Every book, every story, is different in its inception, its creation. Disease is no different
As I write these lines, my printer is working overtime in my office, printing the 58K words, spread across 127 pages A4 that contain the manuscript of Disease, my latest novel, Opus 15, if you prefer. Before I send it off to my publisher, I want to read through it one last time, make sure that all pieces fit as they should, make sure I haven’t forgotten anything, missed any typos etc.
Now I know that my editor will sigh at the many grammatical errors I make, and I’m not sure using Grammarly (the free version) helped me much. While it did find a couple hundred things to fix and many for which I’m grateful, there were also some suggestions that were far too outlandish to be taken seriously. In fact, “seriously?” was a phrase often used today as I had to split my novel into six smaller documents to check with the tool provided for my Apple.
The cover for the audio book of Family Ties, my first novel and my first audio book.
Here’s the thing though. This is my eleventh novel, and I haven’t printed a single one of them before. Never. Not once. Why now? I wanted to make sure it is in as perfect a shape as possible before I send it off. Not grammatically, I know I can never match the linguistic skills of my editors and native speakers, no, but as a story.
When I started working as a writer and novelist, back in 2013, I was naïve, and my mind as blank as the page I used to write those first sentences of Family Ties on. Family Ties, my very first novel, was written in two weeks. Jonathan’s Hope followed within another two weeks. I was carefree, I had nothing to compare my writing to, I had no reviews to worry about, no reviewers. I knew no publishers beyond those I had worked with in my non-fictional writing, I knew nothing about the LGBT writing arena and how warped it is with its enormous skew toward romance.
I simply sat down and wrote my stories. Alas, I quickly began to learn. I met other authors, talked to them, befriended some. I learned about marketing, about being in it for the long-term, and gradually I adapted my writing. My third novel was simply that, Opus 3, for the longest time, until my cover artist, who had read the manuscript, cried out in desperation and helped me find a title, The Opera House. My fourth novel was inspired by a book that included travel. I love to travel and set out to write such a story, yet life in its mysterious ways intervened, and Opus 4 became my darkest and most important work to date, The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, dealing with some of humanity’s deepest and darkest horrors, that of child abuse, trafficking, and pedophilia. It was a difficult book to write and in that year, it was the only fiction I published.
I sometimes write about politics in my books, and in Willem of the Tafel, it’s both about climate change, and racism. Who could have guessed, when I wrote this in 2015, that it would be such a burning topic today?
Exhausted from the emotional turmoil that Haakon put me through, I didn’t write for several months until a dance performance inspired me to write about our planet and the environmental issues we face. It was a very different book to write, as I was unable to draw from experience. I have, for obvious reasons, not lived five centuries from now. The research was excruciating, and as is customary with Sci-Fi, the mix of science and fiction is challenging, making that which is extrapolated, guessed or imagined, believable. I think I did alright.
I could go through all my eleven novels, the short stories and my other books, but alas, I won’t bore you with that. I do feel though, that I have come to a point in my life, in my author life anyway, where I feel this is the right thing to do. May the trees forgive me for printing on them. Will I be more thorough reading on paper than on a screen? I do not know. In the past, I’ve always proofread my manuscripts on both my laptop and my phone, to get a different experience. I know that my editor even lets the PC read the texts to her, to get a better feel of how it sounds. She finds that she is better capable of picking up errors after several read-throughs.
Disease is different, not just in how I edit, but also in how I wrote the story. A first person account is always challenging to write, this is a sick man’s diary of sorts, a journal of things he experiences as his disease progresses, as well as memories from the past, a first person account of Alzheimer’s really. It is complemented with commentary from his partner, who finds this journal after it’s all over. We sort of get two views of everything that happens. Not always, but where I felt it was necessary, where it added to give the reader a better picture.
The real challenge of writing about Alzheimer’s is, of course, the “insanity” of it. As writers, we fear plot holes, we fear inconsistencies (getting names wrong, timeline jumps etc.) When you write about Alzheimer’s, you suddenly try to incorporate such elements, on purpose. It’s a risky business, as you never know if the reader will understand, appreciate it or simply DNF… The same is true for the language per se, the difficulty of simplifying a language as the disease progresses. Will it be natural enough to readers or will they attribute it to poor writing, or worse, to poor editing and proofing? A nightmare, just to think about it.
So yes, this is a book that has me worried, and maybe that is why I want to do it justice. I also want to do my protagonists justice, Hunter, Ethan & Amy. I’ve grown quite attached to this family since I first began writing about them on February 21, 2017, at 12:22 pm. For once, I feel I also have plenty of time. The manuscript isn’t due at my publisher’s until the end of July. Disease is set for an October 26, 2017, release from Beaten Track Publishing. I hope to have a cover for you soon, and then I’ll create the book’s own page here on my site.
