My newest novel Time and Space has just launched. When I wrote it in November 2011, I thought I have to get this out fast, otherwise my prediction about the TTC will become obsolete, after all Mayor Rob Ford was voted in a year earlier to build subways. His popularity and speed at beginning to implement what he’d promised was such, I thought for sure that some of those LRT lines would turn into subways. And then when Andy Byford was promoted to CEO and began polishing up the TTC, I became convinced a major rewrite was in my future.
So much for my prediction about my novel’s obsolescence.
Here we are, a year and a half after National Novel Writing Month 2011, when I dreamt up and described the 2411 version of the TTC — which description arose out of my total frustration with the lack of needed subway expansion – and nothing has changed. This is good for my novel, for it won’t sound outdated. But not so hot for us commuters. While I tried to get my novel published the traditional way and while it also had to wait in line as I worked to get other books out first, Toronto Council indulged in endless back-and-forth debates and TTC coup and counter-coups. It made for compelling viewing for us Torontonians, and I’m sure reporters were salivating at what the next week would bring, but it didn’t create one nm (nanometre) of additional track, designed or real, and it doesn’t help us at all. And that is what I tried to convey.
Sometimes you need to use fiction and hyperbole to drive home a point.
Although I think at this point in time, everyone has done that non-fictionally on social media, around water coolers, waiting for a streetcar, and on and on.
That is the one thing that has changed since 2011. Commuter frustration has become more vocal. Usually, Torontonians are a quiescent lot. A few voices may rise up in dissent, but the majority keep their head down while grumbling to their friends and family. But now, here in 2013, the grumbling has come out into the open. The never-ending scandal surrounding Mayor Rob Ford may be drowning it out a bit, but with social media offering such an easy outlet for TTC frustration, it has not died down.
Historically, writers have used their novels as pulpits to pound out a social issue message – in an entertaining way. My favourite author has always been Charles Dickens, who was a master at that. I’m not as prolific with words as he is, but I hope that in the way my characters get around town and in how I describe the subway system, the streetcars, the bicycle traffic, and the cars in Time and Space, that I have made it exceedingly clear how much our leaders have failed us and how inadequate the TTC is to the population size.
Time is kidnapped by three boys from the future, then dumped in the future past to die. She finds shelter with a mysterious man whose name is Space, and she must either adapt or find her way home before the boys catch her and dispose of her forever.
“I am reading Time and Space by @ShireenJ and loving it! What a great writer!” – @Mariam_Kobras, 26 May 2013
Let’s talk editing. I’ve been trained as a copy editor, have edited newsletters for content and grammar, and have had four separate editing experiences as a writer. I also began my publishing career as a proofreader, learnt a bit about graphic design, and was a desktop publisher. I’ve worked on text the traditional way and the newer computerized way. So I’ve pretty much covered the gamut. In my editing life, I received kudos in the Preface to the Handbook of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology as a result of my editing of that tome. And in my writing life, Lifeliner received Reader Views Best Biography award and She was a finalist in the Word Guild Awards. Good editing makes or breaks a book, and authors notice. In fact, a bad editor can make the original manuscript worse. A good editor is hard to find and worth a lot.
So what to look for in an editor?
I shall begin with my first editor, whom I worked with on a short story – which you can find in Eleven Shorts +1. I met her through my Creative Writing Prof at the University of Toronto. She worked for a small literary magazine in Toronto and was very much interested in my story Our Father. Back in those days, there was no email, but I had been typing my essays and stories on a computer since the 1970s. I handed her a printout of my story. Later, we met at a café, just like you see in the movies and read about in books, to go over the flow of my story, the characterization, the plot – content-type stuff. It was a bit hard for a young writer, as I was then, to hear her criticisms, but I took heart from her enthusiasm and went back home to rewrite it. We met again in the same café, and although the story was better, it still needed work. Again, her comments were all on the content side. We had not yet reached the point of editing the story for grammar and punctuation. The third time was the charm. After that, I copyedited it myself (I don’t recall if she gave me any notations on that or not).
It was a fulfilling process. It was the only time I ever felt like I was collaborating with someone over my written work, who was invested in me and wanted me to succeed, who wasn’t afraid to point out the flaws and was wise enough to tell me what worked. In short, was rooting for my story. If you find an editor like that, keep them!
