Which is better – a Facebook page or a Facebook profile?

Writers these days need to care about more than just words on the page, they have to let the world know that their work exists if they don’t want it to disappear into the ether having been read only by their auntie Marge and their best mate Dave. And that means developing a presence on social media, which inevitably includes Facebook.

When my first book Song of the Sea God was published by Skylight Press I had the same level of presence on social media as a member of a remote, undiscovered tribe in the Amazon jungle – so at least I had he luxury of starting from scratch. I also had a reasonable knowledge of social media since part of my day job is creating and managing accounts for the organisation I work for.

Continue reading Which is better – a Facebook page or a Facebook profile?

How to get 5,000 followers on Twitter, for free, part two

KeepCalmAndTweetOne of my most popular blog posts so far was the one I wrote on how to get 5,000 followers on Twitter free and without scams. If you are just starting out on Twitter I’d suggest you first take a look at my original post.  You can read that one here.

I thought I’d offer some more Twitter tips for those who are interested as there’s clearly an appetite for info on how to grow and do well on this popular social platform. I’m fond of Twitter and currently have more than 15,000 followers at @ChilledCh these are all real people with no sock puppet accounts bought from some dodgy Twitter salesman. You’d be surprised how many people with large accounts on Twitter seem to have gone down that road!

My key advice for those looking to grow their Twitter numbers is this – try not to see Twitter in terms of ‘followers’ but instead think of them as two-way connections. You need first to follow and connect with people in order for some to connect with you in return.

Here’s a few things I find helpful to me when using Twitter which you might also find work for you.

Don’t overdo the product promotion!

Lots of people use Twitter just for fun, news, keeping in touch with friends and so on. Others, like me, also use it because they have something they want to tell people about. In my case it’s my novel Song of the Sea God.

But I’ve noticed that some people on Twitter do this extraordinarily badly. It’s perfectly possible to tweet the link to your book or other product every hour on the hour until the end of time, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you should do. Less is more as they say. You can put an audience off on Twitter just the same as on any other medium. I much prefer to talk about other things and promote my blog, which people can read for free, than promote my book. They can find that it they wish, and, to help them, I tweet an occasional link to one of the places they can download free sample  – never more than once a day and usually not even that often.

However many people you manage to encourage to follow you on Twitter you will find you lose them again just as quickly if you spam them.

Justunfollow

I’d say this is my favourite of the tools I use to keep track of my Twitter account. At its basic level it is free and you can use it to find who has unfollowed you, who is not following back, which accounts are long-term inactive and so on. Then you can react accordingly by dropping these accounts and finding other people who do want to interact with you on Twitter. You are limited to 50 a day for free but I’ve found that’s fine with the numbers I need to manage.

Hootsuite

There are a number of useful services out there which enable you to manage your output on Twitter. A very popular one is Tweetdeck which you download as a small programme. Lots of people like it and you might want to give it a try. Another one is Hootsuite, and that’s the one I prefer, having tried them both. You might think differently once you’ve tried them out – It’s a bit of a ‘you pays your money and takes your choice’ kind of a deal, except you don’t have to pay money as these are free services at their basic entry-level.

What Hootsuite does is allow you to manage your social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter all from one screen. But its killer app for me is the ability to schedule your tweets. Let’s say you want to tell people in a different time zone about your new blog post or about an American or Australian site where your book or other work is available. Or perhaps you want to reach people who are active on Twitter while you are out at work. Now you can type in the tweet and schedule using the calendar – simple. Don’t let it tempt you down the road to automated spamming though – that way madness lies.

Bitly

All Twitter users know the value of a link shortener in a medium where every character counts and if you go over 140 you can’t press send. In my view Bitly has an important advantage over the others available such as Tiny Url. And that advantage is the ability to track the number of people who have acted on your link. So if you have a link where it matters how many people look at it over time and where they come from then you can create a Bitly link and use it each time you need to tweet or Facebook the link. It’s great – you get a graph, a map of the world, and everything.

Klout

This is an interesting way to see how your social media is stacking up – and compare it to others in your circle. Basically it boils down your interactions on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms and expresses them as a simple score out of 100. If your aim is to grow on social media a rising score can be a clear indication you are achieving that.

So there’s some of what has helped me grow and develop my presence on Twitter – free to you for being kind enough to visit my blog.

If you were interested in this post you might want to take a look at these others which also offer tips:

How to get more views on your blog.

Advice on how to find a publisher for your book

An interview with my publisher about what they are looking for in a book they take on.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

Write your book in just a week!

One trend in what I suppose you could call the ‘creative writing industry’ at the moment is encouraging people to write books really quickly.

473px-Usain_Bolt_Olympics_CelebrationI’ve come across writing ‘experts’ who run courses and so on claiming they can teach you to crash out a whole novel in a month or even less. It’s the Usain Bolt approach to novel writing.

For the record – Song of the Sea God took me two years to write, from which I’m sure you can glean that I’m in no great rush to type ‘The End.’ To me that doesn’t seem an extraordinary amount of time. The other two books I have completed have taken a similar period. It takes roughly a year to complete a first draft then another to rewrite and polish it until I believe I have something I wish to inflict on an indifferent world. After I have finished, I submit it to agents and publishers who will often reject it with barely a second glance. My story is not unusual, I suspect it is the story of pretty much any published author.

