Getting back in the writerly zone

Well, here we are again, a little over a year since I last blogged. Every now and then in the last several months, I contemplated taking my blog down altogether. Various things stopped me – inertia, other preoccupations and, occasionally, somebody from across the world stumbling across an old post and making comment.  So more than a year after my last post, those words are still… live.

Long-time readers may remember, I published Singled Out in February 2015 and began writing Novel Number Two five months later. It was a faltering and ultimately false start. Life intervened over the next three years or so. Work kept me busier than I’d anticipated, then my mother fell terminally ill and needed all the care I could give. What came next, the clearing-out of her lifetime of paperwork, passions and possessions, was time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. By then I needed life to give me a boost. It chose to deliver a disruptive payload of gallstones instead, and surgery and hospital stays effectively wrote off the next few months.

But since then, things have picked up quite a bit, it’s fair to say. Life is good and positive again, in many ways.  One outcome of this is that I’m at last making time to get back into this funny business of… writing stories.

I write all the time. A self-employed marketer and copywriter for 20 years, I know I’m privileged to be one of lucky ones who is paid for their words. Those commercial writings, these days mostly for corporate blogs, event promotions and websites, have kept me in paper and ink and I’m not in the least ungrateful. But as I’m in a position to scale back a bit on the jobbing copywriting now, I want to reconnect with the joy of fiction and get started (again… again… again…) on Novel Number Two.

As a result of that faltering early start, I have seven short chapters, about 7,000 words. But they’re in not-bad shape – for a first draft. I have a whole, entire story outline too – and now I’ve read it through, I realise… I still like it. The theme is very in vogue and the story has legs.

So I’m going back in and alongside this endeavour, I’m turning this blog around and setting it back on its original track as A Writer’s Notepad.

My original writerly posts have been knocking around for upwards of six or seven years and they’re buried at the bottom of a deep blogging black hole. I reckon there’s life in a few of those old dogs, so I’ll be updating and reposting the odd one as well as penning a few fresh words too, on the second-time-around experience. I venture most of those early posts weren’t seen by more than a handful of people anyway.

Will it be any different this time, I wonder?

After that, we’ll just see how it goes.

Five Things to do with Today’s Extra Hour

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The clocks went back last night in the UK, treating us to an extra hour. But what to do? What to do with it? Here are a few ideas – not including having a lie-in – based on what this procrastinating writer has been getting up to today.

  1. Go for an early walk round the park, kick through the damp leaves and smell the morning dew. (I’m feeling virtuous, can’t you tell?). Say ‘hello’ to everyone you pass and draw no confidence-sapping conclusions from the fact that the only person to totally ignore you is the 30-something, tight-t-shirted hottie, preoccupied by his smartphone.
  2. Read a big chunk of book (radical for a writer, eh?). Finish one book, begin another. Chain-reading, with but the briefest interval to top up the coffee pot.
  3. Catch up with last night’s #Strictly and waste no energy feeling guilty that at the age of, oh, 50-mumble, the one you’ve got your eye on is the ex-boy-band member.
  4. Write a really, really serious blog post about a seriously personal subject and then realise you can’t possibly post it. Gah!
  5. Cook-up a big, blippy pot of autumn yumminess with mince and mushrooms and tomatoes and sweetcorn and a garlic-laden, gloopy gravy (countdown to consumption – 30 mins).

So what did you do with your extra hour?

First Annual #BloggersBash – This Introvert Gets a ‘Reality’ Check

underground-534617_1280What do you get when you put two dozen introverts round a table in Pizza Express in the heart of London?  A surprisingly good time, that’s what.

I’m a rebellious introvert. You know the sort; we like to believe we’re more… um… extrovert… than we are. We’re proud of being self-contained and comfortable in our own company, but we don’t like people thinking that this makes us antisocial. So it was that when the First Annual #BloggersBash was announced a few weeks ago, I signed up enthusiastically. I wanted to be part of it, and I especially looked forward to meeting up with one or two bloggers with whom I’ve struck up a friendship over the months.

But whilst I look forward to events like this – parties, socials, gatherings of one kind or another (and I properly looked forward to this one too), when the day comes, I always inexplicably find myself wondering why I ever signed up in the first place. ‘Just get up, get washed and dressed and Get On That Train,’ my inner extrovert (is there such a thing?) ordered me. ‘Whatever resistance you’re feeling now, you know you’re going to enjoy it once you get there.’  It’s true, I DO enjoy things like this once I get there. It’s just that when it comes to the day, it always seems easier not to go.  It’s not a confidence thing; it’s not a shyness thing either. I’m not a shy person and I can hold my own in company, business or social. I do find it tiring, but not in a bad way, just in an introvert’s way.

