatable) and that most people these days are looking at websites on a mobile device (read: no sidebars) I have:

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This one was in Nice, France. Ooh-la-la!

#2: The Great Unsubscribe

I’ve had my current e-mail address since early 2010, I online shop more than I real-world shop and I’m always suckered in to subscribing to newsletters and mailing lists and blog posts and all sorts. I get a lot of e-mails anyway, but add these subscriptions in and you get an inbox that’s groaning at the seams.

So every day for a week I spent ten or fifteen minutes unsubscribing to anything that came in that I wasn’t interested in anymore. It was boring and time-consuming, but my inbox instantly improved. After a week I had sent 50—50!—subscriptions packing, many of which I couldn’t even remember signing up for.

#3: The To Do List

This week I plan to finish the job. I will:

Check/update my bios on:

  • Twitter
  • My public Facebook pages
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Amazon Author Pages
  • Goodreads.

Check/update my books, as in:

  • The product descriptions for all my books that are for sale on Amazon
  • The front and end matter in all my e-book and POD interior files, re-upload if necessary
  • Make sure they’re for sale wherever they can be, fix issues and upload if necessary.

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And this is what my little desk nook looked like when I first moved in. It looks WAY messier now.

Miscellaneous:

  • Go through my Posts: Drafts list—I make a new post to jot down ideas I have, but there’s 114 of them I’ve never come back to. Time for a clear out, me thinks…
  • Go through Feedly (my Google Reader replacement[earlier I mistakenly typed ‘Feedler’. To do: check more thoroughly for typos!) and unsubscribe to any blogs I’m not interested in any more and add any new and exciting ones I’ve come across
  • Go through the Reading List on my browser (a kind of bookmarks thing) and either read, file or delete each link
  • As I haven’t answered any e-mails in, like, a month or so, power through my inbox until everything is read
  • Google myself to see if there’s any online stuff I’ve forgotten about.

So, who’s with me?

And if you’re already up to date, what’s your system for staying that way? Let me know in the comments below…