My other three editing experiences were with my books.
One editor was faceless and nameless, which I suppose was rather like I was to the authors back in my editing days. Back then, only the Acquisitions Editor met with the authors and spoke to them directly about their book (the Acquisitions Editor was in charge of finding authors and developing their books; once written, the manuscripts went to my boss, then after her review, to me). I remember one time I really could not fathom what the author was trying to say and needed to speak with him so that I could edit it. My boss and the Acquisitions Editor were loathe to let me call him up. We had long discussions about how everyone, including me, at the publishing company had to keep the authors happy, and how they were afraid that my criticism would upset him. Since I was so young, they were afraid my youth and direct way would cost them an author. I assured them I knew how to speak diplomatically. I think we even went over what I would say as they began to be persuaded by my argument that I really needed to understand what he wanted to write so that I could edit it well and thus make him look good. The quality of my work was how I’d keep him happy. I got my way. After the end of our 15-minute conversation, he thanked me for calling him. And I felt pleased with myself for being able to keep him happy while improving the text.
But back to the faceless editor. The editor edited for content and then for grammar and punctuation. By this time, editing was no longer being done on the manuscript page with pencil or red pen, but in Word using Track Changes. And oy, were there a lot. Luckily, there are guidelines online on how to use track changes because if you haven’t used them before (or the inexecrable Word), it can be confusing. Some were very hard for me to follow because of wholesale moves of paragraphs and pages. There were demands to fill in scenes, clarify things, and so on. I don’t remember what all I was required to do, but it was disheartening to see so much marking up of my work. Yet I knew it would make it a better book. I recognized that the editor had spent a lot of time and attention on my work, both for content and for copyediting. That was the key: the obvious effort behind the markups.
Sometimes you may find you have an editor that whips through your manuscript. Maybe you’ll think having not many comments is a good thing. Unless you’ve written many books, all of which have been edited, and each of which in succession has needed less and less editing, a lack of comments and track changes or inconsistent changes (some sections show many comments, other pages are completely bare) are a sign of an indifferent editor. Dump em or ask for a new one if you’re with a publisher or using an editing company.
The intensive experience was painful, but I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it made for a better book.
Another editing experience was with a freelancer. You can find freelancers through editor associations, on the Internet, or through Twitter. I thought the freelancer would copy edit as well as content edit. But not really, as I learnt. Since then I’ve re-learnt that copyediting comes right at the end, only after the manuscript has gone through content editing and is done done. When looking for a freelancer, ensure you know what they will do. If you want and they say they will do content editing, don’t expect copyediting. They may point out some obvious punctuation or grammatical errors, but it won’t be a complete job in that way nor should it be at that point.
The freelancer wrote a memo pointing out the big picture issues, with specific comments chapter by chapter where warranted. The editor also wrote comments on the manuscript itself (in Word) regarding specific paragraphs or sentences or characters, which were referred to in the big picture memo as well to ensure I knew what the editor was seeing and what I needed to respond to.
There were some cultural issues that I had not thought of because we all think that since we speak English, we’re very similar us citizens of Canada, the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. But we’re not. There are differences in vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and ways of seeing things. It may be best to find a content editor who lives in the same country or continent as you do if you don’t want to change your cultural references and deal with grammatical changes that don’t apply in the country you live. Yet the opposite could be good too. UK and US authors seem to think everyone knows everything about their cultures and way of living and don’t need to explain them in their books. As a reader immersed in British culture and highly exposed to American and living in Canada, I can understand most of the inside stuff. But many probably don’t. Thus in our new global-reading world if you want your cultural references exposed so that you can explain them in some natural way in your story, find a content editor across the ocean.
I was able to have some back-and-forth discussion with the freelancer, and that was quite helpful to me. But it still didn’t reach the level of collaboration I had with my first editor and that I still miss.