So I got myself up, washed, dressed and off to the station. My mood lifted as a through-train arrived within a couple of minutes and it remained blissfully un-crowded for the whole journey. Decanted from the Tube at Kings Cross, I should have gone straight to the British Library. Instead, my protesting introvert reasserted itself, so I stopped to fortify its poor disconcerted soul with a Costa Coffee, Arabica, two shots. Twenty minutes later, I was ready.

And guess what? It was a super day. From the moment I wandered into the plaza at the British Library (the giant man on the loo/statue of Sir Isaac Newton) is a great landmark) and was eyeballed by BlondeWriteMore Lucy, to a last cheery hug from Suffolk Scribblings Dylan, I enjoyed every amiable, sociable moment.  The lemon drizzle cake (thanks TanGental Geoffle and sorry I’m not big on rhubarb!), the photos (looking forward to seeing how those turned out), the courtesy with which our big group was treated at Pizza Express, the Awards (well done the winners!), the conversations, positivity and friendship, and the general, warm conviviality of the whole thing.

It was fun meeting fellow bloggers ‘in the real world’ – ones I already knew and ones I didn’t – and getting to know other blogs will be an enjoyable follow-through. Sacha and her co-opted team did a terrific job of logistics and it all ran like clockwork. An afternoon filled with conversation, laughter and waves of cheering and whooping too. Amazing, when you consider most of us are unreconstructed introverts, happy to engage from the other side of our respective screens and devices but generally subdued in company.

My afternoon had an unexpected ‘extra slice’ too, with an on-spec call from a friend who lives in Manchester, who was in London with a spare afternoon and hopeful of meeting up. Turns out he was but 5 minutes down the road from our #BloggersBash, which was by then winding up. Cue a stroll up the Caledonian Road and a top-up of caffeine and conversation in a quirky café piled high with books and magazines and boasting old cinema seats for chairs and packing crates in place of tables.  Shabby chic, or just plain shabby – I’m not sure, but it was perfectly pleasant.

All in all and exceptionally enjoyable day, and all the more surprising that it all took place in Central London which, as regular readers of this blog will know, is not my favourite place to be.

To all who came, it was a great pleasure to meet you and celebrate some top writerly bloggers. Blonde Lucy… thanks for the lovely boost you gave me about my guest post. And Dylan… It was a real joy and privilege to meet you in person at last. And I can’t wait to get stuck into that next Beta read!

Information Overwhelm and the Death of… Silence

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, news, Tweets, blogs, emails and updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

I read somewhere that the amount of information a person living in the Middle Ages had to digest in their whole lifetime, was about the same as is contained in one average modern daily newspaper. How anyone can deduce this, I’m not at all sure, but even if it is wildly inaccurate (and when are statistics ever wholly dependable?) it makes an interesting point.

Compared to our forbears, we are overwhelmed with information. It comes at us from every facet of life; TV, radio and the Internet, through flat screens, desktops and mobile devices. There’s a 24-hour news cycle; there are newspapers, headlines, highlights and sound bites; there are websites, data streams and news feeds, blogs, podcasts and emails; there’s Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and dozens of other social media channels.

That’s just the news and views – the keepy-uppy of contemporary culture. Add into the mix the battle to win our loyalty and sell, sell, sell, through advertising hoardings, posters and pop-ups, the ever increasing flood of promotional messages, ‘shares’, ‘likes’ and location-based offers, the ‘if you liked that, you’ll love this’ links, streams, trends and updates; all the time, the implied obligation to stay abreast of technology, celebrity, fashion, lifestyle and more… much, much more.

megaphone-150254_1280There’s so much noise; there are so many entities clamouring for our attention. But there are still only 24 hours in the day. So as we squeeze in more feeds, more news, more Tweets, blogs, emails and miscellaneous updates… what’s getting squeezed out?

Here’s what:

 

Quiet time…  Thinking time…  Silence…

 

 

[Humour me now.  Pause here… Stop reading for a moment. Close your eyes. Take a few silent breaths before you continue…]

 

My coffeeDo you remember those precious moments when all you would do was sit back and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee; no TV or radio blabbering in the background; not trying to keep up with your emails, or your Twitter lists, or your WordPress reader; not collating information from other people’s blogs or scouring the Internet for wise words or quirky pictures to ‘share’; not scratching your forehead for something to ‘update’ your Facebook friends about; not squeezing in a quick post because you haven’t done one for three days and you’re so afraid that people will forget you exist, de-friend or unfollow you – for the heinous crime of… inactivity.

