Why Do Authors Diss Other Authors?

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Credit: Gerd Altman

You know what’s hot right now, other than global warming? Tearing down your peers in order to promote your new book! And it’s not new authors, desperate for any kind of media coverage they can get – these are well-established authors who all seem to be hopping on the latest controversy bandwagon. But why are they doing it? Does it result in more sales or is a just a ploy to get your name ‘out there’?

For a while there, it seemed like a queue of predominantly white male authors were awaiting their turn to declare that the novel (as they knew it) was dead. Will Self being the most vocal (who even is he??!). It was all a bit pathetic really – writers bemoaning the fact that their work was no longer relevant and choosing to denounce the younger generation for their lack of taste rather than accept that their books mightn’t be as good as they thought they were. Or that, like the rest of us mere mortals, their books have no  guarantee of a warm reception.

Irish author Colm Tóibín recently told a Guardian interviewer: “I can’t do thrillers and I can’t do spy novels.”  

Asked which books he felt were most overrated, he said: “I can’t do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don’t find any rhythm in it. It’s blank, it’s nothing; it’s like watching TV.”

So clearly, Colm has read ALL THE BOOKS and they’re all boring. Thanks for that Colm, inspirational.

Poor old John Banville can only write ‘genre’ under a pseudonym, lest his good name and reputation be besmirched by popular fiction. It’s a form of snobbery, looking down one’s nose at other writers, and readers for that matter. Like the ‘real book’ brigade who scoff at eBooks and their readers. Like, get over yourself and the delusion that you are the sole arbiter of good taste. By dismissing things that people enjoy, you are dismissing them and what matters to them. And to me, this seems a very foolish thing to do.

The most recent author to diss an entire genre is Louise Doughty, when she told The Guardian (why is it always The Guardian?) “I can’t bear anything chicklitty or girly.”

Wow. Can’t bear it, eh? Any book in particular, or just every book written by a woman who has been classified under the broadest commercial fiction genre EVER? Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but such an established writer must be aware of how dismissive this sounds to her peers? How many years have female authors been fighting this exact kind of stigma associated with chick lit? It’s a marketing tag, that has unfortunately sidelined contemporary romcoms  written by women as vacuous, vapid and unimportant. The definition of chick lit is ‘a heroine-centred narrative‘, so far so brilliant, and luckily for us fans, promotes a whole plethora of styles, voices and subject matter. In fact, categorising novels by a single criterion is such a reductive exercise anyway, the dismissive tone used by this authors is at best, unhelpful.

I also think the media has a lot to answer for here. If an author is asked their opinion, they have every right to give it. It was the editor’s choice to pick that one quote from the interview and run it as click-bait on all social media platforms. And this seems to be the way of it now – the newspaper takes the most inflammatory line from an article, tweets it and watches the book world have a meltdown. And that my friends, is marketing.

But in case you were thinking literary authors were safe from all this criticism, think again. Sally Rooney has committed a cardinal sin – the worst thing you can do in literary fiction – she has sold a lot of books. It’s one thing garnering critical acclaim, but to be successful in the monetary sense can risk the loss of your member’s card to the ‘serious’ literary writers club. Will Self (him again!) ‘bravely’ took it upon himself to put her back in her place by labelling her writing as ‘lacking ambition’, lest she go getting any ideas that she might have earned her place among the literati. Fortunately we have men like him to save us from our own bad taste.

Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard has her finger on the pulse and her tongue firmly in her cheek with this latest tweet:

 

So is this the future for authors? A newspaper article in which they upset not only their fellow authors, but the millions of readers who enjoy their books?  And while everyone has the right to speak their mind, it is the contrivance to cause controversy that seems to be the PR drug of choice these days. To me, it just makes people look arrogant and insecure. I’ve always been taught that people who try to make you feel small are only doing it so they can feel big. Authors dismissing other genres must have some dire need to feel important, or to be seen as superior, i.e. someone whose work matters. But newsflash, we all matter and a bit of diplomacy goes a long way.

