A Place To Belong

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Google Plus for writers

It is time for me to confess. I can hide my guilty secret behind a curtain of self-denial no longer.

I am enamoured with Google Plus. In fact, I may go out and get drunk and have “I heart Google+” tattooed on my bicep.

Now settle down, calm yourselves, please don’t carry on so! Allow me to explain before judging me, if you would.

Don’t Believe The Rumours
For a long time I, like many others, avoided Google+, believing the rumours that its user base consisted entirely of Google employees, a handful of early adopters and several sociopathically vain bon-vivants who could no more let a new social media vehicle pass untested than permit a bandwagon to roll by un-jumped-upon.

Then I saw the light…

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Breaking The Silence

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Superhero

Well hello there Internet, how splendid to be back! Please say you missed me, or there may be the most frightful scene.

I have, as the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have observed, been away. I could spin you a sordid yarn of diamond-smuggling and a brief sojourn in a hellish Peruvian jail, but the truth is far more prosaic. I lost my voice. Not in a “warm brandy, kitten round the neck” sort of a way. No, that would have been far more enjoyable.

The Blogger’s Worst Nightmare
In what must surely be the worst professional catastrophe which can befall writers and bloggers, I found myself with nothing to say and no means of saying it. Inspiration dried up so entirely that even the trusty old standby methods of finding post inspiration failed. Moreover, whenever I attempted to write, the words came out flatter than a Friday-night karaoke bar. No fun, no lightness, no substance, no purpose. None of that which regular readers have been kind enough to say they enjoy in my writing. Which led me to thinking…

As writers and bloggers, words are our superpower – and our “voice” is our secret identity. Without it, we’re plain old Peter Parker or Carol Danvers.

Words and voice are inextricably linked for writers of all genres. If one deserts you, the other loses its efficacy as surely as if it were encased in kryptonite. Lose the words and your voice has nothing to work its magic on; you can be eloquent or flippant, literary or light-hearted, informative or flirtatious, but all of this will lack veracity and fail to connect with readers. They’ll pick up on the tone, but they’ll switch off halfway through. Form over content is an imbalanced equation every time.

Equally, the most inspired piece of content in the entire history of writing can be killed stone dead by the lack of authorial voice. We each strive to find the voice which represents us uniquely and conveys the meaning of our words in a way which lifts them up to be more than they are on their own. Once found, we craft and hone it until it represents the very essence of our being and speaks to readers as though we were in the room alongside them. We find a way of connecting with complete strangers through the way we combine commonplace words on a page or screen.

With Great Visibility Comes Great Responsibility
And with this great power comes great responsibility, as the aforementioned Mr. Parker is so fond of reminding us. Not a responsibility to change the world or end poverty or even fight crime, but a responsibility to inform, to entertain, to enlighten. Yes, of course that sounds somewhat pretentious. And of course great writing can achieve all of those admirable goals and far more. That’s why writing is so powerful.

But that’s not the responsibility that you and I carry every time we rustle up another blog post is it? Nope. Not a bit of it. We just have to make sure we have something worth saying and can express it in a manner worthy of someone we’ve never met spending their valuable time to read.

Oh, hang on… that’s actually asking rather a lot when you think about it, isn’t it?

You bet it is. And it’s precisely that responsibility that can freak us out and send us scuttling for the nearest cover, shedding pens and pencils and paper behind us as we go. Safely ensconced in our bolt-holes, we peer out at a waiting audience, hoping that if we stay ever s still and ever so quiet, they might forget about us and go away. Shhhhhhh…

Wait… Dont Go!
But then… wait a minute… “forget about us“? That’s not what we want! That’s not why we’ve spent all those hours writing and editing and sweating and crafting and marketing and building up an audience is it? We want to be seen. We want to be noticed. Where are they going??

“Hold, on, come back! I’m over here, under this table, with a bucket on my head pretending to be a geranium!!”

In this strange ultra-connected new reality, writers and bloggers have to be always on. There’s no escape from our self-imposed limelight. We can’t just finish a blog and start a new one a couple of months later when we feel like it, as if we had a major publishing contract. We (mostly) don’t have big enough names that we can disappear for a while, then come bursting back in a blaze of glory once we’ve had our Caribbean sojourn.

And yes, that is a kind of responsibility and by George it can take it out of a chap (or chappess) at times. All that blogging and novelling and short-storying can wear your voice out. The latent superpower is still there, but without the secret identity to protect you, it just feels far too risky to venture forth. By the same token, your audience will only wait so long and there are a lot of other blogs out there. A lot.

So it’s back on with the mask, squeezing into the catsuit, donning the cape, mixing the metaphors and up, up and away once more!

Boy, it’s good to be a superhero again.

 

 

 

35 Million Ways to Brighten Your Blog

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Those very generous people at Getty Images have just done us bloggers a massive favour.

Now, we all know that adding images to a blog post increases engagement. What’s that? You didn’t? There’s always one. OK, let’s backtrack to step one for any latecomers – adding images to a blog post increases engagement.

