Tag Archives: writing

The wonderful, awful business of being an author

8 Sep

As I obviously have oodles of time on my hands, trying to finish a novel (The Sarcophagus Scroll) while simultaneously preparing a non-fiction book for publication (Why Everything You Know about Robin Hood is Wrong), this must be the perfect time to host a question-and-answer time on AMAfeed (Ask Me Anything).

Anyway, whether I am superhuman, or thrive on challenge, or am simply mad, I have scheduled the Ask Me Anything for Tuesday 11th September at 2.30pm, UK time. You can post your questions before then (and I can answer them), but they won’t show up until Tuesday afternoon.

If you know anyone who’s curious about the business of writing professionally, encourage them to pose a question for me. If it throws up anything interesting, I may post the link again once the Q&A has closed.

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The Five Deadly Sins of Writers on Twitter

10 Feb

Before we get into this, I’d better be upfront: I joined Twitter because I am an author, and apparently it’s one of the absolutely essential things you have to do. Tweets drive traffic to your website and, so the theory goes, that increases sales of your books. I’ve yet to see the proof of this, but I stay on Twitter anyway because, annoying as it often is, it’s good for up-to-the-minute news, it’s sometimes funny, and you should see how much faster companies work to sort out your customer service queries when the details are on the web for everyone to see.

However, as a writer on Twitter I’ve become aware of the ways in which writers abuse this extremely abusable medium in a variety of irritating ways, so I thought I would have a little moan about it (which, naturally will increase sales of my books. Hmm.). Here are the five commandments for writers using Twitter.

bull horn

1) Don’t tweet about your book all the time.
I know that’s the reason you joined Twitter, but this isn’t a billboard or a TV screen for you to advertise on. It is, in a loose sense, a community. People follow you because they are interested in at least some of what you have to say. If the only thing you have to say is “Buy my product, buy my product!” they will very soon get tired and stop following you.

That’s not to say you can’t mention your wares at all, but keep a strict limit on it – one every ten tweets, say, or once every five if you absolutely must. In between times, find interesting things to say. If you can’t do that, the question is not “why are you on Twitter?” but “why are you a writer?”

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

2) Don’t only follow authors.

And don’t mainly follow authors, and especially don’t follow authors just because they’re authors. Yes, it might be nice to share the joys and sorrows of your profession with like-minded souls, but that’s not why you’re following them, is it? You’re following them because they’ll probably follow you back. And so they will, because they’ve read the same advice you have about building up your Twitter following to drive traffic etc. etc.

The problem with this logic is that they are not interested in your books! They are not going to buy them! They just want you to buy theirs. Do you plan on buying even one book from each author you follow on Twitter? No? Well use a bit of that writerly empathy to understand that the same applies in reverse, and stop trying to sell coal to coal miners.

BSZpsnx3) Don’t offer a follow for a follow or a like for a like.

For the same reason that you shouldn’t follow authors, hoping they’ll follow you back, please don’t say “follow me, I always follow back!” or “like my author page and I’ll like yours!” Anyone who follows you just to get followed, or likes your page just to get liked, is probably not really going to engage with your tweets or your webpage, and is almost certainly not going to buy your books.

It’s worse than that, though. To my mind, this kind of self-interested mutual back slapping is meaningless, pointless and vaguely incestuous. It’s also a little dishonest – a step down the road towards giving each other reciprocal positive reviews, regardless of what you thought of the book. Yes, you might get fewer page likes and follows if you refuse to play this game, but as we used to say on Team Starfish, “at least we kept our integrity.”

hard-sell-confused.com-0074) Don’t begin a relationship with a sales pitch.

If someone follows you on Twitter it’s nice to say “thanks for the follow” and it’s also nice to comment on some interest you may share. It’s not nice to say “Buy my book!”, “Visit my website!” or “Love me, love me, love me!”

Yes, I know that’s what you want in the long term, but take things at a steady pace and read the signals, ok? Think of it like meeting that special someone for the first time: it’s probably better to begin with “Nice to meet you” than to go straight in with “How many kids should we have?”

father ted5) Don’t give us the gory details.