But here’s the thing…

We’re all of us culpable. We’re victims of the tsunami of informational white noise and the clutter of surplus data and opinion. But we are perpetrators too. We who blog and Tweet and upload our thoughts, pictures or videos; we who comment and  debate on forums, upload articles to LinkedIn; we who scour the Internet for stuff to reblog, repost and re-Tweet. All of us – we’re part of the problem.

We’re all afraid that if we don’t participate, producing content, opinion (I’m aware of the irony here) and feedback, that we will be insignificant and unheard. Invisible. So we shout ever louder, trying to make our voices rise above the white noise. Only, everyone else is shouting louder too.

And writers have an even more acute need to be heard above the noise…

We write with the sole purpose of getting our words out there. We create a story – a novel, perhaps – and we naturally want to share it with people. We want to be read. And – joy of joys – the advance of technology has provided us with the most perfect platform. Words are our tools of choice, and the Internet is the home of words.

So we’re all out there now, struggling to be heard. We jump up and down with our hands high, shouting ‘notice me… please notice me’. We strive to be the most resourceful, the most humorous, the most contentious, the most candid, the most unique. We try just to have something, anything, to say, even when we have no idea what to write. And when that happens, we post about the fact that we have no idea what to write. (Yes, you’ve done it, I’ve done it…), and in posting about nothing, we steal two minutes of everyone’s precious time for no legitimate benefit.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

So we shout louder. We blog more often, we share more frequently, we Tweet dozens of times a day – for that is what the people whose voices shout the loudest of all say we should do. We post about our thoughts and moods; we upload photographs of what we had for dinner or how pretty the moon looked last night – just for something to say.

But just as we’re doing it, so is everyone. So we’re forced into a never-ending cycle of checking, checking and checking again. What’s happening on our feeds and readers, in our in trays, our profiles and our accounts? We don’t want to miss out, get left behind, miss something fascinating that we could share, find ourselves scrolling back down miles of streamed… stuff.

And still the volume of noise goes up and up.

I wonder sometimes if aliens came from far away, and a far more advanced civilisation, what would they think as they approached Planet Earth? As they swept across the vast, silent universe towards us, when would they begin to hear the first hiss and crackle of our feverish ‘conversations’? What would they think as they drew closer and the volume soared to deafening proportions? What would they make of the incessant babble and clamour, everybody shouting, and nobody listening very much? What would they think of a society that fills its precious time so relentlessly with that babble and clamour?

What would they make of people, who, in their thirst for engagement, leave so little time and space for the purity of silence, self-reflection and contemplation?

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[One more time now. Before you move on to the next… whatever… Stop reading. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and silently, and think for a few minutes of… nothing. Nothing at all.]

20 things to do when you don’t have a clue what to write for your next blog post

Winter Pansies 2

  1. Make a cup of coffee
  2. Phone a friend
  3. Compile your To Do list for next week
  4. Check Facebook, even though you hate Facebook and you hate yourself for checking Facebook
  5. Update your current reads on Goodreads
  6. Phone another friend
  7. Pay your bills online
  8. Pull a few unwanted clothes from your wardrobe for the charity shop bag
  9. Make another cup of coffee
  10. Order a replacement carpet protector for under your desk, because you’ve had just about enough of catching your chair on the splintered shreds of the old one
  11. Rate all the products you’ve recently purchased on Amazon
  12. Review your KDP and CreateSpace stats
  13. Clear out an old work folder and retrieve any pages printed on one side only for re-use
  14. Look through all the old pieces of writing you’ve already rejected a dozen times for material, and reject it all again
  15. Wash out the filters on your Dyson vacuum cleaner
  16. Top up your cloakroom soap dispenser
  17. Clean out the squishy vegetables and other time-expired produce from your fridge
  18. Make another cup of coffee
  19. Take a photograph of the winter pansies outside your kitchen window, which have lately appeared, despite the combined onslaughts of urban foxes and neighbourhood felines
  20. Write a list post comprising all the things you’ve been doing for the last three hours because you couldn’t think what to write for your blog.

