Why Bother With Social Media?

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Social Media: A phrase that strikes up a series of emotions in each one of us. Some people enjoy using social media sites, thriving on the information they can gather and the contact with others, while others avoid it through fear or a lack of time or motivation. Many people have a love/hate relationship with it. Why does it cause so much consternation, when the aim has always been to connect and to share information? Each site takes time to navigate and to get used to, much like a new relationship or friendship in some ways! At first you post and respond to others, gradually gaining the confidence and understanding of how it all works. Each site has a different character and set of expectations. You step up your communication, post, wait, wonder. Sound familiar?

The earliest forms of social media were not electronic, but took the form of cave paintings. These were the earliest known signs of humans trying to communicate, to leave their mark. Now, we leave our mark, our knowledge and some of our personality, on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, WordPress, Tumblr or other blogging sites. We strike up connections with others and share information, often collaborating in a way that would have been difficult before the age of social media.

So, why take the time to engage with social media?

1. You meet an amazing range of people, both within and outside your field of expertise.

I have met some fantastic readers, writers, bloggers, editors, agents, marketing experts. Meeting people within the fields of writing and publishing have helped me to learn about the industry. Other authors have been a great encouragement to me along the way (which is something we all need). Readers have contacted me through my website and found me on other social media platforms. If they enjoy your work and like who you are as a person, chances are they will want to engage and follow what you are up to. I have also gained a great deal from others outside this group. I follow journalists and people who are interested in some of the things I enjoy outside writing: music, art, travel and skiing.

2. Sharing resources

The online community are a generous bunch! I find that people share information on writing competitions, tips on writing and publishing (both self-publishing and traditional publishing). It’s also a great way to find out about writing courses or retreats. I first heard about the Arvon Foundation through Twitter. They offer residential writing courses with a range of authors who teach specific courses throughout the year. Interviewing other authors on your blog and hosting posts is a good way of networking and sharing new work with your readers. You can also approach other bloggers and offer to write posts on their blogs (see my post on Optimising Facebook on 30 Day Books).

3. Finding books

Many people share books they have read and enjoyed. There are a few editors whose tastes are similar to mine and I almost always enjoy the books they suggest. Book bloggers are a great resource, reviewing books and giving honest opinions on popular or recent books, and often on classics I might have missed. I also review books as well as hosting interviews and posting about writing. Literary salons and author events in bookshops are also advertised on social media sites. Don’t miss these if there is one near you.

4. It keeps you up to date with what is going on in the publishing industry.

Within the publishing industry I have learned a great deal from people like Jane Friedman (former publisher of Writer’s Digest, who writes about the future of the publishing and media industry), Porter Anderson (journalist and publishing consultant) and The Future Book, a blog founded by Sam Missingham (formerly working for The Bookseller Group). If you are interested in a traditional publishing deal, social media sites are a good way to find agents who might be a good fit for your work. Follow the #askagent hashtag on Twitter for agent tips and #MSWL for individual manuscript wish lists. If you are self-publishing, there is a plethora of blogs and sites with all the information you will need.

5. It helps to develop your writing skills on many levels.

Blogging is a good extension of your writing. I wrote a post on blogging with a list of resources. It helps you to learn how to engage readers and to put forward your ideas in an interesting way. This is particularly useful for non-fiction writers who might need evidence of a platform before approaching an agency, and to connect with readers of your particular subject area. As far as fiction is concerned, there has been advice not to write about writing, but I find that these posts have a high level of engagement and readers often write to tell me that these have been helpful. I would run with what works, what you enjoy and what helps others. Social media is an important place to be a helpful resource for others. If you use Twitter it will keep your writing to a succinct 140 characters! This can be a challenge if you tend to over-write or over-describe.

6. You are available for people to contact you and find out about your work.

I have deliberately left this point until last because promoting your work should not be your primary focus on social media. It is called ‘social’ media for the very reason that you interact with people respectfully and share your ideas. If you are interesting and thoughtful, and readers like your style, they will often then look into your work. But you would not sit in a cafe or a bar with a friend saying “Buy my book, buy my book.” So, don’t do it online. It is one of people’s greatest bugbears. Leave an option for people to sign up to your newsletters and to follow your blog posts. I promise you this is enough. No one likes a hard sell and if you treat social media with the same approach as a double glazing salesman, you’ll get the same response.