That brings me to how very important communication is to the editing process. You want an editor who
can write an opening memo about what they see as the big picture. You want them to invite comment, which tells you they want to understand what the author is striving to achieve. In that way, they can do the best possible job on a (difficult) manuscript;
is willing to read your explanation notes when you first submit a manuscript;
understands the need to read past email correspondence with previous editors in order to catch up to where the work is at, if your manuscript has gone through a few editors;
is willing to ask you questions if they don’t understand something while they’re mid-edit (like I did with that author back in my editing days). Some may prefer to wait till the end, but a savvy editor will realise that sometimes they have to do it earlier in order to finish editing the manuscript well and not perpetuate errors;
is willing to discuss points of disagreement rather than bullying their edits onto you;
shows an interest in your work (or at least can fake it) so that they spur you on through this hard process;
is willing to answer your questions, knowing that it will make your book better. And that’s the ultimate goal of every editor: turn a manuscript into a great book.
When the editor has poor communication skills or won’t take the time to comment properly and completely, then going through the editing process will be a depressing and frustrating experience. It feels like standing on shifting sand. It may even make you second-guess your manuscript because you will have no idea what works and what doesn’t work.
If your editor shows poor communication skills, dump em or demand a new one if you’re working with a company or publisher.
A copy editor does not necessarily need to be your collaborator, but if you intend to write more than one book, you need to find a content editor who will become one, an editor you feel confident sticking with over the long term from book to book. However, once you find a good copy editor, stick with them. Too many are sloppy and don’t seem to have figured out the amazing tool of find-and-replace.
In the old days, a copy editor needed eagle eyes. Reading the printed word on the static page meant that if you found an inconsistent spelling of, for example, “recognize,” then you had to spot every single iteration of that word in order to fix the spelling. What you didn’t want to end up with was a book that had both “recognize” and “recognise” in it. Today, it’s so easy to fix. No eagle eyes needed! The first time you spot an inconsistent spelling or misspelling, you press Ctrl-F, type in the wrongly spelled word in the Find box, type in the correct spelling in the Replace box, click Find to find it, click Replace, do it word by word instead of Replace All because you never know what the computer will end up replacing, and repeat from the beginning of the manuscript just in case you missed a misspelling earlier and for every verb tense of the word. Then resume editing where you left off. Or if you need to stay focussed on the editing, open up a document where you list all the inconsistent spellings and misspellings to find and replace when finished. In the old days, you also had to spot double periods, missing spaces, double spaces manually – some of which required visual recognition skills. Today, after you’re all done editing, after the author has gone through the track changes, then the copy editor or proofreader can run a final find-and-replace of all those pesky details. It’s fast and easy.
You may want to ask your prospective editor if they know how to use that function and if they do. I made the mistake one time of assuming they did.
A good copy editor will also have a good command of the language. Their vocabulary should ideally be better than yours – or at the very least, they should show an ability to Google or use a dictionary. If you see questions in your manuscript about what a word means or a phrase and you double-check with your dictionary and know you used the right word or the phrase is a common one, a red flag should go boing in your head. You may not want to use that editor again. If, on the other hand, they suggest alternative words or phrases that when you check with your dictionary and thesaurus are better choices, stick with that editor. Your vocabulary will improve, and you know you can rely on their knowledge. It’d be like standing on a rock.
The same is true for punctuation. You both need to agree on which standard to follow. I use the Chicago Manual of Style, and I use the Oxford or serial comma. Errors galore can crop up if your copy editor doesn’t follow the Oxford comma rule when you do, doesn’t tell you, and you don’t notice. Also I was taught editors develop a House Style for peculiar spellings, book-specific usages, or exceptions to the Chicago Style rule. That can be a style particular to a publishing house or a freelance editor. The editor should let you know if they do. Or ask.
I’m afraid I have no tips on how to find a good content or copy editor, only what to look for. I am going to try Bibliocrunch to find a copy editor for my next book Time and Space. I don’t believe I need content editing for that novel, although I definitely will for the novel after that. Sometimes the book will tell you what you need.
I’ve written a biography and three novels, and each has come to me or started in a different way.
A conversation with my former boss at Judy Taylor’s funeral turned the light bulb on over my head to tell Judy’s mind-boggling story, to begin my long, long research and writing journey. For my first novel, the story came to me before all else, complete with a nascent idea for a happy ending. And even though I began with the ending when I sat down to actually write it, my very first jottings were the first lines. My second novel emerged as an idea, a concept really. After that, the beginning and ending formed before the middle did. My third novel began with a theme and the ending, but when I drafted the outline, the letters on the screen morphed into a totally different idea with a hint of the original in it. The ending stayed the same. I’m currently wrestling with my fourth (unwritten) novel that asserted itself in my head with a title. Just a title. I’m still not sure what the story is. Well, last night, after the midnight witching hour, some details did rise out of an amorphous pond deep in the recesses of my mind. I’m not so sure I like.