Now, before I let you all off on a well-deserved weekend, tell me, what are your experiences with writing? Once a pantser always a pantser or does your writing evolve, change, from book to book? I’m curious!
Have a great weekend. We’re celebrating Pride this week, and if the sun is shining, we’ll be watching the big Pride parade downtown tomorrow. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or to interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. I’m also gratefully accepting donations of any size from fans (see top right on the page).
Politicians have always been tempted to restrict free speech, now more than ever, they’re after the Internet
Another terror attack. It won’t be the last, and the person ultimately responsible, British PM Theresa May, who was Secretary of the Interior for six years, above other things sacking 20,000 police officers, now wants to restrict the use of the Internet. As usual with such requests and demands, the way this is said is sweeping and not very concrete. We don’t really know what they want to achieve, and how. The Tories claim this is to make Britain and the world a safer place, to hunt and prosecute terrorists, but knowing politicians, I have my doubts.
In 2005, Tony Blair (from the “other” British party) restricted the use of e.g. hoodies in public places and they introduced a sweeping crime they called “anti-social behavior”, leading to the police being able to arrest people for all kinds of things deemed going against the social order of the U.K. Did the country become better? Safer? No, quite the contrary. I use this particular example because this isn’t something restricted to conservative parties.
All politicians dislike opposition. Power corrupts, I’m sure you’ve heard that before. And Ms. May, like her colleagues around the world, dislikes being criticized. I don’t know how she ticks, why she acts the way she does, but she certainly appears less like the leader of a democratic country and more like a despot “my way or the highway” in her approach to her own people and Europe (who ought to be Britain’s closest friends). Her latest proposals to limit what we can do and say on the Internet is worrying. The proposal in the Tory manifesto are sweeping, and in her speech after the most recent attacks, scary. Why?
I sometimes write about politics in my books (and this blog), and in Willem of the Tafel, it’s both about climate change, and racism. My struggle to keep our speech “free” is personal. As a gay writer, my words are despised by large groups, and books have been burned throughout history.
Yes, terrorists use the web. They use it to spread propaganda, recruit new morons to follow in their path etc. BUT, the Internet is only a conduit. Just like the phone or a car. Despite trucks having been used for several terror attacks, I’ve yet to see a cry to limit the use of trucks in society. So why limit the use of the Internet? This isn’t about terror. This is about the media. This is about the opposition. Sadly, had the other party been in power, we may have seen similar spearhead ideas. Politicians dislike to be criticized, they dislike having the media scrutinize their doing. Have you watched House of Cards? I’m currently watching season 5, and despite the fact that the Underwoods are crooks, criminals and even killers (at least he is), I find myself rooting for him. The anti-hero is the journalist who tries to find the truth about the murder in season 1. I find myself wishing that he’ll fail, even though I should want to be grateful for his work, tirelessly trying to find clues to what really happened to the poor woman before she died in a subway.
No, I’m not saying politicians are murderers. Not at all, but they all dislike criticism, and they all dislike media who digs and finds our dirty little secrets about them. That is true for your local mayor or councilor as much as it is for 45 and his constant ramblings about “fake news”. The media has one single job: to inform the public and make sure to keep the government on their toes, on a straight and narrow path. We live in a day and age where this has become difficult. Papers have hardly any journalists left working and actually doing the digging, they have people on staff who cut and paste from press releases. Instead, many journalists now work for e.g. companies, cities, and governments, feeding ready-made articles, perfectly written, but hardly unbiased, to the media. This makes it very challenging reading the news. But it’s all we have. We, as individuals, have no chance to keep a watch on our own government.
But we have to be vigilant. Power DOES corrupt, and any politician, any human really, who goes unchecked in a position of power, will be tempted to abuse that power. A Theresa May who isn’t questioned, who gets to spread her view of the world unchecked would find it a lot easier to win elections, again, and again. She would find it a lot easier to find support for her ideas. And by being able to monitor and restrict (how we don’t know) the use of the Internet would make it easier to shut down the opposition.
But it would stop terrorists, too!