We are all creatures of habit and of course we tend to gravitate to certain styles of writing and subject matter. There is nothing wrong with that and there is nothing wrong with not liking a book. Art is subjective. But when does it stop being an opinion and start being derisory? Good critique is backed up by fact and reason (like books where the characters are under-developped, for example) but generalisations that have no real basis tell us nothing constructive. The truth is, there are crap writers and crap books everywhere. There are crap literary books, crap self-published books, crap traditionally published books, crap YA books, crap detective novels, crap books by men, crap books by women … but to give one broad sweep of criticism to any of these categories is just ignorant and lazy.

I have always found the writing community to be supportive and always remember the first time I read another saying that there is room enough for all of us. We don’t have to compete by putting one another down. Most readers, like myself, read across genres, so in the long run, it’s probably wiser to big up your fellow authors rather than risk alienating your audience. Your readership could well overlap. But just on a human level, as Michelle Obama once said, when they go low, we go high!

Over-Exposed

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As we slide sun-burned and ice-creamed into August, I think it’s safe to assume we all just want to switch off from life for a while. But is it really possible to switch off when we carry our phones with us like some kind of external pace-maker? As though we might cease to exist if we do not maintain an online presence. But do we really need to share so much of our lives and what does it mean if external validation is all that keeps us ticking?

Every interaction has an exchange and we have to gauge the value of what we are receiving in return for the cost to us. This is where I am right now with social media and I know I’m not alone. I keep coming across more and more people wondering if social media is actually the benign distraction we once thought it was, or perhaps something a little more insidious.

Facebook never held any allure for me – I failed to see the benefits of curating my life for an audience who really couldn’t give a shit. Twitter, however, slowly became an intrinsic part of my daily life. I have learned so much on Twitter about feminism, gender bias, publishing, writing and (no surprises here) that dogs are the true comedians of the world. I’ve had some right laughs and connected with brilliant people.

BUT …

I find my mood is increasingly affected by what I see on there – whether it be political propaganda, bad news stories, argumentative and angry people who just want to pick a fight or on the other end of the scale, people being really successful and happy. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground – ordinary people having ordinary ups and downs. It’s all somebody who fears their own irrelevance says something controversial and you find yourself drawn into a pointless discussion from which you gain nothing. In fact you’re losing something really important; your time.

This is my real issue with social media. It has taken away our golden opportunities to be bored. Scrolling is the new navel gazing, except that navel gazing might lead to some kind of interesting insight into the psyche, or make you so bored that you decide to paint the bedroom. But at least you’d be connecting with yourself and your feelings. There’s nothing wrong with a little distraction, but it’s starting to feel like social media is stealing our down time and we’re complicit in the crime. I’m just not sure I’m willing to pay the cost anymore.

It’s the ‘always on’ aspect that seems to be causing this collective burn out. And why wouldn’t it? We were all hooked under the guise of connecting with people, but is it meaningful connection? We are all providing free content for a platform which uses our shared pics to attract more users. We are all essentially working for Instagram, for free!  Like, how many times have you stopped in the middle of a nice walk, meal or holiday trip to take a photo for Insta? If you think it through, you are interrupting your personal, private experience to do something for your social media accounts that will gain likes or follows. You are promoting your page. That is work and you’re not getting paid for it.

And even regardless of remuneration, you are thinking about your free time differently when viewing it through the lens of social media. You wonder, will this look good? Will people be impressed? Because I saw X and Y put up pictures of that place they went to and it looked great. And I want people to think I do interesting things too. So we are all being ensnared by each other with representations of our lives that only offer the merest of glimpses into reality. We all know this on a rational level, but we don’t often stop to think about the thought processes this sparks off and how it affects our everyday lives. I see a photo of someone on a beach on their holidays looking serene and free and I just assume their entire holiday was like that. I don’t see the mundane bits, the bits where everything went wrong or God forbid, the boring bits. The arguments. The seething resentment. So this creates an impossible fantasy of what our lives should be like, but will never be, because it’s not real.