But the most unique kick-starter has to be the one I received last week. An email plopped into my inbox asking me for details on where and how to purchase my book on head injury. The only problem is I haven’t published that book yet. (Talk about mind reading from afar!) I haven’t even told anyone I was considering it. The key word here is “considering.” Many have said to me I should write my story. Nah, is my reflexive response. Some have said I should write a book about head injury – through my story. Still not interested. I do blog on brain injury though. And I had been thinking I ought to put my posts together into an ebook, but I was writing and revising other books, and I remained unsure about the whole idea.
So much of writing is thinking. I probably spend immensely more time thinking and mulling (and jotting down what I don’t want to forget) than actually writing when working on a book. So for me, I’ve been thinking so long about a book on head injury that it is close to being done. Still, if that email hadn’t arrived – with its message of “we want to buy” not the usual message of “you should write” – I would continue to think not type.
I’m a writer, but I’m also a reader. My favourite format is the mass paperback — until recently.
I received my Sony Reader (touch model) a couple of Christmases ago, and then when I bought the iPad, I loaded on several ebook reading apps: iBooks, kobo, Bluefire Reader, Stanza, Kindle. As a person with a brain injury, I was surprised and chuffed to find reading ebooks is easier than print books. There’s less text on the “page,” and on Sony and in iBooks, it’s easy to highlight and write notes (kobo is a close second), all strategies to help the reader to absorb, process, and synthesize the text. Still, at first I remained wedded to my favourite, familiar mass paperback. But after I became a member of Goodreads and began borrowing ebooks from the Toronto Public Library, I read ebooks more and more often. Before I wrote this post, I last read a print book months ago.
Most ebooks I read are borrowed. Until Overdrive finally created an eReading app, I used Bluefire Reader to read them on my iPad. I wasn’t interested in highlighting, printing, looking up words, or writing notes on these ebooks, so the rudimentary and restrictive practices of the apps and publishers didn’t impinge on me. But this week I wanted to buy three books for my background reading as I begin dreaming up my next novel. I wanted to buy them in ebook format. I wanted them to be as flexible and convenient to read as the mass paperback.
Apparently, I wanted the moon.
Traditional publishers are so scared — and seemingly ignorant of how readers use, lend, give away, sell print books — of what readers can do with ebooks that they insist on DRM (Digital Rights Management) locks. The idea is that they protect copyright.
The reality is they frustrate law-abiding readers and provide no deterrent to thieves.
The real result is that the publisher controls how, when, where the law-abiding reader can read the ebook and do nothing to thwart the pirates. Although ePub is an international standard, DRM locks are not. Everyone but Apple iBooks uses one standard. Apple uses another. An ebook readable in iBooks is not readable in any other app or Sony Reader. And vice versa. And Amazon is outside the ePub universe entirely. Consumer friendly, eh? Not.
Book #1 was available in Kindle format for about $4 cheaper than the ePub version. But I can only read Amazon’s mobi format ebook on my iPad’d Kindle app, which is rudimentary to say the least, lacking the features I need for background reading. I also wanted to be able to read it on my Sony Reader. To compound the insult to the international ebook standard and non-Amazon readers, the ePub version was more expensive than the mass paperback. If I bought it through the kobo bookstore or Sony bookstore, the ePub version would not be readable in iBooks, yet iBooks did not list their ePub version in the Canadian store.
Book #2 was the only book in that author’s arsenal that was not available in ebook format. What gives with the discrimination?
Book #3’s situation was totally ridiculous. It was available in ePub but only in certain territorial markets. So if I was a US customer of iBooks, I could’ve bought it in iBooks ePub. But as a Canadian, I was barred from buying it. My only option was mobi through Amazon’s Kindle store. Territorial rights in the global digital age are not only obsolete but an obstacle to reading. Given I resent buying an ebook I can read in exactly one place, I decided not to purchase the mobi ebook.