Singled Out: Launch + One Month – Full Disclosure

singledout_kindle_656x1000pxA month ago my first novel, Singled Out, was published on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. Here’s how it’s gone since then…

I launched Singled Out on a largely unsuspecting world on 1st February 2015. Paperback and Kindle versions were priced at UK£8.49 and UK£2.99 (US$11.65 and US$4.60) respectively.

In the month since then, Singled Out has sold 66 copies, roughly 50% paperback and 50% Kindle e-book.

 I wasn’t sure what to expect and I’m not certain even now whether selling 66 copies of a debut self-published novel in the first four weeks is good, bad or indifferent.

One thing though; I believe I know – or know of – the majority of buyers. Many are friends and family, colleagues and clients, blogging buddies, neighbours, friends of friends and miscellaneous kind supporters and interested parties. To all of you, those I know, and those I don’t – I offer my deepest gratitude.

It’s been emotional

This last month I’ve been a bit all over the place. Other upsets and irritants have piled on top of what was always going to be an anxious time, fictionally speaking.

I’ve been surprised and touched, as several people I did not expect bought copies of Singled Out. I’ve also been overwhelmed by the kind words and largely positive feedback it’s received – both privately and through the first few 4-star and 5-star reviews which readers have been kind enough to post on Amazon and Goodreads.

But I’ve also felt as if I were sitting on the edge of a precipice, where one small nudge would send me toppling over.

A whisper of disillusionment

Like any debut author who has lately attempted to capture the interest of an agent and win that much sought-after representation, never mind the publishing deal, I can’t seem to escape the niggling whisper of disillusionment.

When it came to agent submissions, I tried, but I didn’t make the cut. I had hoped in vain that my novel was unique enough, well-written enough, compelling enough… And even though my rational brain understands the numbers game and the overwhelming odds against success, I cannot yet totally suppress my disappointment.

There are so many positives around taking ownership of your own destiny through self-publishing, and so many opportunities to capitalise upon. Things have changed and the agent/publishing deal route doesn’t have anything like as much to commend it as it used to. So why do I still feel like this?

I don’t know, but I do.

A sense of achievement

This is the other side of the scales. I do absolutely feel proud of my novel. I set out four years ago to see if I could perhaps, maybe pull together a half-decent piece of fiction. I didn’t know if I had enough imagination and creativity, or sufficient skill, for a novel-length story. I just wanted to give it a try. Four years and 90,000 words later, I had my answer.

The end result isn’t perfect – I’ve been learning all the way. But it’s a page-turning read (so say the reviews) and I am allowing myself to feel good about it. I was conscientious about the learning and the writing process and the many layers of editing; I love the cover design and I’m properly thrilled with the quality of the Createspace paperback. So there’s a satisfaction there, to temper the negatives, no doubt of it.

Stress, anxiety and fear – Gah!!

But here’s the stuff I didn’t expect – and it hit me like a bullet train. For the last month, I’ve felt spacey and nauseous. I’m waking a few times a night and seem unable to sleep beyond 5:00am. I’ve had back ache, neck ache, clusters of spots on my chin, palpitations and disturbed digestion.

Stress and anxiety symptoms; I know what they are, and I know they’ll pass sooner or later. They are the physical manifestation of my literary fears and worries… That people won’t buy my novel… that they will buy it but they won’t like it… that they’ll be bored by it… that they’ll be appalled by those odd moments that I’d intended to be gritty and edgy… that they’ll find a hundred typos… that I’ll only ever sell 66 copies… that it’s not good enough… that I’m not good enough… oh, and on, and on… Paranoia is a pathetic thing, isn’t it? Though I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this sense of my guts being reef-knotted and tugged upon, each day when I fail to resist the urge to check my CreateSpace reports, my KDP reports, my Amazon page, my Goodreads page, my Twitter feed, WordPress comments, Facebook page… Ugh.

What of the next 66 copies?

Sooner or later (more sooner than later, I fear) I’ll run out of ‘friendly’ buyers – by that, I mean those in my circle who will purchase a copy of Singled Out because they want to support and encourage the crazy author in their midst; or because they’re curious about the book I’ve been blamming on about these past four years. So it’s fair to assume the next 66 sales – and the 66 after that – may be a lot harder to come by.

I’m not yet sure what I’m going to do about those next 66 sales. I haven’t yet approached any independent reviewers. I’m going to continue playing in the blogosphere of course, but that’s because I enjoy it. Twitter taunts me – I don’t work it in the way that authors are urged to do, and I have to figure out where to go with this. I’m thinking about approaching some local bookshops, perhaps buying space at a local craft/artisan market, just to test the water. There’ll be a Goodreads promotion at some stage, maybe a campaign around holiday reading – I’d be stupid to let that opportunity pass me by, given the subject matter. There might be some paid-for advertising, but I’m not yet persuaded of its value.