And that’s the crux of it. It’s not real and I don’t think I can be a part of that. Maybe I should become a crusader for authenticity, like the wonderfully hilarious Celeste Barber, who gives a real-life makeover to some truly ridiculous IG posts. But fucking hell, that’s more work, more of my precious time and what do I get out of it? It’s one thing if you are actually promoting something, then social media is a fantastic marketing tool. But if not, then you are simply promoting yourself and your life becomes a commodity. Yep, sounds dystopian to me too.

celeste barber

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This is my fav!

So I’ve returned to the good old blog – a place where I can really take my time to talk about how I feel about things without having to upload some filtered selfie of me not being me. When I blog, I sit down to write, it’s a choice I make. But scrolling on Twitter and trying to find interesting pics for Instagram is just a mindless addiction and feels, at best, shallow and superficial. At worst, I’m handing my free time over to large corporations who profit from our need to feel seen, to matter. Well, I see you, all of you out there who are just doing your best and trying to find meaning and purpose in this unpredictable world. And my God you matter – more than a silly photo or a witty tweet. You already matter – you don’t need likes to prove that. x

 

 

White Lies

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I read a great thread the other day on Twitter by author Leigh Bardugo about how, as authors, we tend to perpetuate the myth of glamour and success that surrounds the magical business of getting published. Take it away Leigh!

She goes on to talk about how we ‘big up’ the successful moments, but downplay (or conceal) the less attractive aspects, like having to make your own merchandise to bribe people with! But don’t we all do this in our everyday lives? Pretending that everything is rosy in the garden, whether it be your marriage, your job, or your house that looks lovely but is actually developing some scary cracks and is possibly built on an ancient burial site?? But that’s enough about me. Telling little white lies about your job is just an extension of that very human need to be seen as ‘successful’ or ‘having your shit together’. We pretend we’re earning more than we are or have a bigger office.

But there is something about the truth that liberates all of us. In recent times, more and more authors are opening up about the reality of publishing and what it really looks like, behind the headlines. Irish author Donal Ryan ruffled many’s the feather by revealing that his books earned him a mere 40c per book and that he was returning to full-time employing in order to pay his mortgage. (I wrote about it for the Irish Times here).

I think there is a certain amount of embarrassment – because all we tend to hear about are the big authors who get eye-watering book deals, then sell the movie rights and next thing you know, they’re featured in some home style magazine showing off their new castle. That’s what people expect will happen when you get a publishing deal, but it is the exception. Most authors just want to earn a wage, even a really tiny one, that means they can write full time. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case.

But we don’t want to let the side down, or reveal to our friends and families that actually, not all book shops will stock your book, that some people still won’t read your book even though you’ve given them a copy for free, that you have to work just as hard promoting your book as you did writing it and at the end of the day, most Irish authors earn somewhere between €500 and €5,000 per year (eek!).

Yet it seems a bit strange that authors are the ones left to gloss over these facts – as though we somehow have to protect the reputation of the publishing industry as well as our own! Well, not on my watch. Self-publishing is a great leveler and dispels you of any ‘notions’ (as we call them here) pretty early on. I’ve had to do everything myself, so signing with a publisher was a real privilege. But it’s not the end of the rainbow – there were still disappointments as well as unexpected gains. What didn’t change is the amount of effort I had to put into making sure people knew about my book.  There are so many jobs you have to do as an author that you can never invoice anyone for and I’m not sure any amount of wild success will change that.

I remember reading an article a while back (but for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name or find the link) in which a bestselling author spoke about a reading he was due to give at a local library for his new book. About eight people showed up; one was his wife and the rest were from a local retirement home. That was shocking to me – again because I just didn’t know that most really, really successful authors aren’t celebrities. Even New York Times bestselling authors. The truth is, nobody really cares! Apart from you, your publisher and probably your bank.

So yeah, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling the odd white lie to save face, but the constant pressure to present a false picture of your life or your career – which has only increased with the dawn of social media – is just really exhausting and serves nobody. And sometimes the most inspiring stories are the ones where you didn’t make it – like, how often do we find our own inner resilience perk up when reading about authors who were rejected zillions of times? Of course, the catch is, you have to then make it big-time for your sob story to resonate, but still. Knowing that nobody really knows what their doing can be the most comforting truth of all.