One ‘writing expert’ I came across on Facebook recently suggested that anyone following her sage advice would be in a position to churn out their magnum opus and stick it up on Kindle to tempt punters in just four short weeks. She strongly suggested I come along to one of her courses where she would teach me how to write more quickly. I suggested that perhaps I could teach her how to write more slowly. She didn’t seem any more impressed by my offer than I had been by hers. We were coming at it from two entirely different perspectives – she simply couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to hammer something out as swiftly as possible and get it on Amazon.

600px-UK_traffic_sign_670V30_svgHere’s where I stand. What’s the point of encouraging people to rush their writing? What’s the value of turning out a novel in a month when you could spend more time on it and make it better? Why not treat yourself to a whole two months of writing – and make it a masterpiece!

I don’t wish to sound too grumpy about this. I’m on the side of the writer. But I’m also on the side of the reader and I don’t know that encouraging people to slam out words onto their laptop as quick as they humanly can, then rush to self-publish them as a download in the hope people will hand over money for them is really serving the reader at all well. In fact I think there is a serious likelihood that the reader will pay for something rushed, shoddily put together, ill-considered and just plain rubbish.

The most famous ‘write a novel quickly’ movement is the very popular NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month, which encourages entrants to complete the first draft of a novel in a month.  Its website says that so far 226,756 writers have signed up to write a novel in just one month.

The strapline this group uses is ‘The world needs your novel’ which makes me think: does it? Does it really? The world has lots of novels already, many of them took a long time and a lot of hard work to write. Does it need hundreds of thousands more written in just one month?

Look, I don’t want to seem down on the organisation – they are very popular, they are encouraging people to write, which is great. They are also not necessarily encouraging people to rush what they have written to publication – for many writers what they produce during NaNoWriMo can be the start of a book, not the finished product.

My problem is with the notion that quicker is better. What is the value of rushing your work? My fear is that the ‘experts’ who tell you they can help you get your book in front of buyers in just a few weeks are appealing to some of the less savoury aspects of human nature.

The subtext of the ‘write a novel in a month’ message is – it doesn’t have to be difficult. You don’t have to work very hard for a very long time, pore over your manuscript, carry out rewrite after painstaking rewrite. You can get everything you want without putting yourself to very much trouble at all – just like winning the lottery. Four weeks of writing, upload your work to Amazon and you will be a published author – just like Charles Dickens, just like Jane Austen!

For me writing a novel and getting it published was a long hard road and, you know what, I’m glad it was, because it makes the achievement worthwhile.

Novel in a month? Not for me thanks!

What do you think? Tell me in the comments.

Song of the Sea God visualDon’t forget if you get a moment to take a look at my book Song of the Sea God.

You can look inside to read the first few pages free and download a free Kindle sample for UK readers here. And for readers in the USA here.

How to get published

Here’s a post which is a bit different from my usual ones about writing and reading – it’s in answer to a question a lot of new and unpublished writers have asked me. The question is: ‘How do you get published?’

I don’t just get asked this on social media – I get asked in everyday life too. In fact, in the next few weeks I have two speaking engagements coming up where, as well as reading from my novel and answering questions about that, I’m also due to be asked about my ‘road to publication.’

So I thought I’d share what little wisdom I have on the subject with you. My credentials for doing so are straightforward – I do have a novel out, it’s published by Skylight Press. You can find Song of the Sea God here in the UK and here in the USA and read the first few pages, see if it’s your kind of thing.

Just to be clear – I’m talking about traditional publishing in this post, not self-publishing or indie publishing which I know is very popular these days. I haven’t any experience of self-publishing so I don’t know the ins and outs – I’m sure there are many other places you can go to for advice on that.

So here are my top tips:

Write a good book
That’s my first piece of advice – and I don’t mean it to sound facetious. Of course, everyone who sets out to find a publisher believes they have a good book, otherwise they wouldn’t waste their time. But I’d remind you that, as a first time writer, all you have is your work. You have no reputation, no contacts, no track record, just that book – so are you sure it’s the best it can be? Go on – take another look at it – rewrite it again, it can’t hurt. Maybe show it to a couple of people whose judgement you trust and canvas their opinion on its strengths and weaknesses.

One thing my publisher has told me is that they get snowed under with a a great deal of material which is simply not good enough to have a realistic chance of being published – make sure your manuscript is one of the ones which is!

Do you need an agent?
Well I haven’t got one, and I do have a publisher, so I guess not. The way I see it is that, at my level, the main purpose of having an agent would be to help me find a publisher for my book so, if I can find a publisher on my own, then I don’t need one.

I’m sure there are many advantages to having an agent and perhaps in the future I will have one, who knows. You can send your work to agents directly so it’s probably worth approaching a few to see how it goes – you may get lucky, be snapped up by an agent who will then sell your book to a massive publisher for a huge advance. We travel in hope don’t we? And unless you apply to them you’ll never know. There are lists of agents all over the internet if you Google for them – many accept email submissions.