One great thing about the way self-publishing works today is that the author is under relatively little financial pressure. Gone are the days when our garages would be piled to the ceiling with boxes of our treasured novels, a burdensome investment which must be sold for any profit to be realised. So I’ll be taking a steady-as-she-goes approach to marketing Singled Out, balancing these activities alongside my other work and the growing impetus I feel – heaven help me – to start writing the sequel.

One thing I’m certain of, and I’ve blogged it before here, is that I want to enjoy the marketing and promotion of Singled Out and that means not putting myself under undue pressure. So how long will it be before I see the next 66 sales?  I can’t rightly say, but if I make it in less than a month, I’ll let you know!

*  *  * 

Guess what! Singled Out is available to purchase on these and all other regional Amazon sites:

A light-bulb moment: I want to enjoy marketing Singled Out

So how relentless, determined, repetitive, insistent, drum-beating and dogged should I be?

2015-01-20 20.45.01I began writing fiction just over 4 years ago for pleasure. I’ve been writing for business for years, but I wanted to see if I had sufficient creative imagination and writing skills to craft a page-turning story, the length of a typical novel – somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I knew I had a lot to learn, so I attended courses and read how-to books and blogs. Whenever I came upon a challenge – creating characters not stereotypes, avoiding cliché, show-not-tell, learning to write dialogue, precision in description, creating tension and so on – I drafted and re-drafted and studied my way through it, learning all the time.

It’s had its moments, but it’s been rewarding and really, really FUN.

Now Singled Out is ready to launch on 1st February – all the boring background admin is done and everything’s ready on Amazon. I’m looking forward to seeing whether Singled Out finds favour with readers. And… I’m looking forward to getting going on book number two (broad concept, bit of an outline so far, but I’ve learned so much from writing book number one, that I just have to carry on).

But what about the task of marketing Singled Out?

I’m a marketer by profession. I’ve marketed Business-to-Business for years. Marketing a book to consumers/readers is different, but the principles are the same.

My pitch to clients on my marketing website has always been this: Before they buy from you, customers need to know who you are, understand what problems you solve and believe you’re the supplier best able to help them.

In book/reader terms, this would be: Before they buy your book, readers need to know who you are, understand what type of book you’re selling and believe that it’s likely to entertain them.

A blog goes a long way towards these goals. As an author your personality, character, writing skills and ability to engage are on show. Readers have a chance to feel connected, decide if they like you and the way you write – and what you write about. You’ll tell them about your writing, maybe tease with a few samples. They’ll share your challenges, dilemmas and adventures. They’ll feel connected with you in a way that was almost impossible before social media was invented.

From an author’s point of view, blogging is FUN. It’s wonderful to engage, share experiences, get conversations going and find that – amazingly – people all over the world are reading and subscribing. For me, blogging is the easiest and easily the most enjoyable aspect of marketing my book – it’s not a burden, it’s a pleasure. It’s also the most low-key and least in-your-face channel, which is another reason I like it best of all. You’re not pushing anything at people – they choose to come and read.

However… the general view is that as an indie author, if you want to sell more than a couple of dozen books, you’re going to have to work a lot harder at marketing. And here’s where I stumble.

I should know what to do to market my book – and, broadly speaking, I do. But I don’t actually want to DO most of it. Marketing is my work; writing fiction is my pleasure – but when it comes to marketing my fiction, this starts to feel perilously like… work.

So to my light-bulb moment; maybe it had something to do with the fact that whilst in Florida, I visited the Edison Ford Winter Estates in Ft Myers and found out all about the inventor of… the lightbulb. I don’t know. I’ve been saying for years that I envy those fortunate people who are earning a living from something they really, truly love doing. You know those people, the ones who say things like, ‘I feel so lucky that people actually pay me for doing this!’ I want to be one of those people, but only if readers give me permission, by buying my books. And until and unless I get to that earning a living space (somewhere in the far distant future perhaps?) I don’t want to spoil the joy, by putting myself under pressure to market my book according to anyone else’s productivity plan, programme or structure, and by doing things that feel laboured or inauthentic to me.