What are your thoughts on social media? Are there sites that you use more often and why? Are there some sites you haven’t yet got to grips with? Share your ideas. I’ll leave you with some interesting stats:

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How To Write A Compelling Pitch and Synopsis

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I have always feared the dreaded pitch and synopsis. The idea of condensing your work down to a short description (your synopsis) or an even more minute few sentences (your pitch) fills me with dread. If you worry that you will risk losing the essence of your work, read on.

I read a post recently on twitter by author, psychologist and fiction reviewer, Lucy Beresford. It challenged me to really pick out the key idea, the very core of a story. Her post was on twitter and she said this:

“Hone that 3-sentence pitch. Know your book, pitch around the ifs, describe plot, sprinkle gold-dust.”

While I’m not sure that I have gold dust anywhere around the house to sprinkle, I do have some cake sprinkles and some silver balls for cupcake decorating! Seriously, though, her words revolutionised the way I saw the dreaded pitch and synopsis.

Agents and publishers talk about the elevator pitch – what you would say about your book in the minutes that you might share during an elevator ride with them – but the idea remained elusive, a concept just out of reach.

Beresford’s words PITCH AROUND THE IFS made perfect sense yet, through all the writing and publishing advice I have read both in print and online, I have never heard the idea that the ifs are the very heart of the pitch – the what ifs, the hows, the whys. Leaving your reader with questions, rather than mere statements of fact, builds suspense and anticipation. It creates a compelling main idea or a set of ideas which, until the book is read, remain unanswered.

So, this morning I set to work on a short synopsis of my current work-in-progress and put the questions down on paper. The difference between my initial synopsis and today’s revision is the difference between an abstract for an academic paper and a news headline for an act of crime. Although both are necessary for different purposes, a news headline should (in theory) leave you wanting to read the whole article, it should be a teaser. Find a sysnopsis of your favourite films and books and try to work out what makes it compelling.

I should add here that the longer synopsis, which an agent would want to read, is less about the ifs and more an outline of your story (plot spoilers included), but this would be a different post entirely.

Do you have any synopsis or pitch writing tips? Have you read any particularly good ones?

If you would like to follow my writing tips or connect with me on twitter, you can find me here @fcmalby

Lots of Reading: Flash Flood Journal – Short Fiction

National Flash Fiction Day

Issue three of the Flash Flood Journal, an international flash fiction literary journal, is published today on their blog with some wonderful works of short fiction. I would really recommend reading some of the stories as they are varied in topic, style and genre, and are really interesting. My short story, I.P, is also there if you are interested in reading it. Do leave your comments if you enjoy mine or any of the other stories.

Over the course of the next twenty four hours, until midnight tonight, flash-fictions from all over the world will be published online at Flash Flood. This year they are featuring over one hundred stories.

The journal is being published to help launch this year’s National Flash-Fiction Day, which is taking place on 22nd June 2013. It will also take place in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the USA and elsewhere. If you want to join in, you can find out more details about the day in the following places:

Flash Flood website at http://nationalflashfictionday.co.uk
Sign up to the mailing list at nationalflashfictionday@gmail.com.

Happy reading and enjoy the weekend.

 

The Creative Process

Author Jon Rance is guest posting today on the creative process of his writing. His book, This Thirtysomething Life, published by Hodder and Stoughton, is a love story about what happens after we’ve fallen in love, when we’ve swapped frolicking in the bed for cigarettes in the shed and Match of the Day for Mothercare. Brutally honest, laugh-out-loud funny and heart-warming, this is a diary about one man’s bumbling journey on the road to adulthood. If you like Nick Hornby, you’ll enjoy this. Thank you, John.

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Firstly, a big Thank You to Fiona for letting me loose on her blog. She’s a brave lady indeed! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jon Rance, author of the romantic comedy novel, This Thirtysomething Life. I approached Fiona and asked her if I guest blog on her site. Luckily she agreed and so here I am.

Being a writer, people often ask me the same sort of questions. Where do you get your ideas? How do you write? Where do the characters come from?  I guess what they want to know is what my creative process is. It’s an interesting concept and I’m sure different for every author. Mine is a bit haphazard if I’m honest. I read about authors who meticulously plan out books down to the last full-stop. I don’t.

