Saturday, September 8, 2012

Things everyone should know (in no particular order)...

Committing to be a writer is a bit like starting a family - you don't appreciate the hard work involved until it is too late to turn back. The good thing with both is that the hard work is worth it and not so much like hard work if you are enjoying yourself. Of course there are times when it is just hard work and nothing else and you think the stress of the job may kill you. But, like countless other parents/writers before you, it doesn't kill you and you get some happy, shiny, smiley moments which make up for the cold-sweat, heart-in-mouth moments. Even though its hard work I'd rather be writing (and parenting) than anything else. Good times.

My most recent writery task has been helping the publisher put a map together for the new book. I have been poring over maps and cross checking historical place names and plotting locations and agonising over whether it should be Uzbekhistan, Uzbekhskaya or Uzbekh SSR in 1939. My advice to you dear reader is to never write about a real place during the first 50 years of the 20th century in Central Europe. Write about a fantasy place - the map will be a lot easier.

I have been thinking some more on social media. A while back I lamented that social media was not the automatic fountain of popularity, fame/notoriety and sales success that some would have us believe (you can buy that instead for 29.99 in three glorious colours at The Warehouse). Getting noticed by anybody is really one of the greatest challenges for writers and illustrators everywhere. Social media isn't a magic bullet. And it can be a big time suck. But better to have a presence than not I think. Social media is everywhere and millions of people use it, yet it is still a small percentage of all of those attempting to get noticed that actually succeed. Yet I want to be there if someone wants to find me, or mine is exactly the kind of book they are looking for. I thought I would share some of my observations as part of the social media audience (a consumer rather than a producer) on what I think works/helps.

1) don't try too hard. Relax. If you are a writer you are most likely a reader as well. Appeal to the reader in yourself. And do it because you want to.
2) don't hard sell. If you do nothing but try and sell your product I will go elsewhere to find something interesting/entertaining/unique. If I like you because you are interesting/entertaining/unique I might buy your product. Your blog, goodreads profile, facebook fan page should be about you and your books and your journey and stuff like that, not just a shop front or quest for more 'likes'. Create an enticing environment that your audience will voluntarily 'choose' to like
3) don't tell me you are the next big thing - I like to decide these things for myself.
4) I like substance. If your social media is glittery and flashy with bells and whistles but little actual content I will go somewhere that has substance. Of course some audiences love the glitter, and the bells and whistles and if this is your target market, your investment was worth it. Therefore it pays to know something about your audience. Mine seems to be the fringe with little disposable income but I can't help but keep writing for them.
5) If you are not writing new material I will drift away and find someone who is writing. Promotion is not an end in itself (unless your job is as a promoter). Make some product too
6) everyone loves the chance to win free stuff. Give some product away
7) don't despair if you work your fingers to the bone and you don't make many sales. Keep making your social media forays a reflection of who you are as a person and a writer. This is a long game. I am now finding that my long game approach is paying unexpected dividends.

My daughters recently had an experience that kind of proved all of this. One of them in particular is an ardent fan of and shopper at a particular online American vintage clothing shop - The Cobrasnake. The shop owner is a noted photographer in the LA indie fashion scene. Whenever she receives a parcel from this shop my daughter tweets and facebooks her delight in her purchases. The shop owner came to NZ for fashion week and my girls went to the pop up Cobrasnake shop sale yesterday. Without them saying a thing the shop owner recognised my girls, addressed them by name and took photos with them. Needless to say, they were thrilled. The good fortune was in him coming to Auckland and being there at the shop in person. But what happened was the luck my daughter had created. Its a long game and you never know how its all going to come together. Share your highs, lows, triumphs and disasters, talk about the things you love most and you may find the world (and some very interesting people in it) take an interest.

And here is some entertaining and edumacating advice from writer Maggie Steifvater. Things everyone should know in no particular order (and I think vinegar can be used to keep dried up felt pens/markers going a little longer - vinegar certainly seems to be multi-talented).

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