Sadly it wouldn’t. Criminals don’t care about laws. It’s illegal to possess arms in most Western civilized societies. Criminals still have access to them. And the Internet isn’t just the Facebook, Google and other places we visit, corporate websites and video streaming that you and I use. There’s also a darknet, a place I wouldn’t even know how to access. It’s the illegal part of the Internet, and because it already is illegal, no regulation on the planet will stop it. And the more restricted access and use of “our” web is, the more it’ll drive people underground, to places where we don’t go. Instead, we need to become better at monitoring. We need to have our secret services and intelligence community do a much better job at monitoring terrorists and for that they need resources. Limiting the use of the web makes it more difficult to use the web AS a resource. And we have to make sure that the intelligence services are under democratic control, or they’ll be used against us in time, too. No, I’m not prone to conspiracy theories, but secrecy is rarely conducive to democracy…
I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to fix terrorism. The roots to the injustices these young people feel so strongly about that they take up arms and blow themselves and others to the high heavens are old, some go back two millennia, some are much more recent, like the Gulf or Afghani wars. Not to mention how we have treated our social welfare in the west, leaving generations of young people behind. Injustice breeds injustice. But to fix that will take time.
What is your take? Do you feel comfortable with proposals to restrict the use of the Internet? Do you have ideas on how to fix things? Your views are welcome.
Have a good week. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or to interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. I’m also gratefully accepting donations of any size from fans (see top right on the page).
I wrote a wedding scene. A beautiful one. Then I had to re-write it
I’m in the editing mode of my latest WIP “disease”. I finished the first rough draft yesterday and went back to the beginning, reading through it again, adding bits here and there, checking the time line etc. There is a wedding scene in the book (two actually), and I really like it. Only it doesn’t work. Insert colorful expletive here. Because here’s the problem, allow me to demonstrate:
A straight writer writes straight wedding scene:
- write couple
- write officiant
- write scene
- move on to next scene
A gay writer writes gay wedding scene:
- write couple
- write officiant
- write scene
- wait, hang on, could we get married in that geography? At that point in time? What sort of “marriage” could we get?
- [colorful expletives] as extensive research begins
- research concluded, delete the scene, start over
I wrote this beautiful wedding scene, right here, in the town of Amalfi in southern Italy, when… Photo: Max Pixel, Creative Commons Zero
I’m not joking, and this is just a tiny morsel of the complications of writing LGBT fiction. We are in a constant battle to keep up with legislation, this ever-changing monstrosity where one day we’re granted civil rights only to be hauled off to execution camps the next, re Chechnya. The couple in my new book get married, only they don’t, as I had to painfully realize today, because of where I later placed them in world geography, I blame it on 5th Avenue, a geography that did not allow them to get married until Obergefell two years ago. So, back to the drawing board, research your state legislation, and find a way to rewrite the scene so that it matched not only the legal requirements I needed in terms of what I was aiming at later in the story, preserving the emotion of that scene while still being historically accurate. I’m telling you, being a gay writer sucks at times! And this is just one aspect.
I just had another long discussion about why relationship (or romantic) stories are so popular with the gay community (at least those of us who read), and why our “need” as gay men is different from the expectation of a straight female reader. Women reading gay romance do it primarily as an escape, a nice fantasy to escape to without the stereotype role models still largely at play in het romance (damsel in distress, alpha male to the rescue type). For us, romance isn’t an escape, it’s a possibility. Does that make sense? For eons, and way into the 1980s, the expectation we had on gay characters in novels was to die, often horrific deaths. We were the villain or the misunderstood freakshow of movies and books. We died. Best that could happen to us, along the lines of the old adage “only a dead Indian is a good Indian”.
Alex and I tied the knot in 2004 and saw our “partnership” upgraded to a marriage in 2009. The first five years remain unrecognized by t.he state.
As recognition of the fact that we had a heart and a soul began to root itself in society, and our struggle for equality began, so began our thirst for new stories, more hopeful stories. We wanted to read about us getting married, having families, children (or not), and to be happy. It was no longer a fantasy (which we wouldn’t have read because that would’ve been too cruel), but a possibility, a hope, something that might actually come to fruition. Do you see the difference? To us, reading about love and relationships is not about escaping reality for a few hours in the comfort of a good book, it’s about our future, a distinct possibility, a reality even for many of us. I hope that makes sense.
To exemplify the rapid changes, what about this. In this country, the royal court would send out greetings cards to centennials and couples married for sixty years or more, a diamond jubilee. By the time Alex and I get our card from His Majesty (or Her Majesty presumably), we would have been married for sixty-five years. Why? Because the first five years were a “civil union” and thus not recognized as marriage to this day. Not that I care much for a postcard from Stockholm, but still… The discrimination lives on.
