My adventures with Twitter

A blue twitter logo with a white bird

Being a self-published author is very confusing. The problem isn’t a lack of advice, but too much, a lot of it conflicting. Social media is a good example. On the one hand you are told to prioritise and not waste time ‘playing’ social media when you could be writing your masterpiece. On the other hand you are told to build your platform and not publish anything until you have a ready-made audience.

Facebook is the way forward, or it is a waste of time.

Blogging is a time drain or a great way for people to connect with you, the author.

Twitter is a distraction or…

I joined Twitter in 2012 but had no idea why. A few friends had joined so I thought I would too. I saw it as a nice way of keeping in touch with certain celebrities I admired. I found – unsurprisingly – that a number of my favourite authors used twitter and started following them too. It was an eye-opener. Some were just as I imagined, others… less so. But I was amazed how many would interact with their readers. It seemed a great way for those already established to reach out to their audience, but for those of us less established? I wasn’t sure.

By the middle of March this year my book had been published for a couple of months and I had been blogging for a year. My Twitter followers had risen from a paltry 30 to a slightly more respectable 70, but for some reason people were not flocking to follow me. I’d been hash-tagging for all I was worth and would get the occasional retweet, but as a promotional avenue twitter seemed a dead end. When I looked at how other self-published authors used twitter I found a number with 20,000, 50,000 or over 100,000 followers; churning out tweets and retweets seemingly every minute of every day. Was this what I had to do to get the best out of twitter, turn myself into a promotional machine? I understood the concept – tell your message enough times to enough people, some are bound to bite – but it didn’t seem the right approach for me. It felt soulless and impersonal.

Then again, maybe there was something in their approach. I started looking up other authors on twitter and following them. I did this for 30 minutes a day because I was worried that it would become a time drain. Amazingly, many of the authors who I followed, followed me back. My follower numbers grew. Within a week I had a thousand followers, many of them authors like myself. This was great, until my timeline became filled by endless promotional tweets and seemingly mindless retweets by those that preferred the blunderbuss approach. What made this worse, I was losing any meaningful contact because of all that extra noise. This was a real shame because a number of people were contacting with me, giving me feedback on my blog, my tweets. Others were writing really insightful comments and sharing their writing experiences but I was missing them because of the noise.

That was when I discovered Hootsuite. It’s a website and app which allows you to create custom timelines from lists. For those that don’t know, lists are a way of grouping together followers within Twitter. I created two lists, one for friends and one for what I called “interesting people”. Within Hootsuite I was able to look at a twitter feed (or stream, as they term it) that contained only those tweets of the people on that list. If I looked at the “friends” stream only the tweets from those listed as my friends would be there.

It was wonderful. Instead of being like a bear watching thousands of salmon swim past, occasionally swinging out a paw in the hopes of catching a fish, I was able to identify those people who seemed interesting, and those that engaged with me. I discovered a wonderful writing community who supported and encouraged each other. I discovered wonderful bloggers. I helped and encouraged, and was helped encouraged back, by many people. And I also discovered new readers.

But calling these people new readers is a disservice. For authors, twitter has changed our relationship with readers. The term readers is too passive. Instead I got to feel what it was like to read my book through others eyes by receiving tweets like the following:


twitter 2

 

and

twitter 1

 

These wonderful tweets and others like them at a time when I was struggling to find the time and enthusiasm to finish the first draft of the follow up to Second Chance. They were the social media equivalent to 3 triple espressos. Instead of becoming a time drain twitter redoubled my energy levels and commitment to write.

I’m so glad I decided to give twitter a chance. It has been more rewarding than I could have imagined. If any author asks me whether they should use social media I would say yes. You can use it as a selling tool, but if you want to get real value don’t treat your followers as prospective customers, but as prospective friends. It’s much better for the soul.

 

 

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Second Chance by Dylan S. Hearn

I was very nervous when I approached Dave to review my book but I’m very glad that I did.

Davetopia

Second Chance by Dylan S. HearnAlthough both ecology and neuroscience are at the heart of the world Hearn creates they do not dominate the novel, making this very definitely a character-driven thriller.

When extremes of weather began to disrupt infrastructure and displace populations even in industrialised nations, the United Nations finally agreed a global solution to climate change. Sustainable power, cutting-edge technology, and open government now allow humanity to retain its comforts without destroying its future.

Struggling to hold onto the Delegate seat she has just won, Stephanie Vaughn throws her weight behind the investigation of a missing student. When lack of progress prevents the popular boost she expected, she must accept covert assistance from Randall, her ex-boyfriend, a data analyst for the cloning company at the heart of humanity’s new society. But Randall’s motives for finding the student are equally tainted: before she disappeared she had begun to question the cloning process; the longer…

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Recommended Reads: Duck by Stephen Parolini

The cover of the book Duck, showing a picture of a bomb on an orange background

I first came across Stephen Parolini through his blog novel doctor. It was the start of my writing journey and looking for advice, and Stephen’s blog had it in spades. Not did it help me focus on what I should and shouldn’t be doing, but it was encouraging, engaging, warm and very well written. He is also very funny.

