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About Me, Life

A Year Online

It’s a year since my friend Louise Millar persuaded me to start using Twitter.  Her debut novel The Playdate, was still nine months away from publication and she was already tweeting; I hadn’t even finished my manuscript.  I’m grateful to her now, but at the time I wasn’t that keen.  I now know that my reaction is a very common one, ‘Nobody knows who I am.  I have nothing to promote.  Why would anyone be interested?’  If that’s how you feel, this is for you.

Twitter tends to mystify people who don’t use it, and I always find it hard to explain how it works.  It takes a while to get the hang of it and to build up a following.  I have over 800 followers now but it took about 3 months to get to 100.  Twitter has its detractors and yes, it is possible to waste time.  Unless you are glued to it all day you will miss things of interest (but you won’t get any books written if you are).  Writers have always procrastinated: online poker, thinking about what’s for dinner, staring at the cracks in the ceiling…  Twitter is a welcome diversion for me.  When I’m writing and it’s going well, three hours will just disappear and it won’t occur to me to go online, but often I do an hour’s work then dip in for five or ten minutes when I’m having a break.

You get to choose who to hang out with in this strange virtual world.  I mostly follow writers and bookish people and they’re a witty and entertaining bunch.  I’m not a natural recluse and it’s made me feel far less isolated.  It’s a fantastic source of information – I’ve heard about events, competitions, not to mention hundreds of books I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.  I’ve ‘met’ lots of lovely people, some of whom I’ve since met the old-fashioned way (interestingly everyone has turned out to be the way they come across online).  I’m looking forward to meeting many more at the York Festival of Writing in September.

Last July, I’d never heard the term online platform (just as well, as it would have put me off even more), but in the autumn I started attending monthly events at London Writers’ Club and kept hearing from agents and editors that having one could be a real boost to a new writer’s chances (if you have also written a good book!) Being on Twitter was the just the starting point though, you had to have a blog.  Well, my blog On The Literary Sofa has been going for 10 months now.  In the beginning, it was daunting. Like Twitter, it takes months to get up to speed; I was fortunate to have some key supporters with lots of followers who retweeted my links in the early days to spread the word.

I wrote a few little pieces and some book reviews, focusing on the things I found interesting (and in particular, the writing) and I soon began to get positive feedback which was very motivating.  I compiled my Fiction Hot Picks for 2012 and when it was posted in December, it attracted a lot of interest.  That’s when it began to take off, gently.  I didn’t discover Nicola Morgan’s advice until later but I recommend her blog and publications to anyone thinking of setting up their own online platform – she talks a lot of sense.  Some writers resent the suggestion that they need an online profile at all and the bottom line is, it’s not compulsory, but I agree with Nicola that it can be a very positive experience with all sorts of unexpected benefits.

As writers never tire of pointing out, novels are long. But blogposts are short!  They have to be, or nobody will read them.  For me, it’s a satisfying change from grappling with something 100,000+ words long, writing a self-contained 1,000 word piece and (this is the good bit) people reading it!  Reading and discussing books is my passion and now I get to share it with others all over the world.  That makes me happy!

I’m always being asked if all this takes up a lot of my time and the answer is Yes.  Even producing one post a week is a big commitment (I’ve written 50,000 words on here, equivalent to half a novel!)  Strangely, when it comes to my other writing I now seem to work much faster than before and I’m sure the two things are not unrelated.  I’ve also got better at short stories.  I enjoy the contact I now have with writers, publicists, editors and readers and because I live in London, opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had.  It’s a confidence boost too – a year ago I would have quaked at the thought of attending a book launch where I didn’t know a single person, but I’ve done it more than once and have always had a brilliant time.

2012 got off to a good start. Over time, I introduced a mix of posts to keep it fresh: reviews, features, a series about places, a guest author spot and very occasionally, something more personal.  When I wrote the post A Real Character – Or in this Case, Me in March, it got such a great response that many other writers did their own version. I was surprised and delighted.  Recently I wrote something very personal and was really touched that so many people connected with it and told me so, generously sharing their own stories.  I consider them friends.

Since mid-May when I published my Top 10 Summer Reads 2012 it’s all gone crazy.  That listing has had over 2,500 hits and I know for a fact it has sold books.  I love it when someone tells me they’ve enjoyed a book I recommended, or that they’ve chosen something from the list to read by the pool.  A few weeks later, I decided to check out this year’s publishing phenomenon and wrote Taking No Prisoners – My View of Fifty Shades of Grey What can I say?!  That’s become my most read article ever and along with the Top 10, has attracted a wave of new readers to the blog, who’ve decided to keep coming back.  Since April, traffic has doubled to over 2,500 hits a month.  I can’t quite believe it!

THANK YOU to everyone who reads and supports my blog when there are so many great book blogs to choose from.   Thanks for your interest, for taking part and making this so much fun.  I hope you’ll stay with me.  And to anyone thinking of having a go at blogging and tweeting, I say Go for it!  You never know where it might lead…

Special thanks to Kristin Celms, Peter Hobbs, Jackie Buxton, Helen MacKinven, Jane Rusbridge, Susan Elliot Wright, Jane Isaac, Cathy Dreyer, Jack Urquhart, Pam McIroy; to all who faithfully RT my links and to the publicists who send me review copies.

*POSTSCRIPT*

Coming soon:  Review of Canada by Richard Ford, the literary big hitter from my  Top 10 Summer Reads.