Anyway, I will have to spend the next days and weeks editing my story, and hopefully, make it work. But today was a sad day, realizing that my beautiful wedding scene was just “pretend”. [Final colorful expletive] I feel very sorry for my two characters, and I may yet have to find a way to make it up to them…
Have a good weekend. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or to interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. I’m also gratefully accepting donations of any size from fans (see top right on the page).
“Muscle memory” isn’t the right word, it’s a bias really, but the consequences are as dire
Three things that happened this weekend had me think about why it is so difficult for us humans to change, why our “muscle memory” or bias gets in the way. As we grow up, we learn, we absorb lessons, and we learn most from what people do, how they act, not what they say. As a parent, I see this every day. I also see the hierarchy of credibility. I see my son come home (he’s 4!!!) and how he trusts the stories his friends in school tell him: about things “boys” do, and what “girls” do, from dresses to colors to jobs. As parents, we still have the upper hand, we still have more “cred” than our son’s pals, but not for much longer. We argue constantly for the equality of boys and girls in all aspects of life. The more we see, hear, observe, the better the lesson sits, and if you look around our society, it’s pretty simple to see why progress is slow: our society is still in a pretty bad state, even in progressive countries like my own.
The forces we fight against are powerful, and they’re mostly working in secret. No, I’m not prone to conspiracy theories. The forces I’m talking about are the biases we humans have, mechanism built into our brain that help us navigate life, but that also make it difficult to change. Let me take a couple of examples:
Most people are not racists. When confronted with their racist behavior (and I include myself in this), we tend to get upset. But let’s be honest for a minute, shall we? When we (and this is geared to any dominating ethnicity) see someone from a disenfranchised group, e.g. blacks or gypsies, we react instinctively: we pull up information about that group from our memory. And what is it we’ve learned? Blacks are… [fill in blanks], gypsies are […] I remember a cruise with one of my best friends who’s black, and how officer after officer walked up to Alex, Sascha (two! at the time) and me and greeted us, but completely and utterly ignored my friend Claudine. She was invisible. Why? Did they merely see our servant? A nanny? Rather than the highly intelligent and senior physician with decades of professional experience? I don’t know, but the scene was harrowing. When confronted, each of the officers denied being a racist, yet they’d acted despicably.
We are still far, far away from equality of the sexes. Sadly, women are as bad as men, which makes progress even more slow. We are so stuck in our ways, in how we view the roles of men and women that we don’t even see just how sexist they are. Here’s an unusual example of sexism.
Misogyny and gender roles, are themes in this novel.
My husband and I are most likely the family in Sweden who’s been approved to foster a child the longest. Five years and running. Still, no placement. Most of the other families in our mandatory course already had their placements ready when we went through the training, we didn’t. Yes, part of it is homophobia, but I seriously doubt that social workers, who are so well educated and trained, are all homophobes. No, but their muscle memory, their bias is sexist. We had asked for the placement of a young child, a placement for a child to grow up with us. Now that we are parents to our own, biological child, that is unchanged. For Sascha to have a sibling, the child to be placed in our care would have to be +/- 3 years. Last time we were in touch with social services they “offered” us an 18 year old! Who needs to foster an adult? As bad as I felt for the young man, a gay man from Iran who apparently needed role models, a placement in an LGBT family wasn’t the solution. Quite the contrary: what message do you send when you do this?
But no young kids. Why? I think that social workers suffer from “mommy” syndrome: when they see a baby or a toddler who needs placed, they automatically think “we need a mother!” Why? Because! Look at society… They are incapable of stopping in their tracks for a split second and considering “why” they think that child needs a mother (or not). It’s quite obvious that we still see women primarily as care takers, and most women will agree, that’s what they’ve been prepared for, trained for, by their own mothers and grandmothers. Generation after generation. I’m no different, neither are you. Just picture the last time you saw a small child all alone on the street or in a park. I bet you looked around to see where its mother was. I’ll be honest to admit that I do. But I’ll be equally relieved to see a dad.
And as long as we equate “care” with “female” and “provide” with “male” society will not change, and Alex and I will never see a foster child, never see a sibling to our son.
Homophobia is a topic in many of my books, but it’s central to my second one, Jonathan’s Hope, and how one man’s internalized homophobia (which is still a very common thing) threatens his son’s life.
I saw this article the other day and was shocked. Then again, things like that are to be expected. I remember the day we came back from India, five weeks after Sascha had been born. Upon entering European soil from another continent with dodgy security procedures, we had to go through a new security control at Frankfurt airport. With a little baby, we were slow. One of the security guards (a female) approached us and wondered where the child’s mother was. Because two men and a baby is so unusual. This belongs more to the misogyny aspect, but trust me, we often get glances from other people about being a gay couple with kids, and when you look at EVERY country discussing marriage equality, kids are always the opposition’s prime argument, because gays = pedophiles. It was something we simply had to get used to. But it’s no less painful. Particularly when you’re at the receiving end of it
How do we move on?
