Social Networking… a Marketing Tool or a Distraction to Writers?

Don’t ya lurve it?  Don’t ya hate it?

Is it the best platform ever for raising the profile of your writing?  Is it the biggest time-waster ever?

Perceptions of social media vary according to age and gender, with younger females being the keenest and older males the least enthusiastic.  Often, when journalists and bloggers write about the merits of social media, their prejudices come across loud and clear, to the point where you can’t take what they are saying seriously.  So, before I say my piece, be aware that I’m a middle-aged woman and an IT tutor.

For Promotion

Facebook1When commentators refer to ‘social networking’, they are mostly thinking about Facebook.  According to Digital Marketing Ramblings (accessed 29 April 2013), Facebook has by far the greatest number of users (1 billion active), with Twitter and LinkedIn both on 200 million.  Facebook is a true social media – chat between friends – so it’s use to writers as a marketing tool is limited.  They can exchange writing tips and news, and ask each other specific questions, but using it to promote your work always looks pushy.   There he goes, flogging his book again.  Click on to someone else’s status quick.

twitter75px Twitter, despite its name, is more serious.  Its short Tweets lend themselves to a ‘look at this, look at me’ culture and users go to Twitter to find promotions.   Clicking on ‘Discover’ and using hash tags are also a lazy search facility.  For instance,  #writing comps produced a lot of useful results.  People go on Twitter when they are looking for something specific, so you cannot use it to advertise your book to the masses.

LinkedIn75pxLinkedIn is Facebook for people in work.  For full-time writers, it is useful for showcasing what you can do, what you have done and for finding out what other people can and have done.   Very serious, very boring, very useful.

youtube75pxOf the others… YouTube is for music, funny videos and many other things, but of limited use to writers.  Writers write.  Would you actually choose to watch some writer’s promotion video?  I don’t think so.

A Distraction

A year or so ago, my students used to be like alcoholics over Facebook. If you asked them to close it, it would reappear immediately. They had to know what messages had appeared in the last few seconds. Now, it’s less of a problem.  Similarly, a friend at church used to post statuses every few hours and, when she stopped doing so, I actually messaged her to ask if she was OK. Now she posts only every few days. I write statuses rarely and I’ve stopped the link which automatically alerts me when a Facebook ‘friend’ puts something up. In my opinion, people are becoming bored with Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media have never caused the same problems.

Of course, individual ‘addicts’ linger on.  I’m sure that a writer who was stuck or unsettled could waste his/her valuable writing time on social media.  Numerous software applications exist to block your access to block to social media while you are working, but it is my belief that we will need them less and less.  If that writer’s friends are not posting so frequently, he/she won’t have anything to read or look at.

Don’t get your knickers in a twist about social media.  Facebook has peaked.  The social media applications are about to become like faxes and brick mobile phones.  They’ll still be there, but will have a much lower profile in future.

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Review of ‘The Shadows in the Street’ by Susan Hill

http://www.susan-hill.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=63&Itemid=62

This is Book 5 in the Simon Serrailler series, detective fiction at its best, with well-drawn characters and a sound plot.  This was the sort of book, where, as in Agatha Christie, you have to pick the murderer from a limited number of characters.  (Btw, I guessed correctly!)

This story, as always, centred around the cathedral city of Lafferton.  Much is made of the fact that Serrailler eventually found his man through chance – which he did – but we, as readers, have moved on from wanting a Christie show-down in the final chapter, with everyone sitting around in one room making comments like “I say, Poirot…”  The plot still worked, very well.

Although the crime element concerns the murders of a series of prostitutes, the story touches upon the conflict arising when a new ‘happy-clappy’ dean arrives in the cathedral close.   Unlike many other authors who occasionally feature such things, Susan writes authoritatively about church issues, and with insight as to how church people feel, think and interact with each other.   The prostitutes in the book were also sympathetically drawn, especially plucky Abby Righton, who desperately wanted to give up the game, but couldn’t see how to manage it.