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About Isabel Costello

Novelist and short story writer based in London. Debut novel PARIS MON AMOUR now out in digital and audio, paperback on 22 May 2017. Host of the Literary Sofa blog.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “A Year Online

  1. Well, I can’t say I’m a writer, but I do like to write. I enjoyed seeing how you felt about getting into the blogging and online world. It is certainly a challenge and I worry I won’t have enough to write about….although I am getting ideas everyday.

    Posted by aymartos | July 22, 2012, 15:11
    • Hi Aymartos, it was great to get not just your comment but a new follower for the blog within minutes of posting! That’s what I’m talking about! I found once I got into blogging the ideas began to flow. Maybe it boosts creativity? Good luck with yours.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | July 22, 2012, 17:21
  2. Happy birthday blog! I too shared your apprehension about social media- who cares what I have to say etc etc but like you, once I dipped my toe in the water, I found that I enjoyed it and have even met up with a couple of people I’ve met through twitter. My blog doesn’t get anywhere near as many hits as yours but I like the chance to interact with like-minded folk and reflect on the ups and downs of my writing journey.

    I feel we’re at the same stage in our writing journey and so you’re blog often rings true for me, especially your recent post on keeping the faith and bouncing back after rejections-something I now know a lot about!

    Hope you celebrate your blog’s birthday- a good excuse to raise a glass! Slainte!!

    P.S. I was very touched by being personally mentioned- thank you 🙂

    Posted by helenmackinven | July 22, 2012, 17:10
    • Thanks Helen, it does seem like we’ve had a lot of the same experiences! The cameraderie and moral support I’ve come across online has come as a total surprise to me and is one of the lovely things about all of this. I really hope we get to meet for real one day – shame you’re not going to York (you don’t need to!). I haven’t been to Scotland for about 20 years and have never been to Glasgow properly (only to visit my Mum’s hard drinking (Irish) relis in a suburb when I was a kid!) – must do something about that.

      Posted by Isabel Costello | July 22, 2012, 20:49
  3. I came across your Fiction Hot Picks for 2012 post when I was looking for potential interviews for For Books’ Sake, and it was so helpful that I kept coming back. I really like how chummy it all is, many of the same faces respond to each post so it becomes like a little chat about it.

    I remember that initial confusion about Twitter, wondering why on earth anyone would care what I had to say. You just have to jump in and get involved in discussions and debates, then it starts making sense.

    I envy your commitment to blogging (although I’m v glad you have it!), I find it such a bloody chore, and only end up blogging sporadically. Especially because my cleverest and most well-researched thoughts go in to my For Books’ Sake stuff.

    Posted by Cariad Martin (@cariadmartin) | July 23, 2012, 12:25
    • Thank you for being an appreciative reader who engages and has opinions, that’s what makes this fun. Totally understand your position re For Books Sake, I don’t post reviews on other sites when I’ve done a better job here. So pleased you’ve been inspired by the listings because I love doing them!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | July 23, 2012, 17:54
  4. Congrats on your Tweetiversary! AND on all the hot blog traffic. It’s amazing what can happen in a year. 🙂

    Posted by Writerlious | July 23, 2012, 15:39
  5. Hi Isabel, it has been thrilling to watch the trajectory of your blog, and the success is so well-deserved! I’m a faithful reader of it and will continue to be so. Here’s to another great year!

    Posted by Kristin | July 24, 2012, 22:48
  6. So sorry to have missed this post last week! I’m going to sign up to follow the blog now so that it doesn’t happen again! Twitter really is amazing, isn’t it? I was quite sceptical at the start, but am so thrilled to have made such lovely friends on Twitter – and now to have met you and a few others in person! Writing can be such a lonely occupation, and if you’re not a ‘natural recluse’, the isolation can really get to you. That’s one of the reasons your blog works so well – it helps us all connect through the things we all love best: writing and reading. Congratulations on your first year, and on having created such a fantastically successful blog.

    Posted by susan elliot wright | July 27, 2012, 11:18
    • Hi Susan it was so lovely to meet you last night – as one of the Real Characters I felt we knew each other already! Thanks for being one of the loyal readers and contributors who make all this fun and interesting, and see you at York!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | July 27, 2012, 17:54
  7. I’ve just re-read this post because I liked it so much the first time! Thank you for encouraging me and others to keep on with the ‘on-line platforming’ and such. I have just been tweeting for a few months now and still don’t quite ‘get it,’ but thanks to your words, I will keep it up. My blog is a little over a year old and I have loved meeting fellow bloggers through it, as well as continuing ‘followers.’ And yes, as a writer, a blog gives us some instant gratification for our short shorts (as I call them) and helps us take that longer road while writing our novels. THANKS!

    Posted by roughwighting1 | July 28, 2012, 21:13
  8. Ahhh, how lovely! I came over to congratulate you on your anniversary and there I am, on your blog 🙂 I RT your posts because they are always entertaining/ informative/ amusing so there’s nothing to thank, ok?!
    I’ve given up trying to explain Twitter to people who don’t use it. It sounds odd. It probably is odd and if it didn’t exist I wouldn’t miss it at all. But it does exist and actually, is much more fun than I’d have ever thought. Twitter has introduced me to so many other writers (you!), helped move visits to my blog from under 100 per month to over a 1000 one year on and given me the links to competitions I’ve since won (little ones…) So, I think you could rank me among the millions of Twitter converts.
    Keep blogging! Great post.

    Posted by Jackie Buxton | July 30, 2012, 15:31
    • It’s great to hear so many of us feel the same way about social media. I think as long as you don’t get hooked on it and start preferring it to real life it can be brilliant especially for us writers! Thanks (did it again!) for your support -love your blog too!

      Posted by Isabel Costello | July 30, 2012, 20:38

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