That’s the real question, isn’t it? The challenge is to stop for a moment, before you act, before you speak up. Because we have two enemies: a) our own honesty, and b) the speed at which our brain works. I have had more conversations with people who will swear to everything holy to them that they aren’t “racists” etc, and they would never, ever admit to acting, thinking that way. I know. It’s difficult. Even for me, even though I’m fully aware that I am. I grew up in a society where racism against several minorities was common. I know that my brain has racist tendencies. Imagine the irony when I learned that I was a quarter gypsy, after having been imprinted just how untrustworthy, thieving and stealing a people they were, all my childhood. Ouch!
I was also raised a misogynist, of course, we all are, and I was also raised a homophobe. My brain, even for a split second, reacts MORE when I see a gay couple kiss or hold hands than when I see a het couple lick each other in public. It’s how I was raised. For many people, admitting this is difficult. But necessary!
So what can we do? We have to teach our brains to stop for a split-second after that initial reaction. We may never be able to completely obliterate those neural pathways, but we can learn to take a deep breath and think: why do you react this way? Before we act, before we speak. If we all did that, society would quickly improve, because we all know beyond the shadow of a doubt that behavior is not a factor of our skin color (you’re still very much the same person, even after the sun burn from hell!), our capacity to love and care is not a factor of our genitals and love knows no gender and sexuality/gender isn’t hereditary (or there would be no LGBT people)
Think about that for a few days, try to think of instances in your own life when you’ve acted, spoke “too quickly”, instances where you brain’s “muscle memory”, your biases, got in the way. I still do, even after working on myself for decades. Luckily, I catch my thought lapses before I can act upon them, but I’m still as ashamed for every time my brain jumps to conclusions as I was when I first realized just how badly “trained” my brain was.
Have a good week. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or to interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. I’m also gratefully accepting donations from fans (see top right on the page).
Go, claim your copy now and discover new characters to love and cherish!
PS: Today’s the final day of the spring edition of the Big Gay Fiction Giveaway. Have a look, there are dozens of free stories, books or excerpts out there, new authors, new voices to discover. And since it’s a giveaway, it’s all for FREE! I’m participating with my fourth novel, The Fallen Angels of Karnataka.
Dementia isn’t just any disease, and writing about it is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done
I’m about two thirds through my new novel, disease, and I think some of you already know by now that it is a story about living with Alzheimer’s. I’ve had personal experiences with this disease, as both my mother and several other relatives have died from it. But particularly following my mother has given me profound insights into the inner workings of this wretched disease that eats people’s brains from the inside out.
I’m not going to give away the plot of the book here, besides, knowing my own brain’s inner workings that would be utterly futile. I am, after all, only about two thirds through, and lots can happen between now and the end. I decided early on that I would write from my protagonist’s point of view, and I think if you know anything about dementia, that makes it pretty clear why it is so challenging.
My mother giving me a bath. This was decades before the disease took her. Photo: private
As the disease progresses, memories are lost, people no longer have the capacity to do certain things. My mom for instance wasn’t able to iron clothing any more, she’d just forgotten the different steps needed to e.g. iron a shirt. The same with cooking, something my mom had done with great pride (and excelled at) for decades. It goes without saying that my mom suffered from that, immensely, although, and that makes my mom’s case unusual, we never talked to her about it. This has to do with very specific circumstances in our family, but by the time my mother was finally and officially diagnosed, it was too late. She would not have accepted the diagnosis.
People often say that Alzheimer’s is not the patient’s disease, but the disease of the loved ones. And those surrounding Alzheimer patients often tend to undo much of the tell-tales. My father would for instance take mom out to eat to smooth over the fact that she was no longer able to cook. That way, it never became a “thing”, never got awkward. Mom could simply claim she didn’t have to cook any more. And similar tactics were used in a number of areas. And even we children were accomplices. How do you tell your mother she’s basically “a nut job”? Well, you don’t. You don’t tell anybody they’re “crazy” or “nuts”, no matter how incoherent they are, how little sense their statements make. You just don’t, and it is probably easier to tell a stranger they’re behaving strangely than your own mother…
I have lots of material. At the same time, I’m an author of fiction, not the author of an Alzheimer biography. And the challenge lies primarily in the decision I made early on, to write this story from the patient’s perspective. “Aaah!” I hear you think. And you’re right. This does complicate matters, particularly if I were to take it to stage III and the end thereof, where the patient ultimately succumbs to the disease, loses the ability to speak, the ability of their bodily functions until ultimately, the body shuts down. Needless to say, this is not the fate of all Alzheimer’s patients. Many pass away from various other illnesses and afflictions before that happens.
