Crossed Wires

Last week, I made a fool of myself in front of 150 e-mail recipients. I was sending out details of the next meeting of Hotchpotch, an open-mike night for writers. I normally update the previous e-mail with the latest details, but I’d forgotten to change the subject line. I therefore followed it up with a correction.

The most annoying part of this affair is that I use a Gmail extension to cancel the sending of an e-mail as long as I hit Undo within 30 seconds. However, it has encouraged me to become more vigilant with future updates. Aside from this incident, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned when communicating with writing group members.

E-mail

It’s important to exercise privacy when using e-mail. The addresses of the recipients should be typed in the Bcc box, not To or Cc, so each member will only see their own address on receipt. It’s worthwhile including your own e-mail address on the distribution list to check whether it’s formatted in the same way you intended.

Recipients should also be given the option to unsubscribe from updates. Whenever a Hotchpotch e-mail is sent, there is a signature at the bottom telling people to let us know if they want to unsubscribe.

The other mailing list I maintain is for the Dundee & Angus region of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is done differently, as e-mails are composed using their website and the Unsubscribe function is added automatically before the message enters members’ inboxes.

This is my NaNoWriMo phone
This is my NaNoWriMo phone

Facebook

Whenever Hotchpotch and NaNoWriMo e-mails are sent, their respective Facebook pages are updated at the same time with the same information to reach as many people as possible. The Hotchpotch page is open to the public since anyone can come along, whereas the NaNoWriMo page has its access restricted to members only.

One great advantage of the Facebook page for Hotchpotch is that we can tag and promote other events, which notifies that page owner, who can then share our event with their audience. I also share our updates on two other arts pages.

Other methods

Hotchpotch has an active Twitter account. Whenever an e-mail is sent, the date and time are given, followed by a link to the Facebook post. Our updates are occasionally shared by others, while prospective attendees can ask us questions.

Although NaNoWriMo itself has a Twitter presence, our region does not; again, this is because our bulletins are open only to members. However, I do carry a cheap phone with a budget SIM card if our members need to speak to us urgently. In practice, the only time I’ve needed it so far is when the battery on my own phone ran flat.

Frequency of updates

It’s a good idea not to fill people’s inboxes with the same message every day. In my experience, people who are overloaded will permanently unsubscribe or unfollow. It’s different, of course, if the recipient has signed up a daily writing prompt or suchlike.

For NaNoWriMo, once a week is the usual pattern, reflecting our weekly meetings. The next monthly Hotchpotch meeting is usually announced a few days after the previous one, with a reminder around two weeks later. And next time I send one, I’ll be double-checking that subject line.

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Forcing Toothpaste Back into the Tube

Tonight I’m hosting a spoken-word evening called Hotchpotch. This is an informal monthly event where writers and poets can read out their own work without judgement or criticism. In recent months, we’ve seen many new faces, a trend we would like to maintain.

To keep our events at the forefront of people’s minds, I’ve made it a priority to communicate with members regularly, also to cross-promote other literary events and the venues we use. I send a bulletin every couple of weeks on Facebook and Twitter, and by e-mail.

The last time, though, there were some problems with the reminders, and it was up to me to fix them.

Facebook

A lot of our regulars subscribe to the Hotchpotch Facebook page. This is the easiest update to make: it can be done on a PC or a phone, subscribers are notified immediately when a new post appears, and there’s a facility to tag the pages of related literary groups. The posts can also be edited, and people can ask questions in the comments.

On Facebook pages, administrators have the option to post under their own name or to post under the name of the page. The last time, I forgot to change the option and posted as myself. People could still see the message if they happened to look at the page, but they wouldn’t be individually notified.

The post had been up for a few hours before I noticed. Fortunately, all I had to do was copy it, make sure the related events were correctly tagged, and repost it in the correct mode.

English: internet Español: internet
Teh interwebz. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Twitter

After posting on Facebook, I send out the link on Twitter using HootSuite software. This can calculate the times of day that people are most likely to see your updates; in our case, it typically posts at 9am the following day.

Shortly after I’d corrected the Facebook error discussed above, I saw our Twitter post had a spacing error which meant the venue wasn’t properly credited. To add to the problem, the message had already been retweeted by two followers and later a third. One of these is the Scottish Poetry Library, which has an extensive audience and is great exposure for us.

The question was how to correct this error in the least disruptive manner. I didn’t want to leave the post as it was because it looked unprofessional, yet I didn’t want to take it down because users had already engaged with us. I’ve learnt a few things from managing literary groups, and one of them is to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

I posted a corrected version with the venue properly credited. I then sent private messages to the three users explaining what had happened and asking whether they would do me a favour and retweet the correct version. And they did. This move ended up working in our favour, as more Library followers engaged with our new message than the original.

E-mail

A significant proportion of our members don’t use Facebook or Twitter, so we also maintain a mailing list.

