Coming to Twerms with Twitter

As a would-be author and freelancer without a limitless supply of spare time, how on earth do I cut through the noise and make the most of Twitter?

tweet-150421_1280I’ll lay my cards on the table; I think Twitter is a monster of epic proportions.

I’ve tried to get to grips with Twitter for the last two or three years. I’ve listened into webinars, I’ve read blogs and I’ve watched videos; I’ve downloaded a dozen pdf e-books claiming things like 5-steps to Twitter Mastery, 10 Ways to Triumph over Twitter and so on; I’ve perused introduction-to’s and how-to’s and papers on the ethics of Twitter, the rules of Twitter and Twitter best practise; I’ve found out how often you’re supposed to Tweet and how many off-topic Tweets you can get away with and how you should thank people who re-Tweet you; and I’ve debated the wisdom of following thousands of people simply so they follow you back – even though nobody, nobody could possibly actually read thousands of people’s Tweets every day.

But I confess, after all this, I still haven’t tamed this yabbering monster in any meaningful way. I haven’t made friends with Twitter, I don’t have time to feed Twitter, and resent the white noise which streams from Twitter, day in and day out.

I know somewhere in there, there are gems and usefuls; links to fascinating blogs, tips and insights, information I’d struggle to access in any other way. I get it! But it’s like sifting a barrel of yellow sand to find a handful of white grains. I lose the will.

I know I’m missing a trick. I know I should do Twitter properly – for two very important reasons:

  1. I’m a writer – and a realist. I know I’m more likely to self-publish than be published in the conventional press. I don’t expect to enjoy the benefits of a corporate publicity engine, so Twitter is supposed to be a great platform for me and I’m supposed to embrace it. I’ve made a start, but it’s a stuttering, lacklustre one.
  2. I’m a professional freelance marketer. So it’s my job to understand Twitter and promote the opportunities it affords my clients to spread their message further and wider. And I do, I do. I know it has much to offer certain types of business. I can set my personal feelings aside and open their eyes to the benefits, even show them how to get started and build their presence. But I’m no advocate; on a personal level I don’t feel the Twitter love.

It’s this dual-personality that’s giving me the most problems. I can’t decide who I am on Twitter, and I think I should probably be two completely separate people. But how do I achieve this? I have a mixed following now, and I’m not sure how to go about splitting myself apart.

A while ago, I decided to commit to using Twitter for Writing Julie only. For a while this worked just fine. I unfollowed a few of the marketing related feeds I’d been tracking. Instead I added agents, publishing houses, writers and bookshops to my follows. I re-Tweeted my writerly blog posts. When other writers followed me I occasionally followed them back – but not always, because that’s how you end up with thousands of followers and follows and I was, and still am, resistant to this approach.

But then Marketing Julie started to creep back in. I began to use Twitter to keep track of feeds for a couple of my clients and, guess what? People I followed, followed me back. Imagine! Not only that, but I’d like to re-Tweet to help build my clients’ profiles and it’s a bit confusing, not to say pointless, to do this to a follower list which is perhaps 75% writerly.

So now I’m stuck and perplexed. I know I need to make some changes, to tame my two-headed beast. If I only felt the slightest love for Twitter, I’d be excited about this. Instead, I’m dragging my heels, big-time.

I think – although I’d appreciate any advice you have on this – I need two Twitter identities, one marketing and one writerly. But how do I separate out my followers and persuade perhaps half of them to migrate? Do I just abandon them and re-follow on another identity, hoping they’ll all jump on-board again? Or is there an easy way to do this? I bet there isn’t!

Then there’s the issue of devising a Twitter strategy, or rather, TWO Twitter strategies. Because I’m a marketer, and strategies is what we do.

I also need to decide whether I follow the few or the many – given that if I follow the many I’ll almost certainly be wilfully ignoring the majority of them. It feels like a nonsensical approach, with little value for anyone. Yet everyone’s doing it, which makes for a crazy, noisy world. So should I go along with it and add to the noise?

I just don’t know.

I’d really like to hear from you about your personal Twitter experiences. I want to love Twitter, so please share any positive stories you have. If you’ve found a workable approach to Twitter, please share that too. If you’ve created two Twitter identities for two aspects of your life, tell us how you make it work. What tools do you use, and how do you use them? If anything amazing or inspiring has come out of your presence on Twitter, inspire us in turn.