A Writer’s Holiday

As most of you will not have noticed at all, because you have your own lives, I’ve been taking a bit of a break from social media.  And it has been good.

While most writers talk about taking a break from writing, I’m talking about a break from being ‘visible’, ‘out there’ and ‘switched on’.  A break from that constant gnawing feeling that you should be doing something… online.  Being online creates that weird paradox where you feel like you’re achieving something, but what it is, you can’t exactly say.

We’re always on.  And if we’re not on, there is a fear that we’re not doing enough.   Or FoMO – Fear of missing out (yes, it’s a thing!)  Are we using Twitter/Facebook/Instagram or are they using us?  Where is the down time?  Are we really interacting meaningfully, or are we just scrolling through other peoples’ thoughts, witnessing other peoples’ outrage and occasionally getting caught up in debates with people who never let the facts get in the way of a good argument.  Like Bing Crosby sang, we’re busy doing nothing.

But it’s all harmless fun, right?  Maybe, in moderation.  But the mindless compulsion to check into this social world every day in order to feel like you’re ‘engaging’, eventually becomes a bit joyless… a bit robotic.  So I switched off.  I put a sign on Twitter saying I was on a break (mainly as a deterrent to myself) and even unplugged the broadband.  For a whole day.  But then I had to plug it back in to check my email because I’m not complete lunatic.

I felt bad at first – all of the people who retweet me and whom I regularly retweet might get the hump (or think I’m dead).  But I had to ask myself, am I a writer or a social media personality??  The answer was simple and funnily enough, so was the break.  I didn’t miss it at all.  The constant need to keep up with everything, to stay connected, was gone.

That restlessness was replaced by restfulness.

Turns out, I didn’t need to know everything after all.  But Twitter and Facebook weren’t going to let me away that easy.  Notifications telling me that people I ‘know’ have all liked the same picture tried to tempt me back.  ‘What is the picture?’ I wondered to myself, but I stood fast.  Even when Facebook lamented the 228 followers who hadn’t heard from me in a while, did I want to rectify that??  No, they’d have to get through the day without me.

It’s silly really.  We’re all trying to promote stuff without looking like we’re promoting stuff.  ‘THEY’ say that you shouldn’t promote on social media, you should gain popularity by being interesting and fun to follow.  No pressure there then!  Is this high school or some kind of Machievellian double-speak?!   99% of our lives (if we’re lucky) are pretty boring, so how are we going to keep all of our followers entertained and somehow fool them that we have something interesting going on, all the time??  I don’t need my readers to know how uninspiring I can be on a daily basis.   I am a writer and I’m here to promote my books – let’s call a spade a spade!  And the really funny thing is that when I took a step back from social media, my book sales continued to rise.  So there was no correlation whatsoever between me being constantly switched on and my reach when it came to readers.  My book even did this:

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Yes, you are seeing correctly – that’s my book at number three, beside Alice Hoffman’s ‘Practical Magic’.  Quite the milestone!  And it happened all by itself.  Well, by the power of Amazon’s algorithms, which I still don’t get, but the point is, it had nothing to do with Twitter.

And it’s not just me.  I’ve read a lot of blogs recently where book bloggers are cutting down and in some cases, no longer taking part in blog tours.  The pressure to be available all of the time is taking its toll and I think a lot of people are trying to create more of a balance, where they can participate on their own terms.  They are continuing to promote books, but in a way that suits them.  More and more, I see people questioning the benefits of being so switched on all of the time.  There comes a saturation point where you have to step back and focus on your own path.

Have I used this break to write?  Nope!  I’ve done NOTHING and it’s been wonderful.  I’ve read other peoples’ books.  I’ve been checking out designs for my new book cover with my publisher.  I’ve baked!  I spent half an hour trying to make some DIY Nordic Christmas decorations (damn you Pinterest!) Unfortunately, my Christmas star ended up looking like a Halloween pentagram, but hey, I made something.  I’ve allowed myself to get bored.  Remember boredom?  The mother of all creation.  I watched Stranger Things and kept all of my opinions about it to myself (it’s basically ET, right?!)  I got a head cold and ‘took to the bed’ without a second thought for my abandoned accounts.  And it feels so good to just let my mind be free.  To not have that niggling feeling… ‘I’ll just check’.