The bulletin I’m most worried about is this one; once an e-mail has been sent, it’s not usually possible to recall or amend it. So when I send Hotchpotch updates, I’ve set up a 30-second delay so it can be cancelled if necessary before it leaves my outbox. Gmail users can find this feature in the Settings.

But despite the problems with the Facebook and Twitter pages, the e-mail was sent without any mistakes.

 

Acceptable Attitudes

I subscribe to a popular members-only writers’ group. While it’s mainly to discuss the process of writing, there’s room for other types of post.

A couple of weeks ago, one member announced that her book was now available on Amazon, but she failed to provide a link or even the title. When these were requested, she eventually provided the title, and at the same time insulted one of those who had asked. As other members found the book and read the free sample, they brought to her attention a number of errors in the text.

By the end of the discussion, she had admitted to publishing the book without reading back over her work, so desperate was she to make it available. She even became a little apologetic.

Bad Attitude (album)
Bad Attitude (album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It comes down to one concept: attitude. The member who had started the post did so with a terrible attitude, though it was eventually softened by the firm yet helpful hand of many of the commenters.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, our attitude can earn or lose us readers. Around 18 months ago, I attended a literary event where one of the students constantly took over the conversation by talking about her degree course at length. She stopped coming back after her second visit; perhaps she ran out of achievements to boast about.

Fortunately, such an outright egotistical attitude is rare face-to-face, at least in my own experience. Yet a lazy approach can be similarly offputting.

I’m privileged to be followed by some amazing writers on Twitter, a few with verified accounts. But I won’t follow back if the writer posts the same link to their work over and over again, often adorned with tags such as #amwriting; one of many tags that’s now so common, it’s become meaningless. Laziness doesn’t fly with savvy Twitter users.

One user who gives an excellent impression is @RayneHall. A casual look at her page shows writing advice interspersed with photos of her cat, sparing use of tags – and plenty of replies to followers. To me, this projects the attitude of a writer who is passionate towards her subject without subjecting us to overbearing self-promotion, and who is willing to listen to the views of others.

If you view this entry on a laptop or desktop computer, you’ll see my own Twitter updates on the right-hand side of the screen under the handle @LadyGavGav. My usual style is to post jokes – especially puns – to engage people. These updates provide a little insight into me as a person rather than as a promoter. But when I do have something to advertise, such as a blog entry every Monday, the audience shouldn’t feel hit over the head with it.

In my experience, allowing an audience to see even a little piece of yourself is important. In 2015, I attended a Jeanette Winterson book launch. The first part of the event was taken up with videos about Shakespeare and speaking about his life. I was bored, frankly, because it wasn’t obvious at first that she was referring to the structure of her book. Thankfully, once the videos stopped and she began to answer questions, her own personality shone through; much more engaging than the razzmatazz that had gone before it.

There is no single correct or effective way to project a good attitude, but there are plenty of bad ways.

Connections.

Before I begin the entry proper, I need to ask a question of the WordPress community.

Whenever I post an update, a link is sent to three social media sites. The Twitter and Google+ connections have worked from day one, but the Facebook one needs to be refreshed at least once every couple of weeks or the link isn’t posted. Every so often, I also remove the WordPress app from Facebook and reauthorise it, but that has no long-term effect either.

How do you fix this permanently? I’m fed up of having to make a manual post to Facebook.

Last week, I mentioned I was attempting stand-up comedy for the first time through Bright Club. It was, for a while, looking like it might be a disaster. When I was rehearsing at home. I kept forgetting to say important lines. At the rehearsal on the day, I forgot which section came next and had to ad-lib until I remembered.

During that final rehearsal, a lot of my material hadn’t received much of a reaction, probably because I was speaking to the other comics and they’d heard much of it already. But at the end of that rehearsal, the organiser wanted to check the microphone level, so I recited a limerick that wasn’t part of the act. It went down so well with the others that I was persuaded to slot it in.

English: Empty stage for a stand-up comedy sho...
This is not the venue I was in. It’s merely a generic representation of it. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were six acts performing; I would be fifth on the bill. I chatted to the MC before the show and in the interval and we agreed it was going well. All I would need to do was remember all my lines, plus the limerick, plus the other tweaks that were suggested, plus a prop I needed, plus to speak slowly enough so everyone could catch my words.

When I walked on, I began with a joke that referenced the previous act, then launched into my own material. Most of it got the reaction I wanted, and the limerick even earned a round of applause. Indeed, everyone was a hit with the audience.

Would I do it again? Of course I would. Bright Club is slightly limiting in that you have to talk about your research; I could have crowbarred twice as many gags in there if I’d been free to discuss anything.

The performance was captured on camcorder, but it’s not yet available as it needs to be edited. I’ll make sure you’re the first to see it, Facebook connection permitting.

Do you know who I am?

Last week, I had the opportunity to show my published and soon-to-be published pieces to my work colleagues. Some of them were aware of my writing through reading this page, while it was news to others.

I don’t talk about my fiction writing much when I’m doing my day job. Although it certainly isn’t a secret, I believe there is a time and a place for promotion, and I was given that time and place on Thursday lunchtime, so I took advantage of it.