I genuinely want to tame this monster and I don’t know where to start.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

acorns-57305_1280I thought this Twitter exchange from teatime yesterday might amuse. It just goes to show that (i) as a writer with unrealised ambitions, it’s all too easy to become twisted and cynical about agents and publishers and (ii) plot ideas can pop up anywhere.

(If you’re on a reader, click here to see the full post.)

By the way, if you’re new to my blog and you don’t know Dylan, check out his blog – and his compelling dystopian political thriller Second Chance here.

Twitter Conversation Dylan and Julie 3

Thanks, but no thanks

I received two more email rejections of my SINGLED OUT submission this week.

thumbs downAs always, both literary agencies let me down gently and politely – but both were clearly standard format replies this time. One gets to tell the difference between the standard thanks but no thanks emails and the ones where someone has taken the trouble to insert a personal line or two. You can’t expect it, but it’s nice – even in a rejection – when someone adds a personal touch.

One of my standard email rejections advised:

“We receive over 300 manuscripts a week and can only take on a handful of new writers every year. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently.”

Over 300 manuscripts a week!

I think SINGLED OUT is a solid piece of work – it’s an original setting with distinctive characters and, even if I say so myself, a pretty decent plot. It’s gripping and grizzly in parts and laid-back and sunny in other parts. Perhaps that’s a fault, but if it is, no one has yet homed in on it. It’s not perfect, but that’s because it’s my first attempt at a novel. It’s as good as my (lack of) experience can make it, and I imagine I’ll find I can do better with subsequent manuscripts, given how much I’ve learned through writing this one.

The question for me is, is it good enough to rise to the top of a pile of 300 manuscripts in one week, let alone an annual pile of over 15,000 manuscripts. Is SINGLED OUT good enough, original enough, compelling enough, well-written enough… to rise to the top 5 or 6 in a pile of, what… 15,000 on any literary agent’s desk? Even I have to admit, this seems slightly more unlikely than winning the lottery jackpot whilst being simultaneously struck by lightning – and a meteorite.

I’ve blogged before here about whether I should simply chalk it up to experience and bottom-drawer SINGLED OUT before moving on to the next. But with so many other options available to today’s authors, struggling for recognition through traditional publishing avenues, would it be a waste, simply to bury it?

In truth, I’m coming round to the idea of self-publishing…

How can this be?

Synopsis crisis 1Submissions to agents require that you send a sample of your novel.  Typically this is described as sample chapters (usually three) or 10,000 words.  Often you’re told to conclude your sample at a sensible end point, rather than get too hung up on precise word-count.

My novel, Singled Out, is divided into eight days (a one week holiday, see?).  Each day is divided into between 8 and 12 individual segments, each segment written from the point of view (POV) of one of three main characters.  I realise a day in this construction is too long to count as a chapter, but the individual segments are also too short.  Day One is around 12,000 words and to my mind marks a sensible end point – so that’s what I’ve been sending as my sample.  I figure if I’ve failed to excite an agent, it will be well before that 12,000 word mark and they’ll simply not read to the end.  If I’ve excited them, a few extra words are unlikely to put them off.  Hopefully.

However… one of the agents I’m currently keen to tempt with Singled Out specifies three chapters as the sample length, but then goes on to make the point that this limit should be strictly adhered to.  So yesterday, I was reviewing my sample document, to create a shorter version for this particular submission.

And on the first page – the very first page – I found a typo.

I know why this is.  This particular section has been in the past tense, then in the present tense, then in the past tense again (and perhaps even back and forth another couple of times – I forget). Somewhere in the transition from ‘He chose’ through ‘He chooses’ and back to ‘He chose’ again, I left a verb in the wrong tense.

I could have wept.

It seemed prudent, after approximately 20 minutes of swearing, cursing, throwing stuff around, stomping, stamping and kicking the cat (I lie – I don’t have one), to use the opportunity to review the whole sample segment, just in case anything else had slipped through in those first 10,000 words.  So I read it very, very slowly.  I found a few dozen more words I could do without, which was a plus.

But then I found another typo.