So, the moral of the story is, a change really is as good as a rest.  Taking a break from social media has just made me more aware of how jaded I had become by the whole thing.  And it’s not like anyone is holding a gun to my head (well, not that I’m aware of *gulp*) so all of this pressure to be ‘on’ is self-inflicted.  I can get all of my social media stuff done in half an hour, so where do the other two and a half hours go?  I think writers especially need time away from this social machine to create some space for creativity; to breathe and grow without this constant spotlight, demanding your attention and sapping your energy.  Social media is great – in my view its benefits certainly outweigh the down sides, but it might be better in small doses.

So like those people who do dry January, I’ve become all preachy and holier than thou (even though I did break my break a few times) so we’ll see how long that lasts!  What about you?  Have you managed to avoid getting sucked into the black hole of social media? Do you detox regularly or is switching off a step too far?

If you haven’t read my books, then you really should have the FoMO!  Check out my Amazon Author Page or follow the links below.

The Mysterious Bakery On Rue De Paris by [Gaughan, Evie]

Apple ~ Kobo ~ Barnes & Noble ~ GooglePlay

 

To Share Or Not To Share?

16152378754_27fa36cfc4_mIn a recent article for Women Writers, Women’s Books, I wrote about the ubiquitous ‘author profile’ and whether or not this has any bearing on your readership.  I follow lots of authors on Twitter and while a lot of successful authors have a devil-may-care attitude to what they share, others are quite guarded and even take a hiatus from all social media when writing.  (Imagine!).  So which side of the fence are you on?  Are you a J K Rowling type with lots to say and no hesitation about saying it?  Or are you a Joanna Trollope, keeping yourself to  yourself and looking down your nose at all those attention-grabbing selfies?!  Or do you just see it all as one great big distraction?

Social Media: To Share Or Not To Share?

July 4, 2017 | By | 6 Replies

evie-goodreadsIn this golden age of social media, I still find it a bit of a novelty that I can tweet my favourite author.  Even more so on the occasions when they tweet me back!

Having this kind of direct access to an author would have been unimaginable just 20 years ago.  Back in the old days, you didn’t get to know anything about the author, save for whatever the publisher deemed necessary on the back page.  Their allure was their anonymity, save for the words they put on the page. But times have changed and it is now something of an anomaly if an author doesn’t have a Twitter account.  Publishers encourage authors to ‘get out there’ and the constant advice to new authors is to build an author platform (i.e. make yourself widely available across all social media apps.)  The lines between being an author and being your own PR machine have become increasingly blurred, which can be both liberating and problematic.

Read the full article here

A Party Of One

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The lovely Eva Green contemplating the futility of it all……           classic writer pose

The other day I read a tweet about preparing for festival season.  I assumed that it was related to Electric Picnic or Glastonbury, advising us to get our ‘festival on’ by donning the obligatory uniform of wellies, trilby and cut off shorts.  But imagine my surprise, dear reader, when I realised the tweet was referring to literary festivals and directed at authors who want to start booking their summer appearances now.  When did this happen?  When did authors become a troupe of travelling minstrels and what happened to the idea that writing is a solitary pursuit?

Writer Jason Guriel wrote a really interesting article this month ‘What Happens When Authors Are Afraid To Stand Alone?’  addressing this shift from what was always seen as an individual sport, to a community endeavour, and why he feels we are the worse off for it.

“writers have become more entangled than ever. Workshops, readings, book launches, conferences, artists’ colonies, and other glorified mixers increasingly press literary types upon one another.”

It’s a controversial argument, but a very interesting one.  Are all of these gatherings, talks, residencies and teaching gigs taking away from the one job we’re supposed to be doing – writing?  As authors, we have been tasked with the job of getting our work ‘out there’ and I think the writing community has grown from that.  But while many authors really enjoy engaging with the community, Guriel argues that if everyone is being pushed in the same direction, what happens to the independent spirit?