I wanted to buy all three in ePub. I could buy only one at an inflated price with limitations on which apps I could read it in. If this ebook did not have a DRM lock, I could’ve read it the way I wanted to on the device I wanted to in the app I wanted to. The upshot is that I’m reminded why I don’t buy traditionally published ebooks beyond what I must, why I prefer buying ebooks by indie authors that are DRM-free, why I will continue to mostly borrow ebooks — and why I will never put DRM locks on my ebooks. I don’t want to annoy my readers before they even load one up.
To check out what I’m reading currently and my Goodreads Author Page and bookshelves, please visit my Goodreads profile.
The Error message reads: “Whoops! No publishing allowed. This lens is currently locked for a violation of our Terms of Service, as per the email we sent you. You’re welcome to a) Grab your content and take it elsewhere, if you’d rather not continue with Squidoo or b) Review your content and make edits here in the Workshop to improve the lens. But you won’t be able to Publish the lens live until you can demonstrate that the violation has been addressed. Thanks.“
I wrote this how-to lens on autographing books for authors almost four years ago. Squidoo decided three days before Christmas 2011 (when book sales spike) that my article was — pick one, your guess, they won’t tell, shhhh — pornographic; contained profanity; spammy (guess too many copies of Lifeliner in my pic); something they couldn’t support cause, you know, authors autographing books for readers is so … well, words fail me; a “doorway” lens to affiliate programs like promoting authors autographing their own books; unoriginal (all those hours I spent writing and polishing was just, well, meh); article spinning (whatever the heck that is, but if I don’t know what it means then I must’ve done it, eh?); and plagiarism.
They sent a nice note saying sorry, it was a “false positive” after I found the plagiarist of my article that they blocked last May. They wrote that they would greenlight it so it wouldn’t happen again, but they didn’t think to greenlight the author, namely me. They seem to have a default stance that Squidoo authors plagiarize and so no point telling Squidoo authors when their work is plagiarized, just cut out the articles. Some site.
Squidoo also wrote in their email to me dated 22 December 2011:
“We aim to support high-quality, original and useful lifestyle content that real readers will be glad to land on.”
Yes I can see how comments like these most recent ones would mean readers were not glad to land on it:
“i like this..” Oct 24, 2010 5:14 pm
“I will release my first book and it is all about my experiences as a mystery shopper. I found this site very informative and I am so excited to sign my book to someone who will really appreciate it. Thanks for the signing guides and more power” MysterySh0pper, Dec 11, 2010 6:32 am
“Thanks for the ideas….my first book signing is coming up in a few days!! http://map-thenovel.com” nitronarc, Feb 21, 2011 9:23 pm
“A lens about how to autograph a book: now I’ve seen it all! I am impressed with the research you did! (I’ve never had to autograph a book, but I have had to autograph the CD copy of an ebook!)” TravelingRae, Jun 18, 2011 12:16 am
This week, after I finished revising my novel and finally had the energy to deal with this company and do their work for them, I searched for plagiarized words from my autographing article, and it looks like it was copied elsewhere then possibly taken down or made invisible. Although Google shows other sites as having plagiarized my article, the sites themselves no longer show it, as far as I can tell.
Violations of my copyright are the only thing important to me.
Then I also noticed all my Squidoo lenses on installing and using Ubuntu were taken down. I can’t be bothered yelling at this stupid company again. If it doesn’t have the ability to know which writers are original and to see that it had screwed up before with the same writer, it’s not worth the effort to tell them. I know I said I was going to take down my Squidoo account last time they blasted me with their spraying figure-out-which-term-you-violated-then-maybe-we’ll-talk gun. But didn’t. This time I am.
There may be orphaned links on my website to my old Squidoo lenses once I’ve cancelled my account. Please let me know if you find any.
Last time, they only made nice because I blasted them back and reprimanded my copyright violator — thanks for the help Squidoo in telling me about them and helping me demand they take the plagiarized copy down, not — but I was mollified. This time, I don’t see why again I have to be treated as guilty until innocent. If they default to that position, then they have a problem with their contributors. From telecoms to Squidoo, I’ve had enough of behemoth companies banging their weight around. I quit. Writers looking for autographing advice — and my other former Squidoo essays — can come straight to my own website, thank you very much.
I’m pleased to announce that I’m now affiliated with Iguana Books and that they will be working with me on my next two novels. Writing is not so solitary!
