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