I enjoy having people follow me on Twitter. If you’re so equipped, you can do so at @LadyGavGav.
As you might imagine, a number of writers follow me, plus those in other creative fields such as music or visual arts. However, there are a significant minority who do nothing but sell sell sell. If you type the words “Buy my book” into the Twitter search bar, you’ll see plenty of examples.
I understand the temptation. It was September 2013 when my first story was published in an actual proper actual book on an actual shelf somewhere. All I wanted to do was fill my 140 characters with Buy My Book! 50 times a day. But there’s a word for that, and that word is spam.
Spam is everywhere, and has been since the earliest days of the World Wide Web. Regular Web users have long learnt to filter out advertising—legitimate and dubious—to the extent that we can concentrate on genuine content. So when someone comes along with a wall of identical messages, the average user will hit the Back button like Billy Whizz.
Targeting your audience so directly also potentially discourages people from interacting with the user. How often have you been in a shopping centre when somebody at a stall enquires, “Can I ask you who supplies your gas and electricity?” I’m by no means a shy person, but I ignore that as it’s so confrontational.
So how do you use Twitter without coming across as a complete pillock?
One Twitter user, in my opinion, achieves a great balance. Rayne Hall is an author and editor of fiction and factual books. She intersperses promotional material with writing tips and pictures of her cat. Sometimes the feline even ‘promotes’ her books. This approach encourages people to interact with her, particularly if it’s agreeing (or disagreeing) with a writing tip or commenting on a picture, and she makes a point of responding to messages.
For my own part, I like to crack a lot of puns, mostly because they come naturally to me but partly because people bond over a bad joke in a way that they don’t over good material, according to Professor Richard Wiseman. At least then someone can say how much they liked or groaned at it. And then, when I do have something to promote, it stands out from the jokey messages.
PS, buy my books. My stories are in the following anthologies:
On Thursday, I was asked to take part in an event at short notice as one of the poets was unwell. Flow! is a project by Gemma Connell where a poet is teamed up with a dancer. The dancer knows nothing about what the poet will read and has to react spontaneously. The best way to explain it is by watching part of Thursday’s event:
The first poet in this video was the fabulous Amy Gilbrook. She performs most of her work from memory and makes excellent use of internal rhyme. I’d met her before, but I wasn’t acquainted with the dancers.
There are challenges to complete throughout the night, including a section where audience members are invited to writes phrases on pieces of paper. The poets then must assemble these into a new poem, then read it out there and then.
Each dancer and each poet is allowed to take part in no more than three Flow! events, so there’s a potential to take part in two more, and I would happily oblige.
However, it occurs to me that I’m neglecting someone. Prose. When I started out, she was the one I followed, the one I allowed to infiltrate my body of work. But along the way, Poetry surfaced, showed me her possibilities within her boundaries for which Prose has no equivalent.
Now it’s time to go back and find a balance between her and Poetry. Yet there will be no grovelling; there will be the knowledge that Poetry bestowed upon me: how to stretch myself, how to structure, how to affect an audience. And I’ll approach Prose with a renewed enthusiasm, a new sense of purpose, and challenge her to help me produce something to make Poetry jealous.
To that end, I’m going to worship Prose tonight at Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers. Anyone can come along and read out their work – or even that of a published author – with no judgement or criticism. If you happen to be in Dundee tonight, it’s at the Burgh Coffeehouse on Commercial Street, and the readings begin at 7pm.
Last week, I mentioned I was working to submit an essay about John Milton’s Paradise Lost before Friday.
I’m pleased to report I managed to submit it via the university’s online system on Wednesday and – as Dundee hasn’t gone fully electronic yet – in person at the office on Thursday. There will be more to come next semester, but that’s it for the moment.
Unlike Douglas Adams, I try my utmost to respect deadlines. Yes, other priorities are going to stand in the way from time to time, but not on every occasion. The last thing I want is to gain a reputation as someone who says they’ll do a piece of work then doesn’t deliver in time. Even with the essay business, I made sure there was an entry here every Monday.
On Saturday evening, I was booked to read poetry at Off the Rails at Ladybank railway station in Fife; it was at one point the stationmaster’s house. About 50 people are packed into a single room, while poets and musicians perform in front of an open fire. The building seems to be well soundproofed, so it’s rare to hear a train; the loudest noise was the wind howling outside the window.
Unfortunately, two of the four poets had to cancel, and only one replacement could be found at short notice. This gave me a deadline of less than half an hour to expand my set accordingly. I’d brought seven poems with me, which would push me just over my 10 allocated minutes.
Fortunately, the rest of my work is backed up to Dropbox and I was able to read a long piece from my phone to make up the time. It ended up being an excellent night, and I’m happy to do it again in the future.