Can I approach publishers without an agent?
Many of the big publishers will only accept submissions from authors through an agent – which is why many unpublished writers are so keen to find an agent. Agents have become gate-keepers for the major publishers it seems to me, acting as their readers. The whole thing can feel a bit of a closed shop – the big publishers will only speak to you through an agent and the agents only take on a very few first time writers each year.

But the good news is that many smaller publishers will take submissions directly from first time authors and these are the ones you need to look for – typically they will be the smaller ones, independent of the big conglomerates. My experience has been that these small presses are much more approachable than either agents or major publishers. They tend to be run by enthusiasts who really care about the books more than anything else – just the same as you do.

Where can I find a list of smaller publishers?
Google for them for starters – there are lists all over the place. But I would say – decide first what you are looking for – look for someone who will be a good fit for your book, that’s more important than you might think. Publishers are spoilt for choice when it comes to manuscripts, as far as they are concerned it’s a buyer’s market. They are almost looking for reasons to turn you down as they can’t possibly accept everything. So if your book is a close fit to what they do publish then you have immediately pulled a little ahead of the field.

Another good place to look for publishers is on Twitter lists. Find the Twitter feed of a publisher who might suit you – then look at the lists they are on. More often than not you will find that the other members of these lists are other similar publishers who you can Google and submit to in the way they advise on their website.

What do they ask for?
Agents and publishers typically ask for a query letter, a short synopsis and the first 50 pages, or two or three chapters, of your book. Check the requirements on their website though as some vary. I might do another post on how to submit later.

Should I apply to just one agent or publisher at a time?
Nah – some of the agents grumble that it’s not cricket people applying to lots at once. They would like you to apply only to them, wait two months for them to turn you down and then apply to someone else. But frankly the odds are stacked so highly against you that you’d be a fool to worry too much about that. I’ve never heard a small publisher grumble about multiple submissions.

What happens next?
Mostly what happens is that you get rejected. They can reject your book simply by ignoring your query, or by sending you a form letter, or occasionally by scribbling or emailing you an encouraging note. It’s much rarer for them to ask for the complete manuscript but if they do they will probably reject it anyway. I’m not trying to be off-putting here, but it’s best to know.

I keep getting rejected – what should I do?
Keep on keeping on. As Samuel Goldwyn once said: ‘The harder I work the luckier I get.’ As I’ve said before, I could paper my house with rejection letters I‘ve had over the years – but I have had my successes too. And when I look up at my book shelves, there is my novel staring back at me – which makes all the hard work worth while.

To download or not to download

Recently my book – which has been out in paperback for a few weeks now, was turned into a download. You can now get it on Kindle here.

As well as the old-fashioned dead tree way here.

I’m not sure how I feel about it – pleased still of course, that the book is out at all, that I have a publisher in Skylight Press out there doing their best for it and caring about it as much as I do. But in terms of the fancy new Kindle version – how do I feel about that? It’s the future I know, no doubt at all about that. It would take someone who was a bit of a Luddite these days to be a download denier – and that’s certainly not me.

So I’m glad to have the book out in this format – and I certainly see the advantages of it. The portability of the devices, the almost instant access to a whole library of books.

I also think that anything which not only preserves, but reinvigorates reading and the novel has to be a good thing. It has to be a living, breathing art form, the moment it lapses into becoming a museum piece then it’s doomed.

Finally, I like the way that downloads, and that means Kindle right at the moment, have already led to a publishing revolution allowing authors who do not have a publisher to take their destiny in their own hands and do it themselves. This reminds me of the early days of punk rock – or of indie bands. The self-sufficiency they had, the DIY ethic, led to some brilliant music and a voice for people who would not otherwise have been heard.

The same thing is happening in fiction now I think – different voices, ones which might not have made it into print, have managed to side-step the publishing system and find a platform for their work.

So two cheers for downloads then. But let’s not (ahem) write-off books.

Let me say firstly, that the dream for me, the one I’d had since childhood, was to have a book published – one I could hold in my hand, put on my bookshelf – one that had the feel and smell and yes, romance, of a book. I didn’t dream of a download.

But that might be more to do with the fact I have grown up with books. A new generation may well be following hard on my heals who dream of switching on their Kindle, swiping their fingers across the screen and having their name pop up on the illuminated display.

Times change after all. But my key worry isn’t about the downloads themselves – more about what they can lead to. Once things are available on digital format it seems to me that their value starts to plummet.

Look at music – digital piracy has decimated that industry. Look at movies, going the same way. There used to be a newspaper industry – I used to work in it. Now because so much news is available free on the internet the market has set the value of news at near zero.

I don’t want the same fate to befall printed fiction.

Already I am hearing horror stories from fellow authors about their downloads being pirated and stolen. Most authors are paid little for their work even when the system is working – if it breaks down they are in real trouble.

So I’m delighted to have my book out on Kindle – thrilled by it – and I really value those readers who choose to buy Song of the Sea God in that way.

But my hope is that the download revolution doesn’t issue in an era when books are thought of as ‘freeware’ available to all without any payment to those who have worked hard to produce them.