But, and this is really the challenging part. How do you write the challenges of things like aphasia, or losing your vocabulary, how do you write that which the character no longer remembers?
Well, here’s how I do it, and since I’m not entirely finished with the novel, there may still be changes that need to be made, both to the overall approach and to details. In the first draft, I’ll just write the story as it comes to mind. It’s how I’ve always worked and it’s how I’ll finish this one, too. I need to trust my instincts, my artistic talent (or lack thereof, if you believe the trolls online). Once that first draft is done, and I hope to be able to finish that first draft by the end of this month, I’ll have roughly two months to edit the story, and I think this time it’ll need some heavy editing, making sure the language is simplified as I move along in the disease’s timeline. I may even have to build in some inconsistencies, even what to a reader may appear to be plot holes. Because such is the disease. It’s going to be an interesting novel, for sure, not to mention quite the challenge for The Queen of Unconventional Happy Endings.
Speaking of queens… We are about halfway through the Big Gay Fiction Giveaway:
Go, claim your copy now and discover new characters to love and cherish!
Have you been to the website to claim your Instafreebie copy of all those amazing books that are available this week? I’m participating with my most important work to date, The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, a novel about child abuse and trafficking, and I’ve already had almost one thousand claims, so I’m very pleased. Not bad for such a deep novel next to all the sexy and fluffy romances. Have you gotten your copy yet? You have four more days! Don’t miss this.
Have a great weekend, I sure hope I do, particularly if the weather stays as warm and sunny as it’s been these past twenty-four hours. If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading, or to interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. I’m also gratefully accepting donations from fans (see top right on the page).
Social Media engagement is crucial, but what works and what does not?
Last week’s post about how I see my blogging numbers decline seemed to have hit a nerve with writers. It’s been very well ready by colleagues and several have made very valid comments. Many of you rightly point out that blogging alone isn’t a good strategy. Blogging needs to be part of a greater social media strategy. I completely agree, and I’ve mentioned some of the things I do. Yet here’s the challenge with social media: it’s a bit of a moving target, and I don’t see it move in any predictable pattern (am I wrong?), which makes it difficult to choose what to do and when. In this post, I’m trying to show what I do, what works and what doesn’t, while also asking you to continue to add your voice to the discourse, so that we all may learn and improve our approach to getting word about our works out there.
Why blog and use social media in the first place?
I began to blog and use social media long before I began to write professionally. Originally, for me anyway, my reason to be on social media were purely personal, and egotistical. I am a social being. However, as an author, I need to get the word about my books out to people, because I want my books to be read, not just because I’d like to make a buck off of it, but also because I actually (weird, eh?) believe that my books have a message and should be read. Yeah, I know, not very humble, am I?
And since I can’t afford to buy shelf-space at book stores or advertising space next to the New York Times bestseller list, I have to make due with other ways of reaching out to potential readers. Needless to say, I’ve tried most. I have tried advertising in literary magazines, I have paid for ads on Google, Facebook & even “Gollumreads”. The challenge for me has been (and is) that I can’t really see the ROI of it all. I’m shooting blind, because I’m not a self-publisher, and I can’t bother my publisher to give me up to the minute sales numbers to see how an ad is doing. I wish I could, but their time is at a premium, too.
One of the wisest things anyone has ever said to me, years ago, when I started was this:
Your next book is your best advertising for your latest book.
You have to be in this for the long haul.
I don’t have any data or insights to disprove of this. I’ve been writing professionally, more or less since 2013, so this is my fifth year, and while my very first book, Jonathan’s Hope still is my bestselling novel (which sort of proves point 1), I’m not sure I’ve been in this long enough to really know about point #2. Besides, in this very time frame, reading has continued to decrease, and particularly in my genre, reading has been slashed by several ugly fights on “Gollumreads” in Gay Romance related groups, which ultimately affect those of us who do not write mainstream even more, as gay fiction is a stretch to read even for avid gay romance readers.
Professional v Personal
When I began to write, I had a Twitter account, and I had a personal Facebook account, and I blogged. Most visitors to my blog came from my Twitter account, thanks to Triberr (a blog sharing aggregation tool). Over time, I added an Instagram account, a Pinterest account, and – finally – opened a dedicated Facebook page for my author self. I’ll briefly address the various channels separately, but one of the things I’ve always felt challenged about was the line between personal and professional, and how to use #hashtags properly.
