So what if I think in emoticons?

I’m beginning to think I may be spending a tad too much time at the computer. It’s true as a writer, for much of my day I am staring at my computer screen. This in itself is not the problem. It’s also true that when I am not writing, most of the people with whom I interact are sitting at their computers as well. Somewhere else. Often in another part of the country, or world. I don’t see this as a problem. We live in a global context, no loner isolated by geography. And I can interact with people via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Empire Avenue, Skype and a myriad of other social media type applications any time of the day or night. And I do.

The thought that I might be spending too much time online came to me upon reflection of a reaction I had to an email I received. Just to give you a bit of background, the email was in response to a submission I wrote about conducting social media literacy workshops for authors. It was along the lines of showcasing the technological options available to authors who wished to publish and promote eBooks themselves. I’m aware that not everyone is familiar or comfortable with emerging technologies, and the workshop was along the lines of what I already do with high school students in my role as eLiteracy Consultant.

Anecdotally I know there are people who wish to publish and promote eBooks in an attempt to get their work out there, but are not necessarily comfortable enough with the technology to do so themselves. There are people who will do it for you, but their services come at a cost. And with a bit of know-how it is reasonably easy to do it yourself. Fear of the unfamiliar is the greatest inhibitor. Most authors know it is a changing world, and even if you are published by a ‘mainstream’ publisher it is increasingly necessary to play a role in your own marketing―online! I would have thought there’d be a fair amount of interest in such a workshop.

The email response to my proposal was to say that there was no demand for a workshop relating to ePublishing or social media.

My only reaction was this:

That was all. No words, no other thoughts. Just the image. It wasn’t until later when I was walking the dog that I began to put words to the image thought. Yep, you guessed it, in 140 characters or fewer. Ugh!

Too much time online? Or just the concept of neuroplasticity at work? Should I be worried?

Reviling reviews

I’m reviewing books at the moment. It’s a challenge. Not because I don’t know how write a review, but because before I even sit down to read the book, I have to figure out whether I am the best person to write it.

Those who know me personally will know that I am a fairly straightforward person. I say what I think. In fact, sometimes I only become aware of what I think when I hear the words coming out of my mouth. Writing at least provides me with a slight buffer between the thought occurring and me presenting it. I can consider the reviews I’ve written (at least I can now that I’ve learned not to review straight into the online forum, but rather write it out in Word, let it sit, then come back to it and post sometime over the following few days), before anyone else reads it.

When I first agreed to take on reviewing books, it did not occur to me that I would be required to engage in a degree of ‘reading between the lines’, or have to navigate the myriad of motivations behind the author's request.

I thought, as some might, that having a book reviewed meant receiving honest (albeit subjective) feedback on technical aspects of the writing, as well as character development, plot, narrative flow, and if necessary, grammar and structure.

Reviews serve a dual purpose. They can offer constructive criticisms that give the author an opportunity to develop the work and build on their writing skills, particularly early in their writing career; and they provide prospective readers with an orientation to the work. No matter the experience level of the writer, reviews give an invaluable opportunity to continue to develop as a writer.

Reviewing, as with reading, is a very subjective thing. What one reviewer likes, another may hate. But one would assume that a reasonable reviewer is able to recognise a strong narrative and/or a quality piece of writing, even if the story line is not their cup of tea. One would also assume that authors seeking reviews do so with the expectation that the reviewer will be honest and give constructive (if not always diplomatic) feedback that the author may not necessarily like.

I guess it depends where you are on your writing journey as to what your understanding of the reviewing process is. Now I know I'm making a huge generalisation here, but my recent reviewing experience suggests that perhaps there exists a code of which I am not familiar.

When a writer says: “I’d love you to review my book ______. Could you publish your review on XXXX site when you can?”
They really mean: “I want you to hit 5 stars and write a few bland sentences saying what a fantastic book it is. Oh and you don’t have to spend time reading it. I just need the review.”

When they say: “I don’t need to study writing, I’m just a natural writer.”
They really mean: “Ignore the fact that the manuscript is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors and that the plot is unidentifiable or missing, I don’t care about that. My arrogance will carry the book and make me a motza.”

When they say: “Be as honest as you can.”
They really mean: “As long as you don’t say a critical word about it or it will crush my spirit and stop me from ever writing another word.”

But when they say: “What gives you the right to say my main character has no depth or substance? Who are you to tell me anything about my story? You don’t know anything about the character or story, you’re just the reader.”

… Um... okay… ? I'm just the reader? Well yes I am...

* Oh and if you'd like your book reviewed, don't ask me to do it if you are not prepared to receive honest constructive feedback. It's a waste of the many hours I put into reading and considering all aspects of the book. And I'm getting cranky. The crankier I get the less diplomatic I tend to become. Be warned.