The error was not in a word, but in its absence – it was a missing word.  I’d probably read right through that invisible word two or three dozen times, failing and failing again, to notice its nonexistence.

Just in case you’re wondering how I’m dealing with this catastrophe of care and diligence, here it is. Yesterday evening I prowled my kitchen for comfort food. There wasn’t much, because I’m being very good lately; vegetables don’t even nearly qualify.  I managed to find three Rich Tea biscuits (stale), which I covered in butter and the dregs from a bottle of salted caramel sauce (Christmas leftover).  Thence to a restive night – I gave in to the TV and a repeat of The Jeremy Kyle Show at 5:15am. Today finds me curled up on the armchair in the corner of my office, rocking from side to side, cuddling a cushion and snivelling into a Kleenex.  It’s too early for alcohol, but I fear this may feature as the day advances.

By the way – there’s a lesson.  Now I understand what people mean when they say the final level of edit should actually be to read your novel backwards, word, by word, by word.

So am I a writer? (Part Two – the question of success)

writingmagcard0001Back in August 2011, I asked the question, ‘So am I a writer?’ here. That was when nobody – nobody at all – was reading my blog. I had scrawled the first (catastrophically rough as it now turns out) 45,000 words of my first ever first draft and written 3 unremarkable short stories, one of which has, astonishingly, been published.

Today, I have produced the completed manuscript of my first novel – that’s 97,000 words give or take – and I have the firm intention to get it out there one way or another.

In the intervening months whilst writing, editing and doggedly refining Singled Out, I’ve continued to earn my living as a business copywriter and marketer.  I deliver blog posts for my clients (for which I am paid); I deliver short promotional vignettes for my clients (for which I am paid); and I deliver a slew of output around sales propositions, products, thought leadership and product/service promotion (for which… yes… you got it). So I will, thank you very much, define myself, however cautiously, as ‘a writer’.   I write, therefore I am… a writer.

Moving on from this, today, a fellow blogger Eli Glasman at his fascinating blog here, gave me pause for thought on defining success or failure as a writer.  It gave me cause to reflect on whether I am – or ever will be – a successful writer.

Here were my thoughts on the matter, commenting on Eli’s blog:

What makes you or I a successful writer? Is it enough simply to write until something – anything – is complete? Must one produce multiple stories, or a novel, or more than one novel? Is it enough that your friends and family love what you write? Is it sufficient to self-publish? Or to be published by an independent? Or do you need the credibility of a mainstream publisher? Do you need sales in the several thousands to consider yourself successful? Do you need an occasional royalty cheque, payment for the odd short story? Is it enough to earn something – anything – from your writing? Or a proportion of your income – one-third, half perhaps? Do you need to be able to live on your writing income? Do you need to be an in-demand speaker at literary events? Would you have to have a place on the bestseller lists? Or a prize – Booker, Costa perhaps? Where does it end?

If you’re one of my writerly blog followers, have you ever considered what would make you classify yourself as a successful writer?  It’s a wholly subjective question.  And the inevitable follow-on question is this: If one isn’t – perhaps by one’s own definition – successful, does that mean one is an unsuccessful or even, heaven forfend, a failed writer?

I don’t believe so.  I might be successful on one level as my freelance work, which is largely writing, supports me.  On another level – in the field of fiction – I can’t own the word successfulYET.

I’m going to brand that perspective on the matter ‘success-in-waiting’.

What’s my genre?

Notebook 03

One of the things I struggled with when preparing the framework text for query letters/emails, was genre.  I’m a marketer in my current day job, so I understand perfectly well why it’s helpful for agents and publishers to be able to classify a book according to what category or categories it falls within.  Amongst other things, genre (and, by the way, sub-genre and sub-sub-genre) will point to a likely audience, set expectations as to the content and style, and drive decisions on cover design, marketing and promotion.

Knowing your genre means you can pinpoint authors whose books bear similarities to your own – although whether you indicate same to agents in your submission material is a matter of fierce debate here and there on the interweb.  Either (i) do it because it helps the agent figure out where you might sit in their talent stable or (ii) don’t do it because it makes you seem cocky and pretentious and you should let them be the judge. No help there then.