As a species, we’re pre-conditioned to respond to visual stimuli which help us add context to our environment. If those visual stimuli include kittens, our responsiveness increases dramatically. There’s almost certainly some research which bears that out but, to be honest, I was too busy going “awwwww” at pictures of kittens to hunt it down.

You Got Me Bang To Rights Guv’nor
Using an image at the start of a blog post helps it to stand out from the crowd and attracts the eye of potential readers. Whether it’s in a WordPress ‘Reader’ pane, on a Facebook page or embedded in a tweet, an image will exponentially increase your post’s visibility over a straight text headline every time. Hence (ah, dear old “hence”) we spend many an hour trawling Google Images for eye-catching, relevant, snappy images with which to bedeck our posts. This is all great fun and 100% illegal.

“WHAT??”

Yep. Illegal. All those images you found? They’re under copyright and you have no rights to use them whatsoever. They’re someone else’s intellectual property, you’re technically a criminal and will probably be banged up without parole for several lifetimes as soon as the Old Bill catch up with you. This is where Getty have stepped in to prevent prisons becoming overcrowded with bloggers desperate for their daily phone call to dictate the latest post in their “Blogger Behind Bars” series to their trusty sidekick on the outside.

Getty have decided that, as people are going to use their images anyway, they may as well embrace the trend and make around 35 million of their images free for non-commercial use. You can now embed images directly to your blog without having to pay any kind of fee – the image itself will link back to the source image on Getty, which contains all relevant copyright information. This makes the new setup a winner for everyone involved: you get a free image, they get more traffic, and Knuckles Brigstock doesn’t have to share a cell.

Photographers, understandably, are divided as to whether this move is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing. That’s not a debate I’m about to get into here, as photographers can get rather snappy (Snappy – geddit??)

Here’s How You Spruce Up Your Blog
For bloggers on the hunt for quality – and legal – imagery, however, it is most definitely a Good Thing. OK, so you do have to put up with a whopping great Getty Images logo underneath your photo, but that’s a fairly small price to pay, I would maintain. And there are ways around that, although I shall refrain from elucidating on them in public… Public Elucidation is probably still a crime in parts of Europe.

So how, you may be wondering, does one take advantage of such largesse? Well, the good news is, it’s so easy even writers can do it!

1) Pay a visit to your local Getty website;
2) Search for the type of image you’re after – 93% of the time, this will be kitten-based;
3) Hover over the thumbnail of your chosen image and you will see this symbol </> if it’s embeddable;
4) Click the symbol to bring up the Embed Code window:

How to embed images in your blog

5) From here, simply copy the code and paste it into the area of your blog where you want the image.

You may have to fiddle around a little to get the alignment and sizing spot-on, but it’s nothing too challenging.

So we say a big thank you to the folks who made this possible and saved our sorry souls from a lengthy spell in the slammer. I don’t know about you, but gruel laced with spit has never been my preferred choice of breakfast.

The Writing Process Blog Hop

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Writing header

I have to confess to a moment’s hesitation when I was asked by the wonderful Vashti Quiroz-Vega to participate in a blog hop. Why, I thought to myself, would anyone care to know my seventeen favourite carnivorous mammals or the colour of sock I prefer when writing a prologue?

It swiftly transpired, however, that this is a blog hop of an entirely different calibre. Oh yes indeed ladies and gentlemen. This is the Writing Process Blog Hop which, as its name implies, forgoes the frivolity of many others and gets to the heart of a writer’s WIP, motivations and writing habits. But still in a rip-roaring, rollicking, rambunctious manner.

Queensbury rules: I have to answer 4 questions, then tag 4 other brilliant bloggers – and trust me, the folks I’ve tagged are 4 of the very best you could ever wish for – to pick up the metaphorical baton.

Ready? Splendid. Then let’s get going…

1) What are you working on?

My main work-in-progress is my first novel, Dark Energies. It’s currently in the 4th (and hopefully final) series of edits. To be honest, I’d rather print it out and eat it than have to go through another editing round.

The book is a contemporary urban mystery, liberally spiced with romance and quantum physics. It tells the story of Dan Carter, a man in his mid-30s in search of something to fill the void in his life. When Dan is contacted via a social networking site, out of the blue, by a young woman he’s never heard of, it looks like he may have found it. But Dan learns that you should be very careful what you wish for… Cliffhanger alert!

I’m also concentrating a huge amount of time on my blog at the moment. I provide advice to indie authors to help with their marketing efforts, and the blog is my main vehicle for this. I’m lucky to have a lengthy professional background in online marketing, so being able to help out other indies and let them concentrate on their writing feels like paying something back to those from whom I’ve learned so much about the craft.

2) How does your work differ from others in the genre?

Ooh, now that‘s a cracker of a question! The voice, definitely the voice. The story is told from Dan’s POV and he’s an intriguing character, as well as a somewhat unreliable narrator. So what you read is basically what goes on in Dan’s head, which gives (I hope) a unique tone to the narrative.

3) Why do you write what you write?