Duck is a short story about Thomas Lingonberry, a young boy growing up in 1950’s USA who’s life changes when a bomb lands on his desk. We follow Thomas on his journey of  love and discovery, as the fallout from that day resonates through. It is a wonderful and warmly written coming-of-age tale. Stephen Parolini draws you into a world which while alien to someone of my age and nationality was also strangely familiar. He brings to life beautifully the memory of young love and my only complaint was that it ended. Highly recommended.

You can buy Duck from Amazon.co.uk here and from Amazon.com here.

Recommended reads are independently published books that I have bought and enjoyed. They are part of a commitment to ‘pay it forward’ to other independent authors by buying their work and promoting those that I have enjoyed, both here and on Amazon and Goodreads. I don’t accept submissions but instead focus on people who have helped or inspired me through their blogging or who actively support other writers, but I only recommend those books I have personally enjoyed. If you are an independent author I would encourage you to do the same and help pay it forward to the community. For more information please see my blog post here.

Pay it forward

Pay it forward

I’ve been thinking a lot recently on the difficulties faced by independent authors like myself. The indie author community is very supportive of each other when it comes to the writing process. We encourage and congratulate, offer tips and advice, yet when it comes to talking about independent books we tend to focus predominantly on our own work. I am as guilty of this as many. But a number of things have happened recently that have made me decide to change.

How independent musicians support each other

As some of you long-term readers will know, I used to review the monthly Live at the Cottage gig that is held every month in my local village. These gigs attract high quality unsigned acts, most of which make a living through performing live and selling their independently produced CD’s. There are many similarities between what they are doing and what we, as independent authors, are looking to achieve, and that is to make what they produce available and seen by the widest audience possible.

One thing that has impressed me with many of these musicians is their generosity to their fellow performers. Despite the falling number of live music venues, these musicians often recommend other artists to venues and promoters, as well as offering support slots to give others artists chance to become better known. The other thing that they are happy to do is put their money where their mouth is and buy the work of other independent artists. I spoke to a couple of artists at a recent gig and when they found out I was an independent author they both bought my book without hesitation. Why? Well in the words of one “you’ve paid to see me, it’s the least I can do.”

Book club

I was approached the other day by somebody who had bought my book to tell me how much she had enjoyed it, even though it was “not the type of book she would normally read.” I’ve heard this a number of times from different people, and the phrase is also used in a couple of Amazon reviews. What she said next, though, was great. She used to read all the same type of book but then joined a book club to get her out of her comfort zone. Since then she has discovered a number of books that she loves which she would never have read otherwise. She also said she would recommend my book for them to read (which was very kind).

Promotional sites

There are a number of sites that offer to promote your books. Some are very effective, having built up mailing lists and being selective about what they promote, but many use twitter to bombard you with promos every two minutes. I’ve also seen a number of indie authors use the same tactic, whether to promote their own work or in promoting the work of others. There may be some mileage in this because why do it otherwise, but to me it just comes across as noise. When somebody recommends a book, I want to believe they have read it and enjoyed it.

So where is this leading?

I buy and read a lot of books yet very few, until recently, have been written by independent authors. I have been happy to take advantage of  the many free books on offer – often the first in a series – but rarely move on to buying the next in line. Most of the books I do read are by established authors and like my good blogging friend Jools said in her most recent blog, I am a completer. Once I’ve read a book from an author I like, I want to read everything that they read. This leaves very little time for anyone new to get a look in.

Yet at the same time as an indie author I am desperate for people to buy my book and leave a review. A number of people have been kind enough to do this, but there is a long way to go before I could say I was earning enough to live on, and I know that most indie authors are face the same issues. So it is a little hypocritical of me to on the one hand ask people to buy my book yet not do the same for others.

Pay it forward

I’ve decided that it was time to put something back into the indie author community. I will commit to buying (actually I’ve already started) books by other independent authors, being open-minded about genre or type, initially focussing on those I have discovered through blogging. If I like the book I will post about it on this site under a new series called Recommended Reads. This won’t be a traditional review – if I don’t like a book I’ve bought I won’t say anything (because the fault may well sit with me) – but a series of recommendations of those books I genuinely like. I will also post a review on Amazon and Goodreads. This will help spread provide  exposure as well as a genuine sale. Even for those books that weren’t for me there will be a benefit, as they too will get an extra sale, bumping the book up the charts giving much-needed visibility.

Where do you come in?

I’d like to start a supportive community of indie authors, similar to what I’ve seen with the indie musicians. If you are an indie author, or you are a prospective author, or even if you are a friend of an independent author; I would encourage you to do the same me and commit to buying work from lesser known indie authors. Many authors blog, or have Facebook or Twitter accounts. If you like a books you buy, pay it forward and tell people about it. Write an Amazon or Goodreads review. It will take only a few minutes but as you know it would mean a lot to the author concerned. Even a small number of us doing this will make a big difference, but the more that take part, the more we can support our community.

If you are interested in getting involved, please feel free to reblog this to help get the momentum going. I’m halfway through my first indie book (which I’m loving) and hope to get post about my first recommended read next week.

Thank you for your time.