Inevitably for every mainstream genre, there are gazillions of sub-genres, and sub-sub genres, and it’s up to you how far you navigate the tributaries, to arrive at a label which adequately categorises the novel you’re writing.

What follows here is not some great rambling on the whys and wherefores of genre – if you’re looking for guidance in categorising your own writing, Google is your friend.  There is already more help out there than you can possibly need in an entire literary lifetime.  This is about me and my genre, and how I got there.

The first issue was the question of literary vs commercial.  Commercial books – apparently – sell in large volumes to an audience which may not be sufficiently discerning – apparently – to mind that books in this category may – apparently – not be all that well written.  In commercial fiction – apparently – the plot is the only thing that matters. Everything else (characterisation, setting, sensory detail, realistic dialogue, linguistic style, grammar…) is inconsequential relative to the plot.  It may therefore have been thrown together and served up as a literary and linguistic dog’s dinner – and – apparently – nobody minds.

Literary fiction, on the other hand, is all about the quality of the writing, and how poetic, evocative or mesmerising it is.  And the plot?  Who needs plotting when the writing, line by line, word by beautiful, witty, well-chosen word, is such a sublime joy to read.  Apparently.

For those of us who fall somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous (no, I’m not getting drawn on which is which, thank you very much) there is a wealth of options for that first level categorisation, amongst which Quality Commercial, Mainstream Literary, Literary-Commercial Crossover, Book Club, or even more specifically, ‘Richard & Judy’, and my personal bête noir, LitLite.

I vacillate between Quality Commercial and Book Club for Singled Out.  Books which end up on book club reading lists tend to offer plenty of scope for discussion around moral dilemmas, character qualities or shortcomings and so on – and I like that.  And Quality Commercial?  I don’t see what’s wrong with cherishing the vision that I’ve written something which might be simultaneously popular/saleable and well-written.  An agent or publisher will probably put me straight one of these days.

Next, there’s the subject and content of the story.  At the high level, is it a romance or a thriller?  Is it science fiction or magic realism, chic-lit or crime?  Is it humorous or historical, fantasy or satire, politics or parody? Is it erotic, domestic or dynastic?  And… breathe.  Yes, if you’ve looked into this, you’ll realise as I did, there are myriad ways to slice-and-dice for genre.  There’s a crime in my story, but it’s not, technically speaking, a crime novel – there’s no mystery (well, not much mystery) and no police (ah, almost no police).  There is a little romance and an erotic moment or two (no sniggering at the back please), but not enough to make it a romance and certainly not enough to position it on the same shelf as Fifty Shades of Naughty.

Having read several (too many?) blog posts and articles, I think I’ve got there.  The genre I’ve concluded best fits Singled Out is Psychological Suspense. Theoretically this is a crime fiction sub-genre – but that’s as close as it’s going to get to crime.

The elements which characterise psychological suspense include the following:

  • Psychological suspense may use crime as a pretext for investigating psyche and personality, but the story is about the context of the crime, rather than the crime itself.
  • There’s often no mystery as to who committed the crime – what psychological suspense is interested in is not whodunnit, but whydunnit.
  • Psychological suspense is about the mind of a criminal – and the other people involved.  There will be insights, observations and reflection, from all sides of the house.
  • Psychological suspense stories are often told from multiple points of view – from inside the minds of protagonist and antagonist alike.
  • The overarching mood is one of dread or malignity – a sustained suspense embedded with moments of heightened tension, rather than a build-up to one massive peak.
  • Psychological suspense stories often feature psychologically damaged central characters such as sociopaths, or people with weaknesses, phobias, a tragic past, the weight of guilt or shame bearing down.
  • The reader can see what’s happening before it happens – they watch, seemingly helpless.  I liken it to the reader banging soundlessly on a window, trying to attract the attention of a character, who walks innocently towards some terrible scenario or event, content in the company of the person the reader knows to be dangerous.
  • Interestingly, psychological suspense is often ambivalent when it comes to ethics and justice.  There are moral ambiguities, few happy endings or easy solutions; and the baddies don’t always get what they deserve.