On Twitter and Facebook, it’s particularly important to keep a balance between ordinary updates and promotional copy. How often have you seen an account post exactly the same message four or five times a day? It makes people switch off, like that one individual you avoid at the party as you know they’ll talk about their pet subject ceaselessly. Besides, if you say everything upfront, what is there left to have a conversation about?

Two great places for advice about promotion – and there are dozens of others – include the writer Rayne Hall, and the marketer Wilco Wings whose advice can be adapted for writers.

And now I have your attention through our implied conversation, it’s time to launch into the self-promotion.

To date, three of my short stories have appeared in the following anthologies: Because of What Happened by The Fiction Desk, FourW Twenty-Four by Booranga Writers’ Centre (I’m not credited on the website, only in the book), and Alternate Hilarities by Strange Musings Press. While looking out materials for my work event, it seems I’ve misplaced my copy of Because of What Happened, so I’ll have to hunt it down like JR Hartley and his book about fly fishing.

 

I’m also due to have two poems published in an upcoming anthology called Seagate III when the last tranche of funding comes through, and one in a promotional leaflet for the MLitt Writing Practice and Study programme at the University of Dundee.

By coincidence, I received an e-mail last week from Giovanni Valentino, editor of Alternate Hilarities. In each of his anthologies, he likes to run a reprint from the magazine of the same name from the 1990s, but it’s becoming harder and harder to find the authors.

To this end, he’s asking the Internet for help. On the off-chance that you’re one of the following people, or that you know their whereabouts, please e-mail him forthwith at giovanni.valentino@strangemusingspress.com.

Issue 2

  • Alex MacKenzie, The Elvis Wars
  • Dana Cunningham, The Man Who Could Communicate with Animals
  • Buzz Lovko, The First Dinosaurs (a near Myth)

Issue 3

  • Dan Crawford, X-0001
  • Ken Goldmen, The Devil and Myron Rabinowitz
  • Michael Eugene Pryor, Irreconcilable Instructions

Issue 4

  • E. Jay O’Connell, Until the Tuna Runs Out
  • Alex MacKenzie, The Real Me

Issue 5

  • Tomas Canfield, Learning the Ropes
  • Leonard Jansen, Old ’99

Issue 6

  • Greg Costikyan, They want our Women!

Alternate Hilarities Released by @Strange_Musings Press.

I’m pleased to report that my short story Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse has been released today by Strange Musings Press in its Alternate Hilarities anthology, along with a number of other comedy pieces.

It’s available in both paper and electronic formats. You can buy a copy from Amazon UK, from Amazon US, or from Smashwords. Find out more about the book, and enter their Rafflecopter gift card giveaway, at the official website.

I’d also like to give thanks to the editor, Giovanni Valentino. Book publishing takes months of work, and throughout it all, he has been in regular contact with the contributors, and kept us up-to-date with its progress.

An Update on @Strange_Musings, and Some Transatlantic Translations.

Alternate Hilarities
Alternate Hilarities

Around three weeks ago, I was pleased to report that I’ve had a third short story accepted for publication. Strange Musings Press of New York will be printing Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, subject to raising enough funds through their Kickstarter page.

There’s still around a week left to raise the $1,100 required for it to go ahead. You can donate at several different levels from $1 to $150, each of which buys you into the project with increasing levels of reward, including electronic and/or paper copies, autographs, and your name in the Contributors’ section.

My story is called Amending Diabolical Acronym Misuse, and it’s about a man who wants to rid the world of badly-constructed acronyms. Although I’m Scottish, my dialect is British English so that’s how most of my stories are written, including this one.

If I’m sending to an American publisher, I often change the grammar and spelling to suit; at least, I have a decent stab at it. In one case, I even wrote the whole story in US English because the character was so strong in my head: a cross between Jason Gideon from Criminal Minds, and Adrian Monk. In Amending…, I took the decision to keep it in my natural dialect as there are a number of references to British places and companies, and I felt it would look odd if I, “translated” it.

A couple of weeks ago, I began reading The Traveller by John Twelve Hawks. The narrative is written with a curious mix of dialects. For instance, the title is spelt with two Ls and there’s a reference to a pub, but the colour gray and an SUV appear in other parts. The SUV would be known as a 4-by-4 in Britain. The story is set in several countries so I expect it’s difficult to settle on one standard spelling, yet it’s not a distraction here, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the story.

Conversely, my mentor Zöe Venditozzi released her debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here in 2012. When a US edition hit the shelves, she told me there were no spelling changes made. When you buy a copy, watch out for the character whose initials match mine.

So is it important to adapt your dialect depending on which side of the Atlantic you’ll be published? I expect most Internet users will be accustomed to reading both, but at the same time, people will still write in whichever they feel comes most naturally.

Perhaps one day in the future, the two will merge and we’ll have one way of spelling each word, one form of grammar for all. It would be more practical, but probably rather dull.