It is true that we need time alone to develop our own ideas – it’s hard enough not to be influenced by trends and seduced by mainstream ideas.  In order to really create something truly original, we need to be alone with our thoughts and in order to do this, we need to guard our privacy.  It’s nice to share, but writers need to keep a certain amount to themselves (namely, their selves).  There is a risk that if you become too much of a spokesperson for your work, or a writing personality, the authentic voice of your work could get diluted.  Not every writer is a loner, but they do tend to seek solitude in order to hear their own voice.

“Let’s not share. Really. Go off in your own direction way too far, get lost, test the metal of your work in your own acids.”  Kay Ryan, poet.

When I began writing, the buzz words were ‘author platform’ and if you didn’t have one, you’d never make it.  So I made it my business to build my platform, one blog/tweet/post at a time.  I got to know the main players and believed that I was on the right road to success.  But then, I would see a complete unknown, an outsider if you will, speed past me to publishing fame with no platform whatsoever.  No social media accounts, no blogs, no ground-works to speak of.  While I was busy networking and making connections, they were writing and submitting.  So you see, there really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to being a writer, you’ve got to do what’s right for you and more importantly, what works for you.

“‘What is the role of the writer to her society?’ was a question Wallace Stevens took up and his answer was: none,” says poet Souvankham Thammavongsa. A writer’s real responsibility, she suggests, is “to build a voice and to keep building that voice.” This stands in stark contrast to the civic-minded suggestion that writers apply their bricks and mortar to some cloud-city of togetherness.

Then there’s the whole ‘totes awky momo’ when someone you’ve been palling around with (in the literary sense) asks you to review their book and you don’t really like it… what do you do then?  I know book bloggers (unfairly) get stick for this all the time, but it’s not just bloggers who get caught in this web of networking that make it increasingly difficult to go against the pack.  I’ve noticed even with online bookclubs, when there is over-whelming support for a particular writer, anyone who feels differently is almost afraid to speak up.  I have seen people apologise for not liking a book!

“It becomes harder to file an honest review of a book if you’re always rubbing shoulders.”

Still, I don’t believe in throwing out the baby with the bath water (I think there are laws against that now anyway).  I believe that there is more integrity in the community than this article suggests, but I agree that we do need to challenge the status quo and question the prevailing wisdom around promoting the writing ‘scene’ as opposed to the community.

Personally, I love the community I have found, particularly online because I don’t have to dress up for them!  Pretty much all of the writing opportunities I have found have been through social media.  There is great support there, people share information on all sorts of things, particularly in the indie community and it’s good to meet people who are experiencing the same things.  I love when other writers talk about how difficult it is to stay sitting down, or how your writing can seem like genius one minute and drivel the next.  I feel a sense of solidarity.  But I don’t discuss writing techniques with these people.  I don’t learn my craft by talking to authors, I learn by reading their books.  I learn how they deal with different challenges in their writing between the pages.  Talk, as they say, is cheap, but if you really want to further your writing career, read.

While you’re here, The Heirloom is just 99p on Kindle all this week.  Eva Green said she couldn’t put it down*

*Might have made that bit up

Great Expectations -vs- Simple Things

copyGreat Expectations has to be my favourite Dickens novel – probably because I studied it at school and found an instant affinity with Pip.  He started out quite happy with his lot (which wasn’t much) but he had a fierce ally in Joe, his older sister’s husband, and aspired to become a blacksmith just like him.  But when he is anonymously bequeathed an inheritance by a wealthy benefactor, things change for Pip.  Suddenly, he is expected to become a ‘Gentleman’ and is thus taught that everything he once held dear is twee and without value.

Expectations can be a double edged sword.  On the one hand, it’s good to have ambition, but you have to be aware of the cost (and there is always a cost) of what you are trying to achieve.  We are the generation who expects more and from whom more is expected.  The feminist movement brought about greater equality and opportunities, but also greater pressure to fulfill them.  All of the opportunities.  All at the same time!  Social media creates even more pressure for generation Y because every day they’re bombarded with friends climbing the Andes for charity or completing a triathlon while getting married.  Not to mention, how to achieve the perfect brow… because that is VITALLY important and key to your success as an individual.  Nothing seems to hold any value today unless there is some achievable goal at the end of it.  Something we can take a picture of and laud over all our online friends.  It’s all too much and you start to wonder if maybe you would have been happier back in the forge with Joe.