I’m fascinated by stories like this – they’re the ones I go to when I’m looking for a good read, and so it felt good to be writing one, even though it’s not what I set out to write.  I started out to pen a wry dissection of the comings and goings on a singles holiday. But when I realised this amounted to not very much and would bore a readership to tears, the landscape shifted.  And that’s when I begun to learn how much I loved writing about bad stuff happening and dark, damaged psyches.

Hey ho, happy days.

It’s nothing personal

White rabbitFor those amongst my lovely readership who are following my search for an agent… I received my first rejection email today.

It was clearly a standard rejection email, but for that, it was courteous and kind and it urged me not to be discouraged. In a bizarre way, I was actually quite pleased to receive it, as it broke my duck in terms of agency rejection. Now I know how it feels. What’s more, if they’re all like this one, it won’t hurt a bit. Well, maybe just a bit – but not much. Also it was a pleasant surprise to receive an email, as one is often advised simply to draw a conclusion of rejection, as in, if you haven’t heard from us in X weeks, we’re not interested.

Rejection is an unwelcome visitor, returning time and again in life. It introduces itself in in the playground, where friendships are fluid and children can be unintentionally cruel. It rears its head at the school disco, where everyone except you seems to get a last dance and you feel the sting of being looked right through, as if you’re transparent, in pursuit of a prettier model.

For several painfully pubescent years, rejection is a constant companion. It’s all boys, boys, boys, with their dismissive see you around, or worse still, the casual I’ll call you, ahead of the anxious three week wait and the phone that never rings. Harder to bear today, I imagine, with ever-on phones in pockets. At least back then, we could convince ourselves that we must have missed the call during those few occasional minutes when we moved beyond earshot of the phone in the hall, or when our mothers or siblings so inconsiderately monopolised the dreaded device. And what about the acid-tongued adolescent rejection – the one that brands you as frigid, inadequate or repressed, because you won’t do what all the other girls will, round the back of the bike-sheds?

Then comes work, and rejection sticks its head around the door again. In the 80’s, an era of full employment, I confess I don’t recall much in the way of rejection as I progressed through a succession of secretarial posts. But I do remember I was neither sufficiently cutting-edge, nor sufficiently waif-like, for a position at uber-trendy Virgin Records – one of relatively few knock-backs I was forced to swallow in my early career.

It was when I moved into IT Sales, that rejection and I became regular bedfellows. Here’s where you learn to lean on the platitude that it’s not personal – that the people to whom you’re trying to sell your impossibly complex technology are not rejecting you; they’re rejecting the impossibly complex technology. That thought doesn’t halt the torrent of negative reflection and self-criticism however; because if only you’d seen one more manager, made one more presentation, found the answer to one more tricky technical question, brought one more expert over from the States, put one more tick in one more box… it could all have gone your way, not the way of your competition, who, as everyone knows, are a load of amateurs flogging a box of old rubbish – aren’t they?

When it comes to redundancy, rejection has its feet firmly under the table. You’re supposed to appreciate that it’s not you that’s redundant, it’s your position… But that’s no help as you carry your cardboard box to the lift lobby and everyone on your floor contrives to be in the toilets or out running errands as you stutter your goodbyes through gritted teeth. Two redundancies for me – about par for the course these days.

Now I’m self-employed and rejection, when it comes calling – which, thankfully, isn’t often – is a gentler and more subtle guest; a display of interest or enthusiasm that isn’t followed through, for example; a polite, sorry, but we’re not quite ready to go ahead with this. It’s a kinder world I inhabit these days, and I’m glad of it.

One last place where rejection elbows its way in; I played around with internet dating for a couple of years. Here, I dished out as much rejection as I received in this plenty more fish in the sea environment. Snap judgements were the order of the day – on an ill-judged profile picture, a stuffy turn of phrase, an interest in football, the presence of a dog, the absence of ambition or the inability to string a few words into a sentence. Yes, I get it; maybe there’s a message here. Perhaps the whole agent/rejection thing is set to dish me out a bit of karma.

That said, no would-be novelist goes into the business of writing, blind to the possibility – nay, likelihood – of rejection. It’s a numbers game and there are more writers seeking to be published than there will ever be agents seeking to represent them, by a mind-boggling margin. Rejection is a fact of literary life, and I shall embrace it and take encouragement from something a dear writerly friend has just shared with me: Only real writers get rejections.