I’ve decided I don’t want to work at marketing Singled Out. I don’t ever want to get up in the morning and think, ‘oh, no, I’ve got to do… today’, to publicise my novel. I don’t ever want to not enjoy marketing my book. I’ve decided that if this means I don’t sell very many copies, I will live with this. I just want to have FUN with every aspect of writing fiction. However many copies people buy, whatever nice things (I hope!) they say about my story – all these are wonderful bonuses, unexpected rewards for simply doing something I’ve realised I love doing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure these programmes and their relentless approaches pay off. I just don’t think I would enjoy doing things that way.

So once Singled Out is launched, you won’t be seeing much of me on the book promo sites or Twitter feeds. I won’t be doing blog tours, or pressing people I don’t know for author interviews. That’s not to say I wouldn’t be delighted to do any author interviews – I would! I just don’t want to push for these things.

Nothing will make me happier than if people leave positive reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I will be beyond delighted if they recommend my book to their friends and colleagues and my sales grow through word-of-mouth. I’d be thrilled to be asked to guest post on other people’s blogs. I’d love to do interviews or readings, panels at events and anything like that – weirdly I actually enjoy that kind of thing. If anybody wants to feature Singled Out anywhere, the answer will more than likely be a resounding yes! It’s not that I want to keep Singled Out a secret. I just want to get on with writing the next book and not let the joy of this first experience be diluted by a job-list of activities that I don’t really want to do.

In life, I’m a rules girl. I follow the rules. I drive as much as possible within the speed limit, I do what I’m told, I colour inside the lines. But perhaps, now I’m approaching the not-so-tender age of 55, I can afford to kick-back on my compulsion to do what other people say I should, and just plough my own furrow, for good or bad.

What do you think?

Blogging for Clients – My Top Ten Practical Tips

wordpress-265132_1280As I strive for success as an author, my day job as a freelance marketer pays the bills, as it has done reliably for the last 13 years. Unsurprisingly, much of my work revolves around writing – material like websites, newsletters, brochures, articles, white papers and… blogs.

Several people have asked me how I go about blogging for clients, so I thought I’d share some practical tips. As I blog solely for Business to Business (B2B) clients, these tips refer to B2B blogging. Business to Consumer (B2C) blogging, such as, for example, for a retail outlet or a lifestyle service, has many similarities and the same processes will be helpful. But consumers may be seeking a more intimate/personal rather than corporate/professional experience from such a blog.

So, here we are, my practical tips for B2B blogging for clients:

  1. Understand your value: The biggest problem the small or medium-sized business has with a blog is… writing it. A blog is a hungry monster and that well-intentioned weekly post comes around very quickly. Not only that, but if your prospective client is not a confident writer, sitting down to pen a blog post feels a bit like a trip to the dentist – they’ll do anything to avoid it. Good news then. This is why outsourcing the blog is a very appealing prospect for many SME’s. You obviously have to be able to write – but your real value beyond this is that you keep the blogging engine turning over for your client, so they don’t have to.
  2. Get to know your client: Key to blogging successfully for a client is to acquire a good understanding of their business – what they do, who they sell to, why people buy from them, what kind of a company/brand they are, who their competition is – and their industry overall. Understand what’s important to your client, and to their clients or customers.
  3. Variety is the spice: You need to produce a variety of posts which are likely to interest the sort of people your client seeks to engage with. For B2B, this should include industry related stories (see below); news and information related to your client’s product or service offering, background on the company, teams, ethos, corporate social responsibility etc; updates on your client’s engagement and presence (attendance at events, industry awards, networking, partnerships and collaborations etc), thoughts and opinions on the state of the industry, regulations, trends, trading environment etc. You can inject humour and post occasionally on charity fun runs and ice bucket challenges, but keep the lighter stuff under control. You need variety, but don’t sacrifice relevance.
  4. Plan ahead: Weekly posts come round just as quickly for you as they do for your client. But it’s your job to keep them coming. I keep a spreadsheet for each client and I plan 4-6 weeks ahead with posts. Some write themselves quickly, but others require more research and take time to come together. I mark up when we need posts around seasonal topics or events like conferences and exhibitions. The spreadsheet helps me keep track of what topics I’ve covered, what posts are in progress, awaiting client approval, needing images etc. I include a brain-dump section, thoughts and ideas, web links and other stuff I don’t want to forget – material for future posts.
  5. Communicate: A regular touch-point with your client is a must. They’re not offloading their blog to you so they can forget about it. It’s a vital component of their marketing mix and their brand. I would suggest (ideally) weekly or (at least) fortnightly telephone or Skype sessions – 15-20 minutes maximum – to keep the whole show on the road. Worth mentioning here, you need to agree with your client what the process is for approval of your blog posts. Some clients will want to approve each post, where others will take a more relaxed approach. Personally, I prefer to gain client approval for all posts – at least until I’m confident that the messaging, tone etc is in line with their expectations. Even then, I will still request approval for certain types of post.
  6. Go digging: You need to be able to find the grain of a story in an item of industry or general news, then draft a post which conveys some aspect of your client’s ethos or expertise in the context of that news. So do your research. Subscribe to industry news feeds (Twitter is beyond brilliant for this), do your own Google/keyword searches and ‘train’ your client to tell you anything of particular note.
  7. First base only: You need to be subtle and have a light touch; your posts are not sales pitches, they are conversation starters. The purpose of the blog is to communicate your client’s personality and values, not push their products – that will turn readers off in droves. You want people to like your client and perceive a value in what they have to say – to the extent that they choose to read the posts, subscribe, or better still engage. That’s when they’ll start clicking through to your client’s website or picking up the phone.
  8. Stir it up: Go carefully with this until you know what your client is comfortable with, but your blog posts can and should be opinionated and even controversial. It’s emotion that engages people, far more than polish. However, this is not every client’s cup-of-tea, so proceed with caution.
  9. Cross-fertilise: A blog is all very well in isolation, but you can make posts work harder by cross-fertilising other social media channels, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and others. Your corporate posts could also find a more permanent home on your client’s website, or be used in newsletters. Encourage your client to broadcast the blog posts via their own social media profiles too, as well as corporate.  They should also include a link to the blog, or better still, the latest blog post, in their email footer. That way, they will increase the reach of the material and encourage engagement.
  10. Be flexible: As much as you plan ahead, your schedule will get bumped around. The beauty of a blog is that you can see something in the news in the morning, and have a blog post out covering your client’s angle on it by the afternoon. It’s not always like that, but sometimes the opportunity or the material is too good to pass over.