Choice is a great thing, but too much choice can be overwhelming and the race to make the most of everything leads to a life full of vapid experiences to be checked off the list.  We are here to enjoy life, not squeeze the living daylights out of it, and yet you are made to feel unambitious if you just want to ‘settle’ for a contented life.  We shouldn’t abandon the things in life that once brought us joy, just because their value cannot be monetised.  Perhaps, putting away childish things is a mistake.

A recent article on Six simple ways to be happy, extols the benefits of ordinary, everyday activities that can create more happiness than climbing the career ladder or deepening your relationship with your screen (or even blogging!).  Things like gardening, singing, listening to music and being in nature can enhance one’s sense of well-being.  Things that were commonplace a few  years ago have been pushed to the side as a ‘luxury’ in our time-poor generation.  For me, it’s painting.  When I tear the plastic off a new blank canvas and unscrew the lid on my paints, I lose myself in a world that does not measure time by minutes and hours, but by brushstrokes and layers of paint.  Who needs to do a course on mindfulness meditation when all you have to do is get into the garden and plant some flowers, or go for a walk by the sea collecting shells.  As someone recently told me, ‘Achievements are overrated’, and do you know, I think he’s right.  It’s time to question whether or not our great expectations are making us happy.  It’s time to step away from the screen and the addictive need for validation.  It’s time to find pleasure in the simple things.

Meadow This painting in no way resembles my garden!

 

#ScreenSlaves

Are you addicted to Social Media?  Could you give it up for a week?  That was the premise of an interesting documentary I watched recently on TV3 Ireland called Screen Slaves.  It’s no surprise that people have become addicted to their online lives – everything is online nowadays, so what’s the problem?  Like many addictions, the problem is usually when you don’t realise you have a problem.  It was only when the participants were asked to delete the social media apps from their phone that the real impact of their online habits  became clear.  They were visibly shaking and anxious; one of them felt physically ill and all of them lamented ‘I’m going to miss everything!’

For the older participants, it was Facebook that kept their eyes glued to their screens, whereas for the younger ‘guinea pig’ it was Snapchat and Instagram.  In fact, she admitted to spending up to eight hours a day on her phone; checking it every 1-2 minutes.  She said her grades were suffering as a result and even her actual social life.  She would find herself going to parties and spending all of her time on her phone – then rushing home to post the photos!  As human beings we are social animals and there is an addictive hit from the instant approval we receive via ‘likes’ or ‘shares’.  Then there is our ‘voyeuristic’ tendancies, that mean we end up watching other peoples’ lives instead of living our own.  So, what exactly are we signing up for here and what are companies such as Facebook getting out of it?

According to Mark Zuckerberg, privacy is no longer a ‘social norm’.  Unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg.  So when we sign up to these online communities, we are willingly surrendering not only our privacy, but also our time – our most valuable commodity.  This is our own personal ‘mental time’, in which we think, dream, imagine and create.  Being a writer, time to just do nothing is the most precious thing in the world.  It was clear that this was the biggest challenge for the participants.  When they were suddenly faced with all this extra time on their hands, they didn’t know what to do with themselves and complained of feeling bored. But for me, boredom is the gateway to creativity.  I do some of my best thinking when I’m bored!  And that’s what concerns me for our future generations.  They are constantly switched on, yet constantly distracted, which affects their attention span.  (Note to self – write more short stories!)

Luckily, I was ‘of an age’ when the whole Facebook thing took off, so I was able to step back and make up my own mind about it.  At the time, I was reading a great book by Tom Hodgkinson called ‘How To Be Free‘, a how-to-guide that offered an alternative to our consumer culture.  Tom had a lot to say about the people behind Facebook and why we should think twice about jumping on that particular bandwagon.  You can read his oldie but goodie 2008 article in the Guardian here.  In fact he is responsible for an entire movement, The Idler, reminding people how to find pleasure in the simple things and avoid the rat race.  Check it out on http://www.idler.co.uk.