Why do you write?

Someone asked me this this morning. It was in response to a litany of whiny complaints from me about my current lack of motivation (or what I prefer to call writer’s block),  procrastination, financial pressure, little support, isolation… I could go on and on. And I did. Until the question was posed.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Why do I write? Why do I write? I write because I have to. I write because there is something inside me that is only satisfied when I am creating narrative. I feel alive when I write. Maybe it’s because I’m creating worlds ―I’m taking a seed of a thought and growing it and nurturing it and turning it into a person, a plot, a theory, a life, a world in its own right! Maybe it’s a power thing. There is enormous pleasure in being able to manipulate language sufficiently to evoke an emotional response in someone. Or maybe it’s an opportunity to live vicariously through the characters I create. As a writer I explore the extremes of human nature on all levels, from the sweet and innocent to the evil and vindictive. I can explore any job or any relationship, I can take the kind of risks I never could in real life.

When I write I step outside of myself, of these four walls. For five hours a day (on a good writing day) I become someone else, somewhere else. It’s the same pleasure I get from reading, the same suspended reality that occurs when you allow yourself to float off on a wave into a shifting time-space continuum. Or maybe I write just because I can.

Writing is not the easiest path I could’ve chosen, and after listening to me whinge this morning my friend said simply: “Why not just go back to having a full-time job?” Of course, my response to that is: I have a full-time job. I’m a writer. Problem is, it doesn’t pay me the same amount each fortnight ― or sometimes at all. I have to supplement it with a second job. And I’m very lucky to have found one that pays regularly (at least during term time) and keeps writing at the forefront of my mind.

Even on days like today when it all seems too hard, there is no choice. I have to write. Despite the frustration of hitting the wall three-quarters of the way through a manuscript that had been flowing well, despite not being quite sure if I’m going to manage to stay on top of the bills this month, despite people thinking I’m mad, or sad, or both, there is no option. I have to write. Because it’s who I am. I am a writer.

So tell me, why do you write?

eAuthoring pays

I got the first royalty cheque for my novel today. It’s very exciting. Well, it’s not exactly a cheque, and I don’t actually physically have it yet, but I know it’s coming. At least that’s what the sales report from Smashwords tells me.  I published Fake Profile as an eBook at the end of June and the sales report was for the month of July.

I made around $100, mostly from iBooks on iTunes. $100 doesn’t sound like much but considering that most first-time authors get between 7% and 10% of royalties from paperback sales (and often without an advance), I would have had to have sold one hundred copies of the paperback version to make as much. I didn’t. I sold 18 copies. Again, it doesn’t sound like many, but I didn’t do anything to promote the book either. I just uploaded it and let it sit while I sorted out how I would go about getting it out there.

I don’t know what the statistics of eBook sales in iTunes are, but I do know that Amazon holds a huge majority in the world of eBook sales for their Kindle. I’ve just listed Fake Profile on Amazon as well. It will be interesting to see what happens to sales  the month of October when I have my marketing plan in place.

My marketing strategy will be exclusively online as I continue to harness social media to promote my work. Lots have looked down their noses at me for choosing this path, as if it is a second-rate option. They’ve criticised me for snubbing mainstream publishing, especially here in Australia where eReaders don’t yet have the popularity that they do in America. They assume that by me giving up pursuing mainstream publication that I am acknowledging my writing may not be up to standard. They’re wrong about that, I know I’m a good writer; I have worked hard informally (by writing in different genres for years) and formally (writing course and a Masters of Creative Writing) on developing my writing skills for many years.  And I’ve won awards for it.

I’m ready for this, the time is right for me. The naysayers also tell me my impatience will be my downfall—and it might be, if my goal was to achieve fame and fortune from my writing. But it’s not. I don’t care much for fame and fortune. It’s not attention or accolades I want.  I just want to write.  Sure, one day I’d love to be able to support myself just by writing fiction, but in the meantime, I’m very happy supplementing my income by teaching writing to young people. And playing with social media to see where it leads me.

Many writers (particularly in the States), make a comfortable living out of writing for the eBook market and with technology dissolving globally barriers, there’s no reason an Australian couldn’t do the same. You see, I’m at my best when I’m writing, regardless of what I am writing. I’m more motivated (inspite of the procrastination that is the bane of all writers’ existence) and healthier and happier when I’m writing.

I love the solitude that writing affords me, I love being able to set my own writing agenda. And I love that my writing is portable, I can take it to the park, to the library, to a cafe. I can write where and when I like. But most of all, I really love getting emails through my website from people who have read and enjoyed my books. Just love it!

I’m happy with the path I’ve chosen, and I have a good feeling about my writing future.