This last one probably only applies to the writers of erotica, horror and especially gritty thrillers. You want to entice the inhabitants of Twitter to read your new masterpiece, so you give a short summary, and what better to include in those few characters than the most shocking and titillating bits?

Well, anything really. Twitter is public. Your followers may see it (although they may well not, but Twitter algorithms are a topic for another day) but so may anyone else in the whole Twittersphere. People with weak stomachs. People who’ve had traumatic experiences. People with strong moral views.

Although our culture sometimes seems saturated with violence and sex to the point where it’s no more shocking than a PG Tips advert, there are still plenty of people who don’t want to get wet. And don’t forget that, despite the popularity of things like Fifty Shades of Grey, there are still people who see erotica as being just as morally reprehensible as porn.

It’s entirely possible to provide a pretty good impression of what sort of book you’re plugging without giving it both barrels. Save that for your own website, where you’re likely to get a self-selecting bunch of people who actually like that kind of thing. In advertising your wares graphically on Twitter, you’re not gaining new readers so much as alienating potential followers.

And who knows, maybe followers are good for something other than buying our books? Maybe they have value in themselves as human beings. A radical thought, but one that, if embraced, might make us all more pleasant and charismatic members of the Twittersphere.

(By the way, if you do want to follow me on Twitter, for reasons other than sins #1 and #2, my handle is @kcmurdarasi.)

Why I am a writer, not an entrepreneur

5 Jan

This was going to be a post on Twitter, before I realised that I could never fit it into 140 characters. It was Twitter that kicked off this chain of slightly irritated thought, because it always seems to be full of advice for writers along the lines of “write for the market” and “think like an entrepreneur”. This, it seems, is the way to make it big as a writer. And maybe it is. I don’t know, and I probably never will know, because I can’t see myself ever following such advice.

“Many writers balk at this” said a recent article, telling authors that they should think like startup entrepreneurs trying to break into a crowded marketplace. Yup, definitely baulked – in fact, I felt my head draw away from the screen in a physical expression of how unpalatable I found that advice. You see, being an entrepreneur and breaking into a crowded marketplace doesn’t interest me at all. Here are a couple of other things that don’t interest me much: crime fiction and romantic fiction. Just not my cup of tea, generally speaking, but they dominate the bestsellers list. Therefore, as a good businesswoman, I should be writing them. Except clearly I shouldn’t because:

1) I wouldn’t enjoy writing them, and if you don’t enjoy what you do for a living, that’s a serious problem.

2) They wouldn’t be very good precisely because I’m not very interested in them and don’t enjoy writing them.

3) There are really enough of them out there already (in my opinion).

4) I have other things I want to write, that I actually care about, and that I would be prevented from writing if I just wrote the “marketable” stuff.

There’s a fifth reason that actually has nothing to do with my personal preferences, but springs from my experience as a writer:

5) You can’t actually tell what’s going to be successful and saleable.

I have sold stories that I didn’t think had much of a chance of finding a market, and I am still sitting on what seem to me much more saleable stories. Maybe this shows how bad an entrepreneur I am, without a decent understanding of my market, but I don’t think so. I think in the creative arts (yes, however humble, it’s an art) you just can’t tell what’s going to fly and what’s going to crash. I’m working on a novel at the moment about twins separated by civil war in ancient Rome. Maybe it will be amazingly successful and be translated into 50 languages, or maybe it will gather electronic dust inside my computer, but I have to write it because the characters are asking to have their story written, and no one else will write it if I don’t.

I don’t mean to insult writers who can produce dozens of popular, successful genre novels. If I enjoyed it, I would love to make a living out of producing a potboiler every year. I’m also not saying that writers (or other artists) should stick entirely to what they’re comfortable with. Some of my best work is produced when working to tight requirements or unusual limitations, for example when writing for competitions with a strict theme. It sharpens your creativity when you don’t have free rein in every area. But when you discover that you don’t like a certain genre or type of writing, and you’re not very good at it, I don’t think it’s good advice at all to continue writing that kind of stuff because it’s what the market demands.

If I wanted to make myself miserable for money, I would give up writing and get a proper job.