Facebook’s popularity has grown exponentially since then – with 1.5 billion monthly active users in 2015.  But as the documentary pointed out: ‘If you’re not paying for it, then you are the product’.  And it’s not just the advertising or sharing your private information with third parties, it’s the belief that this is the norm now.  Going ‘offline’ seems to be the equivalent of going to a pub with your friends and declaring, “I’ll have a lemonade please”.  Everyone stares in disbelief, tells you to have a real drink and proceed to buy you a pint anyway.  The fact that I don’t have a personal Facebook page does mean that I am a little out of the loop at times, but I think it’s a small price to pay for the freedom I’ve gained.  If there’s something I really need to know about, the information will get to me eventually.  Perhaps even the old-fashioned way like getting a phone call!

Now I have to qualify that with the admission that yes, I do have an author page on Facebook, but thankfully it doesn’t function like a personal page, so I just use it to post links to my blog.   I’m not completely immune to the pull of social media.  I do use Twitter quite a bit and I suppose this blog counts as well, which is why I always recommend disconnecting your WiFi when trying to write a novel!  It is so easy to get sucked in, so it’s no harm to review your social media habits every now and again.  At the outset, I decided not to have any apps on my phone.  The idea of being constantly available and always connected is a bit overwhelming.  I like the fact that when I shut down my laptop, I’m free from the impulse to ‘just check’.  As Tom Hodgkinson says, people who complain that they don’t have enough time, have simply chosen to prioritise something else.    And that’s the important thing to remember – we have a choice and I think it’s even more important to remind the younger generation of this.  You can either be a screen slave or a screen user.

101 Self Publishing Questions

It’s a very exciting time here at ‘The Cross of Santiago’ HQ (that’s the title of my novel… keep up!).  The cover is nearing completion, my final edit is almost at an end (only four more chapters to over-analyse) and so it’s off to Mr. Kindle and Mrs. Smashwords with my manuscript so they can magically make it into an online literary sensation 🙂  Woohoo!  

Now I’ve been doing a lot of research on self-publishing up to this stage, but it’s only when you get this close to publishing that a lot of really important questions need answering pronto.

I suppose the first question is, KDP Select.  What’s it all about, is it worth doing, is it a big mistake not to?  Let’s see what Amazon says about it:

KDP Select – a new option to make money and promote your book. When you make your book exclusive to Kindle for at least 90 days, it will be part of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library for the same period and you will earn your share of a monthly fund when readers borrow your books from the library. You can also promote your book as free for up to 5 days during these 90 days.

The other thing is, you can’t publish your book on any other platform for the 90 day duration.  That’s three months people, which is a mighty long time, as Prince once said.  But the whole freebie thing, that’s what seems to drive your book up the charts, which is extremely important because it gets you on the ‘Customers also bought’ list, which I have heard described as prime real estate when it comes to marketing.  My question is this: should you use the free days to give your book away to all your family and friends (rather than begging your old aunt Irene to buy your book – which she’ll say she’ll do, but we both know she won’t) or use it to flog to complete strangers on Social Media?  Or both?  Answers on a postcard.

Secondly, reviews.  I’ve already written about how important blogger reviews are to the success of your book, but should you send out your book to be reviewed before the launch, thereby (hopefully) garnering some good reviews on Amazon or Goodreads for potential readers to see?  In which case, should you delay your launch until you’ve got some good reviews in place?

Thirdly, the launch.  I’ve come across quite a few ‘companies’ running book tours, launches, tweet attacks and general tactics to beat people in submission to buy your book online, but do they really work?  I would imagine word of mouth is the best marketing tool (something you’ll only achieve if you’ve written a decent book and people actually like it), but could your book use a little extra help at the launch stage?

So there you have it, three big questions I’m hoping to find the answers to and as soon as I do, I’ll post them  up here.  Alternatively, if any of you out there have already been down this road and wish to share your writerly wisdom, please do add a comment and help a girl out!