I’ve always been very WYSIWYG, I have few secrets and my personality shines through. I can even discuss private matters without blushing, so my take on the above subheading has always been Professional AND Personal. I don’t see them as contradictions. I think you can be personal while still being professional, in how you express yourself. In this, I try to apply the age old adage:
if it’s not fit to be said publicly, don’t say it (online).
Sometimes I fail at that. I am only human, but overall, I think I do a pretty good job. Because here’s the thing, and I’ve said that to countless young people I’ve spoken to over the years: once posted online, it CAN become public at any given point. Just because you think you’ve sent it to a friend doesn’t mean they can’t share it, copy it or even take a screen dump. Heaven knows I’ve made quite a few screen dumps myself…
I also think that readers in general prefer us to be human beings rather than automatons who only share about the professional aspects of our lives, book readings, conventions, signings, writing. Readers, in order to connect with us, want to see that human aspect. Frankly, I can’t blame them. I am no different in how I relate to other public figures, actors, singers etc.
Facebook, the one social medium who rules them all?
I resisted Facebook for a long time, holding out because of privacy concerns. But when my husband turned thirty, and I tried to throw him a surprise party, I knew he had many friends on Facebook, from university etc, people I didn’t know. When I joined, I had over forty requests from old friends and people I hadn’t been in touch with for years. I was instantly hooked.
My use of Facebook has changed over the years. Nowadays, most of the people on my “friends” list are probably readers. I say probably, because I simply don’t know them. Mind you, I’ve become pretty good at vetting and no army major in Afghanistan and no plastic bosom passes by my argus eyes. However, when readers friend me, and I don’t know them, they are placed in one of my lists and unfollowed. Why? First of all, I only have so much time. I can’t be bothered to read about the grand-child or someone I don’t know, while I miss the death of a loved one to a real friend in my overflowing news feed. That happened once and it was awful.
When my writing turned serious, I resisted the Facebook page for the longest time possible. Many of my author friends have separate profiles for their author selves, and I just couldn’t. I don’t have a pen name (I do have a pen age instead, much smarter) and I would go nuts trying to keep the parts apart. Besides, it’s not really kosher with Facebook policies, and I’m one of those people who don’t really like to break rules unnecessarily.
Eventually, in order to see what posts “work” (i.e. are being read) and to be able to advertise, I did open up a page, but yeah, I’m not big enough to matter to people. I have almost 1,700 friends right now, but only 650 or so who’ve liked my page. For a while, I stopped updating my page, but recently I’ve been posting there again, to make sure it doesn’t wither and die completely. I’ve also done some advertising for my most recent novel, and had good “click through” results, but whether or not that impacted on sales I won’t know until July, when I get the numbers for Q2.
For me, Facebook is where I spend most time. I do so because most of my friends around the world are there, not primarily because of my writing. As soon as I start to think about “I should post a writing something”, I feel awkward and “salesy”, and that just isn’t me. But as far as i’m concerned, Facebook is at the core of my social media activities.
I once dubbed myself the first retiree from Twitter, and just possibly the first one to come out of retirement, too. Today, I’m approaching 8,5K followers, followers I’ve gained organically. I’ve never paid for followers, because I fail to see the point, even though such accounts follow me regularly. I rarely tweet directly, it feels a bit like standing on a mountain top, screaming into the void. Yes, someone might hear you, but yeah, the likelihood isn’t big. And at 140 characters, it’s just not my tool for discourse. It’s more a shouting and screaming match when things get heated, not really allowing for a balanced discussion. I had a wee shitstorm a while ago, when writing about minorities, and let’s just say I’d rather not do that again.
Triberr, used to be a great tool, to share great content with your Twitter followers and get our own stuff out. Today? Mostly broken. Fewer users, and people not sharing any more.
In conjunction with Triberr, Twitter used to be a great tool, but sadly, so many of my friends (some of the people I’ve met on Triberr years ago are really good friends now, and our relationship stretches far beyond just the T&T) having had their Twitter accounts blocked because of “suspicious automated tweeting” that many have given up on Triberr. Even I had my Twitter account frozen recently, while I was in the U.S. using my U.S. phone number so that I couldn’t immediately recover it. It’s annoying and I can definitely tell that fewer people use Triberr now than a year or two years ago. People share less, and yes, they post a lot less, too. I recently stopped paying for my Triberr account, after having spent over $1,200 on it annually. I just can’t justify the ROI any longer. For now, I’ll continue to use Triberr, and I have no reason NOT to use Twitter. It’s great for searches on hashtags and for special events like #ESC2017, to get really close to the action.