Greg Ioannou has been my editor since the day I walked into his Colborne Communications office with my in-progress manuscript for Lifeliner. This was in 1999, just before my brain injury. I went to him seeking a structural editor and, perhaps, a copy editor. I’d worked as a copy editor and didn’t think I’d need much help in that area; however, structuring a book was new to me. We hit it off, and he set me a writing schedule. I dug into it enthusiastically. And then two cars hit my stopped car. But a most amazing thing happened: through all the years of recovery, Greg waited patiently. When I was able to return to writing Lifeliner in 2006, he happily met with me and worked with my new abilities (or limited at that time). He has provided sage advice and guidance for my novels ever since. You cannot pay for guidance and support like that.
This past Fall, when I made my annual trek to his office for novel advice, he stunned me by offering to publish my next novels, but not in the traditional way, in a new way, focussing mostly on ebooks. He offered fair and attractive terms. My work would be edited professionally by an editing house I knew and trusted. I would no longer have to work on the publishing aspect alone. My answer was a slam dunk: yes.
I submitted Aban’s Accension to him for editing, and until it’s released, he has listed me on his website as an affiliate author along with my already published books and a blog to boot. More blogs! This brings me up to three blogs — four if you count Google+ posts — and four websites I have to keep an eye on. There shall be some duplication, my energy being a tad limited.
In addition to my books and blog, you will also find on my Iguana Books page an exclusive excerpt of one of my short stories, free for you to read.
In the coming months, Iguana Books will be offering pre-sales for Aban’s Accension. And once I’ve completed Time and Space, I will be submitting it to them for editing. Keep an eye on this space or my Iguana blog for upcoming publication announcements.
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve just published a new ebook! But to backtrack a bit…
I wrote short stories and poetry all the way back to elementary school and up until my brain injury. In the 1980s and 90s, I got serious about writing shorts. Poetry not so much. After my brain injury, that flipped. Anyway, back in those days, there was no digital publishing and much of the mainstream press had long since stopped publishing short stories in their pages. A short story writer submitted stories to small literary magazines for the most part and to contests. If you were lucky, an anthology may publish an unknown. Established short story writers also had a chance to be published in the big American magazines or papers like The Atlantic. One of my stories received Honourable Mention in the 1988 Hart House Short Story contest and appeared in WORDSCAPE 3 in 1997. Another was accepted by the editor of a local literary magazine but nixed by the publishers. Not sure who was more upset by that. I developed a system of sending out, recording rejections, sending out again. They were usually rejected for “not the right time” reasons and “please submit again.” Give me a break. And though it’s taboo to say, after having a racist run-in with a publisher (you know how racists look through you) and attending a bookseller’s convention, I started wondering if my “foreign” name was getting in the way of me being published in Canada. That convention was rather like stepping back into 1960s Toronto where I was the darkest person around. (For those who’ve never seen me, I ain’t that dark. My skin tans deeply but is deceptively fair.) It was all rather disheartening. After my brain injury, I stuffed them away.
And then I published Lifeliner on Smashwords. I followed up a year later with She, A Nibble of Chocolate, and The Job Sessions. And I got to thinking: I could package those short stories into an ebook. I could make them available directly to readers. There’s something rather freeing about going around capricious publishers and getting your work into the public realm at last. All I had to do was go find the files (easier said than done as most were still on floppies) and shoot a photo for the book cover.
I trotted down to Sugar Beach, shot hundreds of pictures, looked up into one of the pink umbrellas, and thought, simple is best, and clicked. That became my cover.
I then formatted it for Smashwords and discovered that their Meatgrinder — which converts Microsoft Word docs to ebook formats — now includes an ePub Check, which failed my book. Although I always use their nuclear method, as I know how sneaky Word is in introducing codes that muck up documents, I had made the mistake of copying Author info and other standard text into the document after nuking out all the codes. At least the second time around went quick. And while I was at it, I uploaded it to Kindle publishing too.
I am awaiting approval for distribution to other retailers, and distribution can take a few days to a few months, depending on the retailer. I will be uploading it to Goodreads too in due course and creating a page for it on my website.
These stories are unlike my books. Several are literary, a couple are creepy, some have funny bits, and they’re all a nice-sized bite for a quick read. I have also included a bonus, a romance short story that my grandmother wrote back in 1919. I hope you will check it out!
