Why Monday at 5pm?

I have a friend who used to tell me, “You’re so predictable.” I hated it when he said that. I didn’t want to be someone who took the same action time and time again; I wanted to push the boundaries and surprise people. But I’ve come to realise that a little predictability for an author is no bad thing. I emphasise the words a little.

I first started blogging around 2003. At that time, LiveJournal was the major player in the field, but it was a rather basic platform. Even today, its premium features are equivalent to the basic package on WordPress.

LiveJournal was taken down by DDOS in 2006.
Fun fact: LiveJournal was taken down by DDOS in 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia

But these restrictions forced serious bloggers to think carefully about their audience. With no access to stats, I figured out from the comments that my page would have more visitors on a Monday, fewer from Tuesday to Friday, and it would tail off at the weekend.

The time of day and entry is posted is also a factor in how many people will stop by. When I started using Facebook, I noticed that status updates posted on weekday evenings attracted noticeably more comments than those published at any other time. This has held generally true despite the rise in mobile Internet usage.

LiveJournal is actually one up on this front because it now has a postdating function, whereas Facebook users still need to use a third-party program to schedule their posts.

In October 2013, I decided to make the leap from general blogging to writing about literary matters. I decided to come to WordPress because its features were ideal for my needs, many people I like also use the platform, and I have opportunity to build up a new audience rather than potentially alienating my existing readers.

I started it as an experiment, not knowing whether anyone would read it or react to it. The first few entries were therefore at rather erratic times. Once satisfied that there was a literary-minded audience out there, I used my LiveJournal and Facebook guesswork to figure out the best time to make a regular appearance. It also allows me time at the weekend to write each entry.

And once I’d established this pattern, I found new readers would then view my entries on the strength of this regularity. It’s much like knowing the trading hours of a shop: you’ll go there when you know it’s open. And it’s that little piece of predictability that can help a writer.

But ‘predictable’ isn’t a great word as it can also have negative connotations; for instance, when you know someone will make a tired innuendo out of everything you say. Let’s use ‘dependable’ instead.

A dependable writer is one who doesn’t promise more than can be delivered, one who sticks to deadlines and word counts, and so forth. None of us are perfect, however. There have been a few times I’ve completed work with less than an hour to spare. In fact, I remember missing a deadline a couple of years ago when I entered the NYC Midnight writing competition and forgot to check the website for my story prompt.

I’m sure you can depend on me to post my next entry on Monday next week at 5pm.

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Your 30-Minute Trial

I’m working on an MLitt dissertation at the moment, among other projects, and this has left me little time to compose an entry.

In lieu of a proper entry, here’s an activity:

  1. Find a book you wouldn’t normally touch, or that you’re unsure about.
  2. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
  3. Read as much of the book as possible in that time.
  4. If you find you like it when the timer sounds, keep on reading. If not, leave it there.
  5. Let us know how you found the experience.

Reaction … Times

Two of the biggest stories of last month were the Orlando shooting and the UK’s exit from the European Union. In their individual ways, they’ve brought responses from writers and poets trying to process the news. Brian Bilston is a prominent example: he usually has a verse within a day or two that reacts to the issue in hand.

However, there is sometimes a balance to be struck between capturing the immediate mood and waiting to see the aftermath of the event. The former can be excellent for capturing the raw emotion upon hearing the news; yet the latter can become a carefully constructed piece that comments on what happened next and whether or not correct actions were taken.

Let’s take the EU exit as an example. If you penned a piece on 24 June, it might talk about David Cameron’s resignation and the sterling exchange rate hitting such a low, and it would almost certainly have an emotional resonance but only a few details of the bigger picture. Conversely, if you wrote that piece tonight, it’s possible to include something about the legal wrangling and the resignations, but it could potentially lose its immediacy.

There’s also the trap of writing about something is a massive story right now but will potentially be forgotten or overtaken by other developments. We all remember issues like Bill Clinton’s affair, Section 28, and the millennium bug, but none of these cases hold currency now. It’s a personal view, but if the background of a work needs to be explained before it’s read, I don’t consider it successful.

Emergency exit sign used in the European Union...
Emergency exit sign. There’s not much more I can say about this. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s no easy way to swerve these problems. The best advice I can offer is to write it when you feel ready. With Orlando, the shooting seemed rather abstract and far away at first, but I went to a vigil on the following Tuesday. I intended to stay only five minutes, then leave. I ended up staying a lot longer, and only a day or two later was I able to formulate a poetic response to the events.

The quest for immediacy is aided by the advances in communication over the last few decades to the extent that non-journalists can report on events if they happen to be in the vicinity. But there is a movement that wants to recapture the benefit of hindsight. Delayed Gratification isn’t interested in stories newer than three months. The magazine likes to look back and examine what happened in detail when the breath has gone cold. Considering the quoted praise from other news agencies, it looks like they’re onto a winner with this business model.

And I wonder whether we can use this approach for fiction? Might there be a gap in the market for a magazine that prints creative responses to world events three months on? It seems an ideal length of time to me: enough for the writer to construct and edit a decent-sized piece, but not so long that it’s completely out of the public’s consciousness. If there’s anyone who seriously thinks this is a good idea, let’s talk.

Right to Resubmit

On 26 June, I received an e-mail from Strange Musings Press saying they were to close and that the rights from the stories they’d published would immediately revert back to their respective authors. This frees up my short story Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, which appears in their Alternate Hilarities anthology.

It isn’t well known,  even among authors, that once a piece is published, the publisher usually only holds the rights to it for a fixed period of time before said rights revert back to the writer. Some publishers accept reprints, and some original publishers insist that you credit that publication before it’s placed in a second home. It’s a good idea to credit the original publisher anyway, even if it isn’t insisted upon.

By now, it’s probably safe to resubmit my other two published stories, though I would still check the small print if I still have it, or e-mail the editors if I don’t. While it’s impossible to say how an individual editor feels, I know I’d be more inclined to accept a story if I knew it had been published before; a phenomenon known as the halo effect.

In the longer term, an author can retain copyright for a whole lifetime plus 70 years after death, which is why it’s so important to leave a will.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (soundtrack)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (soundtrack) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1971, Roald Dahl’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was made into the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder. The author was so displeased that he specified in his will that its sequel Charlie and the Glass Elevator must not be made into a screenplay.

However, this didn’t prevent the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp, which included some elements of the sequel. It will be interesting to see what happens when the novel falls into the public domain in the second half of this century as anyone will be able to use the work without charge. The question is whether people will still respect Dahl’s wishes at that point.