You’ll notice I’ve said nothing about SEO – search engine optimisation.  SEO is a science, even a black art, or at least, that’s what the SEO companies would have you believe. If your client feels strongly about getting smart with keywords and searchability, there are firms who will analyse the internet for them and advise them on the most productive phrasing to include for optimum searchability.

But for many SME’s it’s not rocket science to work out what the most commonly associated words and phrases would be.  Then you can include those most obvious key words and phrases within your blog posts wherever it’s appropriate – but not to excess.  Why? Because the more you try to work the SEO angle, the more stilted and desperate your writing can look.  Readers will come to your client’s blog because you write compelling copy on topics that are of interest to them, not because you repeatedly ram home a list of keywords. But that’s just my opinion and doubtless the fans of extreme SEO will disagree.  There you are, I’m being opinionated and controversial.

I know some people are more intense about blogging, but I suggest to my B2B clients that we aim for one meaty/serious (500+ word) post a week plus no more than a couple of short or quirky posts each month. Analysis has occasionally shown that longer posts (2,000+ words) are better (better in what way, I’m not entirely sure). But I believe if you’ve got something to say and you’re done in 500 words, you should not puff up a post for the fun of it. It disrespects your readers’ time. It’s easy to overwork a readership and, particularly in the case of B2B, one has to remember that readers have many claims on their time.

With a clearly defined brief around a fixed number of posts and a regular communication touchpoint, it’s perfectly feasable to arrive at a fixed fee for delivering a level of blogging activity geared to raising your client’s profile amongst their targeted audience, and enhancing their brand.

Writing courses: A different perspective

Nina MishkinFellow blogger Nina Mishkin had something important to say about my last post.

I love that people comment on my blog posts. I particularly like it when they either disagree with me, or have insights which open up the debate. I’ve received an especially interesting response to my previous post on courses, seminars and other learning opportunities open to novice writers. It’s worth sharing beyond the smaller community that might read comments on posts, so I thought I’d publish it as a post in its own right. It’s from a blogger I greatly admire, Nina Mishkin, who blogs at The Getting Old Blog. Here’s what she said:

In my view, it’s valuable to attend a seminar or two that features agents and publishers describing the process — and hurdles — confronting the would-be published author. It’s also valuable to learn something about self-publishing before setting a foot on that path. But as someone who has taught writing courses — both at the community college and university level — and has written professionally in many commercial genres, I am extremely cynical about the value to the quality of one’s writing of spending time in how-to courses, seminars, workshops and retreats. They may be enjoyable while you’re attending them, but you rarely come away with something you couldn’t find in a how-to book from the library. They consume time and distract you from spending your time actually writing.