Okay, I’m getting a tad fed-up. It is one thing to have marketing folk follow you on Twitter then a few days later, unfollow you. Obviously they’re trying to boost their follower count. But it is another for an author or writer to do it. What are they thinking? That Twitter is just for marketing? That they’ll sell more books if we authors all reciprocate and follow each other like a bunch of tail-sniffing dogs in some club that supports each other’s fundraising efforts but gets no outside supporters? They also have the most boring Twitter feeds, filled with shills and only shills for their book, with maybe some random thought chucked in every now and then. What a waste. Of Twitter and the writer’s time. And mine.
For those who don’t know, this practice of following a person and then within a day or perhaps a generous five days unfollowing the person if they don’t follow back arose because of Twitter’s policy. Once you follow 2,000 people, you must have a certain ratio of follow:being followed in order to increase that number above 2,000. So the idea is you follow a person, they immediately follow you. You unfollow the person and repeat with another. (Writers who do this may not unfollow as it’s also, in their view, some sort of support thing.) If they don’t follow you, you definitely unfollow them. That way the number of people who follow you will remain higher than the number you follow, and Twitter will let you increase the number of people you follow beyond 2,000. You follow? However, with apps like TwitDiff, people like me can now spot these kind of Twitterers and no longer have to waste our time checking out their Twitter feed.
I have never immediately followed back because I am too slow. First off, it can take me weeks to check out feeds, it all depends on my energy levels and what else I’m doing. With some feeds, I can’t make up my mind if I want to follow them. With feeds filled with RTs and @ replies, I know I don’t because a feed filled with RTs is too difficult to read, and a feed filled with @ replies means I won’t see it with how Twitter handles those tweets. Only TweetDeck would show me them, and I’m not on TweetDeck that often. In a very, very few cases, feeds are a slam-dunk to follow. They have funny tweets, interesting tweets, intriguing links, banal tweets, good info, some @ replies, a few RTs, or a combo of all of those; they have conversations; they’re not filled with hashtags fore and aft, which make my eyes spin. In short, they’re worth the follow.
Those kinds of feeds ought to be a natural for writers to write, or at least aspire to.
I joined Twitter for the same reason I started a blog: to practice my writing (those 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell writes about plus it’s fun or at least work I like) and to express myself. Twitter had the added discipline of imposing brevity. Short writing, putting a complex thought into few words, is not easy. Twitter provides the perfect opportunity to practise.
Twitter also provides the writer the chance to write pithy thoughts on a wide variety of subjects. You’re not confined to the subject of your books or the theme of your blog.
I have also discovered that Twitter allows an author to meet readers. Goodreads does that too, but not in the real-time, free-flowing conversational way that Twitter does, in which others can join in to your conversations.
And Twitter allows you to meet or follow interesting people in the publishing industry and learn from them. You can’t do that — heck, you can’t do any of the above — if all you’re doing is exchanging book shills, which becomes extremely tedious before the day is half over.
Yes, an author does need to tweet on their books, what others are saying about the books, where to buy, sales and promotions. And yes, there will be bursts of these tweets when a new book comes out. But over the course of a year, those tweets should be a small part; even in the bursts they should not be the only topic on the author’s feed.
Twitter is a merit thing when it comes to following. I don’t expect people to follow me just for following support. I don’t expect people to follow me back just because I followed them. My tweets may not be their cup of tea. So I don’t like it when people impose the expectation of you-have-to-follow-me-just-because-I-followed-you-even-if-my-feed-is-the-biggest-yawnfest-you-ever-encountered. TwittDiff lets me spot these kinds of Twitterers in the ease of my email inbox. I no longer have to spend precious energy or minutes checking out a feed, only to discover that they’ve already unfollowed me (you can tell by the lack of direct message ability). But even with TwitDiff, it really irritates me when writers unfollow because I didn’t follow back right away or at all.
Authors who think we should follow each other because it’s how we support each other and that by boosting Twitter follower numbers we will somehow sell books, are missing out. And they are also missing out in how we can truly support each other: by sharing info, by discussing how we do things, joining up under a shared hashtag like #amwriting or #nanowrimo even though we may not follow each other. These authors and writers have just stuck a finger in the eye of Twitter’s opportunity.
“Real” authors, the established ones, don’t do this follow-you-follow-me thing. They’re too busy writing interesting tweets.