I began using Instagram because “everyone else” was. Or so it seemed. I have less than a thousand followers, and unlike Twitter where people seem to follow back to gain/keep followers (I’m being very selective), I only follow accounts when they have great pictures, i.e. pictures that interest me. Yes, I do see too many cats on Instagram, and I prefer to see nature photos, and I personally try to emphasize photos of natural settings, intermixed every now and then with a funny family photo. I just can’t with people who only post selfies. I just don’t have the time for it. Once every few months, sure, but daily? On Instagram, I get comments and loads of likes when I use great hashtags, more so than anywhere else. I try to not overdo it. Some people use 15-20 hashtags, and when they also share it to Facebook, it gets really annoying. But alas, I guess they have a reason to. I go on Instagram once or twice a day, more to relax for a minute than to post. I sometimes go days without posting, and I’m sure that’s “bad”… But hey, I have a life.
What for? I tried. I really did. I had many boards, and I pinned and re-pinned, and I still didn’t get it. This is the one social network that has always eluded me, and given that most of my author friends are in gay romance, the number of pins with half-naked men was just too much. I don’t regret not using it any more. I understand from comments that some people really love Pinterest, but it wasn’t for me. I loved the images of nature, but I get those in Instagram, too, and they’re not as tied to links and commerce as they are on Pinterest. And don’t get me started on all the memes…
Oh my… Why did I ever agree to replace my daily blog posts with a weekly YouTube video? But I try to keep it up, as difficult as it is, because of 2) above. But yeah, compared to fashion and make-up tips, the Author Cave isn’t exactly aimed at a large audience… LOL And yes, my book trailers are posted there. I guess YouTube is more a hobby than anything else. I just like to play with Final Cut and video editing. Does it sell books? I wouldn’t know.
Tumblr, Snapchat and others
I had an account on Tumblr for a month, to make a point to a young friend. But I never posted and I don’t use any other social media outlets, although there are dozens of them. I tried Snapchat once, when it was new, but yeah, it was more of a “show me your dick here” safely, because it’ll be gone in 24 hours, and I didn’t have that particular need. And when I see all the many filters people use, all the anus kissing faces etc, I realize I’m probably 35-40 years too old for that particular medium. I gave up years ago.
Goodreads, Meet your next favorite troll…
Same with “GollumReads”. I go in every now and then to approve new contact requests and check messages, but yeah, I don’t read reviews or engage. GR is like the darknet of writing and reading. So much hatred, so many trolls. I just can’t be bothered with it. I post reviews there for the books I read, but that’s it. Sometimes, I do a giveaway and I’ve recently advertised a bit on it, but alas, the results won’t be clear until Q2, and then the question is, will I be able to know how it relates back to GR?
I know many authors like it and that’s why I keep sharing reviews there, largely because I know most authors I review and Amazon is bitty about that aspect. I also have an account on G+, and if anyone ever figures out what the use of that thing is, I might use it for more than just spreading my YouTube videos there…
With social media you just have to focus. We only get so many hours to spend every day, and while it’s a generous amount, a third goes away for sleep (at least in my case), and I also need time to cook, eat, look after the house, family and work. My social media allowance comes partially from the “work” aspect, but also from my spare time, which is limited as it is. I’m not going to waste it on unessential stuff.
A moving target
Am I missing any great new medium out there? What’s the next big thing? It’s my impression that Facebook is still the “rings to rule them all”, and using the right hashtags on Twitter and Instagram is the way to go. It’s how I search for stuff, and I don’t think I’m that much of an oddity. But yes, using social media is difficult, and I was caught by surprise by the swift decline of Triberr and thus Twitter for my blog. While my blog posts used to be shared 150-200 times by other bloggers on Twitter, that number is now less than half. Even a post as successful as the one last week has only been shared 111 times. Well below the average I had a year ago.
So what’s next? Will Twitter have a resurgence? Will anus kissing selfies on Snapchat and floral hair filters be replaced by serious book snaps? Will Instagram flatline? Will the next update to the Facebook algorithm drive people away? Apart from my personal challenges in measuring my sales, not being able to tie them to a specific source, I also try to stay grounded and not focus too much on “likes”. Then again, without counting likes, how do you know what works and what doesn’t?
What’s your take? Is there a next big thing in sight? Do you measure your social media impact on sales? Are you able to trace results back to the source? If so, willing to share how?
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