It is noticeable that detectives created in the ‘English school of murder’ tradition  (as distinct from Noir)  tend to have a cosy family set-up – think of Ruth Rendell’s ‘Wexford’, W J Burley’s ‘Wycliffe’, Alexander Maccall Smith’s ‘Mma Ramotswe’ and even Lindsey Davis’s ‘Falco’.   Serrailler has his loving (recently widowed) sister, ‘Cat’, his nieces and nephews, his tetchy father and diplomatic stepmother.  In fact, Cat features far more than Simon Serrailler himself, and I found myself welcoming her on to page each time.  Simon was, I think, supposed to appear remote, but actually comes across as rather sketchy in this story, and, if this had been the first book I’d read in the series, I wouldn’t have got to know him at all.  Other – complex and therefore interesting – characters were (wrongly accused) ‘Leslie Blade’ and the very weak dean, ‘Stephen Webber’, entirely manipulated by others around him.

Did I enjoy this book?  Oh yes.  I love detective fiction… possibly because I could never write it.  Did I learn much from it as a writer?  Well, possibly.

Review of ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson

http://www.kateatkinson.co.uk/kate/news.asp

(http://www.randomhouse.com.au/books/kate-atkinson/life-after-life-9780385618687.aspx)

‘Life After Life’ is a ‘revolving doors’ account of the life of Ursula Todd, her family and friends.  The story is built around a small number of anchors: Ursula’s birth; Bridget catching Asian flu when she goes to watch the victory celebrations in London in 1918; Ursula’s brother’s friend’s attempt to rape her; the paedophile lurking in the village on the same day; Ursula going to Germany in the 1930s ; Ursula getting trapped in bomb wreckage in the Blitz.   Kate explores a theme for several chapters, then brings us back to the anchor.  Each chapter begins with a date, which is useful because the story is not told chronologically.  Even so it might still have been confusing, but such is the skill of Kate Atkinson that I never got lost.

The story ranges from the beginning of the 2oth century until to after the 2nd World War, with a brief glimpse of Ursula’s retirement in 1967.  It encompasses a wealth of historical detail, obviously researched very  thoroughly.  Never have I read about the horror of the Blitz in London in so much detail (although I did think Kate spent too long on this).  Even more chilling was Ursula’s sojourn in Nazi Germany, attending Hitler rallies alongside Nazi sympathisers, and – without giving too much away – spending time with Eva Braun.  However, in order to get the most out of this book, the reader did need to know the history of the 2oth century.

There was a huge number of characters, generally well-drawn, although the main character, Ursula, suffered from what I call ‘mc syndrome’, in that other characters were invariably seen through her eyes, with the result that Ursula herself seemed a bit bland.  Yes, she was courageous and did not follow the social mores of the day, but I was surprised she capitulated so readily when in an abusive relationship.  Other characters were more distinct and convincing:  Maurice, the arrogant and selfish brother; Pam, the ‘jolly good egg’ of a sister; Teddy, the darling little brother; Admiral Crighton, the middle-aged roue.   In these characters, Kate showed herself to be an excellent observer of detail. An example is when Pam refers to her youngest brother’s homosexuality and Ursula notes ‘the faintest trace of smugness, as if she were better able to cope with liberal views’.

The one that shone off the page, however, was Aunt Izzy, the black sheep of the family, selfish, egotistical, charming and fascinating.  “Was there a particular reason for your visit, or have you merely come to annoy?” asked Ursula’s mother at one point.  You hate her.  You love her.  You hate her again.  There’s one in every family!

Would I recommend ‘Life After Life’ as an enjoyable and thought-provoking read?  Yes, definitely.  Would I recommend it to writers as something to learn from?  Yes, for  writing complex content without confusion, for defining most of the characters and for many of the descriptive passages, but I fear an epidemic of ‘revolving door’ novels.  Kate Atkinson brought it off.  I couldn’t have done.

‘Sweet Success’: ‘Cut to the End’ Published on CafeLit

CafeLit has published ‘Cut to the End‘, one of my favourite stories.  I actually wrote the first version of it way back in the early 2000s and entered it for a competition organised by the local library in Sudbury, Suffolk.  This story started its life under the original title ‘A Family Day Out’, which I still prefer, but I was persuaded, by colleagues on online writing forums, that editors don’t do irony, or rather they just don’t look beyond a very mundane moniker.  Me myself, I love mundane and ordinary, because I always suspect that something interesting lies underneath.

Please do visit CafeLit.  The editor, Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, does a wonderful job getting together a selection of very readable stories, which are almost womag but not quite, and, if you are looking for an editor or a critiquing service, she does that too