I’ve been waiting for someone to ask that for ages! The novel’s actually based on a true story – and it happened to me. Much like Dan, I was minding my own business, feeling a little lost, when a mysterious stranger cyber-stalked me. Out of curiosity, I responded, we struck up a conversation and things kind of went on from there…

4) How does your writing process work?

Chaotically and via osmosis. I am, as stated elsewhere, a Sporadic Trouserist. I never find as much time to work on the novel as I’d like and I am most certainly not a plotter. I kind of jumped in at the deep end and have been learning ever since, whilst fighting my way out from the middle of the story. This means there are constantly characters and scenes and chapters and changes and story arcs and plot points whirling around in my head, with me frantically trying to keep track of what goes where. It’s bewildering, but a whole heap of fun. I’ve started work on a second (very different) novel and am plotting that from the outset, so we’ll see how that works out!

And now to pass the honours to my esteemed colleagues:

Lauren Sapala
I genuinely cannot recommend Lauren’s fantastic blog highly enough. What she doesn’t know about the art and craft of creative writing – and how not to give up when the chips are down – really isn’t worth knowing. Add to that a writing style which manages to be both concise and engaging and I can honestly say that this is one of my top must-read blogs.

J. R. Frontera
Jeni Frontera has a way with words which makes me want to dive head-first into every single blog post she writes and wallow for at least a week. Not only that, but she writes some of the most extraordinarily gripping dystopian-future fiction that I have ever read. And I don’t even usually like sci-fi! In a nutshell, just stop reading this and go there now, OK? Cool.

Andrew Toynbee
Andrew and I began blogging at around the same time and I have followed the progress of his first novel – recently re-launched – with great interest. He is one of the most supportive, most encouraging and downright entertaining bloggers I’ve encountered. His warmth and charm shine through in every post and your life will be at least 63% better for following him.

Nightwolf’s Corner
Kisa Whipkey pulls no punches – she tells it like it is with an irresistible sense of humour and I admire her greatly for that. Nightwolf’s Corner is a blog rich with sound advice, hard-won lessons and an indomitable attitude which will have you gripping your writer’s block by the throat and grappling it to the floor without a second thought. And she’s very very funny.

So there you have it. A peek into the world behind JFC and four new favourites to brighten your day. Enjoy!

How To Win At Twitter In 7 Easy Steps

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How to win at Twitter

In the grand pantheon of social media platforms, each most definitely has its own character.

Facebook is a faithful old friend with whom I’ve shared many a good time over the years and holds a special place in my jaded and cynical heart. We don’t speak as much as we should, but whenever we do get together it’s as though nothing has changed. Quiet comradeship binds us and no matter what else changes, Facebook is always there.

Google+ is my new BFF (as the kids, I believe, would style it). G+ was a friend-of-a-friend and, on paper, we have little in common at first glance, yet we have bonded astonishingly quickly over a shared love of certain mutual interests. So compatible are we that I now spend more time with G+ than with some of my older acquaintances. We just work together, you know?

Pinterest. Ahhhhh, Pinterest Can you hear the sighs? Pinterest is the pretty, intriguing-looking newcomer who I worship from afar, too scared to approach for fear of finding I have nothing of interest to share with her. There she is, all fresh and lovely and multi-faceted and what do I have to offer up? Nothing but my stories. One day Pinterest and I may share lunch, but that day is not today.

And then we have Twitter.

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Mind The Gap!

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Writing tips - avoiding plot holes

Plot holes, those devious little blighters, have a knack of popping into existence just where you least expect them.

I am not the kind of chap who outlines a novel before jumping in to the fun of writing it. Broad brush strokes, a skeleton framework of ideas and then it’s chocks away! My transatlantic friends call this being a ‘Pantser’ – flying by the seat of one’s pants as the story takes one from point to point in a free-wheeling, fast-flowing fashion. Being from the side of the pond where the cucumber sandwich still reigns supreme, the term ‘pants’ has less savoury connotations for me. No, Pantser will not do at all. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a Trouserist.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that I don’t have the luxury of writing every day. Much as I would love to, the demands of daily life and a mortgage mean that I often struggle to find the time to write. Progress on the novel is sporadic, at best.

I am a self-confessed Sporadic Trouserist.

And that is where the plot holes worm their insidious way in… (you don’t want holes in your sporadic trousers, I assure you).

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Un-Friending Facebook

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Using Facebook for author marketingDebate rages as to whether up-and-coming authors (yep, that’s us!) should set up Facebook pages as part of their marketing and promotion strategy.

Until very recently, I would have said yes, they definitely should; spread oneself as widely as possible in order to reach the largest and most diverse audience possible. Then Facebook went and changed their algorithms and I changed my mind.

Tut-tut Facebook, go to your room immediately!

The Author As A Brand (Oh Yes You Are…)
It’s now vastly more difficult for small brands – and yes, you ARE a brand – to gain visibility and thereby increase the number of their fans. This is because Facebook now prioritises content posted by the people who users interact and engage with the most.

OK, even I had to read that 3 times before I got it, and I wrote it. So let’s have a look at what this means, with the help of a very pertinent example.

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