The way to write well is to read well… all your life. Read extensively and intensively, with an eye to structure, dialogue, pacing. Note what’s omitted as well as what’s included. If you really enjoy something you’ve read, read it again. More than once. Take it apart in your mind (or in a notebook) to see how it was done. Then try to do it yourself. At first you will be a copy cat. And then you will internalize what you’ve learned; it will become second nature — in the self-editing if not in the first draft. There are many parasitic industries out there, feeding off perceived markets for learning “how.” With writing, the primary “how” is “do.” Sit down every day and do it. And keep reading.

Other people’s blogs are also helpful, principally for the encouragement they offer that you’re not slogging away alone. Blogs by would-be writers who are clearly bad writers are also instructive, in another way. (“That’s awful. Have I been doing something like that? I’d better stop it, right now!”)

Sorry if I’ve stirred up a nest of worms here. I do understand that it may be extremely gratifying to spend, spend, spend on the “products” Julie has so well described. But the spenders should be entirely clear that they are only toeing the sand, not writing.

And, in case you’re interested, here’s my reply:

Nina, this is such an interesting – and well informed – perspective, thank you! I’ve enjoyed the writing courses I’ve participated in – three one-week courses in total. But the value for me has come in many different ways. I have learned, or reinforced, certain technical skills, but that’s perhaps the least of the experience. I’ve also been made to think differently about character and structure. Thence to the wider benefits: I’ve met authors and learned from their insights and experience; I’ve met other people with ambitions to write – and made very special friendships; I’ve built the confidence to try writing in the first place, and keep going when I thought I was losing my way, and I’ve tapped into an imagination I never realised I had. Those are the real benefits. Technique, as you rightly observe, can come from books – both ‘how to’ books, and the simple act of devouring and analysing as much good fiction as you can.

I wasn’t encouraging people to spend, spend, spend on writerly learning – only throwing light on the many available ‘products’. They do help you to think like a writer, but quality is variable and one must tread carefully to obtain good value. It’s easy to take refuge in the excuse that one still has more to learn, rather than to just get on and write, and learn by experience.

I hope you don’t mind, but I think so much of your comment, that I’d like to copy it into a full post – it deserves not to be missed.

We need to talk about… Sex

Note on a tree in a forestBlogging is generally good fun, but with so many blogs seeking an audience it can, even on a good day, be likened to pinning a note to a tree in a forest.  And if that’s the case, then posting on a Friday afternoon is like writing that note in invisible ink. Whatever the world at large was getting up to on Friday afternoon (and the sunny Saturday and Sunday that followed for that matter), you weren’t reading blog posts, were you?

Yes, I committed a social media faux pas when I posted my latest blog last Friday afternoon.  It was the one headed Precision detail in a novel – not just any place but this place about how I used notes and photographs to help me recall places and senses and inject precision detail into my writing.  I’ve been trying different days and times for posting and last week I plumbed the depths – a Friday afternoon ahead of a weekend that teased (the UK at least) with the promise of a little sunshine. Not only that, but I might allow that it wasn’t the most compelling of posts – interesting for some, but hardly challenging, contentious or amusing in the way a properly engaging blog post needs to be.   A double-whammy, for sure. I’m sorry, ok. Mea culpa and all that.

So last Friday afternoon it hit the water with a barely perceptible splash, before sinking without trace over the weekend, with hits in numbingly modest numbers and just one kind soul commenting; a dead body of a post, leaden and dull. Yesterday’s thoughts already half a mile down your blog reader, never to surface.

A few weeks ago, I penned a post on the challenges of writing sex into stories (Marmite Moments: Writing good sex). Strangely (who knew?), it was my most read and commented post of the last year. To be fair, a substantial dose of the credit for that is due to WordPress for offering me a second slot on Freshly Pressed – thanks, Ben! But it did get a few people going and it garnered some great comments and a whole host of new bloggers to connect with – and after all, that’s what makes blogging fun, isn’t it?

So clearly, I need to go back to writing about Marmite.

Or maybe… Sex.

That’s it. Not Marmite. Sex.

So I’ll see what I can do over the next few days, and I’ll be back soon with something to get properly hot around the collar, as it were, about.  Don’t get too excited though – this is still a blog about writing, not a blog about sex. But with the creative juices flowing, I imagine I can find a way to slip in a few sneakily salacious musings.

All in the best possible taste, of course.