When I start a novel I need the following things. A title. Main characters. Motivation. An ending. I think having a title from the off helps bring the whole thing together. I often think of the title before I know anything about the book. I need to know who the main characters are. By this I just mean a brief bio, name and what they look like. Motivation is what will drive the book forwards. In This Thirtysomething Life, I knew from the beginning that the story was going to be about a guy having a hard time growing up and coming to terms with becoming a father. Right from the word go everything else stemmed from this idea. An ending. Endings can change during the book, it happens, but I think it’s important to know at the beginning where the story is going. The journey is something else, but a destination is important, whether it’s a scene you have in mind, a sentence or just where the character is emotionally.

Once I have those I just start writing. For me writing is a very organic process. I need a few chapters to really get to know the characters properly. I often find that once I know them better, the plot is formed mostly in part by them and the choices they make. My writing has always been character based. I think in my genre of commercial fiction, characters are the base of everything. Plot is important, but for me the first draft is where I get to know the characters. Once I have the first draft down, the second, third, fourth – fifteenth are mainly about tweaking the structure and the plot. I often think writing a novel is like building a house. The first draft is building the structure. Every other draft after that is about making it look nice. The last draft is the one where you get to hang up the paintings, pop the interesting sculpture you bought from the market on the mantelpiece and then sit down on the comfy sofa and marvel at what you’ve accomplished.

I’ve definitely improved as a writer with every book. I wrote four complete novels before This Thirtysomething Life was picked up and published by Hodder. Those four novels were my learning curve. I made some mistakes, but more importantly, I learnt about my creative process. I think it’s a very personal thing. We can learn from others, read books about writing, get hints and tips, but at the end of the day, we all have to learn our own creative process. I used to think mine was ridiculous and that I should change and be more organised, but what I’ve come to realise is that it doesn’t matter how you write, as long as you do it your way because writing is about being creative, it isn’t painting my numbers and checking boxes. Think of the creative process as your friend rather than your enemy. It’s taken me a long time, but I love mine now because it is all mine and I couldn’t do it any other way.

hodder2Jon Rance is the author of the romantic comedy novel, THIS THIRTYSOMETHING LIFE, which was a Top Ten best-selling book on the Amazon chart. Born in Southampton in 1975, he studied English Literature at Middlesex University, London, before going travelling and meeting his American wife in Australia. He is currently working on his second novel, HAPPY ENDINGS. Outside of writing Jon loves travelling, music, sit-coms, art and watching football (but not playing anymore due to dodgy knees).

Both THIS THIRTYSOMETHING LIFE and HAPPY ENDINGS are published by Hodder and Stoughton. Jon is represented by Ariella Feiner at United Agents.

His website can be found at www.jonrance.com

You can also follow him on Twitter @JRance75

Writing and the Attention Economy

This is a post from http://damiengwalter.com/

It was so good that I thought it was worth sharing. Valuable advice for writers…

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As a writer you are asking for the most valuable commodity your readers have. Time. Each of us gets a finite portion. No sum of money can buy us any more. And the demands on it are ever greater.

The novel evolved at a period in history when the constituency of its readers had much more time to waste. Karl Marx would dub them the ‘bourgeoisie’, the section of society who owned the means of production, so profited vastly from industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. The middle and upper classes had time on their hands and little to do with it. The novel became one of the most popular ways of being idle.

The bourgeoisie no longer exists in quite the same way, and it and the proletariat both have innumerable ways of occupying whatever free time is left from work. Yes, there are dozens of forms of entertainment. Films, music, games, sports. But there are also more and more ways for people to invest their time in improving themselves. Is your book really going to compete with the vast range of information available to me for free on Wikipedia? Or the infinite social networks accessible through Facebook and Twitter?

Information of all kinds is becoming a post-scarce resource. While the time it takes to absorb information becomes scarcer and scarcer. And yet many writers still behave as though their product was scarce and the time of readers unlimited. Writing two novels, four novellas and ten short stories a year is great productivity. But completely counter-productive in an attention economy. Because if I read one story by you and its any less than excellent, I’m very unlikely to read another. Your first novel is very important to you, but as a commodity in the attention economy its almost certainly worth less than the value of my time to read it. Which is why the vast majority of material written and published every day on the internet disappears without a trace.

The philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once wrote, “I did not have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” As a writer working in the attention economy you should take Pascal’s remark as the first rule of your professional life. Take the time to write a short letter to the world. Churning out fiction can give you the comforting illusion of progress. No doubt you’ll find one market or other to publish it. But think about the writing you really love and value enough to come back to again and again. How long do the best authors take to create their work? Why should you aim to be anything less than the best? Every word you write is asking for the gift of the reader’s time. Make sure it’s worth it.